unity or uniformity?

The Archdiocese of Winnipeg has announced it’s first diocesan synod. One of the purposes of the synod is to build a “strong sense of diocesan unity”. It’s hard to argue against unity. After all, we are One Body in Christ. Sometimes “unity” becomes a thinly veiled attempt at uniformity, ignoring the reality that we are many and diverse members of One Body.

collegiality and subsidiarity

Promoting diocesan unity challenges us to go beyond a parochial mind-set, interested only in what directly involves us. After all, the root of the term “parochial” is found in the word “parish”. Vatican II has given us the the wonderful concept of “collegiality”. While initially referring to the bishops working together nationally and globally, it also describes the need to set our sights beyond our home base and embrace our baptismal vocation into the universal church.

The partner to collegiality is subsidiarity. Unity does not mean uniformity. Subsidiarity demands that, depending on the situation, decisions should not be imposed from above if they can be made more effectively at the local level. When uniformity is enforced, subsidiarity suffers.

enforced uniformity

An example of enforced uniformity is the New Roman Missal. Despite protests and verbalized frustrations at the clumsy and arcane language, the Vatican pronounced that the Missal was to be mandatory in all English language liturgies. The voices of pastors and the faithful were ignored and the Missal was steam-rollered into existence.

Our archdiocese was already in the midst of a “liturgical renewal” before the new missal appeared. The focus of the renewal was not on spirituality or prayer but on rubrics. Each week a new directive came from the diocesan offices on what to sing, when to sit and stand, when to bow and how to bow. We were even told how to pass the offertory basket! (Apparently the previous method of ushers holding the basket was not “liturgical”.) Watching people strain to pass the basket over several empty pews was comical, but also a good analogy of how out of touch the diocesan liturgists were with local realities. Rubrics and rules will not fill empty pews.

You do not build a church of communion by enforcing uniformity. A spirit of communion is not about superficial appearances but about seeking unity amid diversity; about respecting the unique needs, culture, and worship style of each community.


4 thoughts on “unity or uniformity?

  1. Collegiality and dialogue are messy. The difficulties are compounded as the group is increasingly diverse- ages, education, culture, you name it. This is in addition to your points about the “enforced uniformity” and our Church structure. The hierarchical model intrinsically puts the question to whether “synodality” is possible except within the “brotherhood of princes”.

    The Church leadership must, I think, profoundly ask itself: “do we want to win the argument or win the hearts and minds?” Or, more properly, WE have to ask, to refIect on how the Church has answered that question. On the other hand if it were asked of Jesus, I think the answer would also be clear, but different. That is the whole point and masterful portrayal of “The Grand Inquisitor Scene ” of Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”. Ask any good teacher or parent who is trying and, I think you would get the same answer. Jesus was prepared to be “messy”, even unto….. It is not a matter of either/or, but what is the absolute priority and the criteria might be “who am I prepared to throw under the bus?”.
    We all, I think, often wonder why Pope Francis doesn’t “act” definitively on some matters. Partly it is because he is who he is, but also because he is prepared to be messy; preparing the messy. Dictators just don’t care about a change of heart; they have placed all of their cards on control. In such a world, synodality, dialogue, concensus, are anathema, or are rhetorical instruments of appeasement, manipulation, identifying the trouble makers, ruses.

    1. “The hierarchical model intrinsically puts the question to whether “synodality” is possible except within the “brotherhood of princes”.”

      Ah, there’s the rub Dennis. Can we get past the current clericalism inherent in many dioceses? That’s the big question…and the one that provokes the cynical beast in me. If we can’t, then a diocesan synod will be mere window dressing…an appearance of lay participation with no actual power or decision making.

  2. Isabella, Thank you for continuing to be a voice of reason. You write what I know in my head and feel in my heart. For man of us Catholics who still care, the struggle is very real. Truly, one size does not fit all.

Comments are closed.