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Commentary on the Liturgy

  /   Sunday May 09, 2004  

A reader writes the following comment on this post:

So let me get this straight: you think Jesus, on the night he took the bread, blessed it and broke, and gave it to his dicsciples saying “do this in remembrance of me. . .” also told them, “oh by the way, no one on the altar until Father has taken and eaten, got that?!”

There, of course, was no altar and the early church celebrated the agape meal in their homes; there was no “sanctuary” since there were no churches; and there were no priests – that’s a much later development. And in fact Jesus said, “call no man Father except your Father in heaven . . . ”
I bet Jesus also passed around a memo forbidding girls from being altar servers – can’t have girls washing the dishes or pouring wine . . .
but then, Jesus allowed his feet, his own body, to be washed with a woman’s tears, and dried with her hair, in defiance of the patriarchal customs-and over the objections of his disciples.

These things are Tradition, my dear, and tradition, while it must be respected and upheld, it can also be changed – especially when an aspect of the tradition is based on attitudes of sinful bias or ignorance.

No . . . I doubt that Jesus gives a whit where the eucharistic ministers stand, or that they wait until Father takes communion. He wasn’t big on the rules like the pharisees, and he referred to such nonsense as straining at a gnat while allowing a camel to enter. He said they put up obstacles for the people . . . imagine that.

And since he had quite a bit to say about social status and those who grab the best seats in the house or insist on going first (I seem to remember something about the first being last?) – the idea of the priest as little monarchial prince who must go before anyone else can even stand in his space- is ludicrous.

There are many priests, good priests, who believe that the priest should got last -since he is the SERVANT, not the Lord, of the community.
Have you ever read the gospel?

My response (better late than never):

I regret that I am slow to respond to your posting, but I wish to hold off until I have plenty of time to think before responding. I want to take great care in what I say. I assure you that I have read, not only the Gospels, but the entire New Testament. Much of it I have read many times.

Your post seems to point to something that I was trying to stress in mine. Many of the decrees made by the Church have been later transmitted to the faithful in the pews in a rather arbitrary fashion. This often gives the impression that the hierarchy got together and decided to shuffle the deck just for kicks. Teaching and explanation are necessary for any change and for any law of the Church, especially regarding the Sacred Liturgy. Given the fact that the Mass cost Jesus his life, matters pertaining to it can hardly be thought of as a gnat being strained out.

In reading the Gospel, one will find that the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated with the Apostles. Jesus had many followers during his earthly ministry, but there were the Twelve whom he set apart. It was to these twelve men (They were all of the male gender.) to whom Jesus gave the command to “do this in rememberance of me.” In giving this command, he instituted the priesthood. They passed this down to their successors, and later, as the Church grew, other men were deputized to carry out certain duties. While the differentiation of orders is, to the best of my knowledge, something that developed as the Church grew, the priesthood has existed ever since the Last Supper. Even as early as the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote about the necessity of the presence of the bishop or his delegate for a valid Mass.

While Jesus may not have put down specific regulations for the celebration of the Mass, he did provide for governance of the Church until he returns. He gave St. Peter the power to bind and loose and said that it will be the same in Heaven. As the Church grew (and became legal), that governance was necessary to provide for the needs of the Church.

As for obedience to the law, let’s remember that Jesus told his disciples that they were to obey every teaching of the Pharisees but not to imitate the way they act because they do not practice what they preach. In the Sermon on the Mount, he did not make external obedience unnecessary but rather insufficient. If this is not true, then one might be able to believe that Jesus said it was okay to commit adultery as long as one didn’t look at a woman lustfully.

Now, I want to look at your specific points . . .

First, you claim that sanctuaries, altars, and churches were all later developments. You might also be interested in knowing that the use of extraordinary ministers of Communion are a much later development. In fact, the regular use of laity to distribute Communion during Mass was never intended to happen. The priest himself has a responsibility to feed his people the Eucharist. It is important that the distinction be kept.

The priest, by his ordination, has been consecrated, set apart for service to the Church to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is his role in the Body of Christ. The laity have not been set apart for this service and therefore have a different role. It is the laity who have the primary responsibility to go out into the world, be it our homes, our workplace, our leisure activity, or even our public service (which makes John Kerry’s claim of being able to morally separate his personal life from his public life absurd). While the laity can and should participate in the worship of the whole Church, too much emphasis on this participation can cause us to lose focus on what our ultimate calling is.

Likewise, despite what our American culture will tell us, men and women are different. It is not just a matter of anatomy. Men and women, like the priest and the laity, are meant to be complimentary to each other. Neither role can function without the other. Sadly, many of us base our perception of reality solely on our American culture and somehow think that anything else is just sinful bias. Some even go so far to say that those things that can only be done by a woman (such as childbearing and nursing) are degrading to a woman. This does not exalt the status of a woman but is rather demeaning to her and her God-given ability to be the vessel of new life.

In case I’ve lost someone, the point I am making is that differentiation of roles is not some kind of sinful bias. It is also not a matter of who grabs the “best” seat in the house. It is the mere fact that someone is needed in every role, and all are of equal value in the eyes of Almighty God.

Finally, as for the “good” priests that you mention who believe that they should receive Communion last, what are they doing? If they obey the laws of the Church despite having some problem with them, then they are indeed good priests. If they do not, then they are trying to become the lord over the Mass rather than its servant. One can hardly term such men as “good” priests. As Jesus himself has pointed out (even in regards to the Pharisees), “good” men are obedient. We cannot decide that our own understanding is automatically superior to the law of the Church in the name of avoiding blind obedience.

Category: Posts imported from Danger! Falling Brainwaves, Uncategorized



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