Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

otr dashback: 3-25-04 -- can't we all just get along?

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 14, 2008

What is it about "faithful orthodox Catholics" that makes so many of them talk as though despair and anger are the first and only characteristics of the Truly Christian life?

Several blogs have recently raised the question of why orthodox Catholics so often froth at the mouth when the subject of liturgical abuse is raised, why so many of us stumble out of Mass nearly sick with rage, so that we shock and repel those around us.

As a man who very often prays to be distracted during Mass so as not to take a machete to the celebrant, and as one who spreads alarm and despondency among nearly all he meets after leaving church, I feel I'm qualified to speak to the question.

What exasperates and maddens me about liturgical abuses is that the Mass given to us by the Church is so supremely, eminently DOABLE. Almost any priest not in a concentration camp or on a battlefield can do what the Church asks him to do with perfect compliance. It's all there: wear this; say that; bow here; now elevate the host -- the dimmest clergyman in the poorest parish on earth can score 100% every time, and thereby offer a pleasing sacrifice to God.

That means that the departures happen for a reason. The innovator wants to jack us around for motives of his own, which he does not "covenant" with us. We almost never hear complaints about inadvertent omissions by celebrants trying to do it right; it's the deliberate changes that infuriate.

I once read an article in a lefty newsletter called Miriam's Song that laid out the campaign very neatly. The author noted how, on the campus of Ohio State, students would not keep to the sidewalks but take the most direct route between buildings, thereby wearing out a footpath in the grass. Eventually the grounds crew would acknowledge the fait accompli and lay a concrete sidewalk over the course already marked out by pedestrians who didn't stick to the "approved" ways. The author used this as an analogy to encourage her readers to "make a path by walking on it" in the liturgy -- i.e., to start doing at Mass what they want it to become, confident that sooner or later the Church will bow to necessity and declare officially that the innovation (joining in the priest's prayers, say, or having a lay minister communicate the celebrant) is liturgically licit. The Mass becomes an exercise in agit-prop.

It's not as if the Mass established by the Church -- the standard Mass in the missal -- just happened to coincide with my personal idiosyncratic tastes. I didn't choose this particular ritual as I might choose this particular necktie out of a hundred possibilities. The Church simply gave it to us. Some parts I find pleasing, others not. But I value it precisely because it's not mine. I value it because we (bishops, priests, layfolk) received it from the Church.

Hence the unfairness of it when the celebrant himself departs from the rubrics, even quite peripheral ones, to "make a path by walking on it." When Father suggests in the vestibule that I'm guilty of pushing a private agenda by asking for a kosher Mass I had no part in making; when he tells me the Mass of the missal is "not good liturgy" or "not the tradition of our local faith community"; when my only alternative is to keep silent and let him score out his path a little more securely -- then, brothers and sisters, I want to jamb his Gather Hymnal down his throat.

And that's not conducive to spiritual repose.

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