Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Special masses

There's been a bit of a fuss in Britain (and thus in the Internet age, worldwide) over the Archdiocese of Westminster's plan to have a biweekly Mass as part of pastoral outreach to homosexual persons. The reaction in St. Blogs was (rightly) suspicious, because, as LifeSite put it:
... such pastoral outreach by dioceses in the US and Canada typically have been little more than fronts for gay political activism ...
It was certainly spun that way by the gay press. Sample: Pink News UK's headline reads "Catholics win right to perform gay Mass" (I mean ... what does "gay Mass" mean? Music by Liza Minnelli and Maria Callas? Though actually ... that would be an improvement over "Gather." And what does "right to" have to do with it). The initial London Telegraph article was egregiously bad reporting and thimbleful knowledge of Catholicism and the issues at hand (and rightly ripped to shreds by Zadok the Roman).

Other noted, and it's a concern I have some sympathy with, that “special Masses” can be overdone. In era of both proliferating Mass rites in the Church, and multiculti identity politics outside it, this might seem like the latest crazy bit of fragmentation in the Age of Narcissus. Or as Domenico Bettinelli put it: "special accommodations for the politically correct sin." Amy Welborn also said this kind of thing called into question the unifying function of the Mass (her post was ironically titled "You are One Body"). She also doubted the need for such services in the first place.
What, in the present situation, in the Diocese of Westminster is preventing "homosexual people so as to enable them to enter more fully into the life of the Church?" What?
Are persons who experience same-sex attraction being stopped from coming to Mass? Are persons who experience same-sex attraction being prohibited from praying? ... (A series of similar rhetorical questions) ...
Well, that's terrible. I agree. That should be fixed, immediately, and shame on the Diocese of Westminster for putting up such obstacles.
I respect Dom and Amy enormously, and I don't think their criticisms are groundless, particularly Amy's point that nothing actually prevents a homosexual person from participation in the life of the Church now. The Diocese of Arlington, for example, has no gay Masses. Nor would I deny that this action by the archdiocese could be done badly in the particulars -- prayers for gay civil rights bills, blessings of unions, and all of that. Or that it could become a breeding ground for dissent or liturgical abuse -- the UK episode of Dignity Girls Gone Wild.

But I don't think it does any good to deny that there are a variety of unique practical issues (though no canonical or theological ones) surrounding homosexual persons that simply do not exist with adulterers or contraceptors. Most are indeed related to the objective facts of the "interesting times" in which we live, and thus lamentable as such. But not all. For example, "alienation and apartness" surrounding family and sex are acute issues for homosexual persons, but not adulterers, however analogous the sins themselves, considered as acts in themselves, may be. This was one of the things the NCRegister series I praised below spelled out -- that ministry to homosexual persons may require going an extra mile because of these unique difficulties.

Apparently what happened was that the archbishop was faced with the fact of a large *existing* dissident group in London's equivalent of Dupont Circle, and is trying to bring back those that are bring-backable. Certainly the Archdiocese of Westminster's statement makes it clear that Church teaching will be taught. And as this blogger makes clear, he was trying to bring "gay Masses" under diocesan control and in line with Church norms. And the secular and gay press got the story wrong.

Nor is the notion of a "special Mass" for homosexual persons really as unprecedented as one might think. At the annual Courage Conferences, we have daily Masses, some celebrated by the priests present, and others by the hosting bishops and by other pointed hats. I remember last year at St. Louis, a bishop from the other side of the state (Kansas City) presided at one Mass and struck me as a particularly good homilist. Are these special Masses? I doubt anybody would be turned away, and I know nobody was checking at the entrance for The Homo Cards. But these were clearly special Masses. Partially, just because they are at a conference of an identifiable group. But it was also the case that most (all?) of the homilies made reference -- implicitly or explicitly, glancing or at length -- to the conference's setting, and to Topic H, chastity and related issues.

I think that speaks to the "need question" that Amy doubts. If there is a need for pastoral outreach to a given group, one benefit of a "special Mass" is that it frees the homilist to speak to and about those issues, both absolutely and in relation to that week's readings. For example, one reason we often hear that priests rarely preach on Church's sexual teachings is because the inherent subject matter is awkward and "adult." With an audience of everybody, no priest wants to be on the wrong side of the euphemism line or hear complaints from parents about "I don't want my kids even to HEAR that" and introducing concepts (such as homosexuality itself) at an inappropriate age. I'm not saying a priest need to, or should, get into the mechanics of anal sodomy or anysuch. But if a Mass can be presumed to have a mostly-gay audience, this would alter the homiletic options. Nor is it just the language, but also general subject matter -- for example a homilist could explain even homosexual persons should oppose the gay tolerance laws that Britain is threatening the Church with at this very moment.

The questions are very simple -- (1) "is there a real pastoral need for ministry to homosexual persons?"; and (2) "can regular Masses be a part of that ministry." Number (1) is obviously yes. And while (2) is dicier and I'm persuadable to the contrary, I fail now to see why not (and certainly no reason to think not, a priori, before the first Mass is even celebrated in March). In other words, if the Archdiocese of Westminster is going to do it right -- celebrate reverently and preach truly -- I can't see the objection. And if it is not going to do these things, there's a more-fundamental problem than this biweekly Mass.

1 comment:

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