OK. This blog post is going to go way down deep, but I’m going to explain the deep down reason why traditional Catholic worship will not only survive, but thrive.
It begins with the very basic element of human existence: desire. Rene Girard put into contemporary terms what we already knew. He wrote about “mimetic desire”. Put simply, this is the desire to have what someone else has and you feel you do not have. It is there in the very first temptation. Satan says to Eve, “you will be like God.” She doesn’t just want the fruit from the tree. She wants to be like God and to have the knowledge and power that God has.
This “mimetic desire” is otherwise known as “envy.” I guess Girard uses a fancy academic term for it because he is trying to move beyond the superficial form of envy in which one guy envies another guy’s sports car or one woman envies another woman’s posh holiday cruises. Instead we’re talking about a deeper form of envy which focusses more on the other person’s prestige, power and position. When we get down to this deeper form of envy we are jumping into another one of the mortal sins–in fact the worst one: pride.
So let’s move on. Girard points out that this “mimetic desire” produces violence. The child in the nursery who wants what the other child has will reach out and grab it, and he not only steals it, he hits the other child. Now this is interesting because he not only wants what the other child has, he wants to hurt (and really if he can, eliminate) the other child. Witness, therefore that the next sin after Adam and Eve take the fruit is their son Cain kills his brother Abel.
Thus violence is born into human society and from it comes all manner of evil.
This envy rumbles deep within us as individuals, as families and in society. The unhappiness causes tension. We don’t know why we are unhappy, but we are. Furthermore, this is complicated by pride. Written into pride is the assumption that if there is a problem it is not our fault because we are good. Not only is there individual pride: “I am good” but there is tribal pride “We are good.”
If I am good and we are good, then if there is a problem it must be someone else’s fault. Therefore we begin to look for someone else to blame. This is where the scapegoating comes from. As individuals and a tribe we find someone else to blame for what is wrong. That other person is usually the outsider, the unusual one, the foreigner, the one with a different religion, a different ethnicity, a different outlook. The tribe circles around and starts to blame the other person for the problem.
Notice that this is an irrational, subconscious process. We don’t know we’re doing it, and it can’t be evil because we are good and I am good. We don’t do evil things. We’re good.
The next step is to isolate the scapegoat. That works for a time, but the unhappiness still remains so we move an and start to persecute the scapegoat with the hopes that he will move away. That makes us feel better so we more of what makes us feel better, and eventually we increase what we are doing because, like any drug, the feel good factor begins to wear off. Then we eventually decide that to get rid of the problem we need to eliminate the one causing the problem once and for all.
So we get to the point of sacrifice. The victim is actually killed.
Girard goes on to explain how this action (which makes the tribe feel very good because the problem has been “solved”) is eventually ritualized and turned into a religious ceremony. The practice of the religion normalizes the sacrifice and makes the violence socially acceptable.
Now, of course, Jesus Christ’s life and death fits into this schemata perfectly. Jesus was the scapegoat and in fact, from the beginning was named as the Lamb of God. What he did, however, was to accept this title and role. He broke the sick and sinful pattern of scapegoating and sacrifice from the inside out, and his resurrection confirmed that this cycle of sacrifice didn’t work anymore.
This action of his is what the church calls “the Paschal Mystery”. In the celebration of the Paschal Mystery we keep alive and bring into the present moment what Christ accomplished. We bring alive and turn into a ritual this once for all sacrifice that he made on the cross. This is why we call it the “sacrifice of the Mass.”
Now we’re getting down to the title of this post:
Way down deep in our shared humanity is the need to identify and work through this sacrificial system–this cycle of sacrifice. Its written deeply into our humanity. It is there at the very foundation. That’s why the ancient Hebrews put the story of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel right there at the beginning of all things.
We keep working this out in every age and in every society in one way or another. This article, for example, shows how it is being worked out in contemporary America.
In ways deeper than we can understand we need, we desperately need to identify with this sacrifice and accept that the only way out is through the path of forgiveness, reconciliation and turning away from the cycle of scapegoating and violence. The only way to do this, to achieve this salvation, is through the death of Christ Jesus and his victorious resurrection. The Paschal Mystery is the victory over the cycle of envy, pride, violence and death.
The way ancient societies did this was through actual sacrifice first of the human scapegoat, then through animal substitutes, but then in a climax in the sacrifice of Christ–the sacrifice that ends all sacrifice.
This ritual re-enactment or “re-presentation” of the sacrifice is only offered in one place in our modern world: at the Catholic Mass. This is why it was so stupid to get rid of this concept of the Mass in favor of the “family meal” and this is why the Sacred Sacrifice of the Mass will not just go away.
It will not go away because it is vital to nourish the needs and hunger at the very depth of our humanity
When this sacrifice is offered in solemnity and in a fully ritualistic way we are nourished at the depth of our humanity. This is why the traditional Mass will not go away and why I predict that it will not only not go away, but will continue to enjoy a revival and renewal totally unexpected by both the liberal church people and by society in general.
I may be wrong, but time will tell.