Unity, Liberty, Charity

I well remember Evangelicals of my own background who spent a lot of time worrying about whether so-and-so was a “real Christian”.  By this, they did not mean “Was so-and-so baptized?  Did so-and-so receive the sacraments and try to live uprightly?”  No.  What was meant by this question was, “Did so-and-so use the same sort of jargon we do?  Did he watch the ‘right’ movies and listen to the ‘right’ music?  Could so-and-so point to a moment where he asked Jesus Christ into his heart as his personal Lord and Savior?  When he prayed, did he use a memorized prayer that began, ‘Majestic and Everlasting Father…’ or did he hunch over with an earnest expression and spontaneously compose prayers which began, ‘O Lord, we just want to come before you and really praise your Holy Name…’? If none of that was happening, there was grave doubt about whether so-and-so had what we Evangelicals called a “living relationship with Jesus Christ.”  Very likely so-and-so was either ignorant and needed instruction in Christian correctness or else he was a false brother, trying to seduce the flock.

Catholics chortle at this sort of thing.  But I suggest we remember that we live in glass houses.  For we can be just as prone to elevate our little cultural tribalisms to the level of dogma.  For instance, as I have noted before, some of us belong to the subculture in the Church that regards apologetics as The Thing.  That’s great, just so long as you remember that not everybody is called to be interested in apologetics and just so you realize that apologists are just these guys, not pinch-hitter bishops.

Apologetics isn’t the only thing the creates subcultures.  Lot of things do.  There’s music subcultures (where a taste for Palestrina or Marty Haugen is sometimes deemed all you need to know about a person’s fidelity), art subcultures (where your views on the decorations of the new Cathedral can quickly pigeonhole you as a “dissenter” or a “reactionary”), political subcultures (where your vote for a Democrat or Republican for sheriff might fill people with suspicion that you might be one of Them), and, of course, liturgical subcultures (of which more in a moment).

Now the Church loves subcultures, clubs, private associations and people with a mutual interest in hobby horses. The Church is the Mother of human liberty, so it has always been the natural home of enthusiasts and Pickwickians.  But it also encourages the members of these myriad subcultures to remember that it is not their place to judge those who do not share their enthusiasms.  In fact, it gives us a nice little charter of freedom for everybody who does not happen to belong to a subculture that thinks its object of interest is The Most Important Thing in the World. That charter is called “Romans 14” which basically can be summed up, “In essential things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”

The problem comes when we confuse inessential and essential things.  For instance, everybody will agree that the Liturgy is an essential thing.  The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Faith.  The Sacrifice of the Mass is holiest act a human being can participate in.  Because of this, a subculture has grown up in the Church which cares very much about following the fine points of ecclesial politicking about how the Mass is to be translated, what the gestures are, and so forth.  That subculture is welcome, like all subcultures, to knock itself out over its interests.

What it is not welcome to do is assume its interests are as essential as the Liturgy itself.  It is not welcome to pass judgment on folk, uninterested in Liturgy Wars, whose attitude at Mass is: “I’m here to worship God.  Whatever the bishops approve is fine by me.  Just give me my lines and my blocking and let me get on with worshipping the Father and adoring Jesus in the Eucharist.” 

Unfortunately, this judgmentalism sometimes happens.  And the irony is that it often winds up being just as destructive of worship for ordinary people as liturgical abuses. 

You see, ordinary worshipers want Jesus.  They don’t want Liturgical Abusers shouting “Hey! Look at Me!”.  But they also don’t want angry Liturgical Police constantly pointing to Liturgical Abusers (both real and imaginary) and saying, “Hey!  Look at Them!”  We want to look at Jesus, not to be entertained by Liturgical Abusers.  We want to look at Jesus, not feel an icy stare on the back of our heads if we enact gestures or say words that bishops have approved but that self-appointed Liturgical Police have rejected as inaccurate renderings of the rubrics.  And we especially don’t want to be told that our contentment with whatever Liturgy the Church proposes to us is some sort of indication of infidelity.  Lack of interest in Liturgy Wars is not lack of interest in loving, worshiping and obeying God.


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