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.