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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Picking a Parish as a Move in the 'Orthodoxy Game' 
13th-Feb-2006 03:43 pm
I See You!
I thought that I would transplant this over here, because I think I put things reasonably well. A friend (specifics have been blurred to protect the innocent!) wrote:
One of these days, I have to figure out how easy it is to find a "good" priest out in the Real World, because I have absolutely no clue what percent of parishes in normal-sized cities are orthodox. (E.g., my hometown is about 120,000 and has 6 parishes.) With Protestants, it's a little easier to guess, because denomination-selecting makes it easier, but I'd say that less than 10% of Protestant churches teach something sufficiently orthodox to keep my parents happy. (This used to be a good guess at numbers for me, too, although it got smaller and smaller of course as I got more and more sacramental.) Are the numbers that small in Catholicism?
I wrote back (here, slightly amended):
Eh, I wonder what kind of answer you'd be given at [your school]: just the question of "whether the priest/parish is orthodox" tends to be a "traditionalist's" question in American Catholicism. Then the question has to be asked, "Whose 'orthodoxy'?" The Vatican's? The American Traditionalists'? (I don't assume that those are the same.) The list goes on.

And what referent are we using to define orthodoxy? Is it a liturgical one? That's often the most common. Then whose liturgical tastes are we canonizing? For I would argue that it is far more often a matter of aesthetics and taste--all protests to the contrary--that is at issue rather than a matter of merely following liturgical rubrics. I've cited your complaint about the vanishing of the English Mass at [your school] more than once on that point, in fact. Or is the referent for orthodoxy the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed? (My personal favourite.) Well, if something so pedestrian as that is the standard, it seems that most everyone might be orthodox! (Not nearly so much fun.) Or shall the standard of orthodoxy be a visible commitment to social justice issues? Are most American parishes on the level of the Vatican as that? I mean, those Catholic guys in their dresses are more to the political left on lots of these issues than any Democrat in Congress! Oh my!

Myself, I would go with the Creed as the test of orthodoxy. And, since you'll find lots of parish priests who go into the priesthood for love of people, ministry, service, liturgy, or something on those lines, and go through what theology and philosophy that they have to in order to accomplish their truer vocational calling, you might find that you are more educated in matters of credal orthodoxy than they are. Certainly that's been the case with me, and I've long since gotten used to explaining the faith to priests and even bishops--it took me some time to realize that that wasn't their calling. It's mine, though, and my service to the Church.

Here's my dangerous, wild advice: attend the parish in which you live. Lots of American Catholics who have gotten a little swept up in the "orthodoxy game" will talk about searching around for "the right parish" for them, and one can see the logic in what they are getting at. But I think that there is more than a little importing of American Protestantism going on in that mentality, with Protestantism's tendency to fracture. I might go so far as to say that an "orthodox Catholic parish" is one that does not give into the temptation to fracture. It is not the orthodoxy of the parish that is really at stake: it is the orthodoxy of Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church is orthodox: parishes are local expressions of that orthodoxy, and by "local" I naturally mean "diverse," "different," "gifted," and "particular." It's all in 1 Corinthians 12, you know: all the particular giftedness of the local churches--whether in liturgy, the service of social justice, the power of theological depth and expression--these are not matters to set parishes against one another. That's the Protestant temptation. These are opportunities for affirming catholicity, and any Catholic who tells you differently isn't being terribly ... well, you know. :-)

So I'd go with your local parish. If you see something lacking, you offer your gifts to fill the void. I'm a theologian, so I better get in there to teach and catechize. I can sing, too. Judging their lack--or judging the conflicts you might have with the particular personality of a priest--as a question of "orthodoxy" is usually more a game than a substantial issue. If there's a real question of orthodoxy, that's for the bishop, or the theologians, or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy in the American Catholic Church--as has frequently happened in American Evangelicalism, too--often tend to blur American politics and social mores with true orthodoxy questions. Otherwise, they would never be so sloppy as to undermine the orthodox notions of the Communion of the Saints (the whole group of believers) and that the diverse, differently-gifted parishes are expressions of a one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
13th-Feb-2006 10:09 pm (UTC)
Here's my dangerous, wild advice: attend the parish in which you live.

Hear hear! Though I will admit to living within the scope of two parishes and choosing between them, though more for sentimental reasons in Houston and for reasons of expediency here...
13th-Feb-2006 10:24 pm (UTC)
Understood. Being on campus, I too have a "shopping variety" from which to select. Yesterday it was the Big Church Fast Mass, instead of either the Big Church Great Liturgy Mass, or the Small Chapel Cool Students Sit On The Floor At A Very Convenient Hour Mass. But I think that the principle holds: to deny the "sufficient orthodoxy" of the local parish comes very close to not only denying the Creed and its affirmation of catholicity itself, but also risks jumping right back into the Donatist Controversy (does the priest have to be "holy enough" to effect the sacraments?). In an oblique or subtle way we might also perceive here the ever-tempting error of Pelagianism (we of our free will--here exercised in the picking of the 'orthodox parish'--are sufficient to effect our salvation).

Not that I'm indulging in the orthodoxy game by tossing out heresies, myself. In his years of working on the problems in the theology of grace, I think Augustine showed us that these are often not so much in our lives as structured heresies to be formally condemned as they were in North Africa at the time, but constant, perennial temptations to be shepherded past.
14th-Feb-2006 12:11 am (UTC)
But I think that the principle holds: to deny the "sufficient orthodoxy" of the local parish comes very close to not only denying the Creed and its affirmation of catholicity itself, but also risks jumping right back into the Donatist Controversy...

What's intriguing about the conundrum you set out in the post is that the "shoppers" I know rarely tend to frame in terms of belief structure... or at least, they don't see it as relating to questions of orthodoxy. Instead, I hear desires that seem to triangulate along questions of comfort, familiarity, or aesthetics, which somehow bridles me more, though I of course see your point.

So the question in my mind becomes: is it that you and I with our options to exercise are somehow less culpable than one who moves from a conviction (however wrongheaded) that a given parish is lacking? Somehow I see a parallel between the vanity/pride distinction, but I have been grading papers all day and thus am slightly addled...
14th-Feb-2006 12:58 am (UTC)
Huh. Maybe once you get to people you have a certain amount of theological/philosophical education, however minimal, there's a realization that one ought to have a greater justification for their choices than "just" the aesthetic? (Not to diminish the importance of aesthetics.) Or would that be an unfair description of the folks you're describing?

As to the "other side of the coin" question on culpability.... I did acknowledge to myrhapsody that I do think that there can be a point where one would go to a parish that they thought more stable. My intention in my response to amea was to point out that I think that the threshold for that point is rather high, and that a large number of those in America that I see professing a concern with Catholic orthodoxy are in fact much more caught up in standards of early 21st-century American social conservatism or neo-conservative politics, neither of which are the same thing as Catholic orthodoxy. Catholic orthodoxy to my mind encompasses the congregation dancing to the rhythms of the drummers during Mass in Nigeria, encompasses Anselm's letters on why Christ had to become human, and encompasses the Lady Perpetua and the slave Felicitas standing together in the arena defying the city gathered in the amphitheatre to truly find any fault with them. In other words, the circle or the tent is extraordinarily wide, and is, as always, defined by the Creeds. Anyone who defines "orthodoxy" otherwise has some other programme they're loyal to beyond orthodoxy. That's fine, but I won't allow the equivocation.

I wouldn't, therefore, say that the ability to engage a preference--which you and I both did, and which in America has always been a part of the glorious diversity of the immigrant parishes--is not the same as the rejection of a particular parish as being less than orthodox and that "I'm going to worship with the true Catholics." Yes, there are always little (or not so little) corrections of order and discipline to take care of, but to take upon onesself the authority to proclaim one's little excommunications is almost universally an act that shows a lack of charity and honesty. It's a failure to live up to Jesus' commandment to love one's neighbours, particularly those shifty Samaritans. Of course, that's why we worship as a church, as a group, rather than alone out in the woods as it seems just about everyone (allegedly) prefers: because one only learns to love their neighbour by being with them. It's the same insight that caused Saint Benedict to switch the asceticism of monasticism from being alone to living in a group: it's so much easier to love God and Neighbour when one doesn't have to deal with them, but it seems to lack a certain depth in that case, doesn't it?
14th-Feb-2006 02:04 am (UTC)
I had a larger comment, but it boils down rather simply: Amen.
14th-Feb-2006 01:48 pm (UTC)
My intention in my response to amea was to point out that I think that the threshold for that point is rather high, and that a large number of those in America that I see professing a concern with Catholic orthodoxy are in fact much more caught up in standards of early 21st-century American social conservatism or neo-conservative politics, neither of which are the same thing as Catholic orthodoxy.

I tend to agree with that and the entire post actually. Where we might differ, perhaps, is where that threshold is, maybe just a tad. I am not sure, though; I would need for you to give me some examples.

What is unfortunate is when a parish stretches the bounds and places upon its faithful a true conflict between respecting orthodoxy and respecting chartiy and obedience.
(Deleted comment)
13th-Feb-2006 10:28 pm (UTC)
That, of course, is always possible, too, but I'm sure you can agree with me about the temptations involved in the mentality I described, right?
(Deleted comment)
14th-Feb-2006 01:04 am (UTC)
I remember you writing about it: I swear, I'm not trying to turn the thumbscrews! :-)
14th-Feb-2006 03:05 pm (UTC) - cheesy
Oh...I have a kindred spirit. See the last paragraph of my post above. It is definately a conundrum.

13th-Feb-2006 10:30 pm (UTC)
I heartily agree with this advice. My parish looks like a spaceship with cheesy, fake Italian marble in the sanctuary. It is full of people who think very odd things about what it means to be a Catholic. But it is my parish, and gosh darn it, my RCIA program.

14th-Feb-2006 12:59 am (UTC)
14th-Feb-2006 06:08 am (UTC)
So, I should stick with lay (female) people doing homilies, group confessions as a substitute for individual penance, a lack of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, and a complete lack of concern for the presence of sin (as evidenced by virtually no mention of it in any of the sermons)?

I am no where near the experts you two guys are, but I in no way equate "traditionalism" with orthodoxy. Rather, I equate orthodoxy in a trinitarian way: (Living) Tradition, the Word, and the Magisterium. To the extent that my local parish decides to ignore any of these, well, then, it seems to me that, to the same extent orthodoxy is lost.

That being said, I generally do accept your idea of the Creed as being the basis for determining orthodoxy. Which, I think is good, as it emphasizes that which we have in common, which normally is far more than what separates us (Christians).

I think I also may place a little more emphasis on the liturgy than Mike seems to do. Lex orandi, lex credendi.
14th-Feb-2006 12:01 pm (UTC)
Well, there is a difference between minor wackiness and schismatics.

14th-Feb-2006 01:20 pm (UTC) - Schismatics
Tell me my laconic theologian friend: Is Schism the right word in my case?
14th-Feb-2006 03:35 pm (UTC) - Re: Schismatics
If someone intentionally practices a Mass they know to be invalid (not just illicit), schism isn't too strong a word.

14th-Feb-2006 05:23 pm (UTC) - Re: invalid
What makes you think it invalid? There is a priest doing the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
14th-Feb-2006 05:33 pm (UTC) - Re: invalid
Hmm, well weren't they using funky bread, too?

14th-Feb-2006 07:27 pm (UTC) - Re: funky
Funky bread? We were forced to substitute cheeze-its once, but that was an exception. :-) Nah....you must have us confused with some other parish you visited.
14th-Feb-2006 05:31 pm (UTC) - Re: illicit
I think we are strongly in the illicit category. Liturgy of the Word is being given by a female pastoral administrator (not even a religious). Communion is being given out to everyone, including non-Catholics. I suspect that the roles of the laity and the priest are being mixed up, but I am not expert on that. So, we have at least three abuses that are defined as illicit. I suspect that there are more.
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