25 July 2008

What Summorum Pontificum meant to me

On July 7, Fr. Z posted a request for reflections on what Summorum Pontificum meant to people one year later. Well ... after much editing, it's still too long for the combox.

I came into the Church in 1971. My essential formation as a Catholic was provided by a 1926 Manual of Prayers, which contained all the information one needed to be a Catholic: prayers, laws, explanations. After the Bible, the second most important book in my conversion was The Story of a Soul, the writings of the saint I subsequently chose as my patron, Thérèse of Lisieux.

The other day, I came across these verses in the Fourth Poem of the Song of Songs (New Jerusalem Bible):
I opened to my love,
but he had turned and gone.
My soul failed at his flight,
I sought but could not find him,
I called, but he did not answer.

The watchmen met me,
those who go on their rounds in the city.
They beat me, they wounded me,
they took my cloak away from me:
those guardians of the ramparts!
I did not grow up knowing about the Real Presence. When I read in the missal that Jesus was really present in the consecrated Host, I dug into the Gospels, especially John's, and Paul's reference in Corinthians. I was amazed that they all said the same thing, and that the Church had accepted those writings and ordered her spiritual life around them for two thousand years. My first act of abandonment to God was to trust that Jesus really meant what he said, as reported by the Gospel writers and Paul. If it was not the right interpretation, both Jesus and Paul had wide-open opportunities to correct it. They didn't.

Therefore, a consecrated Host is not a cracker. It is Jesus, the Son of God.

If Jesus were to appear by your side right now, what would you do? I would kneel and reach for his wounded hand, burst into tears, and thank him. (My hair is too short to wipe his feet with. I would regret that.) In communion before the reforms, I could kneel to receive Jesus and welcome him into my heart. There were tragic, horrible things going on in my life in those days. It was an inexpressible comfort to kneel quietly, knowing Jesus was really with me in that mysterious way, that he loved me and knew what I was going through. No one in my mortal life would ever be so close to me. If I wept thinking about it, I could pull the mantilla forward a bit so no one would notice my tears. Sometimes during thanksgiving I was given the grace of thoughts of profound comfort and love; sometimes, correction; and, sometimes, just silence - Jesus and I would just be together for a while. Those were the best moments of my life as a Catholic.

Becoming a Roman Catholic took courage. It meant everything from Friday abstinence to refusing inappropriate intimacy on dates. It meant going to confession. It meant thinking seriously about my vocation, trying to discern God's will for my life. It meant learning enough to be able to explain my faith. It was something I did with my whole life. There's no way I would have done it merely for some kind of abstract idea or cause. I did it because a Person made himself known to me and invited me to "come and see." But I was just beginning to get my bearings when the changes were imposed - usually without more explanation than, "it's a reform." I never doubted Jesus, but I could not believe what was going on in the Church. It was not the same Church I'd struggled into.

My soul failed...

Worse, the "watchmen" - those zealous guardians of The Spirit of Vatican Two(tm)(r) - beat me and wounded my spirit by declaring the traditions I loved, and which had brought me into the Church in the first place, to be wrong, and calling me disobedient to want them. They took my cloak from me - my Roman Catholic identity. They forbade me to kneel to greet my Lord. They spent vast sums to tear up the churches so I would never be at risk of thinking about God and the saints instead of Fully Participating. Confessionals became quasi-therapy stations, where you sat in a chair to talk to the priest, instead of confessing to God on your knees. The liturgy was put into the changeable language of the everyday world, then subjected to the academic fad of linguistic reductionism until it was stilted and childish in vocabulary and tone. The priest, who ideally could be as devoted a husband and father as any other healthy man if he hadn't discerned Jesus' call to celibacy, was no longer offered the charity and respect of modest dress by women. It was decided that for a layperson to touch the consecrated Host wasn't sacrilegious, after all. And, all along the way, the cantor brayed into the microphone and energetically waved us through songs which would be acutely embarrassing to offer to Jesus, if he was really there.

If he was really there.

Remember the "informed conscience," the concept generally (ab)used to get around difficult teachings about the use of sex? I claimed it for myself for a different reason. I concluded that my faith was in peril whenever I went to any O.F. Mass, especially in the Los Angeles archdiocese. I shook the dust from my feet and haven't been back. I will not be bullied any more.

And then came Benedict.

Summorum Pontificum floored me. It is a clearly worded instruction, to those deluded "guardians of the ramparts," to stand down. If I return to the Church, it will be because of that letter, as well as Pope Benedict's gentle, reasonable invitations, his intellectual prowess, and his firm leadership. (I accuse Fr. Z of conspiring with him in this. When he posts the texts of the talks and interweaves his emphases and commentary, I read them because I don't want to miss any of his bon mots.)

In one of the Song's allegorical interpretations, I can hear the Church, Christ's bride, saying to her Lord as a result of Pope Benedict's leadership:
The most exquisite fruits are at our doors;
the new as well as the old,
I have stored them for you, my love.

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