Amid the recently heightened awareness of racism and inequity in society, I recognized a trend of classism in Catholic spirituality and liturgy permeating throughout the history of the Church that is ever present today.
This is manifested as follows:
- “Mental Prayer is superior to vocal prayer”
- “Contemplation is superior to meditation”
- “Apophatic prayer (without forms or images; e.g. centering prayer) is superior to kataphatic prayer (use of words, symbols or ideas; e.g. Ignatian prayer)”
- “Extraordinary Form is superior to the Novus Ordo”
- “Mass in Latin is superior to Mass in the vernacular”
- “Organ music in liturgy is superior to guitars and contemporary praise and worship music”
Certain of these classist notions are rooted in the Eurocentric influence in the Church.
These hierarchies are not of divine origin but are man-made. Additionally, the implication of the superiority of a group that practices one form of prayer and liturgy over another is highly problematic.
As with classism in society, classism in prayer and worship can result in harmful division within the Body of Christ.
Our efforts at prayer and liturgy, no matter how seemingly “elevated,” are measly and insignificant compared to the grandeur of God.
However, our offerings, imperfect and incomplete though they might be, do not detract from God’s immense delight in them.
As a parent, when my toddler gives me a smile, a wave or simply says “Dada” or “Daddy,” my heart melts.
While seemingly fleeting and insignificant in the eyes of some, this gift is priceless to me, not solely because of the gift itself, but because of the giver.
In a similar manner, God is most pleased with us no matter how we choose to connect with God. In God’s infinite mercy, it is the giver who is most pleasing to God.
Another important consideration is that in God’s infinite nature, no single style of prayer or liturgy (other than in and through Jesus Christ) could ever fully subsume God’s nature. Rather, since the Divine nature is infinite, a plurality of spiritualties and liturgical forms can subsist and be equally pleasing to God.
Additionally, the Catholic (i.e. “Universal”) nature of the Church calls for this plurality.
Therefore, both charismatic and meditative prayer are good; both high church and youth masses are good.
When it comes to spirituality and liturgy, these do not have an “either/or” dichotomy but a “both/and” framework.
An authentic measure of our spirituality and liturgical prayer cannot be determined by the artificial classism that has regrettably developed over the Church’s history, but by the progression it leads us to honoring the Greatest Commandment, love of God and love of neighbor (cf. Matthew 22:36-40).
Additionally, this can be manifested in how closely aligned our hearts are with the Heart of Christ, a Heart that is pierced by injustice and identifies with the marginalized.
Therefore, our form of prayer and worship are not as important as how it leads us to a radical desire to bring good news to the poor and afflicted, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives, and comfort those who mourn (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2), thereby imitating Jesus, God’s most perfect offering (cf. Matthew 5:48).
Catch up with all Novena US contributor Matt Kappadakunnel’s thoughtful and penetrating insights into Catholic social justice and the US Church:
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