Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why Pomp and Pageantry is Ugly - My Liturgical Comment

Not all press on Pope Francis has been friendly.  In apologetic tone, self-described Catholic liturgical “traddies” struggle to makes sense of the Pontiff’s lowly oriented instincts.   Many Catholics grieve the end of "Benedictine" rule, characterized in part by dismay for the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.  Pope Francis signals a move toward more “simplicity” in Catholic worship;  he has said that he is not into “Carnivals”, so to speak.  Thus pietists fear the loss of an identity rooted in some of the most subversive traditions of a triumphalistic cohort.  As a man who will not be caught dead in lace, I fail to empathize.   The un-catechized equate simple with ugly and beauty with the lie that we are stuck in our sins.   The church equates beauty with salvation, confidence in the outstretching truth and the goodness of a risen Lord.  'Might we avoid the sickness of a self-referencing body' (Pope Francis)?

In Catholic worship we celebrate what God does for us.  The Eucharist is the “Source and Summit” of Christian life, where we attest that God incarnates and transforms.  Eucharist is the church’s statement that God enters this world in profound ways, and changes human beings into spirit-filled disciples.  And perhaps most importantly, Eucharist states that God sides with the poor. 

Christians believe that Christ is present whenever two or more gather in His name.  In liturgy, we say that God is present in the Word, in the Presider, in the People gathered, and in the forms of Bread and Wine.  Each of these presences carries its own, but equal, significance.  But beyond the fact that God is present to God’s people, we have to acknowledge that God affects us in the in-breaking (sacrament).  That is why we call Eucharist "the source", as well as "the summit". 

We say that Eucharist is the source because we take it with us when we leave.  In the world we are called to do for others (hence the holy Thursday foot washing) what God does for us in sacrament (symbolic of what God does through the cross).   When we return, it should be evident why Eucharist is our summit.  Common worship, complete with signs and symbols of a transformation, announces what Christians have become for the world.  Through gestures of mutual dependence, indications of baptismal dignity and universal hope, a church of prophets, teachers, proclaimers, and more, images appreciation for what God does within them.  And there is nothing more beautiful than human beings redeemed – people who serve.

Pomp and Pageantry displays the dark side of humanity.  It flaunts a perverse desire to construct superficial hierarchies, to abdicate personal accountability along with mutual dependence, and to suppress grace.  To downplay or to deny the inclusive and the transformative liberation of the risen Christ is a slap in the face to our Jewish ancestors who for centuries longed for what Christians have received.  Pomp and Pageantry is ugly because it highlights the sins of a fallen race rather than celebrating the Beauty, the Truth, and the Goodness of a victorious God. 

Of course, this is just my opinion.  


  1. And it is a great, well spoken and insightful opinion that touches on many truths! Thank you!

  2. From what you have written, your condmenation of "pomp and pageantry" seems to stem from the fact that it creates visual distinctions between the different hierarchical offices within the Church.

    Given that the Church is indeed hierarchical in nature, however, I fail to see why this is problematic. The hierarchy is intrinsic to the essence of the Church (LG 8); how then can expressing this truth be "perverse"?

    On the contrary, I would argue that when properly employed, "pomp and pagentry" has a sacramental quality (in the Augustinian sense of a "sacrament"), since it uses material creation to visibly signify an invisible reality (viz. the Church's hierarchical constitution).

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