On Saturday last I was listening to the National Public Radio program “Car Talk” with my wife (in our car, of all places). The brothers Magliozzi spent some time swelling on the fact that gas mileage is optimal when we drive fifty-five miles per hour, accelerate smoothly and gradually, coast downhill and crawl uphill — in short, slow and steady wins the race to better fuel efficiency. Not rocket science, but it was nice to hear it so clearly stated. I shall make a sincere effort to keep a sense of this in mind when I am driving from now on. There is really no great hurry.
With that thought still orbiting in my mind, we attended Mass the next day. I have worked hard the past five years to not allow myself to fret over liturgical practices that are out of synch with my understanding of how things “ought to be” — with moderate success. I am not as angry as I once was after every Mass I attended, and I guess that is worth turning a blind eye, at least for now. I just don’t have enough room in my soul for the amount of passion and ire that I know I am susceptible to.
But every so often something sneaks past my self-imposed blinders and rankles. This particular Sunday the liturgical people had decided to double the number of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, setting up distribution stations half-way up the main aisle as well as at the very front. This way, worshippers in the back half of the chapel would not have to stand in line more than twenty seconds, and it spared them that long walk all the way to the front — a savings of at least fifty feet, round trip. And I saw this and I thought, really, what is the ubiquitous and burning need to turn the communion rite into a express lane? I say ubiquitous, because this is hardly a novelty; it was just the first time I had witnessed the practice at this particular space, and the perhaps sixty people present made the ridiculousness of the decision excruciatingly obvious.
The Catholic Mass is many things: it is first and foremost the principal from of corporate worship for believers, being a re-presentation, in an very real and mystical way, of the sacrifice of the Cross and a preview of sorts of the spiritual banquet which we believe awaits us in the eternity of Heaven. The core of this experience, then, is the actual sharing in this sacrificial banquet, when each member of the congregation comes forward to receive fully the Lord Jesus under the species of bread and wine. Ridiculous to condense so much into two sentences, but I am no theologian. My point is that this reception of communion is a very sacred moment for the Catholic Christian, or it should be. Is it so inconceivable, then, we might spend at least as much time with this process as we do to buy a bag of potato chips at the corner store? Should there not be some semblance of wonder and awe attached to this moment?
My willful blindness to the sad state of corporate worship in the Catholic Church today (so far removed from my long-accustomed vigilance on that front) is obviously slipping. I feel the passionate protectiveness that was such a hallmark of my adolescent years, forming the foundation of my youthful spirituality, building up once again. Should I try to stop it, stifle it? Or should I seek and find a way to embrace it as a vital part of who I am, and channel that passion toward some action that befits my current state in life? I know the answer is the latter, but where that choice will lead me is terrifying.