Altering Anthropocentric Attitudes

“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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

20 Replies to “Altering Anthropocentric Attitudes”

  1. Good article–I like your idea of 30 seconds silence before the wedding opening prayer.

  2. While it sounds nice that we should forget about ourselves and focus on God, the reality is that Church services are supposed to “serve” and nourish and lift up the congregation to be in communion with God. Through serving the congregation, others, the little ones, etc., we do the same to Jesus and God. And so one might also say that a worship service where the people are not served might mean that the Holy Spirit / God / Christ was not served either.

    “Man was not made for the Sabbath”, but the other way around (Jesus). We should also not bang pots and pans, thinking that God will take the noise as a compliment (Jesus). The idea that we should suffer through a boring, uninspired ritual because it somehow makes God complete / happy should not be taught. God doesn’t need to hear the songs, or hear the readings, or receive all the compliments, or go through the sacraments. God is bigger than that. God knows what we need before we ask. We are the ones who need the Sabbath, and so we should do our best to make it as fruitful and sincere as possible.

    1. I think we’re in agreement though perhaps the emphasis is a little different. As I said, I do not mean to suggest that we should be sloppy about liturgy or lazy. However, I am tugging in the other direction here a bit by inserting the reminder that it is not all about us and what we want. As for the Sabbath being made for man, a true quote, however the Sabbath rest is a wider notion than sacred worship whose focus is more specific. Sacred worship has God for its primary object. Sacred liturgy is the worship by the whole body of Christ of the Father. Jesus our head renders perfect praise to the Father and we the members of Christ are joined to that perfect act of worship. It is also true that Christ ministers to us in word and sacrament. Hence your point is also well taken. But my central point is meant to balance what I percieve as an over-emphasis on us. The Liturgy is forst and foremost about the Worship of God and also what Jesus our God is doing. It is not about Father Jones, per se, nor the choir, nor the friendly community essentially, it is about God.

  3. This one strikes right at home for me! Right before reading this post, I was on the phone, and during the conversation I said that the Mass I went to today (not my usual Mass or parish) wasn’t of my “taste.” I don’t think there was anything wrong with Mass; it’s just that some things were a bit different. I wish I’d read this post before that conversation, or even before Mass!

  4. Two thoughts came to mind when I read this post. My first thought is on the length of a homily. Some priests are better homilists (if that’s a word) than others. Some priests talk forever, and then some, and time zips by while other priests seem to talk, and talk, and talk, and……talk. Maybe my brain is really simple and smooth, but there is only so much I can remember without taking notes! Often times, I find a short, concise, to the point homily much easier to remember during the course of a week than the long, drawn out homily supported with information from a lot of different concepts. Does Sunday Mass have to run the full hour, or, at a priest’s discretion, is it OK for Mass to be finished in say 50 minutes? Of course, the answer could be that I am looking at Mass from “my needs” rather than from the needs of Christ or the Church’s traditions.

    My second thought may have come from one of those l-o-n-g sermons just mentioned, but I have found that at times, I can focus on Mass better when I close my eyes, tune out visual distractions, and simply listen to the words or music. I will caution anyone trying this that there can be a downside. It’s really humiliating to find yourself startled awake from your own “head bob.” Bottom line, make sure you’re good and awake if you close your eyes for any period of time!

    1. Yes, Father should preach 20 minutes with only 5 minutes of material. I can see your point though I think we need to spend more time with sermons today. There is just so much stinkin thinkin out there and we have to take time and teach, The sermons at my parish are usually aorund 30 minutes and the principle liturgies go an hour and a half to two hours. But people like it here. We take time and sing with gusto, we have a great choir that takes the roof off the place and the preaching isn’t bad (me!). I usually teach through a certain principle or teaching rather than merely give an exhortation. Teaching takes a little more time. Its more than a pithy thought, it involves taking the Word of God and reading, analyzing, organing, illustrating and applying it. Every homily should answer three questions: What, so what,now what? But I understand your point too. Not every priest is able to preach long and he should avoid it. An old Sem. professor told us years ago regarding the homily: “What you are about to do, do quickly.” (He was quoting Jesus’ words to Judas!) But hey it’s not always bad advice. 🙂

  5. One of my pet peeves from my days in the unofficial Families with Small Children Exile Section (the last few pews in the back, from which one could make a quick escape) was the number of people who came in late, and the number of people who skipped out immediately after Communion.

    I could understand latecomers with small children…sometimes it just is NOT possible to get out the door when one plans. But most of those who would come ambling in as late as the Gospel reading were families with older children or adults without children. [I was particularly irked by latecomers who would skulk into the last pews, and glare at my daughter if she so much as peeped or colored too loud. HelLO, maybe if you got here on time you wouldn’t be stuck with sitting near little kids!] And I wonder at those who leave early…would it kill them to hang around another ten minutes?

