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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  • Posted by: - Feb. 07, 2006 1:40 PM ET USA

    Matthew 7: 15, 16

  • Posted by: - Feb. 05, 2006 2:19 AM ET USA

    Perhaps Benedict XVI is preparing to impose the election of Joseph Fessio as next General. Spes contra spem.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 03, 2006 9:29 AM ET USA

    How about naming it the dissident spirit of Vatican II that was allowed to hijack the council because of the absence of discipline and the corrosion of doctrine.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 03, 2006 8:38 AM ET USA

    Matthew 23:5

  • Posted by: Lynne143 - Feb. 03, 2006 1:19 AM ET USA

    The fact that abuses in the Liturgy are exposed, as in this article, is a good indication that the devil and all of his associates are finding resistance to their deceits and snares. We have wandered in the desert for 40 years...the tide is changing and there is good reason to believe that sanctity and holiness are alive and well. I have a host of abuse stories I could share, but I would rather leave you with this; In the end, Our Blessed Mothers Immaculate heart will triumph!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 03, 2006 12:00 AM ET USA

    it's interesting to see how many of us have our opinions of the priests and religious. it might also be interesting to see how many of us with those same opinions pray for them. God forgive us for having more courage to spit fire at them than charity.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 02, 2006 8:02 PM ET USA

    Thank God there are still "REAL" Jesuits! I had 8 years of Jesuit education and it's extremely sad to see what has happened to this once proud Order. Father Capuano will never see any position with authority. He should talk to Father Fessio. Father Capuano S. J. is a Godsend!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 02, 2006 7:49 PM ET USA

    "An example of cross-apprenticing would be that on Sundays as a Jesuit priest makes his rounds saying Mass, an Opus Dei student would accompany him as an acolyte, or at the Legionnaires of Christ parish a Redemptorist student would serve as assistant sacristan and acolyte." Jesuit=Opus Dei=Legionaires of Christ He does have a grad. degree from Ganada. Perhaps there is an opening for him @ Ave Maria in FL with Fazio, SJ AMDG [HC + BC + Georgetown]

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Feb. 02, 2006 6:18 PM ET USA

    A priest in another religious order was asked to comment on the liturgical savvy of our new Archbishop. He opined that he knew him from a previous gig and that he wasn't very good at liturgy. This order priest then proceeded to lead a funeral liturgy at which he committed at least a half-dozen significant liturgical errors, including breaking the host at the time of the consecration.

  • Posted by: ILM - Feb. 02, 2006 1:08 PM ET USA

    Please ask Father Vincent Capuano to add to his list of abuses 'wearing the stole over top of the chasuble'. My understanding is that the stole is a symbol of priestly authority and the chasuble is a symbol of Christ's authority. The priestly authority should be subordinate to Christ's authority, hence the stole under the chasuble.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 02, 2006 12:54 PM ET USA

    How did this man ever get ordained by the Jebbies? Thank the Lord that he did!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 02, 2006 11:45 AM ET USA

    Time and again I see fine pieces in these pages that remind me what a fine enterprise CWNews is and what a great deal my subscription is. Yet again, thank you, CWNews. The Capuano essay is food for the troubled spirit.

  • Posted by: Eleazar - Feb. 02, 2006 11:27 AM ET USA

    Unfortunately, the Jesuits’ formation process is not the only one so infected, nor is the problem limited to just religious orders. It seems to me that, save for a few orthodox programs, much the same can be said for diocesan seminaries and formation programs. I fear that the Roman Catholic Church as those of us over 50 knew it is indeed, dead, (and not just in liturgical terms) and what has replaced it is more infernal than divine.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 02, 2006 10:41 AM ET USA

    The patient who presents with a gangrenous leg has two choices: first, to have the dead extremity amputated in order to save the rest of the body; or second, to do nothing, apply salves, take antibiotics or any number of "conservative" measures that, ignoring the basic problem, will eventually result in the patient's death. The Jesuit order has become a gangrenous leg on the body of the Church. Whatever "good" Jesuits remain should leave for another order while the others are "cut off."