By Fr. Michel Mulloy
I shudder when I think of some of the crazy things I did as a young priest in liturgy. Reflecting on my youthfulness and energy makes me laugh and sometimes cry. I say to myself, “How could I be so stupid?”
I am not sure it was stupidity or even youthful ignorance that guided my decisions. Rather, if I am honest, it was pride. I thought I knew better than the centuries of wisdom distilled in the guidelines that governed the celebration of the sacraments. Thus, I set about improving the Mass, making the baptism more meaningful or the wedding more relevant. Pride, nurtured and cultivated with what I thought was sound reasoning and carefully selected research to agree with my ideas, reinforced my opinion. It took years to even realize this, and I am still unraveling this vice. Pride continues to rear its ugly head.
I make this confession in a column about liturgy because I believe I am not very different from you. We all get stuck in our pride, do we not? We allow ourselves to become convinced that we are right. Whoever thinks or acts differently than me, be that the pastor, a fellow parishioner, a different group or whoever, is wrong. We then resort, as I did and still do, to complaining, gathering likeminded friends, sulking and remaining resentful. It can take a long time to process through anger, frustration and discontent to look more deeply at the situation and allow truth and wisdom to surface. I have wasted time in this journey.
So what, then, is a better approach? When I confront an opinion or a practice in the celebration of the liturgy that does not set well with me, I strive first to reflect quietly on what I have experienced. The questions I ask myself are, “Why does that bother me? What difference does it make? Is this any of my business?” The beauty of this sort of approach is it allows me to reach inside and discover my understanding and convictions. I can do research to determine if my understanding of an aspect of the liturgy is accurate and/or if there is another way of looking at whatever it is that is bothering me. I can ask questions and explore options. In the end, I might well find out that there is more than one way of approaching a subject. I might also find my concern valid.
Gaining a deeper understanding of a liturgical subject can also prompt me to explore my convictions and values. Hopefully, I can probe more deeply into how this aspect of the liturgy touches me deep inside. This deeper reflection unfailingly leads me to appreciate what I cherish and love about the Mass or other sacrament.
I can also examine the emotions triggered by this aspect of the celebration and why I care about it so much. This allows me to explore my own history and my faith journey. I can appreciate the ramifications of my own understandings and how they flow into other considerations and dimensions of my celebration of liturgy or my Catholic faith as a whole. This sort of reflection allows me to act in truth, rather than out of pride.
I can accept diversity where it is appropriate. I can choose to celebrate with freedom, without allowing my personal preferences to adversely affect my response to the whole celebration. If possible, I may choose another parish to celebrate. Above all, I may also choose to visit with the pastor or person whose comments or actions caused my concern and lead me on this reflective journey. I can do that not to win an argument, but rather to seek further understanding, seek correction of a practice that is in error or simply express my concern.
To be clear, there are rights and wrongs here. The church has given us guidelines to follow and even these guidelines allow for some interpretation. They are also in certain ways, very specific. On the one hand, we should not demand of ourselves and others more than these guidelines expect. On the other hand, we should not settle for less. Priests are not always right. I certainly was not for many years. Neither are lay people. We can all be misguided. We can be wrong or wrestle with pride. Situations of discomfort and struggle will always arise. It is better to take the time to reflect and come to an understanding that is grounded in the truth and then decide how best to respond.