Mountaintop experiences matter, but they are not enough.

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My constant drumbeat has been that for any effort of New Evangelization to bear long-lasting fruit, we must revitalize our sacred liturgical worship of God.  Nothing we do to renew the Church will last unless we get our liturgical house in order.  Renewal of our sacred worship is the sine qua non.  It is not the only thing, but it is that activity “without which… FAIL.”

I was therefore happy to see a piece by Leroy Huizenga at Catholic World Report which touched took up my mantra.

As a matter of fact, he beat me to a point that Francis raised in an address he gave in Rio. I was working on it this morning and get pulled into other things by circumstances.

Here is a bit of it with my emphases:

World Youth Day, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization
July 30, 2013
Well-formed disciples are shaped and taught through good liturgy: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi

[...]

Mountaintop experiences do matter: they shake youth (and adults) out of the boredom of quotidian routine. But mountaintop experiences are not the norm, as Scripture attests; the theophany on Mount Sinai was not enough to sustain the people for the long term, and even after witnessing Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Peter, James, and John failed again and again. Mountaintop experiences are not enough to sustain a person, a parish, a Church. Indeed, one sees in the Gospels that even repeated encounter with Jesus Christ, God incarnate, was not always enough to sustain the disciples. But from a passage late in the Gospel of Luke, which Pope Francis presented as part of his program for the New Evangelization, we learn that moving from despair to courage for mission involves an encounter with the risen Christ in the Eucharist.

The Backbone of the New Evangelization

If encountering Christ in the Eucharist empowers mission, liturgy matters, for the Eucharist is celebrated and generally received in the Mass, now often called the eucharistic liturgy.

[...]

He also writes:

It is dangerous, I think, to pit Francis against Benedict, which would involve reading them as the papal bearers of Catholic tradition with the hermeneutic of rupture Benedict himself decried, and in any event the division between the two is a false and largely media-driven narrative.

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14 Responses to Mountaintop experiences matter, but they are not enough.

  1. Kathleen10 says:

    Father Z., you are a singular voice, crying out in the wasteland. Thank you. Just, thank you for being here at all.
    Frequently I run up against my own limited knowledge of Catholic history and practices. At those times I realize how much you and many of your commenters know that I don’t know. I see things in simpler terms without the breadth of knowledge you and so many here have.
    We are in difficult times and persecution looks very close, as opposed to 20 years ago when it seemed very far away. The one place I look to for sanity, for assurance, for consolation, is Holy Mother Church. It’s all that’s left. The gay movement has taken over and is crushing our culture, our schools, our media, our families, our government. It has expressed it’s hideous self in the molestation of boys by our priests. Too many, and one is too many. If I am wrong (and now I sometimes worry I am) to expect refutation of homosexual behavior, avowed purpose to clean up our seminaries and zero tolerance, then, I fear I am out of step with my beloved church. That feels like a 7.0 on the Richter Scale. It isn’t a recent phenomenon this waiting for the above, it’s been going on a long time for me, and, given the climate it seems harder to wait, not easier. We have fewer cultural and personal resources than back in the day. We are the shrinking minority. It’s rough to see the gloating over this choice of words. There is confusion. The spin is on, and the low information Catholic and others will have less reason to hang on.
    Yet Jesus runs His church. This I know. In the end or in any sense of the end, He is all in all and our true source of consolation, not human beings and not even his church. Maybe that is the best conclusion. When the grounds shakes under us, we turn to Him.

  2. McCall1981 says:

    @Kathleen10
    Very well said. For me too, the Church is the one place I look for sanity, assurance and consolation, which is why the “scandalous” comments that come from our Pope and the gloating are so hard to deal with. I think it makes a lot of us feel abandoned.
    I think that the liturgy will be of great importance to the New Evangelization, so hopefully this article is right and Pope Francis will encourage the renewal of the Litugy that Pope Benedict started.

  3. iPadre says:

    Amen! When we do bad Liturgy or mess with the Liturgy, we mess with God’s work. Liturgy is the work of the Trinity. We only participate in the work of God. So, if we participate in His work, we must do our best to perfect our part by proper participation and by lives conformed to Liturgy. As my great Liturgy professor often said: Liturgy is morality!” (Fr. William Heidt – May he rest in peace!)

