Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ritual Ridicule Noted

As you can imagine, I am a member of a few online groups dedicated to the practice of ritual and ceremony. I often find that occasionally, these groups have a season of some quite unpleasant interchanges. It usually goes like this :

A: O foolish *insert denomination/jurisdiction here*! The Bishop Ordinary is present and you haven't put a seventh candle behind the crucifix. The vimpa is of the wrong colour, and the MC should not be wielding a flame - thrower outside of Ash Wednesday.

B: Who cares? It's our intention to worship God that counts, not all this pedantic obsession with ornaments and rubrics.

A: Surely sir, you have read the raison d'etre of this group. It is our intention to bring to light abuses of ritual.

B: But you ridicule them as well! That is just not the spirit of Christianity!

A: We only do so in a spirit of lightheartedness. If you're such a prissy hater of ritual, please leave the group.

B: I'M prissy? You're the bunch of lace loving losers who faint when it's half an inch too short....

...and so it continues into sarcasm, snipery, and snotty parting shots.

It's an unfortunate interchange which shows all kinds of Christians up as unpleasant and unkind and thus tars us all with the same brush. It is very difficult to see the person of Christ there in the argument. Yet He is, but you would be hard pushed to see where. Human nature is operating at its best to obscure the Love of God which fuels it.

Let us withdraw from the smoke of competing incense and try and understand A and B and why they are posting as they are.

A is clearly a ritualist following one of the great texts on the practice of ritual and ceremony like Ritual Notes, or the Anglican Directorium, or Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Explained. He subscribes to a standard, presumably the same standard that everyone else is interested in in the group.

There is nothing wrong with this. Ritual is an essential part of the worship of God right back to the beginning of our conversation with Him. In each of the texts I've mentioned, there is an integrity of theology - lex orandi lex credendi - which surrounds all the tiny details ranging from numbers of candles to whether the water of the lavabo should be from the blessed cruet of water or not. The paten is hidden from view until the fraction when it becomes the Tomb in which the Body of Christ rests after it is broken on the Cross.

All this gives colour and meaning - indeed a very precise meaning to what we do. It is this zeal for God's house that has consumed A.

In the confines of this group, A hopes to release some of the frustration he feels when he sees what he perceives as deviations from his standard. He complains with the same attitude as you might complain to your friends about the little old lady dithering about in front of them in the queue at the Post Office.

B, on the other hand, is concerned that such an overemphasis on details will detract people from living the life that Christ would want us to live. He fears an idolatry of things that Our Lord Himself cast out of the temple for clouding the sincerity and worship of God. In this, what gets done, or does not get done, is subordinate to the intentions of the heart.

For B, complaints about what he perceives to be the minutiae of ritual are evidence of that idolatry representing the traditions of men censured by Our Lord. He has probably joined the group out of a genuine interest for how things could be done, but does not hold the standards of ritual to be as authoritative as A.

In my parish, we try to follow the English Missal with our ritual guided by Ritual Notes. That is the standard of our ritual to which we subscribe subject to the approval of my jurisdiction - the Anglican Catholic Church. However, with my limited resources and relative inexperience, I doubt that I have ever said a Ritual Notes perfect Mass. My Archdeacon is always ready to instruct and I am so grateful for his pointing out my errors. It means that I can improve and seek to make my Mass better and more integrated into the Catholic Faith. For my sins and omissions, I have to rely on God to supply what is lacking and correct what is done amiss and pray for a better approach to excellence in Worship. The problem is, does this set me up for A's ridicule?

Probably, yes. I wonder how much he would complain if he knew my intentions. If he did ridicule me, would he do so according to the basic premise of joke-telling? You should only say something light-hearted if you can be sure that everyone who hears it would consider it as light-hearted. I am open to be ridiculed as much as anyone else. Does that mean that I should be ridiculed?

Out of my earshot, I guess that I am the target of much criticism and ridicule. The CofE Parish that I left painted me as autistic, crackers, and mad, and the priest did nothing to stand up for me but rather allowed the criticism to continue. I was the one standing up for high standards of ritual because I knew that it reflected our theology. I too employed ridicule of such a laissez faire attitude which, to my mind, showed full well the deterioration of belief in my old parish. I still believe that, and while my sense if humour is still as wicked as ever, I do try to make my humour appropriate to my listeners. As a Benedictine, however, I should strive to get away from complaining and murmuring. It does damage communities, especially online communities where the non-verbal nuances are missing.

While I sit with B on his concern about the tone of the comment, I must side in spirit with A. There have to be high standards of liturgy which reflect the theology of the church and for which one can strive so that one can approach God in the Catholic Faith. Chopping and changing according to whim follows only the individual subjective and reactionary view, rather than the comprehensive and universal standard set by the Catholic Faith.

I have no concern about Anglicans of the Strict Observance - this is my little joke about Prayerbook Anglicans who hold to the entirety of the Book of Common Prayer : it is intended as affectionate and respectful of their position. They have their integrity written in, for example, The Parson's Handbook. It's there and they respect it. Thus they have my respect. I do have concern, and this was one of the causes of my ejection, with those ministers who believe that the heart is the source of liturgy. They are pushing a personal theology which may or may not be true.

For me, the conversation should have gone something like

A: O foolish *insert denomination/ jurisdiction here*! The Bishop Ordinary is present and you haven't put a seventh candle behind the crucifix. The vimpa is of the wrong colour, and the MC should not be wielding a flame - thrower outside of Ash Wednesday.

B: I appreciate that this group is for those who subscribe to the liturgical standards in the description of this group, however, I am concerned about the depth of adhering to the rubrics in such detail, and feel that it is wrong to describe that denomination as foolish.

A: My apologies. I was blowing off some steam. Was there anything that you particularly object to?

B: Please do instruct me on the liturgical use of flame - throwers and explain to me the theology behind them.

A: Well....

Yes, I  know that's a little stilted. However, before we post, we really should try to see the person we're addressing and see their motivation. To seek to respect the other where they are is a sign of God's love in us.

Hmm. Maybe one day even I will give that a try!

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