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The Limits of Docility

My dear conservative other (husband) is quite a fan of my ideas of docility to community (or Communio as he’d prefer) when it means that I embrace He/His/Him. But he is not so sure that it could be reason to ::gasp:: gather around an altar during the consecration.

I agree with him that there has to be some limit to docility in every form, but my own preferences cannot determine the line for docility to my local community. So what does?

Docility to the bishop.

If you are confident that something is so wrong that you should not join in with the rest of the Body of Christ in your parish, talk to the pastor. If you are unsatisfied that his answer matches up with what the Church really wants, write a letter to your bishop. If it is really so wrong then the bishop will deal with it. And if you get a letter back that simply tells you to pray, then why are you so certain that this is something worth breaking the unity of the Body of Christ?

I have never written a letter to the (arch)bishop, though there was a time or two when I really should have. But I have known a few people who have and this is the principle which I have gathered from their experienes:

If the problem is an abuse of the Eucharist (storing the consecrated host outside a tabernacle, having open communion as a general policy, not just exceptional pastoral circumstances such as weddings or funerals, tossing out Hosts which have been dropped on the floor) then it is worth contacting the bishop and he will almost certainly deal with it.

If the problem is with language or posture it is highly unlikely that the problem is actually as problematic as those who compromise unity in order to “fix” the problem for themselves. Pray. And when joining in with everyone else causes you to suffer, offer it up in reparation for liturgical abuses everywhere and in petition for the purification of your parish.

And what if you’re quite certain that you are the exceptional prophet and are really called to change your parish’s behavior? Then go and get a good spiritual directer as quickly as possible.

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Docility to Community as Docility to Christ

When I think of the term “docility” I typically think of Catholic virtue of accepting the teaching of the Magisterium with an open mind and heart. But docility is also obviously important in terms of openness toward the Holy Spirit and, I think, the Body of Christ as manifested in one’s local community of believers.

Docility toward the Magisterium is difficult for me, but docility toward the community with which I worship is even harder. After all, I can imagine that some well-educated group of old men off in the Vatican may indeed know better than a 24-year-old. But the person sitting next to me in the pew obviously does not know better than me or he wouldn’t be doing that!

And yet I know that while prophets and teachers are important, most of us, most of the time, are called to conform ourselves to our local community so that we may show in a real way the beauty of our unity.

I have always been able to  unclench my jaw and wear a head covering when I need to attend a “traditionalist parish” but in college I found it almost impossible to join hands around the altar during consecration. After all, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be done! Says who? Well, me!

My first real lesson in docility came a few years ago when I attended the same daily mass as a young traditionalist man who thought that the English liturgy should be an exact translation from the Latin. And he made certain that all of his responses were quite loud. So the priest would say “the Lord be with you” I would hear most of the congregation say “and also with you” but an equally loud voice would say “and with your spirit.” And it was extremely distracting. Suddenly the focus was on a liturgical debate rather than on the mystery we celebrated. It did not matter that I knew that this guy was simply adopting a new wording three and a half years too soon.  What mattered was that we were supposed to be worshiping together as one body, and there was one loud voice out of tune with the rest.

I decided then that I did not want to be that voice for anyone else, unless absolutely necessary. And I have never found it necessary for anything other than indulging my own liturgical preferences.

The first thing that this meant for me was to be willing to change the way that I received Communion. I prefer to follow the Church’s most ancient tradition and “make a throne of my hands”  in the shape of a cross. But at this same mass the majority of the communicants obviously received on the tongue. So I asked the priest if he had a preference.  He carefully worded his response to something close to: the US is one exception to a universal rule of receiving on the tongue, and I think there is a reason for the universal rule. I saw no point in distracting others (oh look! There’s another person who cares so little about the Real Presence that she takes God in her hands!) so I began to receive on the tongue and did so until I moved to another parish.

Soon I adapted to the language of those who are highly concerned with upholding the truth that God is Spirit, neither male nor female. And I rather liked it. I do not know any woman my age who prefers only male pronouns for God and can also talk for 5 minutes explaining her preference without asserting at least a few minor heresies. So it makes sense to me for us to adjust our language in order to preserve Truth and it has been most helpful for me.

But we’ve moved again, and I need to once again get over my own preferences and join in with the rest of the Church as it surrounds me most closely. I did not want to, and it did not seem to matter. After all, I can quietly say “it is right to give God thanks and praise” and no one is the wiser. If the community is unaware, then it can’t hurt anything, right?

So God gave me a gift today. I knelt down for the end of Adoration behind a man who rejected the handout offered him. Soon he was busy singing loudly at least a half line ahead of the priest and organist. He even stopped at the end of a verse to allow them to catch up and motioned with his arm for them to hurry up. It would have been purely funny except that I couldn’t hear the priest or the front half of the congregation over this man so I was stuck trying to keep up with him while still hearing that the music was “off.”

Then a woman sat right behind me. And when it was time for the Angelus she said it her own way. Her way also happened to be the way that I have memorized it, but it was not the way that the priest was saying it. I could not keep up with either of the conflicting voices so I just sort of smiled my prayer to God.

Then there was mass and both the man and woman continued to assert their liturgical preferences at seemingly random points. By the end I was in absolute conformity with the congregation as a whole and spewing male pronouns like there was no tomorrow. Because for me there is no tomorrow. I am not supposed to try to re-shape the Church for a more perfect future, my vocation is to live as the Body of Christ today.

When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but in Milan I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend, if you do not want to give or receive scandal. -Saint Ambrose

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