In describing how I view some of the proceedings, I've found it convenient to insert a sermon of my own, in the style of the narrative throughout this book. This homily does not draw on ritual so should be readable by all.
So my guess is that the problem of comparative numbers is not as serious as may appear at first glance. Nevertheless there is a problem: a problem of channelling spiritual commitment in the right direction; of spiritual effectiveness. Considering that a once-a-week visit to the local church is in many cases the only means of spiritual nourishment 1, then the Service or Mass ought to make a significant impact on the congregation; it ought to facilitate an ongoing spiritual transformation.
Church-going involves a renewal of commitment to a spiritual existence. It should not be seen as an end-point as in the attitude, "I shall have done my duty for the week," but rather as a time for re-charging the 'spiritual batteries' and as a spring-board for life after Mass.
Most folk have probably heard this said before, but apparently to little avail! At the end of Mass, it may be observed that within a split-second of the priest's exit, there ensues a tremendous surge of disrespectful chatter about mundane topics and a headlong rush for the main door. It is evident that those who display such behaviour have quickly dispensed with any deeper level of spiritual reverence. Once these people have immersed themselves in their daily routines, is it likely that they will turn to spiritual matters? No.
So there is a veritable crisis - in the conduct of the Mass. There are probably a number of contributory reasons for this, but a principal reason is the initial lack of a right attitude as to how to approach the Mass and how to experience it. We become preoccupied with numerous ingrained expectations, for instance, of the order of proceedings; and, yes, week after week we discover that these expectations are fulfilled. We do not see beyond the end of our nose!
We should look beyond the standard layout - beyond the historical narrative - and develop, in whatever turns out to be a helpful framework, our own meaningful experience. There is no predefined way to do this; once again, the type of experience will vary amongst individual minds. I indicate below some of my own personal perspectives, which may vary depending upon my mood.
In general, I find that the proceedings whizz along. This may be accounted for by the relatively short duration of the Mass I attend in my locality, but the tendency is enforced by the several quite wordy declarations (the Confiteor, Gloria, and Creed) which, being said so frequently, are rolled off the tongue at terrific speed. It is during the recital of each of these that I often feel rather anxious.
Questions may hang over me: "What is going through all these people's minds? Can I, with rather strong Buddhist overtones, rightly be seen to offer 'worship' with others whose vision I perceive as radically different from my own? Oh dear, I feel that I may appear to be like a Pharisee. Yet, surely, something is amiss in all this? How frustrating it is!" In truth, I often find it easier to identify with Buddhists, perhaps because my contact with them is underpinned by meditation: valid experience and not blind faith.
Any joy which may arise in the congregation's unity is almost invariably made implicitly and explicitly exclusive - there is no acknowledgement of, let alone rejoicing in, the spiritual progress of followers of other religions 2. How hard it has been for me to put up with this ignorance! But I call myself a Christian, and Mass is beneficial for me so I should continue to attend!
I'm usually fairly quick to prevent such anxious discursive thoughts from invading my mind during Mass. And so, immediately after we request, "I ask ... you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord our God," I do pray for my 'brothers and sisters'!
Soon after, we have three readings, one from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament. If mention is made of the 'tribe of Israel' or of Jerusalem then I often find it difficult to relate to these except on a very general metaphorical level in which names become irrelevant; without such a view, I find that there is too much emphasis on the historical peculiarities. Thus, in seeking 'the daily bread' of the Higher Evolution, I usually find the 2nd reading and the Gospel reading more useful then the 1st reading.
And then we come to the homily (or sermon), which I await with some eagerness for some fresh insight. It is usually honest, sincere and spiritually wholesome. What a pleasant change it makes from the sarcasm and cynicism with which we are constantly bombarded in newspapers and on TV and Radio!
At this juncture I would like to present my sermon; its title is 'Delusive Attachment.' I base it on the following extract of a letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians (1,7:29-31):
"What I mean, brothers, is that time is very short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away."
This appears to me to be an exceptionally good perception and exposition of the truth of the necessity to have complete psychological detachment from this transient existence on Earth; from the Lower Evolution. Jesus had already referred explicitly to this reality in the context of material possessions, stunning his disciples (Mark 10:21- 27); and then implicitly in the context of personal relationships (Mark 10:29-30).
Hence, in "those who have wives should live as if they had none", St. Paul expresses the need to be free from neurotic possessiveness - in reality no two 'selves' exist together for eternity. Any idea that there is spirituality in an exclusive special relationship of a couple is a delusive myth.
As a corollary, which has a more positive and constructive tone, we must love everyone equally - family, relatives, friends, shop-owners, sales people, ... , enemies! ("Etiam inimicos? Etiam!") If you can do this, then you know what true love is.
More subtle than the attachment to people is the attachment to human emotions in general which underpins it. Thus, Paul says, " ... those who are happy, as if they were not." This does not mean, of course, that we should avoid human happiness (or seek self-mortification); it means merely that we should not cling to happiness (or sadness, fear, ... ). We should just observe the emotions coming and going, thereby releasing ourselves from neurotic (reactive or unskilfully conditioned) conduct.
