Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Churches

There are two parishes in my area that I've attended several times. I think they serve as illustrations of two visions of the Church current in America. And they show which one is winning out.

One parish has a church building that looks like a civic center on the outside and someone's living room from 1978 on the inside. It's earth tone color scheme and pews oriented in a semi-circle around a sanctuary that resembles a middle school theater stage don't exactly shout "sacred space set apart for the worship of God." The other parish looks like it was plucked right out of 17th century France. I don't know enough about architectural styles to tell you exactly what it is, but outside and in it has a very classic look. The stained glass windows fill the place with color when the light shines through. The high altar, adorned with gold candlesticks and an ornate tabernacle, shout "glory and majesty" to the eye.

One parish selects music almost exclusively published in the 1980s: sappy, un-sing-able Broadway-style tunes that make you feel like you're in the middle of one of the romantic numbers from West Side Story. The Alleluia may or may not have been lifted from one of those children's singalong albums, and comes complete with hand gestures that look like geriatric calisthenics. The other parish sings traditional hymns ("traditional" meaning not simply "old" but "in a traditional hymn style") that are beautiful, simple, and singable (and, surprise surprise, people then actually sing along!), and often includes some plainchant and polyphony (as Vatican II said the liturgy should, and as the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal assumes every Mass is doing); I'd bet the heavenly angelic choir sounds something like this, or at least closer to this than the other one.

One parish treats the Sign of Peace as "smooch time" (as I heard one priest at another parish call it), running across the aisles to compliment each other on their blouses, waving and winking to each other as if they were greeting each other at a soiree, and completely disregarding the Agnus Dei chant when it begins. The other parish appears to view this part of the Mass as a time to "share with one another a sign of Christ's peace," to invoke the Lord's blessing of peace upon each other, not to ask how yesterday's fishing trip went.

One seems to view the Mass as a weekly social gathering of the book club, while the other seems to view it as a holy time for worship and joining in communion with God.

One parish has a half-filled church on a good day, mainly populated by people my grandparents' age, because that vision of the Church is falling to the "chronological solution," i.e. its ideas are not being accepted by the next generations and thus is dying off. The other parish is packed every Mass with young families, many with at least a half dozen children.

Neither parish is perfectly ideal, and neither parish is completely flawed. But one seems to be more conformed in many important ways to what the Church envisions a parish's liturgy to be than the other. And that one is thriving.

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