Mass was wonderful yesterday. On-on-one reconciliation with a good friend and praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with others before Mass, announcing, almost out of the blue, a lector schedule proposal, seeing old faces anew, enjoying Father's simple yet sharp sermon, receiving the Lord, ramping up for Christmas (which basically amounted to realizing I don't know how, liturgically or ascetically, to ramp up for Christmas). I actually felt tears well up; it was so touchingly communal.
Hours later I went tot he last English service at Banner church. This was a ministry I had a hand in starting over two years ago, and it has always held a special place in my heart, even after I withdrew from service at Banner. Nevertheless, the contrast was stark: at Mass we had punctuated every action and every few minutes with Scriptural codas and refrains consciously in the season of Advent. At Banner we heard an amiable but mostly biographical testimony of the head pastor. No mention of Advent, except for announcements about a future party on the day of Christmas. (This reminds me of Protestantism's basic nominalism, where each thing is just what it is, free from any real membership in an essential, larger reality. Christmas goes from a season of spiritual preparation to being a single, densely celebrated day. Analogously, tradition goes from being an enduring, life-giving Voice to being a reified amount of 'truth-information' crystallized in the Bible.)
But I digress.
The stark contrast came from seeing, on the one hand, a global ecclesial power to redeem, reclaim and transform time, and, on the other hand, seeing a single church insert an elaborate personal narrative into the larger stream of the Christian narrative. In the Catholic Church (not exclusively, of course), pagan time has become divine time; natural time becomes supernatural time; hedonistic fatalism becomes expectant transformation. In other churches, unfortunately, the Christmas season simply flies overhead like a massive bird, registering only as a dark, fleeting, inscrutable shadow from 'the medieval era.' Every year, the Catholic Church exists on a string of temporal pearls, striding prayerfully from season to season modeled explicitly and minutely on the narrative kerygma of the Gospel. Other churches, however, fill the year with 'series': Clearing your path, Realizing your potential, Overcoming your fears, Finding a spouse, Taking risks in faith, etc. In short, the annual re-entry into the divine kerygmatic archetypes is replaced by human, existential archetypes. In this way, Christian value is ‘extracted’ like a spiritual genome for personal modifications. In the Catholic way, all value in time, art, physicality and community is extracted and subsumed by the primal events of the Christian drama. In the former case, it is as anthropocentric as you’d ever want. In the latter, it is – not amorphously theocentric – but as theandrocentric as you can handle. I’m not trying to trivialize the great good of meeting people’s needs from the pulpit; but the fact is, all such psycho-spiritualism must be framed by and timed to the kerygmatic archetypes. The Church can and should address ‘daily life’ (a la these series-targets), presumably in a weekday seminar, or post-liturgy workshop. Nonetheless, the prime focus, the very essence, of Christian worship is and must ever be not the perceived inadequacies of our lives but the received kerygma of God’s life in Christ.
Incidentally, this is but one consideration in a larger proposed series (oh the irony!) on what I call 'the Reformation fallout': Secular Catholicism.