Friday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 435

Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.
Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins. And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

As a priest-chaplain in the VA, with a particular ministry to the Catholic patients, I sometimes hear, "I don't attend church because the church changed." I don't hear the question, "Why did it change?" 

Some of these Veterans were caught up in the Vietnam conflict during the tumultuous post-Vatican years when every parish, with its new parish council, discussed and argued about nearly everything. Returning from the War they found not only their nation, neighborhood and families altered; they found the Church unrecognizable. 

Many had been told, "The Church will never change." or "The Church changes only gradually, over centuries." Neither statement was exactly true. Their teachers were perhaps reassuring themselves after the upheavals of the Great Depression and two World Wars with, "Some things never change." 

But their parents, born during the 1920's and 1930's had seen certain modifications in the rituals. Baptisms, weddings and graveside services could be conducted in English; children could receive First Communion at the "age of reason" which was supposed to be seven. Worshippers were encouraged to follow the Mass with their missals rather than to recite the rosary during the ceremony. Catholic were not only permitted, they were encouraged to read the Bible! 

Other changes were happening behind the scenes. In 1943 Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu  which encouraged Catholic scholars to read the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures; he recognized that Saint Jerome's Latin Vulgate was only a translation of scriptures. That was an enormous change because there are no original copies of any books in the Bible. Instead of being handed a finished, polished Latin text, scholars must pore over the manuscripts which are only copies of copies of copies. The "Word of God" must shine through hundreds of years of human errors. (Fortunately, it shines brilliantly due to the enormous dedication of these sainted scribes.) 

I wish they would ask, "Why did the Church change?" and I wonder why they don't. If I could focus a response to that question let me give one word, television. 

By that I mean, many people experience public entertainment in the security of their homes through the television. In that ultra-private space they or may not respond to the entertainment. They might laugh or cry or get up and go to the bathroom. If they don't laugh at the situation comedies, the laugh track will do it for them, once for every three lines of dialogue. 

Their responses in the cinema may not differ much. If they hear the crowd around them laugh they might join in the fun. If they don't it doesn't matter, the theater is dark. If they want to cry during sad scenes, they know enough not to sob loudly. 

At one time, Catholics were expected to attend the Mass with the same reverent silence. The priest prayed for them; the altar boys responded for them; the choir sang for them. They only listened. No Amens, no alleluias. The priest even consumed the Eucharist for them; rarely did anyone else receive it. 

The bishops of the Second Vatican Council realized we must reintroduce lay participation in the Mass. The congregation should hear the prayers in their own language. They should respond to the prayers with Amen; they should sing intelligible words; they should receive the Holy Eucharist. Had not Jesus commanded us to "Take and eat... take and drink?" . The Mass is not the priest's private prayer -- inexplicably, the Eucharistic Prayer was whispered -- the Mass belongs to the whole Church. 

This public participation flies in the face of the spiritual direction of our secular world. Where individuality and privacy are prized, the Church calls for public demonstrations of faith. We should recite our Creed for all to hear. We should receive the Eucharist, bowing as we approach it. We should eat the body and drink the blood of the Lord until he comes

Many people prefer their Mass on television. I hear that often too. They seem to think it's the same thing as attending. 

Perhaps we need to hear Glinda's song to the munchkins again, "Come out, come out, wherever you are!" We need to hear Jesus say, "Do not be afraid" to worship publicly. 

The first amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the right to publicly profess our faith. We will use that right -- or lose it. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.