This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dead Formalism

There are many people who have accused Christians in liturgical churches of "dead formalism," largely due to misinformation and phobias against that evil phantom they call "Tradition" as well as that other cussword they call "Roman Catholic." Romophobia and an aversion to tradition are two things that a lot of Protestant Evangelicals and Charismatics are afflicted with, largely due to a lot of misunderstanding and bad teaching, and it is something that needs to have correction as quickly as possible. However, I have addressed that in a couple of other entries, so that is not what we are going to do here today. In this particular treatise, I am going to be directing some criticism towards some of my fellow liturgical church folks, as unfortunately some of the Protestants are given good reason to think like they do by some liturgical Christians who don't really understand their own church and only do what they do because "that is the way it has always been done." This is not a correct attitude either, and as a result many who partake of the Mystery of the Eucharist do so in ignorance themselves. Thus, it fuels the flames of the anti-traditionalists and Romophobes, and provides them ammunition to attack the good aspects of liturgical worship as well as abuses, and they are so blinded by the poor example many in our churches set that they lump anything that slaps as "catholic" together, and are guilty of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. We liturgical Christians have much to account for in that regard, and that is what I am going to address today.

Barb and I belong to a small traditional Anglican parish (known as "continuing Anglican" due to the fact many of them are conservative theologically and pulled out of the American ECUSA because of innovations the latter added to the liturgy, many of which were unscriptural, beginning in the late 1960's.) made up of a dozen or so "cradle Anglicans" who are largely over 60 in age (as a matter of fact, we are the youngest people in attendance!). Many of them were unhappy with the so-called "innovations" of ECUSA in the 1970's, and although rightfully so, unfortunately this dissatisfaction in many cases was due to "keeping things as they are" rather than a true spiritual renewal. As a result, they have what is called a "maintaining faith" rather than a growing faith, and many of them feel perfectly satisfied with just attending church once a week to fulfill their religious duty, and their faith ends when the Mass ends on Sunday morning, at least until the next week. As a result, although the Liturgy itself is actually very Scriptural, attending it is about as pleasant as a yearly prostate exam, to be honest; it is dry, no hymns, and the true beauty of the Liturgy -based on the 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which is a rich liturgy theologically - is lost in the agonizing passivity of the way this particular group celebrates it. Indeed, "celebrate" in this context is a stretch of the imagination; it is supposed to be a celebration, but the monotony of it makes it a torture. The Eucharist - the center of our worship as liturgical Christians, as it is the reason why we are Christians in the first place! - should not be a dreaded chore to just slog through once a week and then put on a shelf until the following Sunday. It is LIFE!! The Body and Blood of Christ are mystically present in bread and wine, and the sacramental importance of this is the REAL PRESENCE of Christ! Yet, this deadness, this mere formality...it is so tragic. I have been listening in my private devotions recently a CD teaching series by Malcolm Smith, a former Charismatic Bible teacher who is now an Anglican bishop himself, entitled The Power of the Holy Spirit in Liturgy. What I have been gleaning from this rich study, which itself is over 17 years old, has begun to revolutionize my own faith, and for the first time in a long time I am starting to feel spiritually revived. And, as I do so, I am noticing things I haven't seen before. I am once again learning about the powerful Scriptural symbolism in the Liturgy of the Church, and the passion I once had those many moons ago is starting to awaken after so many years of hibernation. And, looking at the dry, lifeless way that many who are cradle members of liturgical churches attend Liturgy is beginning to disturb me. And, being hungry spiritually now for the sacramental aspects of my faith, I am finding myself as out-of-place as a Baby Ruth bar in a sangria bowl at a Donald Trump formal, and I am feeling the conviction to speak out. Therefore, this is my challenge to those who "go through the motions" Sunday after Sunday - WAKE UP!!! There are Protestants and others who are watching you, and you are not giving them a convincing witness of your faith; what is the matter with you??? Time for you people to return to Liturgy 101, which some of you haven't had since your First Communion ceremonies, and the charge is for YOU to renew your faith. Perhaps if some of our Protestant brethren saw what TRUE sacramental worship was about, they may not hate it as much. It is more than dead formalism, so it is time we communicate that.

Many "Cradle Catholics," "Cradle Anglicans," and "Cradle Orthodox," among others, do not understand the perspective that those of us who "convert" to the liturgical Church later in life are coming from, and in some cases we make the "cradle saints" uncomfortable. I was never a Catholic growing up; I didn't even become chrismated as a Catholic until I was 30 years old. Rather, I was raised in an old-time Pentecostal environment in which liturgy was at best some foreign practice that immigrants who worked in the mines back in north-central West Virginia where I grew up did. However, the liturgical Church fascinated me from an early age, as there was a beauty and tangibility attached to it that made faith in Christ more feasible to me than did the more abstract, ghostly faith of the typical Evangelical/Pentecostal congregation does. As I became a Christian and was baptized when I was 16, I began to gravitate towards something that was a little more formal and expressive, and by the time I accepted a call to ministry and went off to Bible College in my early adult years, I began to incorporate liturgical elements into my own ministry as I spoke at churches, etc., and people who knew me as a lay Foursquare Pentecostal minister also knew I marched to the proverbial different drummer! Finally, in 1994, I slowly began to attend liturgical services beginning at an Episcopal charismatic parish in Lakeland, FL, and in ensuing years I gradually came to exclusively attend liturgical services. This all culminated in Easter of 2000, when I was received into the Catholic Church as a Maronite-rite Catholic. The spirituality and liturgy of the Christian East has given me a particular interest, and the richness of the Christian East has redefined my spirituality in such a way that I have even come to appreciate greater some of my Pentecostal roots in a new way. That being said, let me now address the "cradle people."

