Saturday, April 12, 2008

Football, Rules, Liturgy

Imagine for one moment that you are at an NFL game, and the referee takes it upon himself to call a penalty for illegal formation on the offense for only having seven men on the line of scrimmage. Anyone familiar with the rules of football will likely be scratching their head in confusion at such a strange call. You see, today the referee at this particular game has decided upon his own accord, without consultation of other officials or the NFL commissioner or consideration of the fans at the stadium, the fans watching on TV, the sports casters, or the sports media, to change the rule that requires the offense to have seven or more players on the line of scrimmage to the offense being required to have exactly eight players on the line of scrimmage. One can only imagine the outrage and confusion this referee would cause among the football world. Fans and announcers alike would question by what and whose authority does this referee change the rules of the sport. The referee would likely be suspended and possibly out of a job.

I assume that most of us are familiar with the scandal on any of the Monday Morning Quaterback shows around the country that is caused by a mere missed or botched call. Now what king of scandal would a blatant change of rules bring to the table? I can only imagine. Luckily, such a thing is unlikely to happen in the football community without first going through the proper channels and consultations of the proper authorities.

Yet, why does a priest see it necessary to change the Liturgy according to his own whim and will without consideration for the congregation or consultation of those who are able to authorize such changes in the Liturgy. For a priest who does such a thing demonstrates his real attitude toward the laity in that he shows that he thinks that the laity has no role in the liturgy other than being present. The liturgy is about him. It is about performance and story telling. That the body is unimportant to the head, and that the body must submit to the head even if the body by nature of it being a body cannot submit to certain requests. It is liturgical narcissism at its finest, for the priest cannot step out of the way and allow both the body and the head to celebrate the mass together. It also demonstrates the priest's distaste for scripture, tradition, and the sacraments. But I can't help think, “Is the Liturgy not more important than football?” Should it not cause an even greater scandal when a priest changes the Liturgy than a missed call in the NFL? I say it should, but it never does.

Aidan Kavanagh reports in his book “On Liturgical Theology” that in the early church, congregations had “been know to become rowdy when presbyters or deacons omitted something”. If what he writes is true then the early church took liturgical celebration to be an important and serious thing. When was the last time a congregation became rowdy when a priest took it upon himself to omit or superficially add something to the liturgy that should not be removed or added? I cannot think of an example. However, I only have to think briefly to remember Green Bay fans throwing snowballs at the refs or New York fans throwing beer bottles and other things onto the field because a ref botched a call. I wonder what mass would be like if the congregation threw their missals or hymnals at the priest or deacon when he makes up his own Eucharistic prayer or changes the words in the creed.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we as a society and as a Church take to seriously an unserious thing. That is, we take too serious a game and not seriously enough the cosmos. As it is, when Americans learn to stop playing worship, worshiping work, and working at their play and start worshiping at their worship, working at their work, and playing at their play, then perhaps the most commonsensical of things might make sense again: like the need for certain rules and regulations that do not hinder but actually enable, encourage and empower.


Anonymous said...

Yes, while it's important to "get the liturgy right," isn't it more important to get the love of Jesus right too? I mean, sometimes I see people, including myself, so focused on the liturgical faux pas that they lose track of what we're really there for: Jesus. My point is are we really focused on Him or on the externals? Are we thinking how we thank God that we're not like those other people, when we should be thinking of Jesus? Seriously, would standing up in the middle of church and throwing a missal really show that love? Somehow I doubt it.

Paul Cat said...

First yes, we do need to focus on Christ.

Second. The externals do matter. It the externals didn't matter there would be no rituals, no books on rubrics, no sacraments for that matter. To say the externals don't matter is to say that the body doesn't matter. That this material world is just a thing hindering ourselves from God. In other words, it boarders angelism.

Thirdly, showing love happens in different ways, no doubt. But I wouldn't sit by and let my child stick a fork in an electrical outlet without raising a fuss to get him to stop. Yes, the Liturgy is about life and death and for the sake of the world. It is even more unloving to let one person endanger and hinder the spiritual growth of the local church and hinder the spiritual growth of the universal church because he cannot get over his narcissism. Throwing a missal might not solve the problem, but there are other ways.

Fourthly, the Church has always believed that what a person believes is founded upon how they worship. And with what people believe these days, all I can conclude is that many of us must be worshiping wrongly. So to not do liturgy rightly is to lead to believing wrongly.

Anne Marie said...

It boils down to two issues:

1 Obedience. We are all called to obedience even unto death to follow Jesus’ example. Priests included.
2 Respect for authority. Ultimately Jesus’ authority as the one who founded and maintains the church.

With eternal salvation of souls on the line why tinker with the path to heaven established by Jesus himself?

My solution as an average Catholic in the pew is to live an authentically Catholic life and to support via my pocketbook those parishes and organizations obedient to the magisterium and via prayers the entire communion of saints.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the reason you'll never see the hymnals flying - beside that not being the most compassionate and understanding response - is because a good portion of the congregation probably wouldn't notice the change in 'rules'.

The NFL fans that throw bottles know the rules backward, forward and inside out. How many can say that about the Liturgy?

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