Major Changes to Liturgy

The Roman Catholic Episcopate is set to introduce sweeping changes to the Latin Rite liturgy during its General Synod, October 2 through October 23, 2005. According to the agendum for the synod, which Catholics should read here, the following points will be addressed:

  • Intensive catechesis on the importance of keeping the Holy Days of Obligation, particularly the Sunday requirement.
  • Dignity, due preparation, and faith in the mystery of the Eucharist
  • The secularization of salvation and religious relativism
  • Understanding that "participation" in the Mass centers on receiving the Body and Blood of Christ the Redeemer, not standing in the sanctuary with your hands in the air in imitation of a priest.
  • Excessive creativity in the liturgy drawing undue attention to the celebrant and away from God
  • The documented decrease in understanding of the mystery of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, due in large part to the irreverent treatment of the sacrament by both clergy and laity
  • Lack of proper liturgical vestments for Eucharistic Ministers and inappropriate dress of the clergy
  • Use of profane music during the liturgy
  • Improper use of communion in the hand
  • Lack of reverence before, during, and after reception of the Eucharist
  • Lack of appropriate gestures, such as genuflexion, before the Eucharist
  • Scant architectural quality of churches and lack of religious art
  • Integration of other religions into the liturgy
  • At its heart, the document reflects a profound reawaking in the church of the ancient ideal, lex orandi, lex credendi, meaning our faith follows our prayer. If we treat the mass, the liturgy, and, most importantly, the Eurcharist as a Wednesday night men's beer league softball game, we will eventually come to believe the Eucharist is nothing more than fourth inning home run. In my view, most Catholics in the United States have arrived at that point.

    Since 1965, the liturgy has become increasingly secular and decreasingly sacred. It is now, in most Latin Rite churches, a profane extension of popular culture, right down to the hooker-wear on young women and hoodlum-wear on the young men. Every Sunday that I go to the non-Tridentine mass, I see men in their 40s, 50s, and 60s wearing shorts to receive communion. My parish is full of golfers who should know that their church attire is prohibited on many golf courses; these men pay more reverence to a game than to the Creator of the universe Who will determine their eternal position in heaven or hell.

    As, then, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out, incultration is responsible for much of the loss of dignity in the mass. The Intrumentum Laboris, the Synod's working document, agrees:

    Various responses mention certain problems in attempts at liturgical inculturation. Though done in good faith, some can cause shadows in relation to the Eucharist. For example, local elements, such as songs, dance and attire, do not sufficiently undergo a process of purification, ensuring that only what is suitable for Eucharistic worship is incorporated into the celebration of the liturgy. Many cases of liturgical adaptation, promoted in good faith but without an adequate knowledge of local culture, are causing scandal among the faithful, who remain confused at the Eucharist by seeing inappropriate meanings attributed to familiar actions in some of their rites.

    Further, the working document points out that some of these changes to the treatment of the Eucharist are not well-meaning but misapplied reforms. Some, indeed, are malicious attempts by renegade priests to undermine the church:

    Where some liturgical rubrics are treated with mistrust, others seem to be adopted to provoke changes inspired by ideologies or theological misconceptions, not a few of which come from movements and groups seeking changes in the liturgy.

    It seems, then, that the church may finally be ready to rid itself of these heretical priests like Fr. Richard McBrien, Brian Joyce, and Joseph O'Leary.

    In one of its boldest statements, the working document clearly intends to take up the issue of crappy, profane music at mass.

    The faithful need to know the standard Gregorian chants, which have been composed to meet the needs of people of all times and places, in virtue of their simplicity, refinement and agility in form and rhythm. As a result, the songs and hymns presently in use need to be reconsidered . . . Gregorian chant fulfills these needs and can therefore serve as a model, according to Pope John Paul II.88 Musicians and poets should be encouraged to compose new hymns, according to liturgical standards, which contain authentic catechetical teaching on the paschal mystery, Sunday and the Eucharist.

    As for musical instruments, the document unquestionably favors the organ.

    Some responses particularly mentioned the use of musical instruments, referring to the general guidelines contained in the Constitution Sacrosanctum concilium.89 In this regard, a certain appreciation was often voiced in the Latin tradition for the organ, whose majestic sound adds solemnity to worship and is conducive to contemplation.

    Another problem that many Catholic bloggers have addressed recently is the questionable theology expressed in many liturgical lyrics written in the past 40 years.

    In other responses some lamented the poor quality of translations of liturgical texts and many musical texts in current languages, maintaining that they lacked beauty and were sometimes theologically unclear, thereby contributing to a weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer. A few responses made particular mention of music and singing at Youth Masses. In this regard, it is important to avoid musical forms which, because of their profane use, are not conducive to prayer. Some responses note a certain eagerness in composing new songs, to the point of almost yielding to a consumer mentality, showing little concern for the quality of the music and text, and easily overlooking the artistic patrimony which has been theologically and musically effective in the Church’s liturgy.

    In keeping with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium,90 the suggestion was made that, at international gatherings, the liturgy be in Latin, at least the Eucharistic Prayer, to facilitate a proper participation of the concelebrants and those who are not familiar with the local vernacular language.

    If the Synod responds to each of the challenges presented in the Instrumentum Laboris for this fall's meeting, we should come out of it with a restoration of the dignity of the mass--something long overdue.

    Living with a very intelligent, philosophically trained catechumen, I have come to a deeper understanding of the difficulty the church has created for its congregations by degrading the sanctity of the mass. My wife and I, who attend the Tridentine Mass approved by his Excellency Archbishop Raymond Burke, have difficult times reconciling the perfect holiness of that mass with the secular, irreverent, and profane actions, words, and music at the new mass in our home parish. To someone entering the faith, it takes her intellectual powers to reconcile the two. A less-astute non-Catholic who witnesses our new mass would be unable to understand that we witness a miracle each mass. Imagine telling an Pentecostal that we enter into the real presence of the crucified and resurrected Christ wearing golf shorts and exposed belly-button rings. The Protestant must conclude that either Catholics don't really believe in the Eucharist or they have no respect for their Savior. Either way, we look like idiots, idolaters, and hypocrites.

    Let us pray that the bishops adopt the reforms suggested in the working document, and let us pray further that those same bishops have the backbone to enforce the changes.

    See also:

    RomanCatholicBlog "Benedict XVI, Vatican II, and Modernity", part I and part II