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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Importance of Reverence

Pope Benedict XVI giving Communion in the traditional manner
   Over the past ten to fifteen years there has been a concerted effort on the part of some people in the Church to "reform the reform."  By this is meant an effort to do away with the perceived excesses of the liturgical and ecclesiastical reform brought about by the Second Vatican Council.  Many church leaders have supported this endeavor while many others in the Church have seen it as "turning back the clock and undoing the council."  With the recent election of Pope Francis many proponents of the "reform of the reform" are alarmed, while many others are rejoicing because Pope Francis seems to be departing from some of the more solemn and traditional ways.  What I would like to suggest here is that there is one unifying factor that can bring together these two disparate styles, a factor which boils down to one word--"reverence."
At a Mass in Honduras, June, 2012

Although I am a solid proponent of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council I must admit that there were many hokey and superficial liturgical expressions practiced in the name of that reform that were strictly "gimmicky" and that lacked substance.  This lead to a desire by many to return to a more staid and reverential liturgical style, and even to return to the traditional Latin Mass.  This was understandable. People were looking to have a more reverential celebration of The Eucharist and the other Sacraments.  To say, however that the actions of Pope Francis such as the washing of the feet of 12 young people at a detention center, including two women, one of them Muslim, was a move away from this is to somewhat miss the point.  What is at issue rather is different ways of expressing reverence. Hopefully we can all agree that the Eucharist must be celebrated in a reverent way.  Reverence, however, has more than one way of being expressed.  In Europe and much of the US and in parts of Asia, reverence is expressed through silence and through formally prescribed gestures of reverence such as silence, kneeling and the use of music which elevates the soul.  For me, one of the best examples of that music is polyphony. Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, being one of the best examples of that. Gregorian Chant, of course is right there as well.  Activities such as Eucharistic Adoration certainly promote reverence in this sense.

    There is, however, another face of reverence.  It is less formal, more spontaneous, more obviously emotion-filled.  It is a reverence with which Pope Francis and anyone who has lived in Latin America and many parts of Africa has seen.  It leads to hand clapping and spontaneous shouts of praise. it is not gimmicky because it is straight from the heart. While not rejecting the rubrics and liturgical guidelines of the Church it implements them flexibly. I have experienced this sort of reverence during my days in Bolivia, in the predominately Hispanic parish in which I served in Camden, NJ, in a Morning Prayer to Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Pahokee, FL and on my recent trip to Honduras. It is not only Hispanic and African.  It is seen in the Catholic Charismatic renewal, the Cursillo and other renewal movements in the Church.

   What is important in our life of prayer and worship is faith and reverence.  Let us not fall prey to thinking, however, than one expression of reverence is better than another.  Our cultures my incline us in one direction or another. We may have our preferences, but it is all reverence, and it is all good.

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