This is a subject that hits close to home for me, and it was made even more evident last weekend and over this past week: The simple fact that religion – or, more specifically, worship - which (at least to me) should be something profoundly unchanging, continues to morph into something totally unknown and unreligious. And it’s all become somewhat of a problem.
I know that sounds really confusing, so let me try to explain this a little more.
When I was growing up in the Lutheran (yes, I said Lutheran) Church, there was somewhat of a comfort to the worship of the church at that time. There were the old, classic hymns, the classic English was throughout the music, the liturgy, the prayers, and readings. And even the liturgy of the Lutheran Church was very basic liturgy (mostly what Catholics would refer to as the Liturgy of the Word – there was rarely Communion). Plainly said, you could look at all the different denominations which had a liturgy of sorts, and you could see a close connection between them all. Differences were basically minor (it was the theology that was the major differences between them as opposed to the outward worship).
Yet the one thing that seemed to be constant was the realization that this was how we worship in the Church. Every Roman Catholic Church you went into was the same. Most every Lutheran Church you visited was the same, etc., and there was a comfort to that thought.
Now, let me point out that I’m not talking about differences in theology, or morality. I believe the Church has a duty to evolve in Her moral thinking in light of new revelations through the ages, and has done so, thankfully. One particular idea is the morality of homosexuality – which has been changing since the 1970s when homosexuality was no longer considered a psychological illness (and finding more and more that it might be genetic, though there is still no concrete proof to this, yet). No, this post is primarily concerned about the worship of the Church – the traditions that were created centuries ago for real reasons, and then incorporated into “the Mass” which eventually (historically speaking of the church) was broken down into the many fractions of the One Body (fractions which were brought about not as much by the traditions of worship, but by the differences in theological thinking) – Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, etc. Each part of the whole retained a portion of that liturgy they took with them at their breaking, and continued that for many centuries.
There were changes in Liturgy, that’s true; but they were minor and generally maintained a formal thread of growing consciousness in the spiritual welfare of the people.
And yes, I am simplifying all of this and using huge generalisations to make my point, so bear with me.
With the dawn of the 1960s, Church leaders the world over decided to overhaul Liturgy and strip out everything they felt was “fluff,” tearing it down to “the basics” that “the fathers of the church” used in the beginning years. It was a major shift in religious consciousness that dealt a major blow to society as a whole – without ever even realizing its effect. Something that should have been left untouched – something stable and unchanging which had meaning and purpose – was suddenly changed and removed from our lives.
I never really gave this too much thought until recently.
In the passing years, there has been a resurgence of the need for classic and traditional worship. More and more of the younger generations (today’s 20- and 30-somethings) who have been brought up in, and have only known, this modern mush of spiritual “welfare” – It’s the only thing they’ve known existed, just like a world with Internet. But as they get older, they’ve been seeing glimpses of the traditional worship – and they’re drawn to it.
Philadelphia (as most big cities in the US) has just 2 places where someone might be able to enjoy the “Traditional Latin Mass” in the Roman Catholic Church. Until recently, they were under the auspices of a particular parish, but thankfully one of them was taken under the wings of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, giving it a chance to thrive. And that’s where these new thoughts came to me.
We were always taught to believe that the Church remained constant. And in that belief, the worship of the church was going to remain as it always had. Yet after a number of years, things begin to change – sometimes to a small degree, and other times by leaps and bounds. You’ll remember my previous posts about S. Clement’s Church in Philadelphia. With each successive Rector, changes would occur in its worship. Since the 1970s each Rector built upon the foundation of the previous Rectors and raised the spiritual awareness of the parish higher than the last. It was a gradual growth – until the most recent (and current) Rector took it upon himself to destroy the delicate spiritual work which took decades to accomplish, in a mere 18 months.
And that’s when it hit me. The continuity we thought existed in the Church is more of a mirage in these modern days. The reality is that the continuity of life of any parish, of any church, of any congregation, of any spiritual group whatsoever, is wholly dependent upon the man (or, in some cases, the woman) in charge of the spiritual welfare of those who called him. Should he get lazy, or just wake up one day and no longer care, that continuity will suddenly disappear – and so will the spirituality of those around it, as will the people themselves.
This is why most religious institutions and churches today are so empty. Perhaps others are also seeing the lack of continuity and that’s what’s keeping them at bay, or ushering them out of the doors. The religious and clergy who seem to think that performing a “Cat In The Hat Eucharist” – complete with costumes, and all prayers written in Dr. Seuss fashion (yes, it’s true, it actually happened) – will bring more people into the churches, and will enlighten the children’s spirituality. These places of worship have stripped away the beauty of worship.
So, as I see it, the problem with religion is … the clergy.