… It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of careful cultivation to turn a parish from Christ Centered to Congregation Centered. Years of self congratulatory applause during mass and spoon fed homilies appealing to our human desire to feel warm and fuzzy. What took years to create hopefully won’t take as equally long to undo. The priest charged with refocusing a Congregation Centered church faces the challenge of resistant parishioners. I’ll use a recent ugly exchange between myself and someone who belongs to a Congregation Centered church as an example at how to fail at being a Catholic.
To set the stage; a particular Congregation Centered church is getting two new priests, and as to be expected, there’s been much gnashing of teeth and wailing. I think the appropriate word is mutiny. No one likes change.
They’re losing a few members of the laity who function as directors of this or heads of that in protest over the changes these good priests are proposing. Changes like Latin hymns and chanted parts of the mass. The horror! It’s precisely those changes that sparked the argument between myself and this someone else who sings in the choir. The exchange went something like this…
Someone Else: Can you believe this priest is making us sing in Latin? No one knows Latin! You can’t sing along to Latin! How will people be able to sing along?!
Me: People don’t always have to sing along. They can just listen to the choir beautifully singing Latin. I know ya’ll sound wonderful. It’ll just take some practice – blah blah blah, other placating stuff.
Someone Else: Not being able to sing along takes away the congregations ability to actively participate! I mean, how dare he! He just went and made all these changes without consulting anyone.
Me: Well, actually he did consult the choir director or else he wouldn’t be leaving in protest. What you mean is “how dare the priest make changes without consulting YOU”. Which he doesn’t have to do. He’s in charge of the church now, not each individual congregant. He doesn’t need to get everyone’s approval first before making changes.
Someone Else: Yes he does! WE make up the Church. If it weren’t for the people in the pews there’d be no church!
Me: [Where I begin to fail as a Catholic] What!?! I hate to break it to you but you don’t show up for mass to do the priest a favor. He can celebrate mass without a single congregant in the pews. You not being there does not mean the Eucharist will not transubstantiate.
Someone Else: But.. but… this priest is just coming in and telling people how to worship. This is America! You can’t just tell people how to worship! [I swear this was actually said. Verbatim.]
Me: Are you freaking serious?! Of course you can be told how to worship. There’s a man in Rome with a big pointy hat who’d tell you otherwise and 2000+ years of rules, dogma, and tradition to back him up! If you don’t want to be told how to worship you sure as hell picked the wrong religion. May I suggest that nice Tongues of Fire Freewill Pentecostal Four-Square Community Church right around the corner. They have no apostolic succession, hierarchy or authority. You should fit in nicely.
Ugh. I sounded so smaller-more-pure-Church evil trad and felt guilty for days after. A good Catholic, more charitable than myself, would have suggested this Someone Else pray for their new priests and perhaps suggested they read the Catechism for clarity. A good Catholic would have appealed to this person sense of tolerance and fairness by asking them to be patient with their new padre. Alas, I took the easiest and less dignified route by suggested they leave the Church all together.
I’ve always firmly believed the Church is a Church for all; even for the confused, self absorbed Someone Else and the abysmally intolerant, arrogant Me.