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Docility to Community as Docility to Christ | Catholic Life

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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20 Responses to “Docility to Community as Docility to Christ”

  1. Rebecca 14. Jun, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    My first thoughts were “and wow, I had issues with people sitting in *my* seat at Easter”…but as you ended, I found myself nodding and smiling and realizing that is exactly why, despite my mother’s refusal and evil eyes, the hubs and I hold hands during the ‘Our Father’, not only with one another but with people on either side of us. Yes, I know why it’s not supposed to be that way, but it sure feels better to be one Body of Christ.

    • Rae 15. Jun, 2010 at 4:34 am #

      The person sitting in your seat at Easter was obviously an outsider (otherwise they’d be in your seat every Sunday) so it is perfectly fine for you to take issue with them. They are not a part of the Body of Christ, or else they wouldn’t be in your seat. 😉

      Back to being serious, do you mind explaining why you don’t think that it is liturgically correct to hold hands during the Our Father? I ask because I often attend mass at parishes where the congregation is split on this point so I could go either way. And when that is the case I hold my hands up (and out to the person next to me if they seem so inclined). If this actually isn’t best, then I can easily stop doing it at least half the time.

      I was under the impression that it is an ancient position for prayer that died out except for priests, and that a while ago the US bishops considered making it mandatory, but ended up leaving it up to the faithful in local parishes. If you know something else, please do let me know. I am open to changing (and you won’t even have to see me wrinkle my brow as I accept new information!).

      • Michelle 15. Jun, 2010 at 7:17 am #

        I have no idea…but would love a source on this. I suppose the GIRM is the best source for posture, etc. As a young child, before my parents divorced, we were in a very traditional parish and holding hands with each other was not the way it was done during the Our Father. Then my mother parish-hopped and church-hopped as a child, so we witnessed and participated in various things.

        The parish my husband and I left shortly after Sarah’s (our oldest) birth had many liturgical abuses. While I don’ t know that holding hands is one, I do know that the priest leaving the Blessed Sacrament at the altar to join the congregation IS…so that among other things led us to leave that parish (led by a priest of a fairly liberal order…not a diocesan priest) At our parish, some people hold hands, some people don’t. Some people mimic the posture of the priest, which I believe is against the GIRM. We’ve taught our children to pray using their “praying hands” and that seems to work for us. But I would definitely love to know if there is a source on the history of posture for this part of the Mass.

        • Rae 15. Jun, 2010 at 8:04 am #

          I really hope that Rebecca knows more. All I have is the opinion of the priest who answers such questions for the diocese of Manchester NH (and said what I said above) and several sources that say that the GIRM says nothing.

          • alison 15. Jun, 2010 at 1:26 pm #

            I must say, you have a really good attitude on all this. One that I should probably adopt. I have an (easier on myself) strategy – don’t go to those Masses. We have a Chapel here at my University and its quite interesting to see the differences between the morning and evening Sunday Masses. For me, its harder and more distracting to hear “God’s church” and “give God thanks and praise” than it is to just go to Mass at a different time. Plus, during that Mass, they don’t kneel. I can’t help but think those two changes are related and it just keeps distracting me.
            Also, about the hand holding. A priest said in a homily once in our Diocese that you shouldn’t hold hands because its not our brotherly love that unites us, but Christ in the Eucharist. It seems to me that there’s no reason it can’t evolve into showing brotherly love by holding hands at that point, but there’s also nothing that says it is mandatory to hold hands either. (My husband asked about this once and that’s what this particular priest said). I guess the thing that’s frustrating is when I hear “Oh no, he didn’t want to hold my hand, what was his deal” or that someone will refuse to give the sign of peace after someone didn’t hold his hand. It seems all foolish to be worrying about such trivial things during that part of Mass.

            On a bigger scale, our next move to California has me stressing since I know the Diocese we’ll be in doesn’t kneel at anytime during Mass and it was a huge deal about 4 years ago when they decided to change. I honestly don’t know how I could stand after receiving communion, but being the only one kneeling will cause drama, no?

            • alison 15. Jun, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

              I think the quote was “There is nothing wrong with holding hands as long as it is a spontaneous action from the parish and not required. They cannot require you to hold hands.”

