I’m a pretty diplomatic person. I’m good at keeping the peace and resolving conflict. These are useful skills when directing an office of liturgy. It should not come as a surprise that liturgy is often a battle ground for competing ideologies. Worship is primal and affects people, like art, at the deepest level of their being and identity. A change in liturgy changes something about who we are. The stakes are high and very personal.
It’s easy for me to think I’ve done a good job if in the end everybody is happy. But lately I’ve been praying for the courage to risk opposition in order to do and say what I believe is right. I’m told that St. John Climacus would have us consider the day wasted if we’ve not been reviled at least once!
This week Pope Francis called for change, he anticipates opposition, he is looking forward to the MESS!
“I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!”
“I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!”
What does this MESS have to do with liturgy? By definition ritual is repetitive and its familiarity can be an important consolation. Yet, repetition doesn’t have to mean unchanging. The Gospel is calling us towards ongoing conversion so that we can change the world. If liturgy affects our deepest being and identity it has to be flexible enough to both reflect and create this change. If the liturgy does not take part in this conversion it will be nothing but hollow and meaningless. Papa Francesco spoke to this as well:
[To many people] “Perhaps the church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas.”
I don’t think it’s all or nothing, black and white. Ritual still needs to be familiar and consoling. But, as Annie Dillard said, if we actually understood what we were doing at Eucharist, we’d all show up wearing crash helmets! That means, sometimes, good liturgy is going to be messy. It means that good liturgy is going to upset some of us, challenge us to change who we are and how we live in the world.