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.


a nod from the new missal

I always get into a depressive funk in the days prior to a turn of a decade birthday. I dread waking up in the morning knowing that I will be thirty…then forty…then fifty. But, when the day finally arrives, the sun is still in the sky and the world is still spinning around it. I survive another milestone birthday, and feel no worse for the experience. It wasn’t so bad after all!

I’m hoping the same will happen this Sunday. Perhaps all my worries and fears about the new missal will dissipate into nothingness. Perhaps it will be a non-event, barely noticed by those in the pews. Perhaps…

Our diocese has spent the last several years undergoing a so-called liturgical renewal. The purpose, we were told, was to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the liturgy. All we experienced was an obsessive focus on new rules and regulations; from sitting and standing to the liturgically correct way to pass a collection basket.

And, it was announced that we had to make a profound bow before receiving communion. A profound bow is a graceful and meaningful gesture when done simply and naturally, as in many Asian cultures. But it doesn’t come naturally to most North Americans. It`s also a physical challenge for the increasing number of elders in our pews. Numerous bulletin inserts and announcements from the pulpit reminded us of the need to bow, and the right and proper way to do so. (We were slow learners!) As communion lines inched along, we were told to bow while the person in front of us was receiving to speed things along. Now we found ourselves bowing to someone`s back-side!

After all the fuss made over the bow the new missal now decrees that a simple nod of the head as a gesture of respect should be performed before receiving communion. Really???

So, yes! I have underlying issues that have been ignited even more with the new missal. We have already experienced annoyance, upheaval, and anger from having liturgical `renewal` imposed on us. We could have brushed it off as much ado about nothing. But it was an annoying and distracting energy waster. With all the issues facing our church, this is what we`re focusing on? There was anger and frustration at the top-down imposition and lack of consultation with these new regulations. And, it was insulting to be treated as children, with patronizing appeals to unity and obedience.

I was chatting with a friend, a religious sister, about the upcoming changes. Her passion is working with the poor. She tries not to worry about pastors and liturgical politics. She goes to mass for the food. She needs the nourishment of the Eucharist, to be fed and energized for the work she is called to do. She is able to brush aside all the silliness.

I have pondered her words, wondering if I can dig deep within and embrace this attitude myself. But, I`m still struggling.

Making do with a faulty translation..  from the National Catholic Reporter  suggests that we,

Keep these texts, study them. But do not use them to nurse a grudge. If we become bitter and arrested in anger, then we will be losers. 

Ironically, these lines come at the end of an editorial that gives a synopsis of all that is wrong with the new missal. It is hard to put all of that aside and embrace this translation with an open mind and heart.