Materialism in the Pews

Rorate Caeli, a fine blog for any Catholic, put up a post including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s forward to a book about liturgy. At root, it’s more or less the same thing that has been said: reform of the reform and keep God at the center. It did have a nice bit appending an idea that I’ve had from time to time, that nothing for the Church, let alone any nation where She is present, will change until we really recover what has been lost in the Liturgy. Until the primary form of worship and prayer that Catholics undertake becomes filled with the sacred, not the contemporary or novel, we shouldn’t expect anything to change. This point may bear worth stressing in a later post, but for now I’ll focus on a perhaps offensive claim: believing one must understand Mass entirely smacks of materialism.

Catholics, especially the traditional kind, are familiar with relativism and enjoy the comforts of blaming it for everything. They know that the way people think exclusively in terms of their own truth suggests they only believe in the sensible. And they know this disposition is properly called materialism, the doctrine that only what can be observed, studied, measured, and sensed is real.

Where Mass is concerned, I wish to suggest that the belief that Mass is there primarily to serve as a form of worship which the congregation should never be confused or given reason to re-examine their own interpretations is indeed materialism. Not as much materialism as the atheist’s, for Catholics indeed are at Mass because they believe there is more to reality than the measurable.

Still, I maintain there is at least a real hint of materialism. The language of Mass, the songs, the prayers, and even the vestments have become easier to swallow, less symbolic and thereby easier to understand. I don’t even know what meaning there is to any of the more modern vestments priests wear, but I know the meaning is not as deep (historically and theologically) as what priests wear in the Tridentine Mass, especially not when these modern vestments look a lot like what non-Catholic preachers and priests wear.

The mysteries, in short, remind us not only that we aren’t aware of all of reality, but that there is more to it than we can understand — and yet believing is still good. This is the latest idea to pop into my head in a series that is leading me to think about an inseparable union between faith and action, a union which requires the former to properly perform the latter. Faith is much more of a temperament. The Protestants get this and only this right. If Faith were not a temperament or orientation, if it were not something much deeper than action, something that leads action, then I don’t know how both St. Therese, the “little flower”, and St. Jerome, what with his temper, could both end up in Heaven.


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