February 2, 2010

Relativism Rant

The parish ministry, on the natural level, is a customer service job. Sometimes, however, because it would be irresponsible (and sometimes even sacriligious) pastoral care, you can't always give people what they think they want. (Though many priests do anyway, because they can't stand not to be nice, as the Holy Father has alluded to in his recent comments to the courts of the Holy See regarding marriage cases.) In the comment box yesterday I was reminded of the quote from one of my pastors along the way: "This is not Burger King; you can't have it your way."

For me it brings up the question of relativism. We who are Catholic Christians are probably not afflicted with the "dictatorship of relativism," as Benedict has diagnosed the confusion of our time, but each of us late modern people have something of this demon within us, to one degree or another.

It reminds me of a house meeting we had in a friary I once lived in a long time ago. We were talking about the gestures made upon entering the chapel for common prayer. As it sometimes seemed that everyone was doing something different, it was asked whether or not we might try to 'get on the same page.' Each brother made an argument for his own practice. One explained that he bowed to the tabernacle because he wanted to reverence the Blessed Sacrament, but genuflecting--for him--had too much reference to "imperialism" and "patriarchy." Another said he bowed to the assembled brothers because it was in them that he "preferred" to try to contemplate the presence of Christ. Another bowed to the altar instead of reverencing the tabernacle because "the reserved host is not a devotion for me." Still another said that he made no gesture at all because this was his house and such "formalisms" are not required in the comfort of one's own home. Finally, one brother said he genuflected to the tabernacle because "that's what we do in the Roman rite."

An interesting discussion ensued, with each making theological and ecclesiological arguments for the practice that he had decided upon, some of which were quite good. Nevertheless, the very framework and nature of the discussion reveals the problem at hand: it was up to us--on our own and according to our own lights--to decide what kind of worship was 'right for us.' This is not a Catholic but Pentecostal approach; to be Catholic is to live in a community of reflection extended through time and space and to take one's cues from its Sacred Tradition and Magisterium rather than home brewing one's own practices and procedures.


Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

(Hilaire Belloc, The Pelagian Drinking Song)

UPDATE: Ah, the synchronicity and providence of the blogosphere: I see on NLM today that a document is being prepared on liturgical formation for religious.

6 comments:

Jeanne said...

When I read your story, I immediately thought, "What SHOULD we be doing?" not "what do I want to do?" It's very interesting how each person sought to justify his actions. Didn't anyone ask, "Gee, what exactly is it we are supposed to do? Does the order set forth a guideline? Is there a proper way to show respect to the tabernacle and the presence?" Neat post.

ben in denver said...

I had not connected litutgical innovation to pelagianism before, I guess because most innovators still insist on the necessity of baptism so that we can have all the more to experiment with.

Very insightful connection!

Especially on this day when we remeber Our Blessed Mother for following all of those "legalistic" rules about purification, and St. Joseph following all of those "legalistic" prescriptions for sacrifice. One would have thought that he could have substituted some other act of charity for those doves.

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

So, uh...

What did you guys decide on?

Brother Charles said...

I'm not sure I remember that part...I don't think any consensus was reached!

Rachel Gray said...

Oi, the responses of the brothers makes me want to grab Germanus' stout Episcopal staff!

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles - nice way to slip a Belloc reference in there : )

To me, the beauty of being a part of such a community would be that you always (or should have) recourse to said tradition you spoke of by means of a superior/elder. If that person is the one responsible for the "go with what feels good" attitude or is trying to be innovative, then that can be a problem.