By Fr. Wilson (articles ) | Apr 26, 2004

"Father: What do you really think about the new liturgy guidelines? I assume you are aware of them. Are they good, will they work, will they make a difference. Of course, I know there are no liturgical abuses in the Diocese of Brooklyn, under your watchful eye, nor are there any in New York, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, or for that matter, anywhere in the United States. There haven't been for years. If fact, there never were any abuses, just old cranks who wanted Latin and couldn't accept Vatican II. But I ramble. What's your view. Tim"

Well, it's all quite lovely, I'm sure. I just wish these liturgy documents would specify the planet to which they refer.

What strikes me most is the absence of any sense of crisis, beautifully captured in section four of the Preamble, the unintentionally hilarious quote from the Holy Father: "Certainly the liturgical reform inaugurated by the Council has greatly contributed to a more conscious, active, and fruitful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar on the part of the Faithful" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia). There is a disconcerting disconnect from the observable situation evident in that sentence.

The "liturgical reform" of the Second Vatican Council produced nothing like the renewal of the Church hoped for, and predicted, by the scholars of the Liturgical Movement of the early twentieth century. In the United States, we have had a Mass attendance decline of more than sixty percent in thirty years. In my Diocese of Brooklyn, Mass attendance was at 18% a couple of years ago; in New York, 19%; in Chicago, 16% -- and these figures were recorded before the clerical sex abuse crisis. The collapse of the Church in her previous bastions of the Netherlands and Quebec, the situation in Western Europe: all of this is well known. Yet we are determinedly told that this is an age of renewal -- an age of MORE active, fruitful liturgical participation.

There is no sense of crisis in this document. Reading it, one gets the impression that things are, in general, flourishing, with a few details in need of fine-tuning. Certainly, I read nothing that reflects the situation I hear from in the letters, emails and calls I've received from thoroughly exasperated Catholics across the nation, people who want to find a parish where the liturgy is celebrated reverently, the Gospel faithfully preached and devotions fostered. This disconnect is unfortunate. It puts great pressure on Faithful people. Liturgical worship should be renewing and refreshing; instead, it is frustrating for many people sitting in the pews watching Father Bob and the musicians expressing themselves on the altar.

To speak just for myself: Chapter three, section 128 of this well-meaning document tells me that, as a Priest, I should concelebrate or assist in choir (cassock and surplice) when present at Mass. It is "not fitting" for me to "participate at Mass... in the manner of the lay Faithful." Well, frankly, I avoid concelebration outside of my parish as much as possible. It is painfully distracting to be on the altar and be implicated in the slovenly, irreverent things that happen during Mass in most places. I am much better off in the pews, half-way down the nave, the distance from Father Bob and the Head Woman in her alb crooning a psalm into the microphone helping me immensely to be able to pray, or at least not smoulder in resentment. Whoever wrote section 128 doesn't have to deal with that on a regular basis.

And, of course, there's chapter three, section 59, referring to the "reprobated" practice of Priests altering liturgical texts. " doing this, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable." Really? So I'm actually supposed to say, for example, "Look with favor on your church's offering, and see the victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself (Eucharistic Prayer III)," questionably grammatical as it is? Or, another favorite, "We are to show to those in need your goodness to ourselves (Lenten Preface III)." The competent authorities have not even given us worthy vernacular liturgical books (and don't get me started on the new, multi-volumed Lectionary!), yet somehow there is something sacred about the grammatical errors in texts vouchsafed us by ICEL and the bishop's conference.

Another noteworthy deficiency of this document is its treatment of liturgical music. Chapter three section 57 calls briefly for "true and suitable sacred music." In a document on liturgical abuses, I would suggest that sacred music should have been a major, emphasized point. The preservation of the Church's liturgical music patrimony was a goal clearly expressed by the Second Vatican Council: the fostering of Gregorial chant was an absolute directive of that Council and subsequent Popes. The Holy Mass has been transformed in many places into a kind of sanctified karaoke hour; the phenomenon of the consecrated camp-fire songs we find in many if not most parishes was a big factor in completely changing peoples' approach to the Liturgy. Indeed, nothing so contributed to the transformation of Catholic liturgy into the tawdry, cheesy reality so often encountered today as the abandonment of our sacred music. The Mass is now a vehicle for self-expression, as every priest with a youth group, or who has tried to uphold liturgical reverence during a Funeral or Wedding, knows all too well. The sense of the Liturgy as something we reverently receive, as a treasure, from those who have gone before us -- literally, the "tradition," that which is handed on -- has been profoundly weakened. And the Holy See's recent concern about "inclusive language" liturgical texts is persistently undermined by the rewriting of hymn texts which even avoid referring to Christ as "He."

