Monday, December 19, 2005

Ceremony and Celebration

I'm not the most religious person you'll find in the world, though I am very much interested in learning about Catholicism. I'm not exactly a devout Catholic and I would be kidding myself if I ever claimed I am an expert in my chosen religion. But, I like to think that I am faithful. I like to think that despite my shortcoming as a Catholic-Christian, I am a Christian and a blossoming one at that. This is why I make no claims that what I am writing here is correct, but what I am writing here is out of concern and a strange sense of sympathy.

I am not an expert, but I believe I am entitled to give a commentary on what I have observed and experienced for the mere fact that I am one of the flock.

One of the down sides of being in a predominantly Catholic country is the large population in parishes. Large populations mean less focus on the individual people in the parish. The church becomes less like the small portion of the family of God and more like an obligatory meeting place to conduct ceremony. Gone are the days when the people who say "Peace be with you" to you during mass mean it with all their hearts because they know you and they do mean you well. We tend to hear mass beside strangers. While the idyllic setting would be that we could see each other as brothers and sisters despite the fact that we are strangers to each other, it almost never happens. You see this when we sing the Lord's Prayer and the priest says "As one family, let us pray in the words Jesus has taught us" (or some other variation of it) and people don't hold hands with those they don't know. You feel this barrier between people during the sharing of peace when all people give those around them are nods and forced smiles.

I never minded these things before. It was something I had come to accept long ago. As the population of members of the church grows, the percentage of the faithful drops. As long as the people still showed something that resembled concern for one another, at least during mass, then the concept of "one church" isn't completely lost.

Last night, however, I felt sad during Sunday mass. Celebration is defined as a joyful occasion for special festivities to mark a special event. During celebrations, you see people involved in it. You see the people participating in it. Celebrations were meant for the people, not the event holders. When a birthday celebrant holds a party, he holds it so he can be with the people and enjoy the day with these people. When we celebrate the mass, the celebrant conducts it not for himself or for Jesus (I hardly think they need it), but for the people. The holy mass is the Celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. Key word here being: celebration.

I won't say what church I went to, and I will try to describe it in the most general sense. It was a beautiful church with a grand hall filled with grandiose images, golden adornments, and a lot of people. I was even thrilled and humbled when I saw the miter on the celebrants head. A bishop would be celebrating mass with us. And while I already attended a mass celebrated by a pope, I am still honored when I encounter officials of the church. Don't ask me why, that's just how I am.

As the processional hymn was sung, I heard the bishop singing along with the choir. The song was popular enough and I was singing along with it, but a majority of the people weren't. The bishop was waving his hand, trying to get the people to sing along with him, but to no avail. Throughout the mass, people didn't respond during the responsorial psalm, the choir sang alone during the different hymns, and had to constantly be cued by the commentator as to when they should stand, sit, or kneel. The bishop's homily was good, but the entire mass felt empty. It was ironic, really. The mass being all about relinquishing control of our lives to God and all around me, people were texting, fussing, talking to each other, and just plain not paying attention. I know I'm guilty of this, but I do my best not to let my mind wander.

I usually hear mass at the local mall. I was a bit relieved to hear mass at an actual parish because I imagined the people to be a bit more involved. How wrong I was. In the mall, the people sang more, they listened more, and even if they stood along the sidelines, they strained to be a part of the celebration. During my first few masses at that chapel, I found myself moved almost to tears during the Lord's Prayer because the entire lot seemed to be singing as one big family.

Ceremony is defined to be a formal event performed on a special occasion or an activity infused with ritual significance. The key word here is ritual. It is customary, traditional, and prescribed. It is not wrong to treat the mass as a ceremony, with formality and dignity and solemnity. It actually is a celebration that needs to be done with utmost respect and reverence. But it must not be something that we simply "go through" almost habitually. It's sad to watch people perform acts during the mass mechanically, out of habit. It loses its meaning in that way. I remember the bishop's sermon and how he said that we should look at the celebration of the mass in the Hebrew perspective. I can't recall his exact words, but I remember the essence being that celebrating something, reenacting it, isn't just going through the motions of it. It is making the people during the reenactment part of the act that happened so long before. It is connecting with the past.

I read the misalette's short reflection on the readings. As I recall the church we went to, I remembered a line where King David wants to build a temple for the Arc of the Covenant. The prophet Nathan tells him to do what he sees fit because God was with him, but God spoke to Nathan asking who was David to make him a house? I remember the reflection of the priest on that portion. That perhaps David thought that if he built a large and beautiful temple in honor of God, that God would be somehow indebted to David and so David could have a little more freedom with his actions.

A large and beautiful church and large offerings during the offertory are not substitutes for faith and obedience. That was made clear during the mass, had the people listened.


Orange Chucks said...

do I know this church? *grins*

Paris dLR said...

maybe... i really wouldn't know.