21 February 2014

Followup on Reserved and Preferential Seating at Mass

[[Dear Sister, thank you for answering my question on reserved seating for religious and other conse-crated persons. My interest came from reading a post which suggested Consecrated Virgins attending the renewal of ministers commitments as EEM's should either not attend or be seated with religious. The author was emphatic that they should not be seated with the laity who were renewing their commitments.  She also made the point that Religious and CV's did not need to make or renew such commitments since they were serving the Church and acting as an EEM was a part of this already. The link to this post is: Real Life Scenarios.]]

Ah, thanks for the link. I know this blog and have some fundamental disagreements with its author about the vocation she writes about.  Even bearing that in mind (for it and cultural differences in particular make me more cautious with my opinions), I'm afraid the entire story still makes me think of the presumption and squabbling that went on between some of the disciples regarding who would be seated at Christ's right hand and who at his left. (You recall the story. The Mother of James and John, Sons of Zebedee, asked if her Sons could occupy these privileged places and Jesus said it was not up to him to pronounce on this; that was God's purview alone.) It is precisely this kind of ambition and resultant squabbling that is encouraged by preferential seating: "If religious get preferential seating then CV's who are also consecrated should also have preferential seating, etc". (And of course there WILL be an etc in this as preferences within preferences establish themselves.)

Though I appreciate that it is entirely appropriate to be recognized within the church for the place one has in her life and ministry (something which is true for everyone, by the way), it also makes me wonder if those who argue for (or accept) preferential seating as a matter of course, etc, can really drink of the cup of kenosis, suffering, and humility that Jesus himself has offered all disciples. Jesus seemed especially to question whether his own disciples knew what was being asked for; the cup of privilege for the Christian is the cup of self-emptying. The idea, for instance, that a CV should simply not attend such a Mass rather than accept seating with the laity seems particularly wrongheaded to me. In the referenced blog piece the liturgy being described is a commissioning to ministry by the local Church, not merely a renewal of commitments; everyone has a part in such commissioning and in the reception of a minister's recommitment to this ministry. Surely a consecrated person with a public ecclesial vocation --- especially if they share in this ministry themselves --- is called to support and participate in such an action no matter where they are seated!

The author of the blog you are referring to raises some difficult and important questions then --- not least about the wisdom of routine preferential seating per se. Another of these, however, is the best way to gain recognition of the nature or essence of the vocation to consecrated virginity lived in the world in the given circumstances. Some might cogently argue that the CV's should be seated with the religious both because they are consecrated women and because they are not actually making a recommitment either. I don't agree. In part that is because I see elitism as counter productive to really being known and understood and in part it is because I understand a central piece of the vocation of the CV living in the world to be a prophetic call to all those living secular vocations to understand and accept that they are called to an exhaustive and eschatological holiness as well as to being a missionary presence in the midst of the world.

After all, this is the vocation of the Church herself and consecrated virgins living in the world exemplify it in a vivid way. Similarly, and this is my third reason, if religious misguidedly insist on (or accept) the anachronism of preferential seating, then someone has to begin to break down this barrier to unity; Consecrated virgins, it seems to me, might well be the ones to do so. It would be a particular service to the local and the universal Church in and for which they serve as icons. During special liturgies they might well wear the veil (and perhaps the garb) they wore at their consecration along with the wedding band they wear every day to mark their state of life, and they should probably request and continue to request that local clergy appropriately recognize their presence and service; but these things said, they should sit in the assembly with everyone else --- just as religious should. I don't see this as a betrayal of the public nature of the vocation, but an expression of it. It does, however, refuse to confuse notoriety or elitism with the vocation's public rights and obligations. It seems to me that this is also one of the things Pope Francis has been modeling for us so clearly.

While it will take time for the Church to fully recognize and appreciate canon 604 vocations a veiled (or not-so veiled) elitism will not help in this. Instead it can only encourage resistance to yet another vocation which suggests (or seems to suggest) that lay life is an "entry level" or second class vocation which is somehow inferior to vocations to the consecrated state. This would be a serious disservice to the Church and is what I referred to above as counterproductive. From my perspective what is needed, besides continued efforts to instruct clergy (and all they minister to) regarding the nature and charism of this vocation,  are consecrated women who live this vocation out by humbly bringing the special graces attached to their consecration to the very situation in which they live and are also  called to embrace --- namely, the everyday world.

It is true that vocationally speaking consecrated women and men are not lay persons, but hierarchically speaking unless they are clergy they ARE lay persons. Religious are not a third level of vocation standing between the laity and the priesthood. One of the graces I suspect CV's are called to bring to the Church is the grace which levels distinctions signifying differences in SOCIAL status. (N.B., This is NOT the same thing as differences in legal standing or "canonical status.") It is part of witnessing to a universal call to holiness, and, again from my perspective, is part of the mission and charism of CV's living in the world and committed to God in both the things of the spirit and the things of the world.