07 December 2005

Individualization of Modern Urban Christianity

A priest I once heard in a white middle-class parish defended the reformed liturgy by saying that it had become necessary to 'de-Europeanize' the Roman Catholic Church. He said that Catholicism must translate God's Word into the many languages and cultures of the world. I suppose he is right. I do not think, however, that the primary impetus for liturgical reformation came from Third World Catholics. I think rather that it came in response to a middle-class crisis of faith in North America and Western Europe. The new liturgy is suited especially to those who live in the secular city, alone in their faith for most of the week. It is not a liturgy suited to my parents or grandparents as much as to me.

When I go to church on Sunday I am forced to recognize a great deal about myself. I would rather go to a high ceremonial mass, reap for an hour or two its communal assurance. The sentimental solution would be ideal: to remain a liberal Catholic and to worship at a traditional mass. But now that I no longer live as a Catholic in a Catholic world, I cannot expect the liturgy--which reflects and cultivates my faith--to remain what it was. I will continue to go to the English mass. I will go because it is my liturgy. I will, however, often recall with nostalgia the faith I have lost.

And I will be uneasy knowing that the old faith was lost as much by choice as it was inevitably lost. My education may have made it inevitable that I would become a citizen of the secular city, but I have come to embrace the city's values: social mobility; pluralism; egalitarianism; self-reliance. By choice I do not confine myself to Catholic society. Most of my friends and nearly all of my intimates are non-Catholics. With them I normally will observe the politesse of secular society concerning religion--say nothing about it. By choice I do not pray before eating lunch in a downtown restaurant. (My public day is not divided by prayer.) By choice I do not consult the movie ratings of the Legion of Decency, and my reading is not curtailed by the [Papal] Index. By choice I am ruled by conscience rather than the authority of priests I consider my equals. I do not listen to papal pronouncements with which I disagree.

Recently, bishops and popes who have encouraged liturgical reforms have seemed surprised at the insistence of so many Catholics to determine for themselves the morality of such matters as divorce, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, and extramarital sex. But the Church fathers who initiated rituals that reflect a shared priesthood of laity and clergy should not be surprised by the independence of modern Catholics. The authoritarian Church belonged to another time. It was an upper-class Church; it was a lower-class Church. It was a hierarchical Church. It was my grandparents' Church.
SOURCE: Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, by Richard Rodriguez (Bantam Books, 1982), pp. 114-115

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