Unfortunately, most of us are so conditioned that we get caught up in the machinery of society which reduces our awareness of such delusive attachments; we are even conditioned to think that if we do not conform to various mores, then there is something wrong with us! Hence we drive ourselves to an acquisitive existence - "I must have this and that ... I must rush to get such and such a job ... I must find a partner ... We must get a house ... We must have children ... etc. This mad compulsive attitude is a dominant feature of Western society.
At the centre of all this attachment is inevitably the deluded notion of self, the big 'I', i.e. egoism. Note how egoism may extend to more than one individual - 'I' may become 'We'. The egoism with respect to people can be described systematically as follows. 3
Having possessions, getting married etc. are not delusive actions in themselves. However, the attachment which is almost always involved is delusive; the conditioning of human instincts so deep within us are so strong. Regarding l'égoisme à deux, it transpires that celibacy has been almost necessary as a practical measure to combat the attachment. This is why St. Paul says in his next paragraph,
"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs - how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of the world - how he can please his wife - and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world - how she can please her husband."Proper insight into such attachment can be enough, I feel, to lead to Enlightenment - whether you are married or unmarried; but if statistics were available, I'm sure that they would show that, on the basis of what has happened hitherto, a single person is far more likely to succeed in detachment than a married person.
Looking at texts of the Latin Mass, it seems that the Creed might have been, worse still, an exercise in enunciation and pronunciation - throughout there are stress marks on various words. Even in English, I find these loud proclamations rather iffy - there isn't much time to say the lines meaningfully.
In spite of this, I do manage to create one small peaceful image in the midst of this consistent bombast. During the lines, "For us men and for our salvation, ... , He became incarnate from the virgin Mary, and was made man" I bow down and visualise crystalline forms of a baby Jesus and Mary, with specks of bright light radiating from the centres of their bodies.
I don't let the heavily dualistic and exclusive language bother me, for non-dualistic and universal truth can be perceived behind such words.
In the bidding prayers ('Prayer of the Faithful') which are next, I have wondered whether there is any point praying for someone whom, as far as I can recall, I have never met. The answer is yes, but what can I actually do? You see, for me to pray to/for ( = with) a name is unsatisfactory unless it is unambiguously attributable to one person; hence I would consider it alright to pray to Christ, but I'd be somewhat stuck when it came to praying for John Smith, say, unless I knew him.
Until I acquire better insight, I shall continue to just try and express compassionate peace and light from within my own limited consciousness, extending through the church to promote peace there, so that those who knew Mr. x & Mrs. y may pray more strongly, and beyond; I do the same thing when passing cemeteries.
Having made our petitions, there follows the most important part of the Mass, the 'Liturgy of the Eucharist' and the 'Rite of Holy Communion'. It is here that one has a better chance to focus the whole mind on the meaning of Christianity, to experience the 'living Christ'. A scriptural basis for these is John [6:25-65] and Luke [22:7-20].
Roman Catholic tradition says "yes", whilst most Anglicans say "no." This may appear to be such a fundamental difference that can never be reconciled; for the officials of the Roman Catholic Church, belief in this 'Mystery' is extremely important.
My answer is: What's it to you?!
I've heard 'objective' answers to this amongst ordained and lay members in the Church who say that the sacraments are merely outer symbols. They are probably missing out ...
I've spent some time pondering over what, if anything, I can say about the proceedings up to the consecration. Little comes to mind - until the consecration, my mind is generally 'in neutral'; there are, I feel, far too many words: the various 'prayers' - for the Church, its people and the Saints cannot be fulfilled satisfactorily in a jiffy.
It is at 'The Lord's Supper' that my focus sharpens considerably. I have yet to find out how other people view the proceedings, but for myself I have developed another individualised ritual. At "Take this ... my body ... ", I try to visualise the host taken to the centre of my body and then switch to visualising a translucent crystalline form with the same centre. This is a kind of largely symbolic purification process. Next, at "Take this ... my blood ... ", I try to visualise the cup taken to the centre of my body and then switch to visualising a bright light shining through the crystalline form, sometimes radiating quite far. These are evocations of wisdom and compassion.
I would appreciate several minutes pause in the liturgy at this point before rushing into the 'Memorial acclamation of the people'.
Once again I find myself easing back into neutral as the words continue to tumble forth ... until the doxology with its wonderful tripartite introduction, "Through Him, with Him, in Him, ... ". Looking up at the altar and at the chalice and the paten in the celebrant's hands, I visualise a bright light shining forth from them, radiating outwards in such a way that as it passes through each person, a bright light is triggered in the centre of each one. For a moment I reflect on the fact that throughout the world thousands of Masses are being celebrated at this time.
When it is time to offer peace to others, don't be taken over by personal attachment! I have noticed that couples usually turn first automatically to each other. In fact they shouldn't really need to shake hands for they should know that their partner's peace is with them already. How strong is l'égoisme deux! Be mindful of St. Paul's words!
When I have returned to my pew, I go through pretty well the same ritual as at the consecration, but more earnestly now, with more time being afforded.
After the blessing and dismissal, I don't feel like moving very quickly; quite often I need a little time to ease out of a reflective mood. Surely this is appropriate, for weren't the last words of the celebrant, "The Mass is ended, go in peace,"?
- © Paul Trafford 1996,97