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    I keep hearing this term, recently: low information Catholic. What is that supposed to mean:

    1. A Catholic who can’t comprehend the Faith
    2. A Catholic who is willfully negligent in the study of their Faith
    3. A Catholic who only wants the basics, assuming that they would look too, “religious,” if they looked more deeply?
    4. A Catholic who doesn’t know where to go to find out what the Church teaches?
    5. A Catholic who wants their ears tickled with people telling them what they want to hear so that they won’t have to think too much?
    6. A Catholic who has been told by, “experts,” that it’s all conscience, so the facts don’t matter?
    7. Catholics who don’t have access to the Internet or a library?
    8. Catholics who want to be good guys by not killing anybody or yelling too much and throwing some change in the poor box?
    9. Catholics who have been influenced by the, “Once saved, always saved,” strain of Protestantism?
    10. A Catholic who knows they are right and have the right to tell the Church their piece of information (i.e., one-way information Catholics)?

    One would assume that when one loves someone, one wants to learn all they can about them. They want to learn about their hair, their eyes, the curve of their mouth. They want to see where they work, listen to them speak. St. Teresa of Avila said that she wanted to know the color of Jesus’s eyes. People in love want to be around the one they love.

    What better way to live the love one has for Jesus than in the Liturgy? It is the love ritual between lovers.

    The problem is not that these Catholics are low information Catholics. They are little love Catholics. Let someone tell you that they love Jesus and then wince when you invite them to Church. It is this disconnect that is the foundational problem within the Church: love has become too easy, too cold, too optional. The central thing that the low information Catholic has lost sight of is the Cross, which really means that they have lost sight of love. They want a life of ease instead of a life of meaning. Most of all, they don’t want it to be discovered that all of their talk of being a loving individual is all for show. They want to be socially recognized for the work they do. They are the ultimate social worker – that is, they will work society until it defines love in a manner that is pleasing to them.

    No, information is not the problem. It is love. The one constant place to meet Love, incarnate is in the Liturgy. Any confusion, any doubts, any rationalizations about what love is and whether or not one is loving as they ought should melt away when one truly participates in the Sacrifice of the Mass – to see Christ’s death re-presented without the blood, but with all of the spirit, to know that spirit must be yours, as well.

    Oh, but without love, they will never see the Spirit and without the Spirit, they will never be wise – and they don’t want to be wise because it might force them to believe the Church. The Mass is where people learn to believe in the Church more than any place else – and that is why they are afraid of it The Mass is the food of wisdom. It is the place of the Spirit and the place where a man can bring all the love he has for his Maker and present it to him, returning love for love.

    The Chicken

  5. AAJD says:

    As I’ve suggested elsewhere (http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/2013/05/liturgy-and-ecclesiology.html), Fr. Z is absolutely right to stress the connection between the “new” evangelization and the “old” liturgy. But one question occurs: does emphasis on the latter also include a recovery of the ascetical practices and periods associated with the “old” Mass, i.e., fasting (both ante-Eucharistic and according to liturgical season)? This, it seems to me, demonstrates that an interest in the extraordinary form is not only aesthetic but also ascetic.

  6. James C says:

    Agreed that it is wrong to go overboard in pitting Francis against Benedict. But on the matter of liturgy, if Francis undoes some of Benedict’s reforms and introduces liturgical abuses (or poor liturgical sensibility at least) into papal masses, or appoints bishops who are hostile to the restoration of liturgical sanity, then we would have to face reality and admit that the present Holy Father (to put it mildly) is not helping in what Fr. Z calls the sine qua non of the new evangelization. Time will tell. At the least, I hope the Holy See of Francis will not impede the troops in our grass-roots efforts at resacralization, even if he doesn’t lead by example from the top. Let us hope and pray that heavy-handed canonical restrictions remain isolated to the Franciscans of the Immaculate.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    If all the money, time and effort put into WYD was put into youth catechesis around the world, we would have a Catholic renewal. Emotionalism is not even necessarily equal to a mountain-top experience, as that includes a theophany or epiphany. Mostly what people experience in crowd gatherings, be it WYD or the Beatles long ago, has nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do with self. A real mountain top experience is ecstasy in God and changes one forever. Anything else could be euphoria, which is more frequently, a psychological condition based on false feelings of well-being and happiness which do not last.

  8. Ryan says:

    I was reading Pius XII’s Encyclical recently and came across this passage:
    46. On this subject We judge it Our duty to rectify an attitude with which you are doubtless familiar, Venerable Brethren. We refer to the error and fallacious reasoning of those who have claimed that the sacred liturgy is a kind of proving ground for the truths to be held of faith, meaning by this that the Church is obliged to declare such a doctrine sound when it is found to have produced fruits of piety and sanctity through the sacred rites of the liturgy, and to reject it otherwise. Hence the epigram, “Lex orandi, lex credendi” – the law for prayer is the law for faith.
    47. But this is not what the Church teaches and enjoins.

    Is it possible that this means something different now than it meant in 1947?