I am troubled by the absence of a sense of crisis in this document. It was written for a well-ordered Church which does not exist. It determinedly avoids dealing with the fact that there is widespread disobedience in the Church, and this document itself will fall on deaf ears for that reason. At some point, someone is going to need to say, "Hey, guys, we have a problem here and it needs FIXING."

A very well-known Priest-author once said to me, "The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (of Vatican II) was to liturgical reform what the Enola Gay was to urban renewal." That was more than just a clever comment: it was a wise, practical observation. When do we get a document that reflects that reality?

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  • Posted by: - May. 02, 2004 1:00 PM ET USA

    Anyone out there with the OCP hymnal and a slight knowledge of Latin? Check out the bogus English translation of Panis Angelicus, found among the hymns sung during Eucharist! The English reads like something out of a Base Community organized by Jesuit Marxists. It has nothing to do with St. Thomas' Latin verse. But if you don't know Latin, you might think St. Thomas actually spouted tripe this bad!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 30, 2004 1:13 PM ET USA

    Pray for the intercession of the Ven John Henry Newman to allow your parish the good fortune of an influx of Anglican Use Catholics. Some of them even have Gregorian Chant and Latin in their masses. Brace the Gates!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2004 11:02 PM ET USA

    I dunno, I though they were in touch w/ reality, insofar as the abuses they address read like a checklist of my school's student Mass. It seems like the Congr. got its fair share of overstuffed manila envelopes from the States, documenting the "creativity" of our parish "lit. comms." They know what's going on, but they're out of touch if they think these instructions are going to be zealously enforced. BTW, anyone else get excited thinking the invitation to use Latin was a universal indult? :(

  • Posted by: - Apr. 28, 2004 1:26 PM ET USA

    Last week in our Cathedral church in El Paso, Texas: The priest is celebrating a wedding. He calls the couple to the altar where he “concelebrates” with them. They lift the host with the priest and repeat with him the “In Him, through Him and with Him…” Then the groom gives the host to the bride, she gives the host to the groom, then they do likewise with the chalice. Give us a break! In my parish church “extraordinary communion ministers”; there are always many and feel entitled.

  • Posted by: Brennan - Apr. 28, 2004 11:57 AM ET USA

    I have to agree with ted's comments. I hope and pray we don't have to wait until everyone involved in the Vatican II reforms dies off. May God grant us all a greater availability of the Tridentine Latin Mass!

  • Posted by: Brennan - Apr. 28, 2004 11:51 AM ET USA

    Thank you, Father Wilson, for speaking the truth. That is very refreshing. It is also consoling to lay people to know that they are not the only ones who see that there is a problem.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 27, 2004 8:15 AM ET USA

    As to the question of when do we get a document that reflects reality. I do not want to sound like a complete naturalist here, but the vatican is run by the people who wrote the timebombs. They will continue to be emotionally invested in praising and canonizing the coucil and its popes until they have gone to their reward. It will take a generational change for the leaders of the church to recover their objectivity.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 26, 2004 5:21 PM ET USA

    Thank you Fr. Wilson. It doesn't change the mess in my parish but it alleviates some of the isolation I was feeling. As a convert the superficiality and so many Masses has been painful. Having had Fine Arts as a secondary major, I am aware of the excellent music available to the Church. It seems to me that Catholics have discarded some of the best of Catholicism and assumed some of the worst of protestantism and that they do poorly. The Church needs to reclaim Catholic culture and worship

  • Posted by: - Apr. 26, 2004 4:45 PM ET USA

    "I am troubled by the absence of a sense of crisis in this document. It was written for a well-ordered Church which does not exist." This comment is precisely correct and it is the justification for whatever means poor "traditionalists" must use in order to secure the traditional liturgy and sacraments. Alas, like Good Friday, the shepherd has been struck (in some way). He cannot or will not lead in a coherent manner. Discipline is lost. The sheep are scattered. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora ...