Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ite, Missa Est


This is about the most intimate piece I have posted on this blog.  This stuff has been in my mind for a while now, and I kept resisting writing it down.  I couldn’t sleep tonight because of it, so here I am at 3:25 AM typing.  I’m trying to get it out of my head and into this computer!

I don’t believe in Jesus as God any longer, but I’m pretty sure he lived and made a huge impact on the world.  I’m not even sure I believe in God, although I have to say believing is more appealing to me than not believing.  What I’m about to write isn’t a statement of belief in Jesus or God; it’s a statement of acknowledgment of the power Christian symbolism holds over me.

From the time I was 14 until I was 22, I went to Mass at least once a day, every day.  When I left the Franciscan Order at 22, I kept away from Mass and Church and religious stuff for several years, until a day in March when I was 28.  From then until I was 41, I went to Mass every day for most of those years, and always on Sunday.  For most of those 13 years, I was organist at our parishes.  As organist, I always played for at least two Masses, sometimes for as many as five on a Sunday (don’t worry, I was paid, and paid nicely, for most of that work).  For a huge part of my first 40 years, then, I was at Mass.

I no longer go to Mass. . . regularly anyway.  Once in a great while, I’ll go for some reason or other, and, when I do go, it’s like I was just at Mass the day before.  The Mass is imprinted on my DNA, I think.  It often takes me someplace where I wouldn’t otherwise go.  Not in the sense of some mystical, out–of–body place, but in the sense of some place inside me where all my memories, emotions, and old beliefs about Mass are stored.  I resonate with the structure of the Mass.  I understand it backwards and forwards.  I know its history.  I know its varieties.  I understand its theology.  The Mass is one of the biggest parts of my soul.

Several years ago, I went to Mass celebrated for people who belong to a gay Catholic group called Dignity.  A young, hip priest celebrated the Mass and did a beautiful job of it.  After the priest consecrates the bread and wine, there is a rubric that requires the priest to say, “As often as you do this, do it in memory of me.”  That night at the Dignity Mass, the priest didn’t say his line as the rubric directed.  Instead, he said, “When you do this, remember me.”

You’re probably wondering what difference that made.  Well, for me, it made some kind of huge difference.   Such a difference that I started bawling and couldn’t stop.  The new words sounded (and sound now) so human to me.  If I were to ask my girls to do something for me after I die, I would ask them to do it and “remember me,” not “do it in remembrance of me.”  I saw Jesus at the Last Supper, facing betrayal and death, surrounded by his best friends (as well as his traitor), asking his friends, when they celebrated Seders in the future, to think of him.  That is sad and poignant to me, and very, very human.  I had never before understood the emotional and human content of those words.

Carl Jung wrote a lot about symbolism, and especially religious symbolism.  He saw and appreciated its power.  The Mass, for me, is the epitome of what Jung taught.  It’s a meal.  The meal is God’s way of giving himself totally to human beings.  The early Church Fathers, when they established the Mass as a regular service and not just a Seder, knew, I believe, the value of that specific meal symbol.  Every culture values the sharing of a meal.  Whenever I eat with someone for the first time, I feel closer to that person.  Something in us, I guess, accepts eating a meal as more than just a way to get energy into our bodies.  The universality of the symbolism of the meal gives the Mass a universal basis for understanding.  Add to that the belief that the food at this meal is God himself, giving himself, and you just don’t get a symbol any more powerful.

There are parts of the Mass that are prayers of petition, I know.  But most of the prayers in the Mass are prayers of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving.  That is another part of the strong symbolism of the Mass.  Why say such prayers?  The God that is being worshiped is omnipotent and totally self–contained.  What is the purpose of adoration, of thanksgiving?  A Benedictine monk once told me that God is delighted with humans’ prayers of adoration and praise and thanksgiving.  The monk said that God allows himself to be delighted, and thereby gives human beings a power to influence in a very small way the Godhead.  The prayers of the Mass, especially the oldest prayers in the Canon, seem to me to teach people what the monk said without having to say the words outright.  People delighting God together. . . that’s powerful!

I admire and respect the Mass.  It’s so many things.  It’s prayer, of course.  It’s also therapy.  It’s drama and theater.  It’s biblical education.  It’s beautifully musical (assuming talent of composer and performers).  Most of all, I guess, it is what it is and it doesn’t change.  It’s now pretty much as it was 1800 years ago.  More than that.  Prayers in the Seder Haggadah are in the Mass.  Prayers in the Jewish synagogue service are in the Mass.  The Mass connects me with Jews way back to the time of Jesus and beyond.  The Mass is an amazing piece of work, an amazing piece of art.

There.  I really do feel better.  An agnostic’s appreciation of Catholic liturgy.  How boring.  I am tempted not to post this to FaceBook.  But I promised someone I’d post all my blog stuff to my FB page, so. . .

Be kind, gentle reader!  Don’t block me. . . please!!!!!

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