Friday, October 14, 2005

Just What Is a "Faith Community" Anyway?

A reader writes me and asks:
Dear Father Johansen,

Please straighten me out on a few newly adopted phrases I hear lately, first what is the difference between a Church, and a Faith Community?

Our beloved Pastor died this year, and we now refer to the Priest celebrating the Sacrifice of the Mass as the "Presider" rather than the Celebrant ....."Our Presider today will be Fr. (first name).

I reply:

You're right in sensing that something's a little hinky about these changes in terminology.

People or institutions change the terms they use in order to try to affect the way people think about things.

The phrase "Faith Community" is meant to place the emphasis on the "horizontal", subjective relationships between parishioners, rather than the "vertical" relationship between the people and God. It is part of the tendency in "progressive" catholicism to see the church as "the actualized community celebrating itself". Using a phrase like "Faith Community" also helps to de-emphasize the fact that we are part of a larger entity, the Church, which is, of course, spread throughout space and time. It helps to disconnect the faithful from their sense of membership in and accountability to the larger Church. Such a term helps people to think of their faith as a merely subjective local, privatistic matter. It helps aging hippies forget about that mean old official "Church" (made up of the Pope, the Vatican, etc.) which so obstinately refuses to enact their adolescent fantasies.

The word "church" has a fairly well-defined meaning, which the Church herself has expressed in her Tradition. The phrase "Faith Community" is a nebulous gassy emission, which is designed to evoke certain emotional responses, but means almost anything the user wants.

That the use of the term "Faith Community" is accompanied by the abandonment of the term "celebrant" and replacement by the term "presider" is not surprising. Strictly speaking, the term is inaccurate, and may betray faulty theology. A chairman or chairwoman of a committee or legislature "presides" over a meeting, that is, ensures the smooth running over business that is largely transacted by others. While not exactly a passive spectator, one who "presides" is generally not the chief actor in the business at hand.

In a liturgical setting, a bishop or other prelate may "preside" at a Mass celebrated by another priest, at which he himself is not a celebrant. In such an instance, the bishop or prelate exercises a largely ceremonial function, and is not the primary liturgical actor.

So to call the priest who celebrates Mass the "presider" is at least erroneous. The word "celebrate" comes from the Latin celebro, which means "to solemnize, to keep a festival", "to honor, praise". The priest gives fitting honor and praise to God by solemnizing the New Festival of Christ, the Mass. The priest is the chief actor in the Mass - it is he, who, acting in persona Christi, makes the sacramental action happen. He is not merely a chairperson who sees to the smooth running of the liturgical proceedings.

So you can see what the term "presider" is intended to bring about: It reduces the priest's role to that of a sort of glorified "master of ceremonies". It conceals his role as the one who actually brings about the sacramental reality of the Eucharist by his action. The use of the term "presider" has its origins in the horizontalizing, levelling tendency of "progressive" catholicism. It is the product of an exaggerated "eucharist as communal meal" theology, which sees the eucharistic action as happening primarily in the "gathered community" rather than in the sacramental action of the priest. It is a desacralizing tendency, and is completely at odds with a truly Catholic understanding of the priesthood and the Eucharist, as expressed in our authentic Tradition.
It's Good To Be The Pastor, Part I

So, I've been here at St. Stanislaus for almost 4 months, and I'm starting to get a sense of the parish and it's people. The people here, as I've written before, have been wonderful. They've been very welcoming and generous. I've been invited by a number of parishioners to dinner at their homes, and frequently parishioners will drop by with a jar of home-made jam, or some farm-fresh eggs, a cake or some other goodies. So I'm in no danger of going hungry...

My secretary/business manager is Hannah. She and her husband are long-time parishioners, and they've both become invaluable to me. Hannah deals with all of the accounting and paying the bills, etc, which is just as well because that's the kind of stuff that just puts me to sleep. Of course, I oversee things and keep tabs on the finances - it's my responsibility as pastor - but I'm glad to have her to deal with the nuts & bolts of it. Hannah's husband Russell is a big help to me, helping me set up for Mass several times a week, and generally doing countless favors for me.

The nice thing about a parish this size is that most everybody knows everyone else, at least by name, and frequently much more closely. One blessing and/or burden is that, because we're a small rural community, it seems like everyone is, in one way or another, related to everyone else. When I came here several parishioners warned me to be careful if I ever say anything about a parishioner, because there was a good chance someone within earshot was related to him! It will probably take me years to sort out who all is related to whom and how.

I'm blessed by my parish because the parishioners are so active and involved in parish life. Last weekend we had our annual Harvest Festival, which is the parish's Big Event in the fall. People come from all around to eat, buy things at the craft fair, and enjoy a Sunday afternoon in the country. The food was fantastic - there was turkey and beef and mashed potatoes (real - nothing out of a box), and stuffing, 5 or 6 different salads, all kinds of vegetables, and a plethora of desserts. Of course, I had to sample many different desserts, in order to develop a full sense of the diversity of the offerings.

This involvement also translates to a deep sense of "ownership" of the parish. My people care deeply about their parish, and will give quite generously, not only of their money, but of their time and talents, to help out. They want the parish to grow and prosper, and they want to be a part of what goes on. They also have a keen interest in making sure that things are well maintained and taken-care-of. They know that this is their parish, and it represents and reflects their faith.

Which is as it should be.

more later...