Sunday, November 13, 2011

Good Fit

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

I hate buying new shoes.
I have rather wide feet (thanks, Dad!)
and finding a pair that fits well is a challenge.
So when I do find a pair that looks good and feels good—
well, I always have this notion of going out
and buying—say—four, five, six pairs of the same,
tucking them in the back of the closet,
and being all set for a very long time.
Of course, I’ve never actually done this…
…and when I finally decide to go shopping again,
those shoes I’ve been so crazy about
just aren’t for sale any more.

Earlier this year, Bishop Edward Grosz, auxiliary bishop of Buffalo,
said that most American Catholics
are going to find the new translation of the Roman Missal
a lot like buying a new pair of shoes.
At first, Mass-goers should expect things to be a bit uncomfortable:
seemingly ill-fitting, maybe even rubbing us the wrong way.
The “old” translation of the Roman Missal
has served us well and will be missed.
(It’s the only text of the Mass that I have ever known.)
But if we grant the new Missal some “breaking in” time,
Bishop Grosz assures us,
then things will come around to the point
where we not only feel comfortable with the changes,
but find that they provide us
with an even richer experience of the Mass.

Now, it’s not really fair to call
what will happen in two short weeks a “change.”
True, this is more than a simple revision;
it’s a whole new translation of the prayers of the Mass.
But the Mass itself isn’t changing.
It helps to remember that this is a far, far cry from the reforms
which followed the Second Vatican Council back in the 1960’s.
I don’t personally remember those days…but many of you do.
The Mass didn’t just sound a little different after Vatican II;
it swapped languages altogether—from Latin to English—
besides looking and feeling a whole lot different, too.
That was really uncomfortable for many folks;
indeed, some still aren’t over it—more than 40 years later.
And yet, when the dust finally settled, most Catholics would agree:
it was a pretty good thing.

It’s important for us to recall at a moment like this
that the Mass isn’t something we create from scratch—
a human invention easily adapted to changing times and tastes.
No, the Mass is something we receive—
a gift we’re given, a sacred trust—
which has developed across the ages
according to its own inner logic. (cf. J. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy)
In this way, it follows the pattern of the talents
in this Sunday’s Gospel parable.
The departing master gives a large sum of money to his servants—
and with a distinct purpose in mind.
Since each talent—
an ancient monetary unit,
averaging 85 pounds of silver apiece—
was worth about 20 years of an average laborer’s wages,
the master’s rather high expectations are understandable.
But those who are willing to make the investment he desires
can look to reap a profit—and a very significant one, at that.
To everyone who has, more will be given;
from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Sounds like something they’re protesting
down on Wall Street these days!
But in the strange accounting of the kingdom of heaven,
those who are rich in the things of the spirit do keep getting richer.
Notice that the master doesn’t take for himself
any of the profits made by his faithful servants;
the investment he demands
is entirely for their benefit—not his own.
You see, nothing pleases God more
than enriching his creatures.  (cf. A. Vaonier)
The Lord’s purpose
is to just keep piling the treasures of heaven upon us
that we, in turn, might multiply them
for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.
There’s only one thing that can stand in the way
of this divinely-sanctioned get-rich scheme,
and that’s burying our talent for safe keeping—
leaving it to sit idly by,
recognizing neither its true potential…nor our own.  (cf. A. Giambrone)

The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council
called for the “full, conscious, and active participation”
of Catholics in the liturgy. (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14)
In response, parishes fostered a whole lot of activity.
All kinds of new “jobs” sprang up at Mass:
we were used to having altar servers, ushers, and a choir;
now we’ve added deacons, readers,
extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, cantors and greeters.
It’s as if Vatican II said, “OK, everybody—get busy!”
These diverse ministries are important, of course,
and have a been a positive step.
But all this activity can distract us and keep us from realizing
that “full, conscious, and active participation”
isn’t really about making sure
that as many people as possible have something special to do.
That’s because the most crucial action in the Mass
is the one undertaken by God—and not anything done by us.
The Mass reaches its high point as God in Christ
becomes really and truly present to us in the Eucharist.
But are we fully, consciously, and actively present to God?

And that’s where the analogy of buying new shoes breaks down.
A new shoe’s fit improves
as it takes on the unique shape of my foot.
But when it comes to the liturgy,
the “right fit” isn’t about the Mass conforming to me;
it’s about me being conformed to the Mass.
I most actively participate when I model my life
on what happens at the altar:
when I unite myself to Christ and his one, perfect sacrifice.
No multiplication of ministries, no words from any sacred text,
can do that for me.
A movement of the heart is required;
I must consciously invest myself.

As much as I always dread the prospect,
when I finally do give in and buy a new pair of shoes,
I so often discover that the new ones
suit me much, much better than the old.
But I would never come to know this
if I didn’t allow some time for “breaking in.”
Let us likewise receive the new Roman Missal as it is intended:
as a gift—a gift of immense value, a gift with a high purpose.
God has invested so very much in us.
Let us now invest ourselves in the Mass and in the Missal—
with real openness, great enthusiasm, and deep trust—
and surely it will turn a rich profit,
surely it will give us a share in our Master’s joy.

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