In recent months a great deal has been written and said about the new liturgies and formats of the Missal, some of it complimentary, some of it not. Both Catholics and Anglicans continue to sort through the mallei that followed Vatican II with mixed agendas and a massive assortment of ideas, feelings, freedoms, and at times, disappointments. Where has the past half century and more been leading both churches – indeed, where are we now?
Recently, seated in a Catholic church in Wellington, my spiritual reflections and musings led me to ponder the surroundings. Clearly a house of prayer, yes, and a sense of very devout prayer at that, in some ways reflecting a time long before the parish was formed and the present building erected, but I suspect that was due to the quite elderly devotees gathered that day.
My eyes wandered over pale brick, white paintwork, and blond oak. Underfoot a nondescript grey carpet that led to a sanctuary completely devoid of colour. The Stations of the Cross were so uninspiring they melded into the brickwork, hard to be recognised as anything other than period walk plaques of no real motivation or encouragement. There are only two hints of colour, a tabernacle cover of a shade so dark it too fuses into the background, and, a bright and cheery portrait of the patron saint of the parish almost hidden from view. Is he an embarrassment?
It occurred to me that I might be sitting in a non-Conformist chapel. Perhaps things will lighten up, and brighten up, when the Mass begins. Certainly the priest was vibrant and cheery and gave a very warm welcome, but the vestments he wore, for Ordinary Time, were just as bland as the rest of the building – a muted sort of green familiar to state institutions of twenty to thirty years ago. Boring!
As I surveyed the assembled congregation, my mind wandered out the door to the direction of the business going on in another part of town. All the people in that church that morning were reflecting the CBD a few kilometres away. All were dressed in varying shades of black or grey. To me this reflected the dumbing down of the liturgy and worship, sacred song and a vocabulary that I was experiencing and which has no sense of pre, (or even post ) Vatican II.
Many Christians today feel very little – if any – full-fledged emotions toward God. It is as though He has been on vacation for too long to provoke within us any conscious passions. If you would attempt to rob these apathetic Christians from their subconscious bond with God, would they fight till their last breath? If you were to demand from a Christian today to cease calling himself a Christian, would he or she be disconcerted to the very core of their soul? The conscious heart may feel totally detached from God, but on a deeper, super-conscious level, he and God are absolutely one. The superficial worship of most churches doesn’t allow for that deeper approach.
Has the New Zealand psyche turned dark? Have we become so All Black, and Black Cap, and even All White, that we are now failing to see anything in-between? Not even the richness and beauty of Samoan or Tongan worship appears to have had much effect on our mainly European Christian heritage. I believe this overall lack of richness in our churches and liturgies is turning our culture into a colourless assembly line suited only to the consumer society.
Our theology is complex and varied, but, as reflected in most liturgies, with great success we have dumbed it down to the lowest possible denominator in some vague attempt to suit all the people all the time. As one commentator has put it, ‘the McDonaldization of society’ has seeped into our churches to the extent that our worship has the sameness and blandness of warmed-up hamburger. Such a market economy of religious life is a seeping insurgency of secularism of such destructive force that it will not be many decades away when it will be hard to know whether one is in a Christian church or a fast-food outlet. Maybe the answer might be for our national rugby team to reflect this beautiful land and become the All Greens.