Life is a mess, but good liturgy can help.
November is dark; is cold; is very naked as the trees are stripped (or let go) of all their clothes. Brendan Hoban writes as always, with words of poetry, that lead us into the life of memory and the chatter of stories from a continuing ‘wake.’
The past week (here) was full of Death and also full of Life. There were two very big Funerals and our most important Gathering of the year which is the 2nd November when the Dead of the past year were remembered. The Church was packed (on each occasion). The Extension had to be used. Sound had to be relayed.
1. The Church was packed with those who only come for such Occasions. There was a stillness around; a collective air of support; Communion was obvious. It was Holy. The sense of Mystery was tangible. The Words and Gestures spoke powerfully. The Church has a Ritual which is a Scaffold for such moments. The Language and the Gestures have to be Rewritten and Translated. Our task as Interpreters (and translators) is challenged deeply. ‘The Book’ (Or Ritual) is incapable of carrying the delicacy of such moments. Liturgy is contoured around the Language of the people – their Dialect shapes everything. So called ‘sacred words’ have to be sidelined. The jargon has to be discarded. Table, movement, words, music all have to relate. Detached archaic language has no place in proper Liturgy. Death has to evoke what is deepest in us. We are lost for words. We are incapable of making sense of Death. We walk on fragile and intimate ground. Our every word, movement, body language, decoration, has to be speak with gentleness and respect.
2. In a Community such as ours – we are privileged to be invited into the Heart & Hearth, of every Home. This is where ‘real’ Liturgy begins. Life is shared. Stories are told. We belong in the Home. It takes time and patience just to be, and listen. Humility is essential. We are privileged to be at the Table of their home. We are gentle visitors at a Wake. And something happens. Time is theirs. Ministry is a Service industry. And if the work is done; a life will be recognised. A Story will be told. Christ will walk among us. And Liturgy can be Celebrated. (Our folk are very uninhibited and not cluttered with fears of saying the wrong thing!)
3. AP McCoy rode his 4000th winner on Thursday with Mountain Tunes. It is almost as if that kind of stamina and devotion is demanded of us. We stay every day; with every family as a humble listener. Every day is a challenge. Every Funeral is different. Every person is unique. Every story is a work of Art. This demands commitment; humility; struggle; faith. We cannot rely on the short-hand of only changing the name or doing what we did before. Each day is a test. We cannot talk of Gospel or Evangelisation unless these Moments are seriously addressed. For some of us – this is the only time our Church will be full and is the only time something of God, can be sprinkled around,. What then does Christ look like, when people enter our territory where we are at home and where they feel like strangers? I think this is almost our only moment. This is where we show what Theology means and how we understand Ministry. As bachelors (and celibates) we can be very detached from the confusions of ordinary life and this can affect and infect our Liturgy.
4. Liturgy is untidy. The experience of the Community has to be integrated into what we Celebrate. The mess of life has to be there. The archaic language (so beloved, by the liturgical terrorists) has to be discarded. Communion has to happen. Liturgy is not a ‘thing’ to do or a ‘convenient structure.’ It has to connect, these particular people, to this Moment. Theology is not for talking about or debating. It is about Living, Reflecting and Applying. Liturgy Celebrates that Ordinary living. Anything that is Detached is inimical to Liturgy. If we accept the Incarnation; we accept that the ‘Word’ continues to be made flesh in the experiences of Ordinary Life.
5. We often feel despair at the Taliban (or other Islamic fundamentalists). We hear of Mullah Fazlullah in Pakistan taking over the leadership of the Taliban. We hear that he could have been the one, who ordered the death of Mulala. We feel that so many such people are destroying Religion. And yet so often we find hints of rigidity (destruction) in our own Church. (No Eulogies; Only Sacred Music etc at funerals.) We hear Levada summed up as saying that Tony Flannery was bordering on heresy or more. And I wonder who the heretics are. I suggest that those who hide in static Theology; who reduce the Eucharist to an archaic (latinised) language with crude English; who don’t Talk (communion, communication, community) with those who might differ from them (see introduction to Augustine’s De Trinitate), who take refuge in Literalism – are undermining the Church of Christ. Francis may be causing chaos for those who need the security of certainty. The God of surprises has no need to be protected. The Christ of the Gospels seems very much at home in the mess of life and the messed up lives of many. That too is our hinterland.
In conclusion: Brendan coaxed us into reminiscing on the people of our lives who have left us and our graveyards. I went wandering with him then into our own fragile efforts at trying to hold together the dangerous moment of being with people for Funerals. I think these Moments call us into a revolution in Liturgy; a Missionary approach in Ministry, and an evolutionary Theology. I was shopping at Dunne’s last week when one of the parishioners shouted to the lady at the check-out: “Mind him. He is a shoplifter.” I replied – “Don’t you destroy my reputation.” And she countered: “You have no reputation to destroy.” So who am I to talk???
Seamus Ahearne osa Rivermount.
• Fr Seamus Ahearne joined the ACP Leadership Team at the AGM