Saint Aelred Catholic Church
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Mass as the Heart of Community

October 6, 2018

 

 

On September 23rd St. Aelred celebrated its first monthly Mass. We had around 45 people gather for the Holy Sacrifice. People stayed several hours afterward for drinks, food, and discussion. Thank you to all who helped make it possible, and above all Thanks be to God for his Son's blessed sacrifice that brought us together and continues to bind us in bonds of Charity.

 

There is an interesting phenomenon among Ordinariate Parishes and Communities. I believe it is a resurging interest and focus on the Mass as the source and summit of human community.

 

This is quite different from the individualistic approach to Mass. The Individualist is focused solely on their reception of Mass, their confession, their prayers, their Sunday obligation, their experience, their spirituality, and so on. It is an entirely selfish approach to the great gift God has given not just to me, but to the body of Christ which I am a member. My dues and obligations to fellow man to love one another are quickly replaced with "my rights" under this selfish model.

 

It is also quite different than the many attempts at "community" so prevalent in our culture. My coffee shop, bank, play groups, the trendy used clothes shop, the yoga shop, and the restaurant with trivia and beer all claim to be "communities." What exactly is a "community" that both churches and happy hour both claim to be one?

 

I would argue a "community" is a collection of persons that are in communion, i.e. a community is a group held together by something both deeper and larger than any of the particular persons which makes them, and is greater than their sum. They metaphysically participate in something which makes them beholden to that thing.

 

The problem here is that I'm not beholden to my bank or to my restaurant; they're simply arbitrary preferences. But when we all gather at this or that club, story time, or store -- we have to pretend it's a community. To help us get over the awkwardness of us all secretly knowing we're only there for ourselves, the leaders of that "community" use managerial methods to force intimacy. We might call this a 'introduction time' or 'ice breakers.' If you wouldn't bare your naked body to a stranger in five minutes, why would you bare your soul to a stranger within five minutes? Which is more intimate?

 

In essence these activities operate off the assumption that friendship is based on consumption of things we like (books, clothes, beer), and that these friendships are held together by disclosing intimate information to people we just met five minutes ago. That's not friendship, that's manipulation by the leader and self-deception on the parts of the "consumers." None of these are gods, so ultimately it is not in them in which I "live and move and have my being" (Acts 17:28). As soon as your tastes change away from trivia or burgers or whatever -- you leave that community. Thus you were never beholden to it, it was beholden to you, to your arbitrary preferences. These are therefore not communities, they are businesses.

 

Why then are businesses claiming to be communities?

 

The simple answer is communities started acting like businesses first. They blurred the line. In the Protestant world the leadership books, pop psychology, managerial methods, and technocratic model of efficiency became the way to generate "experiences" which the customers, I mean worshippers, enjoyed. This trend can be dated all the way back to the First and Second Great Awakenings in The United States. There we find journals of folks helping to "produce experiences" of conversion through carefully plotted moments to incite the passions toward fear, hope, love, joy, etc. The worshipper attributed it to God, but the man behind the curtain had carefully crafted the moment to manipulate their passions. Thus protestant communities first began acting like businesses, selling "experiences," now businesses have started to act like protestant communities in offering a sense of belonging. But again, we're not actually beholden to them.

 

 

What then is deeper and higher than me then? What can hold Christians together?

 

The Mass. The Mass is the "strategy," the "method," the "plan" for growing communities. There is no business model, no technique, no leadership book that is going to replace Our Lord and Saviour's redeeming action upon the cross as the beginning and end of all human community. Why?

 

(1) Adam has Fallen and can't get up.
There is a theme that runs through The Church Father's interpretation of The Holy Scriptures, that when Adam and Eve were disobedient and cast out of The Garden of Eden, they were essentialy scattered. This theme is picked up in the story of The Tower of Babel, where God scatters Man's attempt to regather himself through cleverness and cunning to "make a  name for ourselves" (Genesis 11). A Project of Self-Restoration, Self-Care, Self-Actualization is in essence Man's attempt to say, "I shall heal myself, I need no God. We'll make heaven on earth here and now by our own strength." Modern Towers of Babel include such "creating community" you see in hospitals, schools, businesses; you see it in Maslow's Hierarchy that commends "Self-Actualization" to young minds in college (compare to Pelagianism).

 

(2) If Adam's fault is internal, he needs external help - God.
The second theme found in Patristic, Biblical Exegesis is that of the regathering of the fragments. Many of our Church Fathers describe The Eucharist as that which regathered Man into the Second Adam - Jesus Christ. It is thus by the sacrament that the fragments of once was natural human community can be rebuilt.

 

Mass is communal and universal. When we say The Church is Catholic, we are not saying it is "everywhere and all the time." This is frequently cited but there have been and still are areas in the world where The Gospel has gone unknown. To be Catholic is to say "Universal." Here the Greek notion of a universal manifesting in a particular is helpful. The Church as Christ's Body is something eternal, because The Son is eternal. In a sense The Church always was, is, and shall be. So when a local parish celebrates its first Mass, that community takes on the form of the universal Catholic Church. It becomes something different than a mere community, it becomes a local manifestation of Christ's Catholic (universal) Church. Jesus really is present in the person of the priest, in the body of the lay faithful, and in the eucharistic species. Jesus becomes present to that area of the world. And when we consume him, he consumes us and makes us more and more conformed to his body. Amazing! This is how space and time are redeemed. This is how Mass saves your people in your neck of the woods.

 

This is how Man, Adam, is regathered and becomes one. The true sacrament of community is thus The Mass. It is what binds us not just as local, particular communities that are separate from others, but it regathers Man into one community. Insofar as a community becomes one across time and space through the Mass it becomes something more than a community, its particularity takes on a universality. This is why The Catholic Church cannot be said to be "Communitarian." And this thing we call The One Holy Catholic Church.

 

This is why when Christians talk about "community" they mean something entirely different than what many entities claiming to be "communities" mean. At least I hope so. There is a clever equivocation going on with the term "community" that has led many astray. There are natural communities that occur in the secular world as St. Thomas Aquinas attests, but there might not be many of those. There are many things purporting to be communities that actually are not. And ultimately we are not meant to have "many communities" with many "roles" to take on. Faithful Catholics are all being caught up into the One City of God where we are one person in Christ. Whatever scatters us across many communities is ultimately not healing Adam, it is scattering him all the more.

 

By Ordinariate parishes beginning small, they enjoy the ability to see what the first Christians must have seen. A small group desiring to preach the Gospel to pagans, to correct errors from those who had gone astray into false churches (see 1 John), and to do so by the breaking of the bread, the fellowship, the doctrine of the Apostles, and keeping to the prayers. Thus it is that Ordinariate parishes, missions, and communities see their heart in the Mass. We don't show up to Mass for different reasons, for some arbitrary preference, but we all show up there for the same reason, "to worship The LORD in the beauty of holiness." It is thus The Mass that makes us, us.

 

 

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