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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Throwback Thursday: "Promising Presence" (1990)

I thought it might be interesting to look back at some of my hieroglyphs, those "ancient writings" of mine that were the product of my association with Gary Daigle and John Gallen, SJ, in the 1980s and 1990s. They make me smile with their fervor and bravado. I hope I've learned that "the pen is mightier than the sword" doesn't mean you should still use the pen to stab those who disagree with you, or that all of this knowledge we accumulate about worship and God is anything more than an approximation of imagination, art more than science, love more than knowledge.

Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of a 1990 pamphlet Gary and I wrote together for a booklet, now out-of-print, called Promising Presence. It was written for Resource Publications, for whom John was, at the time, a consultant. No sense reprinting the whole article, because it was written for a different missal and certainly a different dispensation than exists now. Still, there were good ideas in it, and some of the core dynamics and insights still apply, I think. But I publish this as a glimpse into our lives a generation ago. Maybe it will make you smile too.

"Stated very simply, the function of the gathering rite is to prepare the assembly to hear the word of God and to faithfully share the meal of Jesus. To do this, it will be necessary for the assembly to begin to experience itself as a corporate entity, specifically, to become awakened to its true identity as the body of Christ. The gathering rite does this by a sequence of events which have function within the form. The gathering song gets us into the mode of communal action, of doing something ecstatic (or "outside of ourselves"), of establishing some of the ritual roles in the community (assembly, cantor, choir, instruments), and generally opening up the right brain of the gathering through metaphor and non-discursive interaction to a possible new way of being together: the reign of God. The sign of the cross names us as a baptismal people, the greeting announces the presence of God and the possibility of that presence in its fulness with its subjunctive verb: "The Lord be with you," "Grace and peace...be with you." The penitential rite names Christ as the power above all other powers in our world, as it asks the One who has conquered by surrender to lavish the spoils of victory on us who have our dying before us. The Glory to God explodes from the penitential rite, praising the triune God with unrestrained passion. All of this leads up to the opening prayer, which closes the gathering rites and in a proleptic way announces the need of the church and the world with imagery borrowed from the scripture of the day... 
"Gathering is not easy. We should not imagine that the goal of this current reform is to minimize the rite, to impoverish it or desiccate it. The reason that there are so many elements in the current rite, I am sure, has much to do with liturgists' sensitivity to the multi-facetedness of the challenge of gathering. It is very important to understand that the introductory rite has a function in itself (to awaken the Christ-identity of the community), a function which serves the major rites to which it is a prelude (i.e., preparing us to hear and respond to God's word and to participate in the Eucharistic meal). We ordinary folks have an extraordinary calling, one which connects us intimately in ways we don't often consider, and one which connects us to the beyond One who lives in unapproachable light. The move from the parking lot into the reign of God is not far (the reign is, after all, "at hand") but it is nevertheless a plunge for us into the icy waters of faith and ecstasy. 
Those of us charged with the responsibility of liturgy preparation must not imagine that the introductory rites are of little importance, any more than we should exaggerate them into a panoply of false triumphalism and pseudo-military pomposity. To graciously welcome, to acknowledge in one another the presence of Christ, to assent to a common awareness of our assembly as a sphere of divine rule, to begin to see our congregation as a whole greater than the sum of its parts, these are the tasks of the rite. If this is well done, we shall be ready for the word of God to be proclaimed among us, that we might both celebrate the work it has done in us and be called to deeper conversion. And we shall be ready for the meal of God's justice, in which the presence we promised one another in song and prayer earlier on is made visible in the sharing of the bread and cup. Here we will submit again to initiation into the mystery of Christ, into being God's word of healing and justice from Trump Tower to Disneyland, in classroom, bedroom, and city street, into being-for-others like a loaf divided and eaten, a cup passed around. "I shall be with you" is the name of God, evidenced in scripture from the Exodus through the exile to the ascension. In Christ, "I shall be with you" has become our name as well. To gather well is to promise presence, to move a body of people from just "being there" to being here, together."