Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

free for the taking

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 02, 2007

Greek-themed liturgy at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco.

If you make it your project to emancipate liturgy from the organism out of which it grew, by some iron law of fate it will end up in the hands of those persons most convinced they have a special gift for ceremony, who are at the same time the persons most likely to be deceived in this regard. It turns out, further, that a new ritual gesture is as difficult to conceive as a new primary color. As a consequence, the creativity of the creative liturgists will always -- exceptionlessly -- find expression in the half-dozen most banal and predictable forms of public jubilation common in their adolescence. The same persons are almost exceptionlessly autocrats, which means that, when they're in charge of the games, no one is allowed not to play. In practice, contrived liturgical liberty results in the forging of an even more irksome bond. Joseph Ratzinger has long fought to defend the worshiper against the tyranny of this kind of arbitrariness (from his 1981 book Feast of Faith):

The obligatory character of the essential parts of the Liturgy also guarantees the true freedom of the faithful: it makes sure that they are not victims of something fabricated by an individual or a group, that they are sharing in the same Liturgy that binds the priest, the bishop and the pope.

For Ratzinger, the word "fabricated" sums up much of what he deplores about liturgy gone wrong -- partly, no doubt, because of its association with German word for factory (Fabrik), but more importantly because it expresses purely human activity executing a purely human will, whereas the truth is that liturgy has its ultimate origins in divine will and divine action. For men, though they cannot recover these origins, liturgy must be what Ratzinger calls a "received" reality. From the same book:

As "feast", liturgy goes beyond the realm of what can be made and manipulated; it introduces us to the realm of given, living reality, which communicates itself to us. ... Neither the apostles nor their successors "made" a Christian liturgy; it grew organically as a result of the Christian reading of the Jewish inheritance, fashioning its own form as it did so. Liturgy always imposed an obligatory form on the individual congregation and the individual celebrant. It is a guarantee, testifying to the fact that something greater is taking place here than can be brought about by any individual community or group of people.

Is the liturgy capable of change? Undeniably. But to grant this, as Ratzinger argues, is not to say that it can be "made," and to the extent that it is contrived, it is the worshipers who are manipulated, and who -- at some level or other -- recognize the manipulation and resent it. Tampering with the words, sounds, colors, and gestures of ritual means it will inevitably tumble to the level of a sorority initiation. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a sorority initiation, it must be stressed, provided the sorority is one all the participants want to join.


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  • Posted by: Gil125 - Apr. 14, 2010 3:11 PM ET USA

    I thinkfredsfo2 is too generous. They didn't admit homosexuals because they couldn't find anybody else. They admitted them because they wanted them. And there are many, many stories of genuine men being refused admission because they weren't sufficiently friendly to the poofter element.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Apr. 14, 2010 8:41 AM ET USA

    The medis just slobers trying to get leaders like Pope Benedict to publicly confess their errors. They did the same to President Bush, although they don't see the need for any of their guys to do the same (President Clinton, Barney Frank,Charles Rangel, etc) fredsf02, the sex abuse scandal was on the rise before Vatican II, just hidden from sight.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 13, 2010 9:19 PM ET USA

    As dreadful as the recent attacks on Pope Benedict XVI have been, the problem isn't with him. The problem is laxity within the Church, specifically with post-Vatican II Vocation Directors, who couldn't find prospective candidates for their Orders. So they opened up the doors and let everyone in ... All the testing in the world isn't going to keep homosexuals out of seminaries who are determined to join. And we have seen that happen over and over again.