For those of you born and raised on the pew of a typical Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican Church, let me say this - you have been blessed with a rich spiritual legacy. However, many of you take that for granted, and you know not what you have. Some of you have even become spiritual Pharisees, so critical of new converts that often you are responsible for destroying the faith of some people, and God WILL require of you their blood at your hand, make no mistakes about it! That may be harsh to some of you, and pardon that tone, but this is serious business, folks; your Sunday morning slog-through of the Liturgy is not good enough! You all need to re-examine why you are doing this - remember, this is not just a little bland cookie and a sip of wine you are partaking of, but rather the very Body and Blood of our Savior, who is really present in those elements. Yet, some of you take it so flippantly - some of you are less concerned with your souls and seem to be more interested in what type of cake you are going to have at coffee hour. And then, you wonder why people don't take you seriously as a church! Then, when people do express an interest and visit liturgy on Sunday mornings, I have actually heard "staunch" church members ridicule and criticize such people, and you expect them to come back to visit?? You people need to be horse-whipped, seriously!!!! And, I have heard other stupid and petty gripes - they don't want hymns sung, the incense gives them allergies, etc. I say to you people again - wear earplugs and take a Benadryl, as you don't have to take people to hell with you! God help us as liturgical Christians if we don't get it together!! My spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, shares some of these same concerns - and has a lot less mercy with this nonsense than I do! - when he writes the following in his book Sacramentalized But Not Evangelized:

The irony is painful and too tragic for words. They are in Christ's Church without knowing Christ. They are in His House yet have never met the Master and Head of the household. They are so close to Christ and yet so far. They touch Him and He touches them and yet they miss the power of His redeeming love and the victory He has won over sin, sickness and death. They mistake the forms and symbols for the real thing, and end up cheating themselves of the life of joy, peace and glory that comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The sacraments of the Church are a two-edged sword. They can bless and sanctify you, if you are in a right relationship with God. However, they can be received to your judgement and condemnation if you are in an unrepentant state of sin (I Corinthians 11:27) Eusebius Stephanou. Sacramentalized But Not Evangelized (Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 2005) pp. 68, 79.

Ironically, there are many people that this applies to even more so today, as there are people sitting in the pews of traditional, conservative churches who are not really Christians. They are leaders in the churches in some cases, and always have something to say when something new that would benefit the church is proposed (usually, they are the loudest opposition because the light of spiritual renewal illumens the darkness of spiritual laziness, which threatens their position a lot of the time), but when it comes to really committing themselves to serving Christ with their whole being, they are too comfortable - they like the prestige of being a leader in a church (sadly, some priests don't even discern this at all!) but they don't want to surrender themselves to Christ and allow the cleansing Blood of Jesus, who loved them enough to die for their sins, to transform their lives. An example of this is one individual in a parish we went to. Although a vocal person, there was just something about his spirit that really bothered me, and to be honest I didn't want to be around the man. He was in leadership in the small parish, always had an opinion on everything (even his own wife had to tell him to shut up sometimes actually!) yet when deeper spiritual matters were brought up he was always one of the first to offer opposition, and Satan used this man to impede the growth of that parish. To my knowledge, this man is still in a leadership position today, although the parish is on the verge of closing and the rest of the membership doesn't seem to care. Sadly, the faith this parish is supposed to represent is necessary to the community in which it is located, because people are hungry - it is a sacramental/liturgical parish too, and could offer so much to a culture whose Christianity is dictated by televangelists and Rick Warren books. Yet, there it sits, year after year, never growing, and never going anywhere. They have the money and resources available to invest in ministering to their community, but choose not to; this group will not even invest in a processional cross, which personally I understand to be essential to a liturgical parish (Processional crosses can be purchased economically too, so that eludes me!). People have called to inquire, but the priest and other people have rebuffed these inquiries because they refuse to grow because they are too comfortable with themselves and don't want to have the proverbial boat rocked. Sadly, given the age demographic of this group (WAY over 60 is average for 95% of the congregation), the church may die forever when the last geriatric member dies. Truly sad.

Any rate, my premise here today is that to be traditionalist is not synonymous with being dead, although some members of these parishes seem to think so. Tradition, especially the rich Christian heritage that liturgical churches preserve, is a living faith, and it needs to be communicated as such. Therefore, we need to take seriously the charge given in the Roman Mass which says, at conclusion, "Let us go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord, Alleluia!" We best do that as liturgical/sacramental Christians in the practice of our faith - if we are serious about it, others will take us seriously. So, time to wake up from spiritual hibernation and get to that task at hand, as our time may be short. God bless and be with you.