Monday, March 19, 2007

The occasional thought on liturgy in India

I'm surprised that it hasn't happened before, but it was only a matter of time before one of my fellow Indians took umbrage, or got defensive, at my comments about my experience of the liturgy in India, as an anonymous commenter does below. I started out in the combox, but it grew into its own post.

Hey anon: First of all, thanks for taking the time to give some critical feedback in a very charitable manner. This past year (a few months in the summer of 2006 and a couple of months here) has been the the longest I've spent in India as a Catholic ... and this post is really a part of an ongoing struggle of mine to understand Indian Catholic parish life. Yes, in this sense I do see everything through Western eyes -- though I came to the faith through God's grace in India, all but two weeks of my life as a baptized Catholic have been spent in the US. In most respects, as a Catholic, I'm American. I won't apologize for that part.

A couple of other things: my experience of India is limited geogrpahically: lots in Bombay, then Pune, then Vadodara and then Delhi. That's it. I have no experience of liturgy in the Southern heartlands. And, this latest post has been preceeded by several others (see below) where I share my thoughts, both negative and postive, about Indian liturgy. This one was one of the more critical ones.

Nor do I really stand back from any comments about the liturgy -- even as I try my best not to let a critical eye on the liturgy lead to spiritual pride and other ills -- but, the liturgy is the source and summit of our Christian lives. The Church asks that it be celebrated faithfully and beautifully. In my experience, at least the latter part, is lacking. That's harsh, but I'm sharing my observations.

I do apologize that what came across in this rather irritated post of mine was a disparagment of the devotion of the people; that wasn't intended and that is one thing that I've found has always humbled me and impressed me in India and inspired me every time. Nor have I ever disparaged anyone's holiness -- lay or priest! I hope I never do that, for that is among the worst forms of spiritual pride.

I would hope that informed proclamation, good preaching, decent and inspiring singing and music, an appreciation for the Liturgy of Word, well planned and devoutly celebrated liturgies, etc. are not mutually exclusive to a vibrant devotional life. Nor really should there be any kind of anti-intellectualism in the Catholic Church.

One thing I tend to try and be clear about, and I'm sorry that I really wasn't clear in this post (since not everyone who reads one post will be aware of past comments and conversations) -- I share my thoughts with a full sense that I'm being critical at a surface level. I go to Mass. I have tried (at least last summer I did) to get more involved in the parish, but wasn't sure how to do it best. The way I would have in the US -- talking the priest -- didn't result in much of anything, and I will fully acknowledge I didn't try more. My goal during my time in India, however, was not to be involved in a parish, but to spend time with my parents, especially my ill father. So, I have not really gone deeper into Indian Catholic life, gotten involved in parish life, or (apart from college friends) really know any other Indian Catholics! That's a huge grain of salt, for sure.

Finally, I don't think this is just me. I've had others share similar thoughts -- both expats who live in India, as well as Catholic friends who've settled overseas.

If anyone is interested, here are the links to past posts on the topic of Indian liturgy.

New Year's Day, 2006. My very first post about Mass in India, this one at a Gujarati Mass.
Exile (The very first lament.)
St. Anthony of Padua (At daily Mass.)
Trinity Sunday (Where I find that everything isn't as bleak as it seemed a few weeks prior.)
Vianney Sunday (Mass in Pune)
August 15th at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Delhi
Adoration and Ad-Libbing Mass in Bandra, November 2005.
Feast of the Holy Family, December 2006.
Advent IV in Delhi.
Driving in search of Jesus, where I end up at a really large outdoor Gujarati Mass.
Our Lady of Perpetual Succor Daily Mass, March 2007.
Feast of the Sacred Heart in Bombay

I'm sure there will be lots in US parishes that could be disconcerting to a visitor from India. Nothing said about Indian parishes implies that US (or other) parishes are above criticism.

And finally, all said and done, despite these comments that might suggest otherwise, I try and remind myself that we are all part of a universal Body that transcends all divisions, especially those of culture and nation, and if there is to be criticism, it should always be in a spirit of charity. My hope is that my observations do not stray beyond those bounds.



Anonymous said...

I went through every one of your posts about mass in India- and I come to the conclusion that you have missed what I see and live in every parish that I have been a member of, and I have been a member of parishs in Bangalore, Cochin, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and now Delhi. If you are a serious and committed catholic, the community reaches out and embraces you, only, if you make the effort to inform the community that you exist ofcourse. If you belong to the parish in the true sense of the word, switch of your self importence and eye for criticism, Indian catholic churches offer you the spiritual succor that you need. Especially if you are a glutton for drowning in the mass,and the other- daily community roseries, novenas, teaching children cathechism. and I really don't care if the choir sings like a brace of donkeys or that the priest is going of at a tangent in his homily. The Indian catholic church is my mother and father, something I cannot live without, and many of the catholics who live in it feel like that.

Gashwin said...

Anon: thanks for your comment. Obviously I'm missing a lot of what you say (but not all -- please note above that I've been grateful for the richness of the devotional and spiritual life and deep faith that I see in India). And, as I note above as well, I grant that I haven't done too much to get involved in a parish, mainly because I'm in the area for a very short time. [Parenthetically, let me add: IMO a parish shouldn't just embrace "serious Catholics" but be welcoming to visitors and "less-than-serious" Catholics as well. How else will the latter be invited to conversion and deepening their relationship to Christ and His Church?]

I've never claimed that the parishes I've encountered do not spiritually feed the people -- I just found something missing. And it's the American -- and the evangelical indeed -- in me that longs for some beauty in the liturgy, and substance in the preaching.

All the other disclaimers that I mention above still stand.

Thanks for taking the time to read everything and sharing a response.