Nov 182012

Ever notice the inverse proportionality between the words relevance and  reverence?

Now I am not totally satisfied of this formulation since the reality is that the Mass is of infinite value.  Still I find an interesting correlation in the meaning of these two French words.

Reverence – The virtue that inclines a person to show honor and respect for persons who possess some dignity. There are four forms of reverence, corresponding to four forms of dignity: 1. familial reverence toward one’s parents or those who take the poace of parents; 2. civil reverence toward persons holding civil authority; 3. ecclesiastical reverence toward the Pope, bishops, priests, and others in the service of the Church; 4. religious reverence toward any person, place, or object related to God. (Etym. Latin reverentia, awe, respect.) — Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary

RelevanceAs for “relevance” I use it in the way that some people relate it to the Mass in a modern meaning.  That is making it “up-to-date”.  Perhaps nothing is more out-of-date than something that has been made up-to-date. Another word used to mean the same idea is also popular – contemporary.  It is hard for me to imagine something so out-of-date as hymns accompanied in the folk guitar style. They seem to have concentrated on the wrong “Peter, Paul and Mary.”  Yet I have heard this called relevant.  I guess when autotuned singers is also a past fad it will also become relevant since there seems to be a time-lag of relevance when it comes to sacred music.  Folk music and contemporary worship music of the 80s. Hip Hop Mass must be on the horizon. This asks the question relevant to who? It seems I get more and more left behind by those who would make the Mass more relevant.  Relevant to faddy liturgists I guess.

It is certainly not only Catholics who have caught the relevant bug.  If anything Protestants are further along in the infection, especially in the Mega-church genre.  I have seen church signs advertising relevant or contemporary services. Rock bands and light shows replace “on this rock” and “let their be light.”  Though I don’t mean to pick on Protestants it is just that they more fully embrace the “I want to be entertained” pew sitter.  The whole movement of the modern liturgy/service is away from God and directing the attention to ourselves. “Here I am Lord” being the anthem of this mindset.

At the same time everything is being made more relevant acts of piety expressing reverence are stamped out or just faded away.  Funny how Tebowing can be a trend, but forms of Genuflection at Mass have disappeared for many.  I have certainly noticed that hardly anybody genuflects anymore.  When Jesus is present in the Tabernacle in the form of the Eucharist and the sanctuary light is lit to indicate this very few people seem to note this fact by genuflecting. Or even in the case when the Tabernacle is not present in the sanctuary do you see a profound bow towards the altar done instead.  Perhaps an occasional half-curtsy or a nod of the head. Actual rubrics such as bowing during  the Creed’s “by the power of the holy spirit…” have also pretty much disappeared.   Or how about:

a) A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated. –No. 275 of the General Instruction:

It is interesting that one practice has not slipped away.  That is crossing yourself with Holy Water before and after the Mass.  There is something about the physicality of sacramentals that appeal to us more and is less prone to being diminished. Anybody who has noticed the swell of Mass attendance on Ash Wednesday can attest to this and to a lesser extent the blessing of the throats on the Feast of St. Blaise.
The area of clothing is certainly an area that has fallen victim to relevance over reverence.  The Crescat and others have done a fine job of pointing out vestments that tried to be up-to-date.  Relevant and ugly in this case seem to be directly proportional.  As for clothing worn by the laity I can not make any discernible distinction between what might be worn to Mass and what might be worn to McDonalds.  Casual Sunday seems to be the norm.

Now some might say that all of these practices of piety and dress are just accretions and are unimportant to worshipping God.  There is certainly a partial truth in this.  Practices of piety can be just totally outward and not an indication of the person who is worshiping God. Outward piety is not always the same as inward piety.  Still I think these acts of piety are helpful to the worship of God.  I think of many of these things as training wheels and I know I still really need these training wheels.  These practices help to constantly remind me of their inner meaning (at least occasionally).  There can be a temptation to want to appear to be more pious than others and certainly that has to be guarded against. For example I kneel to receive Communion both as an act of worship and a reminder to myself of whom I am receiving.  Still there is a slight embarrassment for me in not wanting to appear super-pious and better than the other persons at Mass.  Other pious practices also help me such as crossing myself when passing a Catholic Church.  This small reminder of the importance of the Eucharist helps to jog my mind at the wonder of it all. A prayer of thanksgiving and crossing myself before meals even when dining out also help to bring me out of myself and to acknowledge what God has done for me.

Now as Father Z. has constantly mentioned “brick by brick” or I might possibly say “rubric by rubric” and there are positive signs in these regards.  Importantly as individuals we can maintain these practices and witness even in such a small way to others.

What practices of piety do you engage in that bring your mind to God and to help you to worship  him?

2nd photo credit: nathancolquhoun via photopin cc

  5 Responses to “Relevance and reverence”

  1. When attending the OF in addition to #275 above:

    Simple bows during Gloria and the Creed as per the Extraordinary Form and Signs of the Cross at: (i) last phrase of the Gloria (ii) last phrase of the Creed and (iii) along with the priest at #94 in the Roman Canon when priest says ” … may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing,” and (iv) at the last line in the Sanctus.

    W e also simply bow when the priest enters/leaves the sanctuary or passes by in procession and during a “Trinitarian citation” during a hymn (e.g. the beginning of V4 of ‘Holy God, We Praise Thy Name’)

    As for worrying about looking “to be more pious than others …” gimme a break: just showing up to Mass on time (and staying to say a thanksgiving afterwards); wearing shoes and a belt; and refraining from chatting about _ball scores already accomplishes that. This is up there with the “thou shalt not speak in words of more than one syllable for fear of trying to sound learned, er, elitist.”

  2. (((I have certainly noticed that hardly anybody genuflects anymore.)))

    I’ve noticed that my wife does not always do “IT” bu t then she has two plastic knees with a little titanium in “IT” so she says. Don’t tell anyone bu t during Mass, I usually keep my eyes closed about 92% of the time so I tend to miss a LOT.

    As for worrying about looking “to be more pious than others …” I don’t worry about “IT” at all and I guess me, myself and i do that a LOT bu t when I quietly ask GOD to look into my heart and tell U>S (usual sinning) cells why “I” do that, HE seems to quietly say that each and every “ONE” of our spiritual reality cells must get use to “IT” cause those “Souls” and “Spirits” cells who don’t learn from their mistakes in this life time will probably be cursed to repeat “IT” for Eternity in the next.

    Before closing I will say that any time I pass a grave yard in our vehicle, I do the sign of The Cross and NOW “I” really don’t care who is looking at me while doing “IT”.

    GO Figure! 🙂


  3. When I hear the word “relevance”, I reach for my sword.

  4. The infinity value of the mass is balanced by its infinite relevance, so your equation is correct. And as you point out, by trying to make it *more* relevant we make it less reverent. Good observation.

  5. Reverence takes practice, and practice makes perfect! Our parish used to be woefully irreverent. Insert new Pastor, and lo and behold! about 4 years later, we are pretty darn reverent! Those prayers while we endured and suffered seem to have been answered! Funny story: last week with the time change, Father was late, about 15 minutes, (knock-knock on the rectory door). He commented that it was nice to enter the church AFTER everyone else had taken their places. Funny Father, funny. God Bless you!

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