            • alison 15. Jun, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

              Ok, sorry for all the comments but what I find interesting is now that in some parishes the critical mass is more hand-holders than hand-folders, those not holding hands are criticized, which IS a liturgical abuse.

              • Rae 15. Jun, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

                And long/numerous comments are always fine/appreciated on my blog. :-)

            • Rae 15. Jun, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

              I think that it is perfectly fine to choose which mass you attend based (partly?) on your liturgical preference. I am not as certain when it comes to choosing a *parish*, but I don’t see how it could be wrong to choose a certain *mass* based on liturgical preference just as much as your schedule.

              When I was in college I mostly just went off-campus to mass because I couldn’t deal with the liturgical situation on campus (there was only one mass and it ranged from only slightly questionable to the archbishop intervening). I now believe that I was wrong to abandon the community on campus, but I think your approach is fine!

            • Helen 18. Dec, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

              I know that the hand-holding thing is not in the rubrics, and I definitely see the priest’s point in terms of forgetting that it’s the Eucharist that brings us together, not our physical manifestations of brotherly love. I guess it’s a tricky dance. There’s nothing inherently wrong with holding hands, but when we need to rely on holding hands in order to feel in communion with one another, there’s obviously a problem. Similarly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a particularly enthusiastic genre of music, but when we rely on that music to feel excited about God (when the Eucharist should be compelling us to feel that way on its own), there’s a problem.

              Re the kneeling thing: I’ve always held what I thought was a “traditional” position on this. In circumstances where there was no kneeling (for example in the small chapel in my school), I wouldn’t necessarily kneel anyway, but I would feel mighty uncomfortable. Anyway, I became friendly with an Armenian girl last year and have gone to the Divine Liturgy with her a couple of times. The Divine Liturgy is not very much like the Ordinary Form of the Mass, but if you’ve been to a Tridentine Latin Mass, it’s very much like that, with some differences. One of the differences is the constant signs of the cross made by the congregation. Not a huge difference, but if you think about it, we only make the sign of the cross a few times during the Mass. Congregants at the Divine Liturgy make the sign of the cross at basically every mention of the Trinity. I find it to be a beautiful practice. Another difference is the lack of kneeling (since kneeling is a Franco-Germanic Western concept introduced to the Latin Church in imitation of practices with prisoners—a prisoner is presented on his knees with his hands folded and wrists bound). There’s nothing wrong with standing in the presence of Christ—we’ve just been taught that there is, even though that teaching is not consistent with the practices of the early Church. There’s also nothing necessarily wrong with kneeling in the presence of Christ. These are liturgical and (little t) traditional preferences, for which there is always room in the universal Church.

  2. Red 14. Jun, 2010 at 8:03 pm #


    Thanks for your comment at BC. I completely agree with your sentiments. I am the mother of 4 young ones, ages 8 months through 6 years, and I often wonder how I will love each one as an individual when I’m soooo busy managing everything. I know things will get better as times passes, but not if I keep having babies at my current pace!

    I see many very large families at our parish and it makes me sad how little time they have to get to know their children. Like you, I do think there is a limit as to how many children a given family can parent well.

    You said, “Some people are called to have so many children that they can’t really parent them as individuals, but I am convinced that one must be aware of the choice that one is making.” I couldn’t agree with this more. When we choose to be open to more children, we are making a choice, and it may not necessarily be the right one. In orthodox catholic circles it is often implied that the only choice one makes in the process is the choice to not have another child, while having another child is really just being open to God’s will. I think this attitude may lead some families to continue having babies out of a sense of guilt or a misguided attempt to follow God’s will. Everytime I write about this topic, I am flooded with e-mails and comments about how a couple must have a serious reason to use NFP, and it just drives me nuts! It seems that the NFP police are out in full-force.

    But I digress, I just wanted to write and say thanks for the comment and for your great thoughts!

    • Rae 15. Jun, 2010 at 4:41 am #

      I deeply appreciate your posts and comments on this issue! I’ve quietly cheered for you in the past, though I always felt that “my” view was well enough represented that I didn’t need to chime in.

