“Anthropocentric? What’s that?!” you say. It is a word that means “man is at the center” and its one of the chief problems we have in our understanding of masses and other liturgies in modern times. It seems that our general preoccupation is with what we human beings are doing and far less on God, the worship of God and what God is doing. I pray you my reader might be an exception to this modern tendency but I suppose we all struggle with it to some extent. Take some of the following examples as illustrations:
- I often hear people say they don’t go to Church because they don’t “get anything out of it.” Perhaps they are looking for improved preaching, better choirs, or more fellowship. Now all these are things worth striving for in the Church. Our liturgies should be well planned, joyful, with powerful preaching and fine music. So lets all agree that this should be worked at. But the truth is none of this should be the main or only reason we go to Church. Going to Church on Sunday is not about you, it is not about me. We go to Church because God is worthy. He is worthy of our praise, our time, our tithe, our worship. The worship of God is the central purpose of of the Mass and every liturgy not the entertainment of human beings. Yet we so easily think of ourselves and our comfort more than God. Mass should be “convenient, short and always suited to my taste” as so many think, almost as though it were all about me. And so we have an anthropocentric (man centered) attitude often on display. How about we all agree to work on high quality liturgies but lets also agree that the focus is on God, not on us and only what we want and how great or not so great we are. How about agreeing that the we go to Mass because God is worthy not simply because we get something out of it. An old Gospel hymn says, “Just forget about yourself and concentrate on Him (God) and worship him!” I have found that when I have taken this view, I have gotten a lot more “out of it.”
- Weddings are often another time where God seems quite forgotten. As the wedding party files up the aisle cell phone cameras are flashing away, people step into the aisle trying to get the shot. The bride and her bridesmaids are the focus. Now, I’m all for appreciating feminine beauty, believe me. But once the Bride and Groom are up the aisle and the music stops I find it necessary to refocus the congregation. To remind them that we are here to worship God, pray for the couple and witness a great work of God called the sacrament matrimony. I ask that all the cell phone cameras be put away remind them that a professional photographer has been hired and then call the congregation to silent prayer with heads bowed. Only after 30 seconds of silence do I sing the opening prayer. Further instructions are necessary to encourage the faithful to listen carefully as God speaks a Word to them in the readings. More silent prayer after the homily and then a request that the congregation pray deeply as they witness the vows and glorify God in their hearts. Without these clear instructions the whole thing too easily becomes about the dresses, the various personalities, anything or anyone but God, in a word, anthropocentric. We can surely be joyful for the happy couple but how about a few accolades for God who pulled the whole thing off?
- Funerals too can become too anthropocentric. The first purpose of a funeral Mass is to worship God and to give thanks for having given us the gift of the life of the now deceased loved one. We also gather to pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased as they go to judgement. We can trust God’s mercy but we ought to be quite prayerful for we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ and render an account (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10). Seems like a good time to pray for the deceased. Now pray is not the same as “praise.” Here too many funeral Masses and funeral tributes focus too much on what a great guy Joe was and how he loved the Redskins and loved to tell jokes etc. Some remarks about Joe’s faith and how God worked in his life may be appropriate but the fundamental purpose of the funeral Mass is to worship God and beseech his mercy for Joe and for all of us who will one day die too and have to render an account. No amount of joke telling, and being a great guy is enough to purchase salvation. No human achievement can ever the pay the price. It’s only Jesus who gives any hope at the funeral that Joe or any of us even stand a chance. We ought to worship God and thank him for his mercy and grace at every funeral and recommit ourselves to Jesus.
Well, hopefully I’ve made my point. Like most things liturgical I’ll bet you have a few points of your own and I hope you’ll share them. I hope you don’t think I was being too harsh, I actually mean a lot of this in good humor. There’s something a bit funny about the way we think things revolve around us and how easily forgetful we can be about God. Our culture surely doesn’t help us put God first and so it is easy for us to slip into a kind of anthropocentrism in a culture that almost never mentions God and which constantly tells us that we have a right to have everything our way. Simply being conscious of the tendency can help us name the demon and thus alter our anthropocentric attitudes.
In this video, newly ordained Archishop Augustine DiNoia avoids the usual modern tendency to go on at great length about all the worderful people who made the liturgy and the day possible. Instead, he focuses on praising God. And to the degree that he mentions people it is always in reference to how God has worked through them and prayers that He will continue to do so. The video is is only 3 minutes but if you listen to nothing else, listen to the first line. He is not insensitive but it is clear he will not take the focus off God for any reason.