    I’ve been told that as long as one hears the Gospel reading and takes Communion then that’s enough to “count” for having attended Mass. It seems to me that if one misses nearly half the Mass then one hasn’t really met one’s commitment to worship. God is easily worth at least an hour of our time every week.

    1. It is really remarkable how many are unwilling to stay the full duration of even our presently short masses. People will spend hours on football wherein a bunch of guys move a bag full of air up and down a field. Many of the same cannot give God even an hour. A lot of times people just don’t sit down and think about what they saying by what they do. If I want to discover what I really value then I should look at what I spend my time and money on. Hmm,,,lets see, 4 hours on football, 45 mintues at mass (coming late and leaving early)…..hmm $450 on football tickets….$5 in the collection plate. Let’s see, what is most important here?

      1. Only four hours on football? Not if one watches the 1pm game…and the 4:00 game…and the 7:30 game…

  6. That’s funny…. when I think of anthropocentrism and religion, usually what comes to mind is the incredibly selfish vanity of thinking that the entire universe was created by a Magical Sky Daddy for the sole benefit of humans. But hey, what do I know….

    1. Magical Sky Daddy – I guess that would be God the Father? It remains a truth of Scripture that God gave the earth to man. The Book of Genesis is clear enough in that regard. We are to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Further Genesis records God saying that all the seeds, fruit-bearing plants etc are give to us. Later in Gen 9 God also puts the animals under our subjection and indicates that meat from same may be had. Not excatly the favorite passages of modern envrionmentalist but there they are anyway. I don’t see the passages as anthropocentric since God himself sets this forth. We for our part must receive God’s gifts as gifts and thus with gratitude, also as stewards not owners. The catechism lists the “universal destination of goods” as a fundamental principle of social justice.

      1. Monsignor… I agree that the Book of Genesis is quite clear, but I would argue that it is also quite anthropocentric to believe that a book penned by a few humans many centuries ago holds the absolute truth about questions regarding the vast universe. To say that one is in possession of a book of absolute truth is itself the pinnacle of vanity.

  7. I was amused to come across this article on

    BEACONSFIELD, Quebec, Sept. 29 (UPI) — An Anglican church near Montreal has become dog-friendly, offering a Paws and Pray service once a month.

    The communion service at Christ Church Beaurepaire in Beaconsfield will include treats for the dogs and bowls of water along with bread and wine for their humans, the Montreal Gazette reports. The Rev. Michael Johnson, vicar of the church 25 miles east of Montreal, plans to try Paws and Pray for four months to determine if there is enough interest to justify keeping it going.

    Many Anglican churches bless animals once a year, usually on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. A regular service is a little more unusual.

    “I hope the dogs will feel honored and welcomed,” Johnson said.

    The service was suggested by Johanne Tasse, a member of Christ Church and president of Companion Animals Adoption Centers of Quebec, the Gazette reported.

    “Animals deserve our care and respect,” she said. “If we can bring dogs to church, how can we turn around and abuse them?”

      1. I imagine the liturgy would sound something like this:

        Glory to God in the high*bark*
        Peace to His *woof*ple on *GROWLF*…

  8. James: , it looks like you’re basically “post-scriptural.” That is you simply reject the veracity of scripture or that it has anything credible to say. It seems that this is basically rooted in the fact that you just don’t like it. But, due to the fact that you reject the voice of Scripture, and I would also presume that of the Church, it doen’t seem like there is much of a basis of discussion for us. There has to be some agreed upon basis for a conversation. The snide tone of your comments also suggests that you are not all that willing to engage in a respectful dialogue either. I do not think I am vain is putting faith in God’s word. Your denial that there is an absolute truth reqires you to assert the absolute truth that “there is no absolute truth.” Seems like you’re being pretty absolute to me Further, I do not recall using the word absolute truth in any of our discussion. While I do think the truths of our faith are absolutely true you seem to imply that I think the Book of Genesis is comprehensive truth. The Church does not claim that the Bible is the only source of truth. Rather, creation too bespeaks God’s truth, natural law discloses it, science also uncovers it. Your rather dismissive attitude is not a fair assessment of Catholic teaching at all.

  9. Msgr.,

    In trying to keep it a little light when referring to Mr. Sweet’s comment, I do believe you provided insight into some common ground for a conversation here- It goes something like, “But hey, what do I know……..not everything.” For, in my opinion, to not contemplate and ponder the information recorded in a book that is over 2,000 years old is, in and of itself, a vain mind.

    Mr Sweet,

    With some humor hidden in this question, have you ever considered the penname of James Sour when it comes to expressing your viewpoint(s) on the Bible’s teaching on creation? There is enough cynicism in the world. Can we be civil and respectful of each other’s beliefs and opinions on this site?

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