What makes someone Catholic?
If I had to answer this question a year ago, I probably would have had an answer that came easily. Or I would have just felt more comfortable thinking about the question.
A year ago, my parish still existed. We knew that our diocese was uncomfortable with us, but no action had yet been taken. I spent my mass-going time between the two services at my parish: one that met in the Church and was more traditional, but with important deviations, and one that met in the gym and was more radical. The Church service featured prayers—even for the Eucharist—that parish members had written and lay homilists. The wording for all readings and prayers was carefully chosen. The goal was not just to be inclusive, but also to eliminate overtones of patriarchy. While it felt funny to say things like the “kin-dom” of God, I grew to love the imagery and the meaning conveyed by thinking of us all, around the world, as part of the same kin group.
The Gym service was always a little challenging for me. It was noisier and freer flowing in structure. We all gathered around the altar for the communion prayer, and we all could say parts of it as the Spirit moved us. Moments of each service always touched my heart and soul, but the service never felt completely comfortable to me. In a dark corner of my mind, I was probably always expecting a thunderbolt to come down as a sign of God’s (or the Pope’s) displeasure.
The thunderbolt did come, but not quite as I expected. The diocese and a newly appointed priest just said that the services needed to conform to the updated General Instruction for the Roman Mass (GIRM). And we mainly just gave in and let them make it a reality. Almost all of the parishioners from the two masses I attended have left. Some have gone on to other parishes and denominations, but many have gone off-site to continue worshipping in the style of the Gym service. Many of us have talked about our grief at having to leave the church and our former parish. Others have rallied, saying that we are that church, no matter where we are.
In early August, the priest sent us a letter saying that we weren’t in agreement with the Church if we continued worshipping at the off-site service. He said we should come back, but that he saw no need to change the mass to make the laity more a part of it. I know that the Roman Catholic church has been re-asserting the primacy of the priest and has made steps to “bring back dignity,” but it made me sad to see the expendability of the laity so clearly and matter-of-factly stated.
So, if I still believe that the laity has an important place in the mass, and I want to hear these voices in the prayers, readings and homilies at my church, am I no longer Catholic? If I choose to go to a service that honors the decades of theological discourse on the feminine in our God—and changes prayers to reflect that—am I no longer Catholic?
I have often questioned my faith, and I have, over the course of years, determined what I believe and where I differ with the Catholic hierarchy. I thought I would be the kind of person who held on and worked for change from within the structure. But the events of the past year leave me questioning what is left within that structure and leave me heart-broken at the loss. It’s not just that my community has been broken apart. It is also the almost daily evidence from parishes and our Roman Catholic leadership that the things I thought were important about Catholicism—the social justice teachings, standing with the outcast, building the peaceable kingdom—are not the most important issues in to our leaders right now. All of this makes me wonder if the Roman Catholic church has room for me. And if it doesn’t, then what am I?