  9. JonPatrick says:

    Ryan , i t appears you are referring to Mediator Dei. If one f\goes on and reads through section 48, it seems to me at least the Holy Father is saying that liturgy and faith are inexorably linked and one cannot look at one without the other.

    “48. For this reason, whenever there was question of defining a truth revealed by God, the Sovereign Pontiff and the Councils in their recourse to the “theological sources,” as they are called, have not seldom drawn many an argument from this sacred science of the liturgy. For an example in point, Our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, so argued when he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Similarly during the discussion of a doubtful or controversial truth, the Church and the Holy Fathers have not failed to look to the age-old and age-honored sacred rites for enlightenment. Hence the well-known and venerable maxim, “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi” – let the rule for prayer determine the rule of belief.[45] The sacred liturgy, consequently, does not decide or determine independently and of itself what is of Catholic faith. More properly, since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and subject, as such, to the supreme teaching authority of the Church, it can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly, of no little value, towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine. “

  10. JonPatrick says:

    P.S. Mediator Dei paragraph 58 should be required reading for all priests and liturgists.

  11. Gail F says:

    I think WYD is great. It serves many purposes, from demonstrating to the world that the Church is alive, young, and enthusiastic, to giving many people “mountaintop experiences.” For some these are fleeting and forgettable, for others one is enough to inspire a whole life. There is a place in the world for these gatherings, they are meaningful and good. But without good liturgy in every parish every day, they will bear less fruit. I have often heard this is a problem with really good programs of every sort — that a great RCIA program leaves enthusiastic new Catholics nowhere, or that a great campus ministry program ends up with devout kids going home to dispirited, discontented and discouraging parishes. I’ve often wondered how many people see a Catholics Come Home commercial and go to their local parish for Mass, only to leave in dismay. How many readers of this blog feel as if they stick with the Church in spite of what happens in their parishes? I am Catholic because it is true, not because my parish is a prayerful, faithful place to live out the Christian life. Many people are in this position. Give us a little help here, priests! Anyway, I say BRAVO World Youth Day, dancing bishops and all. We don’t need millions or multi-year programs to catechize and have a faithful liturgy, all we need to do is DO IT. But that’s easier said than done…

  12. Ryan says:

    Thanks for the response Jon. I’ve been trying to understand what Pius XII had in mind when he wrote these paragraphs. Given what he later writes, I can only conclude that he would never believe to be possible what happened in the Sixties.

  13. joan ellen says:

    Kathleen10 says:
    31 July 2013 at 4:53 pm – Thank you very much.

    iPadre says:
    31 July 2013 at 5:37 pm
    “Amen! When we do bad Liturgy or mess with the Liturgy, we mess with God’s work. Liturgy is the work of the Trinity. We only participate in the work of God. So, if we participate in His work, we must do our best to perfect our part by proper participation and by lives conformed to Liturgy. As my great Liturgy professor often said: Liturgy is morality!” (Fr. William Heidt – May he rest in peace!)” Thank you very much. Especially for: “perfect our part by proper participation and by lives conformed to Liturgy.” To me these words say we need to work on our example when we are at Mass and not at Mass.

    The Masked Chicken says:
    31 July 2013 at 6:17 pm

    “No, information is not the problem. It is love. The one constant place to meet Love, incarnate is in the Liturgy. Any confusion, any doubts, any rationalizations about what love is and whether or not one is loving as they ought should melt away when one truly participates in the Sacrifice of the Mass – to see Christ’s death re-presented without the blood, but with all of the spirit, to know that spirit must be yours, as well.” Thank you for these words, especially: “The one constant place to meet Love, incarnate is in the Liturgy.” I agree wholeheartedly.

    I would look at ‘low information’ (as not well catechized) vs. ‘little love’ this way: It takes information (thought(s)) in the intellect to inform the will (from where love comes…heart, choices) so it takes ‘information and love’ to solve the problem(s)…both and… Same for Faith…I believe (intellect) a thought(s)…in God…(love) (will), a decision, choice. I’m trying to say that Faith includes ‘information (intellect) and love’ (will). n’est-ce pas?

  14. ssoldie says:

    Our Lord said very clearly: “Thou shalt love the Lord the God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength”(Mark 12:30) We love God above
    all things when we would rather lose life, property, friends, and all things else, rather then offend him.
    With all the chaos and confusion and disunity in the “Church” these last 50 years I pray always the prayer for peace in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.’ O Lord Jesus Christ, who saidst to Thine Apostles: Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you: regard not my sins, but the faithof Thy Church; and voouchsafe to grant her that peace and unity which is agreeable to thy will: Who livest and reignest God,world without end.’ . Amen