Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Secret Origin

You know that point in the film where they suddenly back up in time, shift the color palette to more sepia and b/w and tell you the origin of the character? The kind of stuff that if you put at the beginning it would seem sort of obvious and perfunctory, but put in the late middle, after lots of hints without explanation, and you think "OH, COOL!"

In comic book parlance, we call this the "Secret Origin."

Well, this very short piece is my secret origin for this whole series... and I tell it now because it's related to the petitions.

About two years ago -- almost to the day, actually -- I travelled to Sydney, Australia for 7 months of Jesuit work. (If you're new to this blog and go back to its very beginnings, starting here, you can read many stories of my experience there).

And along with the many wonderful surprises of living in another country was little unexpected alterations in the liturgy. The one I noticed right away: they introduced the petitions differently. In the States, after each petition we tend to say, "We pray to the Lord...", inviting the community to join us in addressing God directly: "Lord, hear our prayer."

In Australia, on the other hand, their introduction into the response was also focused solely on God. They'd say, "Lord, hear us." And everyone still responds, "Lord, hear our prayer."

It's a small thing. And it sort of grated on me for a while. What's all this, then?, I thought, in a very thick fake English accent, twirling my baton and pushing around the notorious riff-raff.

Bringing out my inner bobby.

But eventually I just fell head over heels in love with "Lord, hear us." It seemed much more true to the events of the moment. What are we doing in the intercessions? We're addressing God, and what we want -- oh God do we ever want it -- is for him to hear us. That is, to act.

Our own version seemed instead to step out of the moment for an unnecessary stage directions. We're all adults here, been doing this a long time we have. No need to guide us; eyes front and center, you know? (I think I've been watching too much British TV...)

Now we can go round and round about whether I overinterpreted the heck out of that concept or what. (I will say, it's interesting to listen to how the petitions themselves are formulated for Sunday Mass. Sometimes they are us asking God for help: "we pray that God may..."; "we ask God to...". Other times -- take for instance the common formula, "Let us pray that we may be better able to do X, Y, or Z" -- is it me, or do we almost -- not quite, but almost -- take God out of the equation? What's front and center? Not God, but us, what we should do, how we need to change. The sentiment may be spot on, but to my mind that formulation needs work, or the intercessions become a sort of bully pulpit of the parish staff or the Mass version of the "advice" from an Irish mother. "Let us pray that my son Joe who sits right here with us will make something of himself." Yeah, that will definitely motivate positive change...

But no matter where you stand on all of that -- the real gift of experiencing the Australian liturgical practice was that it made me look at my own country's practices with greater objectivity and a new curiosity.

And that's what got me thinking about how we "do" liturgy.

The Secret origin. There you have it...

The next few days I'm seeing a good friend who is on his way to Australia, so probably I'll be off the airwaves until Monday.

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