Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections
Praying about scandal

by Father Jan Larson

(From the May 22, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson These days we are painfully aware of scandal in the Catholic Church. Young people have been sexually and emotionally abused by clergy, and other clergy have attempted to cover up this tragic behavior. It makes little difference whether these things happen now or happened fifty years ago. Members of the Body of Christ have been harmed by other members, and the harm done to youngsters and the pathological behavior of the priests involved has too often gone unaddressed, kept in the shadows. From the point of view of the Church, we have all been diminished by this tragedy. The Body of Christ is the poorer.

How does the liturgy address such issues? The liturgy is indeed the place where we bring the agonies and tragedies of our lives each week and place them at the foot of the cross, fully hoping that somehow new life will emerge. The sacrifice of the Mass is not just the offering of the Body and Blood of Christ. The self-offering of Christ implies the offering of ourselves and the various experiences of our broken lives, for we are members of Christ’s Body.

We also notice that the texts of the liturgy, over and over again, pray for the Church, acknowledging that in its human element it is an imperfect institution. For example, the general intercessions of every liturgy normally begin with a prayer for the Church. The liturgical books offer as an example a prayer that might be used: “For the holy Church of God, that the Lord guide and protect it...,” or during Advent: “That the Lord Jesus may be with his Church and guide it always...,” or during Holy Week: “For God’s Church, the Bride of Christ, that she may be purified by his blood...” Another prayer for the Church says, “God our Father, may your Church always be your holy people, united as you are one with the Son and the Holy Spirit. May it be for all the world a sign of your unity and holiness, as it grows to perfection in your love.”

What is clear in the liturgy’s prayers for the Church is the assumption that the Church is in need of our prayers, that it requires serious guidance, and that it is daily growing towards perfection. The imperfections of the Church are my imperfections, and my brokeness and sinfulness become the brokeness and sinfulness of the Church. Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church describes the Church’s journey to perfection. It says that the Church, like its members, is always in need of being renewed and forgiven, purified for its mission, which is the same as the mission of Christ – that the Church is not yet perfectly holy and will not reach perfection until the end of time, when all creation will be restored in Christ. Meanwhile we will witness the inevitible and sometimes horrid brokenness of our human condition. But the point is, the good news is, that the sacramental rites we celebrate can integrate the scattered pieces of our lives.

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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