(This post was first published on April 21, 2011)
The Holy Thursday liturgy is rich with symbols and rituals. We commemorate the Passover meal, which was to be the last supper before Jesus`s death. Several themes are present: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the ordained priesthood, and the call to humble service. Which theme is highlighted and how the liturgy is celebrated can tell a lot about the theological leanings of the pastor and parish.
Here is one view from the pew…
Let us celebrate the Eucharist as the great sacrament of unity – a unity that transcends place and time. Holy Communion is healing food for us sinners. It is a source of energy on our spiritual journey. It should not be used as a tool of power or division.
In this scandal-ridden time of sadness and confusion, many of us are struggling with the exclusive and hierarchical nature of ordination. If Holy Thursday is a time to commemorate the institution of the priesthood, then we need to prayerfully ponder the meaning of priesthood for today.
The symbolic ritual of foot washing is too often a well-orchestrated spectacle. Many of us in the pews are immersed in the reality and messiness of service. We wash and care for our loved ones, from the wee babes to our elders. We teach and nurse. We serve and protect. We save and heal. We do this daily, without solemn processions and choirs singing. And, when we do, we aren`t surrounded by ministers and assistants carrying beautiful jugs, basins and fluffy white towels.
Rituals only have meaning if they are a sign of a deeper reality. Our church and our world are in need of true servant leaders. We are in need of men and women willing, like Jesus, to humbly bend before the feet of those they are called to serve.
I`m heading to Rome tomorrow morning. The past days have been awhirl with emails and reports, and the suitcase has yet to be packed. I hoped to write another blog post or two before I left, but the dual demon of time and energy got the best of me. Meanwhile, here`s a link to my last month`s column for the Prairie Messenger. It`s titled we need an adult church in which faith will grow.
Now, off to attack those suitcases!
In response to recent Catholic news headlines, a dear friend mused…
I find it interesting that unhappy traditionalists tend to send letters to Rome (witness the attacks on the Australian bishop, complaints against a newly named French bishop) while progressives unhappy with the status quo assemble and practice what they want to see in the church. This says a lot about our views of church!
It is an astute observation. On one side of the trenches we have Catholics who place all their faith and obedience in the hierarchical leadership (as long as the said leaders are of a traditional mind-set.) These Catholics are the loyal spies for orthodoxy, eyes and ears carefully tuned to spot the heresy or liturgical faux pas. It is their holy duty to record the failings of priests and fellow parishioners. They send regular, carefully written dispatches to their local chancery. If there are no sympathetic diocesan ears, or if the guilty party is the bishop himself, then the accusatory missives are sent directly to Rome.
On the other side of the trenches, we have the Catholics who have lost faith in the hierarchical structure of leadership in the Church. They support priests and bishops of integrity, but will not offer blind obedience based on ordination alone. They believe that the Church is the People of God, and it`s time for God`s people to stand up to injustices and inequality. They gather together for inspiration, support, and to strategize for change. The mere act of gathering will set off warning bells among traditionalists.
The former group believes that excommunications are an effective way of purifying the Church. The latter group does not bow to threats of censure or canonical punishments, as was shown in the recent gathering of the American Catholic Council.
I admit that the above descriptions are stereotypical caricatures, painted with very broad strokes. But it shows the deep theological differences that are present in our Church. As with all trench warfare, there is lots of noise and damage but little progress in finding common ground.
What will it take to cross over this ideological divide?