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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Show 16 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Apr. 03, 2007 9:02 AM ET USA

    "Greek-themed"? What an insult to Greeks! I hope Greeks everywhere rise in revolt about being associated with something as pathetic as what these pictures depict.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 11:54 PM ET USA

    My S.F. Spanish ancestors would be so proud!!!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 8:10 PM ET USA

    Here in Racine, Wisconsin we have an Anglo-Catholic shrine polluted regularly with such nonsense. Such services don't stay exclusively Christian for very long.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 4:31 PM ET USA

    You may well be right, Comment, but I've been to many other places where the NO is done right, not just my own parish. I've even been to NO Mass in Spanish in Mexico and it was done very reverently. I'm on your side and I would love to see the TM made universally available along with a properly said NO. Only the language used by the celebrant, whether Latin, English, Spanish, or whatever, should change in the NO -- never the form or content of the Mass!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 4:26 PM ET USA

    I read the article. I'm still wondering what the heck is the author talking about. Then again, all you need is the photo. Whoopee!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 3:47 PM ET USA

    "You put your right foot in.... You put your right foot out...." At this church I suspect the Hokey Pokey IS what it's all about.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 3:43 PM ET USA

    That's as bad as the "Gaelic" Mass on St. Patrick's Day. Or worse. However, note it's in an Episcopal church, not an Orthodox church (not even a "liberal" Orthodox parish - there are a few). I think that tells us what we need to know.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 3:24 PM ET USA

    Bob Fosse, eat your heart out!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 2:41 PM ET USA

    Only 11 'adults' in the congregation? This is not Liturgy this is bad participatory theater. 'Rocky Horror' does it much better ... "Just a jump to the left."

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 2:35 PM ET USA

    Convert1994, the very fact that mass in your parish is said substantially differently than in many parishes in the world reflects the changeable nature of the N.O. with its endless options and the fundamental disunity in the Church it has caused. To prevent disunity and confusion was precisely the reason the Mass was codified in the first place. The terrible thing is this was no mere accident. No faithful Catholic would wish such things on his Church. By their fruits you shall know them….

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 1:19 PM ET USA

    A "nonfabricated" Novus Ordo Mass is so beautiful; I might be very spoiled by the way Mass is said in my parish.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 12:13 PM ET USA

    Good point Sprach, but what to call those, including myself, who can no longer tolerate being "forced to participate (in what) verges on blasphemous capitulaion through peer pressure?"

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 12:08 PM ET USA

    Before I looked at the caption, I thought it was the new polka mass.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 11:47 AM ET USA

    Di, you don’t need to use photos from a heretic church to make your point; Catholic liturgy (the Novus Ordo) revels in its own fabrications. To prove my point, I would be happy to direct you and your readers to any number of illustrations of grave sacrilege, including those that took place at many of JPII’s Not-So-Solemn Pontifical Masses. BTW: Go to this church’s site and you will note that they refer to their minister as a “presider” -- can you say “Protestantization,” Di?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 10:12 AM ET USA

    Di, you must be kidding, not even San Francisco is capable of this level of nonsense.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 02, 2007 9:57 AM ET USA

    For those who are stuck in their seats watching and listening, we call them liturgically hijacked. To be forced to participate verges on blasphemous capitulaion through peer pressure. The top picture looks like a group of people doing a popular rum commercial. (Aye, aye, matey!)