Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Did I mislead my readers?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 08, 2023


Chess players will recognize the French phrase, which a player uses to let his opponent know that he is straightening out his pieces rather than making a move. Today I feel the same sort of need to adjust two of my recent posts. I don’t want to “make a move”—that is, I don’t intend to change my arguments. But I notice that some readers have missed one of the points that I was trying to make. So evidently I was not quite clear. Let me see if I can straighten things out.

In response to my question, How often do bishops hear the truth? quite a few readers responded by saying that their bishops do not listen to their complaints. Insofar as that is true—and I don’t doubt it—shame on those bishops. But that wasn’t the entire point of my column.

Yes, it is true that many bishops make it difficult for their people to speak with them directly. Even if they do not insulate themselves intentionally, bishops working in a chancery office are a bit like captains on a submarine: they have limited communication with the outside world.

That’s unfortunate. But my column was not addressed to bishops (and certainly not to the bishops who aren’t paying attention). It was addressed primarily to the rest of us: the ordinary Catholics who should make an effort to let our bishops know our needs and our concerns. Do we take advantage of every opportunity to do so? If and when we have a chance to speak with the bishop (and we always have the opportunity to write) are we candid? Priests may have more opportunities for conversation with their bishops, but they also may feel more restraints—for reasons that I explained in my little essay. So if I am right that bishops don’t hear the truth often enough, it falls to us, the laity, to address that problem.

Again, if the bishop is not listening to the lay people, shame on him. But if he is willing to listen, and he isn’t hearing the truth, shame on us.

Then in response to my piece about how summer vacations are often marred by our experience of liturgical abuses in unfamiliar parishes, some readers grasped only one of the two points I had intended to make.

My first point—the one that readers readily understood—was that a prudent Catholic should make a plan for attending Mass when he is on vacation, or traveling for any other reason. Unfortunately, given the prevalence of liturgical abuses, it is not enough to find the closest available parish. A resource like ReverentCatholicMass, which tries to identify the churches “that offer Mass with reverence,” is valuable—even if it is imperfect, since different contributors have different criteria.

Several readers commented that they seek out the Traditional Latin Mass when they are on the road, confident that they will not run into unpleasant surprises. TLM is not a guarantee against bad liturgical practices; I am old enough to remember the days when priests rushed through the Latin for a distracted congregation, with everyone anxious to get through the ceremony as quickly as possible. But:

First, today, when attendance at the TLM is a deliberate choice, usually involving some substantial sacrifice, the vast majority of people in the congregation are respectful and reverent, as are the priests who celebrate the Mass. The people who are there want to be there; the lackadaisical Catholics, who want only the minimum, are elsewhere.

Second, and more important, the rubrics of the TLM do not allow for free-lancing. So barring some sort of deliberate sabotage, the worst liturgical abuses are impossible.

For those reasons I, too, plan to seek out the TLM when I am on the road. But in my column last week I tried to make another point, which I’m afraid did not come through clearly.

”Most of us who care deeply about the liturgy have found our own safe havens,” I wrote in that column. We have found parishes where we are nourished by beautiful liturgy. We have discovered ways to find good liturgy when we are traveling. Good. But what about all the good Catholics who have not found a good parish, who have not discovered the beauty of the TLM, who do not know where the Novus Ordo is celebrated with reverence, who perhaps have never experienced anything other than liturgical mediocrity? We can’t leave them behind.

If you have the sense, reading these thoughts, that I am adjusting my pieces on the chessboard, ready to take the offensive, you’re right. Stay tuned.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: susana8577 - Aug. 12, 2023 8:43 PM ET USA

    Someone in my Archdiocese has created a website to help lay people learn what is right and wrong in the Novus Ordo liturgy. She has posted links to Church documents and other resources to help lay Catholics address problems in the liturgy. As you indicate, many faithful Catholics don’t know what they are missing. The site is