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Bad Habits: a Jesuit on the Deformation of the Liturgy

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 02, 2006

Maryland Province Jesuit Father Vincent Capuano has a provocative essay in the Adoremus Bulletin called "Bad Habits: Can we correct liturgical abuse in religious communities?" The topic has much broader impact than the title suggests. It's definitely worth a read. "In religious houses," says Capuano, "it is not uncommon to find

a) healthy persons celebrating the entire Mass seated even during the parts when it is prescribed to stand or kneel
b) healthy priests celebrating or concelebrating the Mass seated
c) priests not concelebrating when they are present at Mass
d) priests not vesting with a chasuble when they are the principal celebrants (and there are chasubles available)
e) priests not vesting with an alb and stole when they are concelebrants
f) priests making intentional changes in the prescribed prayers
g) priests changing the Scripture reading for some other type of reading
h) the practice of "shared" homilies, where any member of the assembly is permitted to comment on the scripture (or often anything else that crosses his mind)
i) prolonged liturgies of the Word in the form of "Faith sharing"
j) the use of a non-consecrated space when there is a consecrated chapel or church available (and even the barbaric practice of coffee table liturgies)
k) the use of glass or pottery chalice and paten
l) the use of strange bread-like substances
m) the use of grape juice in place of wine."

Clearly a man of more benign temperament than your Uncle Di, Capuano has no flame-thrower at the ready. He writes:

One of the things that attracted me to the Society of Jesus was that Jesuits talk about the devil, spiritual combat and how the Good Spirit and evil spirit are present in the world and in our hearts. I consider this essay as an exercise in "discernment of spirits". Ultimately, we must look for spiritual causes of liturgical abuse. It is the Good Spirit that sows the seeds of virtue and the evil spirit that sows seeds of vice.

Liturgical abuse is now a cultural problem, the product of bad habits -- vices, if you will -- that have become part of a sub-culture of the Church and of religious communities in particular. In a sense the perpetrators of liturgical abuse are themselves victims of the formation they received and the subtle temptations of, as Saint Ignatius says, the "enemy of our human nature". Peter Kreeft would say, "they are our patients not our enemies".

Why do these abuses happen? asks Capuano. "The first reason," he argues, "is poor formation. Jesuits, for example, although we study a lot, are woefully prepared for sacramental and liturgical ministry. Our formal liturgy classes are nasty, brutish and short and there is little or no liturgical apprenticing during the course of studies." This sounds more like a sin of omission than of commission, but it's far from the whole story. Capuano (ordained, according to the author ID, in 1998) continues:

Our schools of theology are not seminaries and are not geared to the formation of priests for three reasons:

1) The faculty think of themselves as belonging to a theological think-tank and think their principal task is investigation and generating new theories. They do not think their task is the transmission of the orthodox faith for the formation of future priests.

2) There are many laymen who take classes in these centers, so the focus is on generic "ministry" and not specifically on priestly formation.

3) Some superiors don't have a clue as to what a Roman Catholic priest should be like. The reason for this is that there exists such a plurality of theological and moral viewpoints that general theological and philosophical confusion reign in these schools.

In summary of this exposition, Capuano writes:

The ambient heterodox theology floating in these schools and in formation houses is a contagion that breeds "heterocultic" (lit. "different worship") liturgy. Teachers and superiors who are interesting and stimulating personalities in the classroom often serve as bad models when they celebrate Mass because they transpose their dissenting ideas into dissenting liturgy. This is not a frontal attack -- it is done with smoke and mirrors, dissimulating orthodoxy. While some are disingenuous, the majority really think that what they do is okay.

The students assimilate these practices without realizing their heterocultic nature basically because they don't know better and are at the mercy of their teachers and superiors who are supposed to be masters of the religious and priestly life.

A forceful yet fair analysis of the variety of motives at work. There is much more meat to Capuano's essay than I have space to present. By way of urging a careful reading of the article, I'll conclude with his conclusion, which manifests an authentically Ignatian spiritual perspective:

Saint Ignatius tells us that the Christian life is spiritual combat between the Good Spirit and "the enemy of our human nature". The evil spirit is like a Don Juan who tries to seduce an honest woman. He does not want his unseemly propositions to be revealed to her husband or father. The saint says that when the evil one is uncovered, he flees.

The first step in reform is identifying and naming the evil spirit. The first places where we need to look for him are in our own hearts and in our own communities.

Read it all here.

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