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Vanilla Catholicism?

1/5/2004 - 9:45 AM PST

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Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

I have a wonderful twenty one year old daughter who lives with us. She loves cooking shows. It seems to be genetic. My late dear old dad loved them also. They seem to form a backdrop these days when I arrive home early from the office. I occasionally join my daughter in watching one of them, especially when I just want her to know I care or I need some mindless fare.

Some time back, on one of her favorite cooking shows, the host and a guest were making home made ice cream. Well, need I say anymore? I was drawn into my living room chair. I love ice cream; you know the real kind, made with heavy cream and all the real flavors, not the fat free, sugar free, taste free pretend kind that was in vogue for a short time. The shows’ host prepared the basic recipe, using real vanilla beans as the flavor base, and placed the large recipe in various ice cream makers.

Then, along with her guest, she began to deepen the experience of the basic recipe by filling various bowls with the concoction and adding all the various fruits, nuts, and flavor bases that make ice cream even more of a culinary experience. By the time it was done, the vanilla seemed awfully bland. Sure, it was still ice cream, still rich and creamy, but it was missing the depth of flavor that draws so many people to this amazing frozen confection we call ice cream. At the end of the program, some members of the audience were invited to sample the various flavors. No-one chose vanilla. I am sure, if it was the only flavor available, or if it was offered alongside of the fat free or sugar free kind, it would have been chosen. But when there is something fuller flavored, most people want it.

What’s my point?

Well, I live in a Diocese that has been devastated by some of the worst trends in the contemporary Catholic Church. Don’t get me wrong, I have complete confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in this Diocese and I am not afraid. This Diocese belongs to the Lord and I am a loyal son of the Catholic Church. Since the retirement of our Bishop was accepted at the mandatory age, we prayerfully await a new Bishop, As a member of the clergy of this Diocese, I pray daily that the next Bishop will lead the faithful of our Diocese in a Catholic restoration.

Until then, I still treasure the gift that is Catholic Christian faith in its essentials. I understand that the Church is both a gift and mystery. I understand the diversity that is appropriate in Catholic life. I know it is not the “externals” that make us Catholic. However, they are an expression of the heart and center of what is distinctively Catholic about Catholic Christianity- and when they are missing, our liturgical experience can become bland and barren. That is a shame.

I have spent decades in ecumenical work, and I find it so odd that right when so many of our Christian friends in other confessions and communities are searching for a deeper encounter in formal worship, for sign, symbol and mystery, for a connection with the ancient Church in her divine worship, some parts of the Catholic community are discarding the very treasures that make her formal liturgical worship so beautiful, full of mystery and so compelling and attractive to those seeking a deeper Christian life.

Let me give you some examples.

Along with moving the tabernacle out of the sanctuary (and with it so much of the mystery and beauty of encountering the living God, in His transcendence and His imminence) the renovation “experts” in this Diocese have moved many of the symbols of uniquely Catholic worship, practice and expression out of the sanctuary. What the faithful are forced to accept is the bad fruit of what one writer aptly referred to as changing “Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces”. Oh, don’t get me wrong. The basics are still there, thank God. The Word is still proclaimed from what still at least resembles an Ambo. There is an altar, although it is often stripped down and has little grandeur befitting the eternal sacrifice made wonderfully present in the timeless mystery re-presented at every consecration in every Mass.

The priest still wears vestments; even though they seem to have such a casual nature to them one does not quickly grasp why he even wears them, or the connection that they bring between the eternal heavenly liturgy and the beauty of the worship of the Holy Church throughout the world. They sometimes seem so “ordinary” that one can fail to discern that they speak symbolically, crossing the span of more than two thousand years and reaching back into the temple worship. Then there is the issue of the “rubrics” following the rules, the norms, of the liturgy.

In one parish close to my home, the priest somewhat elevates the consecrated Host, (which he lifts from an earthenware paten) and the Chalice (filled as ...

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