Monday, November 13, 2006

On Kneeling for Communion, Community, and the Sacred

From an essay by Anthony Esolen in Crisis Magazine:

...And as you watched the priest and the altar boy come toward you, you’d see others receiving: old ladies, children, carpenters, secretaries, musclemen, strangers and friends, and sometimes enemies. But there you were all together, kneeling, perhaps saying a silent prayer. It’s hard to persist in a grudge against the fellow who is kneeling beside you, and who dare not touch with his hand the body of Christ.

That rail was removed, as so many were, in the assault of the new puritans of the 1970s. Nothing should separate the laymen from the altar; we were to focus on ourselves as a community of faith, rather than on the Eucharist as an object of cultic worship.

Those who instigated the change ...said they wanted to foster the spirit of community among us.

...It may be hard for us American alienists to imagine, but a true community is not exactly chosen. You are born into it; you stumble upon it; it reaches out to get you, and you yield to its embrace.

Now we return to the concept of 'the sacred,' ignored by the Revolutionaries of the '70's and by many today (and unknown by many children and young adults--criminally deprived of this knowledge by the Revolutionaries and their running-dogs.):

It is hard to fathom how we Catholics can have forgotten that a community is defined by what it holds sacred [the definition of culture is drawn from "cult"]—and that it honors the sacred by keeping it separate from common life. The sacred compels distinctions; we stand before it at a reverent distance, that we may better behold its beauty. Without those distinctions, without that distance, we have familiarity but no intimacy. We walk brazenly over the ground that Moses feared to tread, even after he had taken the sandals off his feet.

Sometimes the sacred limits who may or may not see, or hear, or touch—the deep meaning of the veils that women used to wear. Sometimes it may be approached only on certain days, as in the Temple where the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies but once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Sometimes it demands proper attire: Try to go to a traditional black church in America wearing shorts. Sometimes it forbids certain otherwise ordinary actions: You do not walk over the military grave in the town commons. Sometimes it prescribes the extraordinary: gun-salutes, the blare of 50 trumpets. It may cordon the young from the old, or men from women, as at an Orthodox synagogue.
In all cases it commands reverence in the form of ritual laws that a people understand and obey. In so doing it organizes them into a community—as there never would have been the Twelve were it not for the One.

OK, I'll drill this again: sacred time, sacred space, sacred language, sacred music...

Now consider how many rules of the sacred we Catholics have tossed aside, and how much we have lost thereby in community. Take away that communion rail. What follows?

We obscure the ground of our union, Christ. So does our vision blur as we hastily draw too near to what surpasses our comprehension. We cannot see the whole Vine, so we turn to a few of the branches—or treat the Vine as if He were but a branch. We shunt His tent to the side, relocating it in a cloakroom, as if it were a tacky armchair of Grandpa’s that no longer matches our decor, but that we haven’t yet made up our minds to get rid of. The space between ourselves and the sacred is breached, not by the grace of Christ who gives Himself to us in the Eucharist, but by ourselves, heedlessly.

Brings to mind the term "my space;" only a few are allowed (or brought) so close to our bodies without explicit permission--those who intrude without it will find us moving further away...

On the dropping of the Communion fast (from wakening to reception at Mass):

The result weakened the bonds of community. As the scholar Eamon Duffy has pointed out, for at least one morning every week the Catholic felt a hint of the hunger his poorer brothers might feel every day.

On what George Weigel mocked as "Ascension Thursday Sunday":

Or consider the holy days of obligation. What true American would want to celebrate the Fifth of July?

On the buildings themselves--those which remain un-Revolutionized, anyway:

So it is with those mountainous symbols—with all the vertiginous heights of art and liturgy; the strangeness of a girl’s veil, the variegated light streaming from a stained-glass St. Patrick, blessing a rough shepherd who kneels on the green land before him; the pelican hymned in the ancient tongue; the purple of Lent; the hoods over the crowd of saints in Passiontide; the red days and fish on the calendar; the hushed places where no one goes, the objects no one touches; the sunburst monstrance, held by the priest beneath the folds of his garment; the Host within it, familiar and faraway, simple and incomprehensible; the water poured upon the child’s head, with his wail echoing to the silent trumpeting angels above.

These things knit the knot of community among us.

The first time my (then)-5-year-old daughter walked into St. Anthony's on 9th/Mitchell, she remarked to her mother "Mom, this place is beautiful!!" She could only compare to St. Mary/Elm Grove at the time...

She articulated in only a few words what Esolen eloquently essays.

No comments: