When the Holy Father was at Hyde Park in London, there was a species of The Litany of the Sacred Heart.
It was curtailed and there were interpolated intercessions, very contemporary, very much suggesting the ramifications of the clerical sexual abuse crisis as well as – though perhaps less so – anti-Catholic sentiment.
I wrote at the time:
"Don’t know about that…"
I am ambivalent. I think it is proper to make litanies current and relevant. That is why most of them developed: a pressing need or catastrophe loomed and people needed help.
Also, the Holy Father can add to or take from litanies as it pleaseth him. John Paul II officially added to the Litany of Loreto.
But what happened at Hyde Park struck me as odd.
First, there was the fact of various readers for the intercessions. It didn’t seem liturgical. It seemed terribly self-conscious. It seemed – as so much does in contemporary liturgy – to be an effort to get as many people of different ethnic backgrounds or states of life involved as possible.
I picked this up from the blog Countercultural Father.
Liturgical infantilism v. liturgical wisdom
Others have commented on the re-writing of the Litany of the Sacred Heart. I noticed something else.
The Litany was split up with different readers reading a few invocations each.
That struck me as indicative of one of the problems with liturgy in this country, which I call liturgical infantilism, and was in stark contrast to the Holy Father’s approach.
When the Holy Father is engaged in a liturgical action, it is all about Christ: hence his insistence on a crucifix on the altar. He switches modes, very deliberately, from his interactions with the faithful, before and after Mass, when the focus is on relating to them, to focus on the serious business of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication… The person of the celebrant almost disappears; he becomes transparent, so we see Christ through him. It is not all about the front-man.
But liturgists in the UK don’t seem to understand this, and the Litany was a glaring example of the problem. By splitting the Litany up – presumably so as to ‘include’ more people, and possibly with the intention of making something long ‘less boring’ they distract from the focus on the Sacred Heart and draw attention to the reader: who is it now? who is it next? How well was that read? Why did they choose him? and so on…
But what the Holy Father did brilliantly was to demonstrate by example that worthy and reverent liturgy is hugely attractive and intensely prayerful. Let us hope and pray that our bishops noticed: I look forward to their copying his example, not least in the manner of the distribution of Holy Communion…