Can You Be Humble About Your Liturgical Preference?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 05, 2004

What is the proper attitude of Catholics toward the liturgy and liturgical norms? This is a subject on which passions frequently run high, and our web site reviews must take the proper attitude into account when evaluating sites which deal with liturgical issues.

Salvation through Obedience

Two points must be kept firmly in mind by all Catholics when they find themselves with negative thoughts about their experience at Mass. The first is that Christ saved us through obedience to the Father, and it is Christ’s salvific work which is represented and celebrated at each Mass. Therefore, the primary virtue to be cultivated with regard to the liturgy is obedience. It is of far greater spiritual benefit both to ourselves and to the Church as a whole when we participate obediently in a liturgy we may not enjoy, as compared with when we enjoy a liturgy that perfectly suits our tastes.

The Cultivation of Humility

The second point is that no one is worthy of even the most poorly celebrated Mass. We need to interiorize this mindset before we start criticizing what we don’t like. We need, in a word, to cultivate humility – a proper recognition of who we are and Who God is, especially in regard to the Mass.

Who Has Authority over the Liturgy?

Now obedience presupposes authority. Therefore, the first logical question is: Who has authority over the Liturgy? The answer is the Pope and the Bishops. The Pope has complete and universal authority over the form of the Liturgy and, within the limitations set by the Pope, each bishop has full authority within his own diocese. Consequently, an obedient and humble attitude toward liturgy is required of us insofar as the norms of the Holy See and the local bishop are being followed, whether we like those norms or not.

When Norms Are Not Followed

If the norms are not followed, then our response must be governed by prudence. We must evaluate the gravity of the abuse of the norms. If the abuse invalidates the Mass, of course, it is very grave indeed, and we must disassociate ourselves from it. If the abuse tends to separate us from the authority of Bishop and Pope – as in a Mass celebrated by someone or in some manner which is not authorized by the competent authority – then we must disassociate ourselves from this as well.

For other departures from the norms, we may decide between two options: (a) we may choose to attend Mass in a different venue, though of course one still properly authorized. This could be a different Mass of the same Rite or a different authorized Rite altogether. Or, (b) we may work to eliminate abuses in a prudent and charitable manner which does not undermine the otherwise legitimate authority of those who may be responsible for the abuse.

When Norms are Not to Our Taste

If the norms ARE followed, but we think that other norms would be better for the life of the Church, we are free to attend Mass of a more congenial Rite if we so desire, and we are also perfectly free to speak and write – or to participate in organizations that speak and write -- about the positive and negative aspects of various liturgical forms, and to encourage Church authority to move in one direction or another. But this must be done with obedience and humility, in such a way that recognizes the provisional character of our own tastes and judgments while upholding the authority of the ecclesiastical persons whom we wish to persuade.

Imprudent or Scandalous Dissent

Any approach to the liturgy which in any way rejects or brings into question the authority of the Pope and the Bishops to regulate the liturgy, or which tends toward disrespect for the Pope, the Bishops or any liturgical form they may authorize, is unacceptable for Catholics. Such an approach is grounds for a lowered Fidelity rating in our site reviews.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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