Posted on: 2016-09-30

Of Identity and Reality
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) emphatically teaches what the Church is in its essence with four characteristics; one, holy, catholic and apostolic (CCC 750). In its completeness the Catholic Church owes everything to its founder, Jesus Christ. In its imperfection, it owes everything to the human beings to whom Jesus entrusted his Church. The age in which we live today favours the blurring of identities. No thanks to new ideologies, new media and new orientations, identities defining gender, establishment, institutions and nations are constantly being undermined and altered. Such assault on identities comes from a groundswell of tendencies aimed at recreating reality as it has been known over time. This fundamental rejection and rebellion against the “status quo” does not exclude the Church. As a matter of fact the Church, right from its inception has had to cope with dissension and division in its membership. Thanks to divine grace, the Catholic Church has survived all that for over 2000 years.

Those Who Feel It
Some elements of this troubling trend in the Catholic Church came up for discussion recently during the meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at Akure, Ondo State. The Bishops took time to interact with representatives of the lay people of Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province. Many issues of concern were raised about the life of the Church. The whole exercise was quite enlightening on what really constitutes the concerns of different segments of the Church in the Province. A day earlier, while addressing a gathering of Superiors of Religious Congregations the Bishop Emeritus of Ekiti, Most Reverend Michael Fagun made an interesting distinction between the profusion of Religious Orders and the Proliferation of the same. The wise Bishop clearly distinguished how profusion is a desirable response to the reality of diversity among peoples and cultures and the universal mandate of evangelization while proliferation represents inordinate multiplication of the same reality for interests. That differentiation can apply to many challenges that face the Church from within and without just as many of the questions raised at the meetings indicated.

The Battle within
One can see very easily the Church faces many challenges from outside of its membership. A Church like the Catholic Church which often questions the ills of society must expect to have enemies. The focus of the participants at the Akure encounter was however on the internal centrifugal forces that need to be checked. One of such things that generated most interest how to control inordinate or excessive chorus singing before worship in the Church or especially before the homily at Mass. This opened up a topic about which many people had something to say. The general agreement was that many priests who should be moderators of the ideal in many churches themselves get carried away and are guilty of excessive expression in chorus singing with scant connection to their homilies. Everyone agreed that this needed to be checked.

Calling up the Defenses
The fact then emerged that the lay people themselves are often the “provocative agents” of this kind of megalomania in the liturgy. They would adulate and give everything to priests who do a lot of singing and entertainment and would often complain about those who preach homilies with high pastoral, scriptural and theological content as boring. This writer pointed out the metamorphosis that has come over worship since Scriptural times. Some people engaged in idolatry and worshipped Baal. Others stuck with the living God and worshipped Yahweh. Today, there is in fact a third way, best referred to as “autolatry” whereby people seek to “worship their own image and likeness”, seeking and promoting in worship only what makes them “feel good”. They thus encourage entertainers and motivational speakers more than they do preachers and pastors of souls. I therefore urged the lay people themselves to be vigilant and watch over the Church they belong to. If lay people want to be true Catholics, their new status of being co-responsible for the mission of the Church requires that they keep the Church catholic by defending its cherished traditions are being threatened. It is a simple truth that the price of security is eternal vigilance.

So spoke the Bishops
From this same perspective, the final communique of the CBCN addressed the issue under a chapter entitled “Aberration in Catholic Worship”. With it, I shall end this piece.
“We are seriously concerned about the growing misguided sense of creativity and adaptation during liturgical worship. Such innovations include: unduly lengthy Eucharistic celebrations, excessive monetary collections, and the near absence of silence and decorum during liturgical celebrations. We observe the arbitrary alterations of the text, singing between the Gospel and Homily and indecent dressing on the part of the minister, and the lay faithful. Others are the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament as if it is a magical and theatrical display, and indiscriminate and indiscrete use of sacramentals. These practices obscure the very essence of Catholic worship and are gradually eroding the true Catholic identity. We are duty bound to correct these anomalies. We insist that “Christ’s faithful have the right to worship God according to the provisions of their own rite approved by the lawful pastors of the Church…” (Sacramentum Redemptionis 12; Canon 214). In addition to genuine pastoral freedom, we re-affirm that the liturgical books, approved by the competent authority, are to be faithfully followed in the celebration of the sacraments” (Can. 846, §1; Sacramentum Redemptionis 21).