      It is funny how even the most “orthodox” can easily forget that married couples aren’t just called to “transmit human life” we’re also called to educate our children in the faith. And that is often incompatible with the idea that married couples may have sex whenever they wish without regard to the consequences.

      • Kathleen 15. Jun, 2010 at 5:56 am #

        Whoa, I think I’m gonna have to go check this one out!

        As for the topic at hand here, you made me laugh today. I’m a former full-time liturgist, and you know what they say about liturgists vs. terrorists. :) I’ve always tried to be an exception to that, and I must say that your perspective on conforming to the community is really beautiful.

        • Rae 15. Jun, 2010 at 6:24 am #

          I’m glad that you’re not holding the mass hostage. 😉

          I have no problem with those whose *job* it is to shape the liturgy obsessing over it and trying to make it as perfect as possible. And even if it is not your full-time job anymore, I think that you are still in a special class due to your training and experience. You count as a teacher for me. But as far as I can tell most of us (and certainly me!) are neither teachers nor prophets and should chill out.

          Anyway, I appreciate your not biting my head off in horror at my lack of appreciation for the utmost importance of perfect liturgy. 😀

  3. practicinghuman 15. Jun, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    “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.”

    LOVE this! Certain battles are not worth fighting. I have my monastery skirt and leggings. Our parish is about a 50/50 head covering parish even though our priest prefers that women cover their heads. Some women have taken the issue of head covering as an obedience, but don’t force the issue with others. There are ways that we do suffer our brothers and sisters in Liturgy. Sometimes we suffer because a child is screaming, but are we going to shut the least of these out of our services?

    • Rae 15. Jun, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

      Ohhh leggings because of prostrations? I’d not thought of the “problems” of Orthodox liturgies!

      And I love your point about screaming children.

      • practicinghuman 15. Jun, 2010 at 7:59 pm #

        Leggings because of my own issues with modesty. I do not like to render my knee to ankle visible. And I’m FAIR-skinned… so my legs glow in the dark. They distract me. Leggings also make it possible to wear sensible shoes.

        Sensible shoes are the MOST important apparel choice in Liturgy. We stand for the whole service. If you’re there for Matins regularly, you get used to standing in 3 hour stretches.

        Prostrations are really only an issue in Great and Holy Lent because outside of that time period prostrations are forbidden on Sunday unless under obedience (so a lot of young monastics will be doing prostrations in the services of the Church). Great and Holy Lent tends to match with cooler weather anyway so leggings are just sensible.

  4. Deacon Todd Carter 11. Nov, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    It’s odd. But, it wasn’t until after I became a seminarian that people had really strong opinions about the liturgy. My parish and pastor are much more traditional than most and my seminary tends to be more traditional as well. One particular action that I do not like to do and just do out of obedience is the the sign of peace. No matter how many times I read about the liturgy and do it at mass, it just seems so incredibly out of place to shake everyone’s hands while Jesus is present on the altar. So, last year when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia decided to not due the sign of peace because of fear of swine flu, I figured everyone would be relieved. Yet, whenever I visited a regular parish, everyone would still shake hands but this time during the Lamb of God. I still think that’s pretty funny. :) Since then, I’ve been exposed to more people who like all sorts of things I consider odd in the liturgy and I’m learning more about patience myself.

    At any rate, those people who take the liturgy into their own hands and change it to what they think it should be are really doing themselves a disservice. There’s a phrase in the Catechism that goes, Lex orandi, lex credendi. Basically, the way you pray should develop what you believe. No matter how poor the translations are or how good, they are what the Church provides for us and we should adapt ourselves to it and not the other way around. Though, I can hardly blame the laity for being confused considering that the clergy haven’t even gotten their act together to do the liturgy the same way even within one diocese. One of the benefits of the ad orientem mass was that people wouldn’t be able to see the priest’s face and so there’s less room for improvisation or variation.

    God bless.

  5. Sara 02. Feb, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    Yikes. “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.”

    Hi. :) I just found your blog. I like it. I think I’m your age. I prefer male pronouns for God and I don’t think I can spend 5 minutes explaining it because honestly that seems like a long time. I don’t know if I have five minutes worth of reasons. Maybe three.

    I really appreciate this post. It helps me with some similar thoughts I’ve been having lately.


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