Monday, September 20, 2010

2. Culture is Made Up of Repeats

We had just docked our sailing ketch at a Great Lakes village in the North Channel of Ontario. A local businessman we had known from a previous cruise was sitting in our cockpit visiting. Since our last visit to the area we had become Catholic and I asked John if he knew where the local Catholic Church was so we could attend Mass the coming Sunday. He chuckled and said he should, since his mother had been the organist at the parish his whole life. When we suggested we attend Mass with him the next day, a Sunday, he shook his head and said. "No thanks. It's too boring for me. It's the same thing, every Sunday, nothing ever changes."

We did go to Mass the next morning. John's mom was at the organ, but, of course, John wasn't there.

John's complaint is similar to what Pam and I heard growing up as Protestants. As Evangelicals we were proud that our church didn’t keep repeating the same boring service Sunday after Sunday like Catholics did with the Mass. Or so we had been told. Had we known that Mass was usually celebrated everyday we would have been surprised seven times over. No, our worship was much superior, we didn't have any of that mind-numbing liturgy, we had (drum roll, please) an "Order of Service."

Ironically, the "order" never changed. The order consisted of: a hymn, the pastor's prayer, another hymn, a responsive reading (from the back of the hymnal), special music, the offering, a sermon, a final hymn, and a closing prayer. As youth we jokingly called this the Free Methodist liturgy. But it was not liturgy, even thought there was a pattern that was repeated — religiously. 
We rationalized that although the order was the same the hymns, prayers, Scripture, and sermons always changed. Little did we know how much more there was to liturgy.

As Catholics, the liturgy is not just the order of the various events in the service but the repeated use of gestures, smells, tastes, and the repetition of physical actions like standing, sitting, kneeling, bowing and genuflecting. Altogether the Catholic liturgy is a barrage that stimulates all six of our physical senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and balance.)

Culture originates and develops from the repeated public practice of individuals. So both our Evangelical and Catholic experiences in regular public worship, have a profound effect on culture, simply because the patterns are repeated, and the content within the patterns is true.

To the extent that we repeat ritual actions and words in Christian liturgy the associated values naturally and organically seep from us and becomes part of the larger culture. We bow to Christ out of respect, and we nod our respect to those in secular authority over us. We eat and drink Christ's body and blood with great reverence, and so during a regular meal we act with careful reserve and respect to others eating with us. Proper etiquette in society has as one of its sources the rubrics of the liturgy. In Mass we repeated learn to sit quietly and listen, which prompts us to sit quietly and listen to our boss, or parents, or spouse. When we repeatedly enter God's house we don't run or yell, but control our actions out of respect for someone greater than we. So, we get in the habit of acting the same way when we enter a place of business or another person's abode.

Thus, the more we are exposed to the on-going repetition in liturgy of the sights, sounds, words, actions, smells, and actions toward God, the more likely we are to repeat the same in our daily live with others. And the more Catholics (and other Christians) do such things, the more we repeat them for others to see and hear. In that way repetition creates a culture that comes from our experience in the liturgy.


Photo Copyright, Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS, used with permission, taken at Assumption Grotto Catholic Church Detroit.

No comments:

Post a Comment