Saturday, January 29, 2011

Custody of the eyes

Custody of the eyes.

A traditional, even old fashioned term for being careful about what you look at, what you gaze upon, what you see, what you watch.

For we can be formed, we can be tempted, by what we see. And so we should exercise care in this area. As in others.

We should especially practice custody of the eyes during Holy Mass. Looking at Our Lord, praying, following the prayers in our missals, rather than looking at our friends, the priest, the altar servers, the hairstyles, the shoes.... Or is that only me?

So that our focus is Our Lord, our exterior dispositions mirroring our interior dispositions.

If custody of the eyes can seem to be an old fashioned term in our modern life, custody of the eyes in mass can seem to be even more unusual.

It is, however, important. Especially for priests. Because it can be disconcerting to have Father wandering around during his homily, doing the whole Jerry Springer Q & A thing, being a showman, looking at me in the eyes. Straight in the eyes. Repeatedly.

Disconcerting, not confronting. Disconcerting because it takes our eyes and our focus off Our Lord and onto Father and his, well, often, um...platitudes. Makes mass seem less of a sacrifice and less centred on worshipping God and more centred on man... On entertainment... Not on adoring God but almost on adoring ourselves....and Father.

When priests practice custody of the eyes during mass, they are less likely to try to engage we laypeople with looks and jokes and are more likely to celebrate Holy Mass with reverence.. That ars celebrandi. Celebrating Holy Mass in the spirit of truth and beauty...I have been privileged to participate in Holy Masses celebrated this way.

And one could almost say that this can be an argument for Mass celebrated ad orientem as opposed to versus populum.... For when Father faces the people, and does not practice custody of the eyes, laypeople become used to gazing at Father and his expressions and his idiosyncrasies ... At, for example, the Pater Noster. It has become common in many of the masses that I pray at, for Father to look at the congregation and smile and try to include all with a sweeping glance when he is, in fact, addressing Our Lord. And thus, Father's focus ( and subsequently our focus ) should be looking upon Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament . "Deliver us Lord from every evil...."

Remembering custody of the eyes might prevent that other common practice at some of the masses in which I pray... Father walking around at the sign of peace, shaking hands with the congregation in the first few pews, even while we intone the Agnus Dei and while Jesus is on the altar, almost being ignored during the supposed bonhomie of certain, selected parishioners shaking hands with Father.

So what are we to do? We need to encourage a return to the practice of custody of the eyes, especially during mass, for laypeople and priest alike.

Perhaps we laity need to lead the way, by praying during mass, concentrating on Our Lord, not expecting entertainment and not engaging in the whole dialogue talk show style homily. And thanking Father for mass, not for the joke.

And perhaps priests can be encouraged with further formation, to celebrate Holy Mass as Mother Church describes. To think less of themselves and of being a popular showman, less of bottoms on seats, and more of their relationship with God and the salvation of the souls in their care ( to paraphrase the Holy Father's Letter to Seminarians, 2010).

We could all simply begin with a return to the practice of custody of the eyes.


molly said...

another one for reprinting. This is so wonderfully and charitably said. You haev a loving way of speaking the truth, I wish I had.

Sarah Faith said...

Great post!

Leonie said...

Thank you, both of you. I hope we can encourage others with this custody of the eyes !

Ruth said...

Excellent, Leonie!

Martina said...

Dead on! I hope you don't mind, but I posted it on my blog

Beate said...

So how do we go about seeking that type of change in our parishes?

Leonie said...

Beate, I do think change has to start with us.
As I said, perhaps we can practice custody of the eyes ourselves, thank Father for Mass instead os saying "great joke!" , discussing this with our kids so they see the need, perhaps discussing this with others... Esp if asked..

mostly young said...

"Perhaps we laity need to lead the way, by praying during mass, concentrating on Our Lord, not expecting entertainment and not engaging in the whole dialogue talk show style homily." Yes! This is what I think is referred to as the emergent church, where it is all about fellowship with the people you go to church with, not about Christ! Who said that the liturgy is the divine work of God? It's not about us or about Father....

Leonie said...

I don't think it is about the emergent church ( not a popular term here.. ) but about doing what Mother Church describes .. preparing ourselves for Holy Mass, quiet reflection before and after Holy Communion, being prayerful, making use of the sacrament if confession... And priests celebrating Holy Mass as the Church, via the rubrics, describes.

Not emerging or evolving really. No innovations. Just following the Church.

Thanks for your comment!

Sue Elvis said...

I get in trouble with fellow parishioners for practising custody of the eyes. We sit up the front of the church and never notice who is at Mass (unless they hang around outside for a bit afterwards). So I don't tend to recognise people in the street who have seen me at Mass. They must think I am awfully rude (and I feel awkward) when I fail to greet them as friends. Oh well, I don't suppose it matters.

Leonie said...

Sue, I love the chat after mass so it is difficult when people don't stay after... But life is so busy, too! No easy solution!