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Monday, September 3, 2012

Adding and subtracting

If one were to casually read this past Sunday's Gospel account from St. Mark, an immediate interpretation could be that Christ advocated disregarding tradition and the Law.  One could say that to Jesus, the "rules" did not matter.

However, is He really saying that when he blasts the Pharisees for burdening Ancient Israel with human traditions, or, is his message about something deeper?

Notice what the Gospel reading says:

(1) And there assembled together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem. (2) And when they had seen some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. (3) For the Pharisees, and all the Jews eat not without often washing their hands, holding the tradition of the ancients:(4) And when they come from the market, unless they be washed, they eat not: and many other things there are that have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots, and of brazen vessels, and of beds. (5) And the Pharisees   and scribes asked him: Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common hands? 
(6) But he answering, said to them: Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (7) And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men. (8) For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these. (9) And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.
Making void the word of God by your own tradition, which you have given forth. And many other such like things you do. (14) And calling again the multitude unto him, he said to them: Hear ye me all, and understand. (15) There is nothing from without a man that entering into him, can defile him. But the things which come from a man, those are they that defile a man. 
Understand you not that every thing from without, entering into a man cannot defile him: (19) Because it entereth not into his heart, but goeth into the belly, and goeth out into the privy, purging all meats? (20) But he said that the things which come out from a man, they defile a man.
(21) For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, (22) Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. (23)All these evil things come from within, and defile a man

Jesus is not talking about disregarding Sacred Tradition and the 10 Commandments.  Compare this with the first reading that we heard from the Book of Deuteronomy.  

(1) And now, O Israel, hear the commandments and judgments which I teach thee: that doing them, thou mayst live, and entering in mayst possess the land which the Lord the God of your fathers will give you. (2) You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it: keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

Notice what the second verse states:  "You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it."  When the Babylonian exile took place,  Ancient Israel lamented the fact that she had fallen into error and sin, as the exile was God's justice.  The Pharisees, whose movement came about during the exile, recognized that sin was the reason behind the forced move to Babylon.  They believed that they needed to do extra things to keep from falling into sin.  However, in their zeal to restore some sort of order to Ancient Israel, they did the very thing that God told them not to do in Deuteronomy.  They added to the Law, imposing the priestly purifications to the entire community of Ancient Israel.

This application was what Jesus fought against.  These "traditions" that the Pharisees enforced had nothing to do with the Law and with the faith of Ancient Israel.  In another Gospel account, Jesus specifically stated that He did not come to abolish the Law, but, to fulfill it.  Thus, to interpret yesterday's Gospel reading to state that Jesus was against the Law and Tradition is to completely miss the point and ignore the real context of what Jesus did in light of what we had also read in Deuteronomy.

In our day and age, we, too, find ourselves facing the dilemma of additions and subtractions.  In our case, though, these edits pertain to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy makes something very clear:

22. 1. Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the Liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.
Doesn't this last statement sound familiar?  To quote the great baseball legend Yogi Berra, "It's like deja vu all over again."  None of us have the authority to add or subtract to the liturgy.  We cannot take a pencil to the Roman Missal, editing things at will.  It does not work that way.  The Mass has its own form.

Yet, we see that many well-intentioned individuals, including some celebrants, have taken it upon themselves to delete here and insert there, basing themselves on a misguided notion of making the Mass "more relevant" and more "community friendly."

Such innovations include imparting blessings in lieu of distributing Holy Communion; having the faithful raise their arms to join in as the celebrant imparts a special blessing during Mass, whether for graduation, a birthday, Mother's Day, or some other special event (such "participation" is actually not permitted under Ecclesia de Mysterio); using music that is neither sacred, let alone, liturgical; substituting songs for the Responsorial Psalm; and, surprisingly enough, using musical Mass settings that still paraphrase the texts of the Roman Missal, inclusive of the Agnus Dei.

When the faithful legitimately complain about these nebulous practices, citing that they go against the Roman Missal and its accompanying General Instruction, those in charge call them Pharisaical.  I have seen this happen too many times in Catholic online forums.  The irony is not lost here, as it is actually those who are making (and supporting) the wholesale additions and deletions who, in fact, emulate the actions of the Pharisees.

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