Saturday, May 28, 2011

Return to Moral Leadership

Return to Moral Leadership:
New Catholic Liturgy teaches valuable political lessons

The following post is an article featured in the June edition of the Reflections column at The Edmund Burke Institute website:

In recent years, Americans have become increasingly disillusioned with their political leaders. In April 2011, a CBS/New York Times poll showed a 16 percent approval rating and 75 percent disapproval rating for Congress. President Barack Obama's ratings are not faring much better; at least for a sitting U.S. President at this juncture. It is news to no one in America that moral leadership is in short supply today; but how is it to be restored?

The truth may be surprising. After several decades of our society relegating religion to the private sphere, the average person would be hard pressed to see that the Catholic Liturgy (or Mass) has any relevance to political leadership. But it does; albeit indirectly.

The new translation of the Catholic Mass is due to be implemented in Catholic churches throughout the world this Advent in 2011. In short, it is an attempt to reflect more accurately the founding principles of Christianity. Indeed, more expressions from Scripture and the writings of the early Christians will be used. Pope Benedict XVI said that the Church stands and falls with the liturgy. Moreover, “when the faith no longer appears in its fullness in the Liturgy of the Church, when man’s words, his thoughts, his intentions are suffocating him, then faith will have lost the place where it is expressed and where it dwells.” Unfortunately, in the late 1960s going into the 1970s, that fullness of faith had diminished somewhat with the translation of the Mass from Latin into the vernacular. The new translation, due to be published in late 2011, is a return to that fullness of faith which the Liturgy has traditionally expressed.

For example, during the Mass when Catholics make a profession of faith by reciting the Nicene Creed, instead of professing “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” etc., the new translation has them saying, “I believer in one God, the Father of Almighty…” This suggests that salvation is not so much a “collective” obligation of the community, as some proponents of socialism might have us believe, as it is an obligation of the individual believer.

The priest, the spiritual leader of the parish, is also cast in a new light. He first greets those who are assembled by saying, “The Lord be with you.” The response by the faithful is currently worded: “And also with you.” The new translation of the Mass, however, bids us to look at the priest from a more traditional vantage point. It recovers the Jewish and early Christian context in the following Semitic response: “And with your spirit.” “Spirit,” in this expression, does not reference the human spirit of the priest but rather the Holy Spirit who dwells in the priest. At his ordination, the Holy Spirit endows the priest with spiritual leadership. Here the congregation acknowledges the priest as the speaker under whose leadership they will approach almighty God.

From participating in the Liturgy where faith is strengthened, the Christian is then sent into the world by the priest with the words from the new translation: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” After having been enlightened by the Word and fed at the altar, Catholics are called to make their faith publicly known; to inform the social and political order with the Gospel of Life.

Christianity’s founding principles of the Apostolic and Patristic era inspired great leaders over the centuries. In recent years, there has been a movement to unearth and apply these principles more fully due to their perennial value. And to be sure, it has paid off.

New priests coming out of seminaries are more traditional and socially-conservative than their older counterparts. In a survey that was conducted in 2011 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, it was found that 70 percent of new priests prayed the Rosary and 65 percent took part in Eucharistic adoration before entering the seminary. More of the younger priests agree with all that the Church teaches as opposed to their predecessors, according to a report by the National Institute for the Renewal of Younger Priests, also featured in the Los Angeles Times by staff writer Teresa Watanbe. And finally, another survey found that more priests are coming from traditional backgrounds. “Seventy-seven percent of the new priests come from families with three or more children. In fact, 37% come from families with five or more children,” according to the report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Georgetown University-based research center. Therefore, with each younger generation, the Catholic Church is harvesting solid leaders who are inspired by principles and are driven by purpose. The new translation of the Liturgy for Catholics as a whole is but a continuation of what has already begun in seminaries for the Church’s leaders.

In secular society, however, studies are showing that younger generations or tomorrow’s political leaders are more liberal—especially on the social and political issues. If the recent development within the Catholic Church is a template of renewal, it suggests that returning to the founding principles of any institution or nation is the key to its success. Conservative America can learn something here; especially if they want to meet the challenge of moral decay and insipid leadership in the coming years.