Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More Confirmation

First published: Friday, April 28, 2006

A confirmation I recently attended brought back to me in full force the question I keep asking: if people didn't like/reverence/believe in the Catholic Church the way it was for 1500 years, why didn't they just leave? Why was it necessary to destroy it from within?

The Protestant Reformation was supposed to have accomplished what seems to have been the objectives of the Post Vatican II desecrations: make the church simpler, vernacular, congregation-centered and personal. Why couldn't the disgruntled just join one of the already numerous and varied Protestant sects if this was the type of religious experience being sought?

Two possibilities come to mind: avarice (the Church has a lot of money and property), and sheer ego gratification. "I don't have to change, YOU have to change."

But, to return to the Confirmation. The church in which it was held is a lovely old building, a spacious gothic-style structure with beautiful stained-glass windows, carved, polished wooden pews, and what must have once been an inspiring sanctuary. Now, of course, the High Altar is gone, the altar rail is gone, the pulpit is missing. At the focal point of the altar is a chair. The Tabernacle had been move to the side - it was a strange looking, plain metal box with a little rust on the hinges.

I had to assume that the "communion table" contained some relics, as everyone made a great show out of bowing to it (or to the chair in which the Bishop sat?). No one bothered to bow to the consecrated Host, supposedly the living presence of Jesus Christ, sitting forlornly in the Tabernacle off to the side. In fact, when the confirmation candidates came up to present the "universal intentions", they completed their speeches, with bows to the communion table and/or the Bishop, and then lined up in front of the Tabernacle, with their backs to it, and nary a bow, let alone a genuflection, to God Himself. It actually made me feel sad to see Christ so pushed aside, so neglected, so ignored.

I was a bit horrified by the clothing worn to the Confirmation. Allowing for styles, it was still disconcerting to see people in flip-flops, jeans, capris, way-too-tight, way-too-short skirts, and low-cut, tight shirts. I'm not opposed in theory to scanty dressing - on the beach, in a club, in the park. But it just seems wrong somehow to show up that way for a solemn, not to say sacramental rite.

I don't think it was just for purposes of ceremony that the kids were all in graduation gowns - I think it was a choice made to cover up the possibilities.

Communion, of course, was taken standing, in the hand, and I saw more than one person returning from receiving it chewing. Again, I don't suppose there is anything wrong with that - it just seems terribly irreverent.

Finally, when the Confirmation was complete, the congregation remained in the "hall," chatting, laughing, backs to the altar and to the Tabernacle, taking pictures and exchanging gifts.

And I guess that brings me to the crux of my distress. I left the Church when I was not much older than these kids because it seemed I went to Mass one Sunday and it was Mass as I had always known it, and I came back the following week and someone had taken my Church. But it wasn't just the outward symbols and grace and beauty and tradition of my Church. It was all the things I had been taught to believe were fitting and proper, even, in some cases, matters of what was and was not sinful.

The Church was a harsh mistress, and I did not always want to do what I was told was right. As a teenager at the time, I did not want to abide by the rules of proper sexual behavior. I never thought abortion was right, but I also thought that birth control was a serious social issue. And I didn't really object when a Saturday afternoon service sufficed for a Sunday obligation. I was justly horrified as I learned about errors and sins of the Church in times past, and even not so far past.

But I really did not want it to change.

It's rather like being a kid vis a vis a parent. From about age two on, a child tests and torments his parents. He questions, goads, tempts, antagonizes, and frustrates their best attempts to establish limits, instill a sense of right and wrong, and provide guideposts for living a decent life. While the child may fuss, fume, even outright rebel, the last thing the child really wants is for Mom and Dad to admit they were wrong, abandon all the rules, and let the child do just about as it wishes.

Imagine the horror of a child returning home from school one day to find all the furniture replaced by office furniture, Dad upstairs canoodling loudly with the male neighbor and the door open, Mom out "somewhere," a note on the refrigerator saying "Help yourself," and the TV on The Playboy Channel.

For some children it might seem at first like fantasy land, but for most kids, it would be a nightmare from which there is no awaking.

So it is, I think, for many Catholics.

Yes, we disobeyed and chafed under the seemingly gratuitous rules. No, we didn't like it when our friends said we were superstitious and ignorant. Yes, it was distressing to learn (as all children must) that our Mother Church had made terrible mistakes, and done terrible harm at times. But we also found comfort and strength in the sameness - the solid, unchanging, stalwart, reliable sameness of Mass each week. We were grateful for its unswerving dignity - we really didn't want to see our moms in mini-skirts, did we? - for its adherence to the precepts and rules (nothing is more disconcerting than being told something is absolutely wrong, and then in the next breath learning that, actually, maybe it is ok), and for its staunch belief that it was in communion with the real presence of Jesus Christ (and if that is so, why is the Christ the King sitting - Like Prince Charles? - off to the side while the congregation celebrates and preens itself with readings, sing-alongs, and hand shakes?).

But it is more than tradition, beauty, and the norms that have been lost in the changes to the Church.

Again using the metaphor of parents and children, it isn't much fun to be the parent. It's difficult to take a stand, and declare that this is ok in our home, and that is not. It's a burden to try to behave as you wish your children to behave. It's embarassing when you do make blunders to admit that you broke your own rules and that it was a mistake, or worse. It's not easy to stay with your spouse, to get the kids up on Sunday morning for church, to keep the house clean and maintain a job. It's a pain to wake up in the middle of the night and change a wet bed; it's worse than a pain to deal with the aftermath of a teenager's automobile accident.

But our children want and need us to do all of this. When we try to become their friends rather than their parents, they end up with no parents.

Today, it seems that the Church wants to be a kid, too. After all, it's a lot more fun. It's fun to create your own rules according to the demands of your life (you want to have sex with your boyfriend, so not only premarital sex but birth control must be ok with God; you are gay, so it must be fine with God to have gay relations; you are sick of your spouse, so divorce without cause can't be that wrong), it's fun to write the liturgy (I've always liked Goth music, so wouldn't it be cool to have a Goth Mass?), it's fun to be the center of attention (I want to stand on the altar and read from the Bible!!).

The "old" Church made you behave, dress appropriately, be "clean," and abide by the rules of the family. But it was also there for me no matter what I did, it made me feel fresh and new after I'd confessed a mistake, it assured me that my path was right and true when I was doubtful, and it conducted itself in a way I wished to emulate.

I speak for myself, and probably for some other Catholics as well, when I say that I very much miss that strict, adult, safe, protective, and loving Church of my childhood.

No comments:

Post a Comment