Fr. Z asks a question based on McBrien’s praise of Marini

I posted Fr. McBrien’s panegyric of Archbp. Marini here.

McBrien’s piece raises a question for me.

Consider what he says:

What they oppose is the de-clericalization of the liturgy. In their minds, the Church is identical with the hierarchy and the priests who serve under the bishops. The laity, on the other hand, are simply the beneficiaries of the sacramental ministrations of the clergy, in a process ultimately controlled by the Vatican. 
The problem for the resisters is not so much that the Mass was put into the vernacular, but that the laity could now fully understand it and actively participate in it. 

The same applies to the turning around of the altar to face the congregation.the priest-in-charge reciting the sacred words and performing the sacred rituals on behalf of the laity, but the laity themselves participating in the Mass along with the priest, making responses, singing various parts, proclaiming the Scripture readings, and even assisting with the distribution of Holy Communion. 

And the same applies to the removal of the Communion rail and the receiving of Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue, while standing rather than kneeling. Each of these changes signaled again that the laity are not passive observers at Mass, but active participants.

The Communion rail is gone because there should be no barrier between the sanctuary and the worshiping congregation.  Communion is given in the hand because the laity should feed themselves rather than be fed like infants or very young children. 

The communicants stand rather than kneel because they approach the priest as co-equals with him in Baptism, not as serfs coming before their lord and master to express their fealty.

So I ask you: Which form of Mass lends itself more to the negative sort of "clericalism" McBrien is denouncing?  The Novus Ordo or the TLM?

Think not just in terms of how poorly celebrated Masses lead to problems.  Both forms of Mass can be abused.

Is there something in the rites themselves that lend themselves to "clericalism", one way or the other?

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  1. Braadwijk says:

    I’d say the Novus Ordo lends itself to clericalism because it is so heavily dependent on the personality of the priest and his ability to “entertain” the crowd. It is far more easily manipulated by priests to suit their own whims and fancies, and I feel the real danger with that is the loss of focus on Christ. Priests run the risk of making it more about themselves and putting on a show, or worse they might even use it as an ego boost against their fellow priests. “Look at ME, I have 2000 families in MY parish who want to come to Mass every weekend to see ME.” There have been instances of priests in my diocese who will regularly start Mass with, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Good morning everybody!!! *amen*” When priests do this, this is the impression it sends to me. I don’t think it’s a stretch to see this as a 60’s generation mentality, and it’s one so much of a part of the McBrien types I doubt most of them can take a step back and see it for what it is.

  2. Braadwijk says:

    To that, I would add this is the exact impression McBrien gives in his first comment. He does not oppose people who resist the “de-clericalizing” of the liturgy, he opposes people who want to keep the focus of the liturgy on Christ rather than on him.

  3. Patrick says:

    Neither! What a loaded question! Saying Mass “versus populum” perhaps leads to a kind of clericalism that turns the priest into an entertainer. But “versus populum” is not inherent to the Novus Ordo! Both forms can (and are and have been) subject to horrible abuses. With the Novus Ordo, many of these abuses have been aesthetical, and therefore have been much more noticeable than the abuses of the TLM. However, under better circumstances regarding implementation, the Novus Ordo would have and SHOULD lead to the death of clericalism, because the Second Vatican Council’s call for full and active (or, if you prefer, actual) participation calls the laity to know the liturgy. When this happens, the people will be able to hold the priest accountable for abuses and mistakes.
    To suggest that the Novus Ordo (Pauline Mass) is inherently flawed is counterproductive.

  4. Braadwijk says:

    I also apologize for the horrendous grammar.

  5. berenike says:

    What is clericalism? It seems that McBrien thinks that a lay person is merely an unfinished priest, that if you are not a priest, if you cannot do the things a priest does, then you are somehow less a Christian, in some way disadvantaged and a Lesser Member. From that point of view, he is quite right in wanting to enfranchise the masses (pun intended). However, without breaking the rubrics and disregarding rulings such as those in the Instruction-Concerning-the=Participation-of-the-Non-Ordaioned-Faithful-in-theSacred-Ministry-of-Priest, even the NO allows only limited opportunity for practices that reflect this form of clericalism.

    If clericalism is “the Mass being All-About-Father-X”, then, without breaking the rubrics and disregarding rulings such as …, then certainly the NO allows much greater space for it. As does the use of the vernacular, and the celebration of Mass facing the congregation. Few priests would bother, I expect, ad-libbing in Latin where it is permitted. (Are there “these or similar words” or “the priest may add…” rubrics in the Latin? I have never thought to look.)

  6. JPG says:

    At first glance the TLM would seem to be the more clerical. But one sees with the NO Mass the potential for a new more disastrous clericalism. Instead of worship it becomes a form of entertainment or a pious didactic session alone. In Mosebach’ s book The Heresy of formlessness , he describes feeling like a theatre critic when leaving Mass. This statement cut me to the quick because I like him have left Mass the same way. The overemphasis of engaging the people leads to all sorts of attitudes whic change the focus. If McBrien wishes an orchestra leader the only leader should be Christ not Fr Smith. I have seen too many well intentioned pious priests who have fallen into this trap. In a liturgy where the emphasis is on the worship this is less likely to happen.

  7. Bob says:

    I have seen good things in both the NO and the EF. I have also seen bad things done in both. And for the latter, it does depend on the priest.

  8. Rachele Ann says:

    I suppose in a sense the TLM does lend it self to a very healthy sort of “clericalism” in that it fosters a deep respect for the priesthood. The intimacy between the Lord and His priest as the priest prays and offers the highest sacrifice with Jesus is so apparent at the TLM. There is a tenderness and reverence for the Lord in the quietly murmured prayers, protected from the view of the world. It is easy to look at a NO Mass and think “hey anybody can do that”. The TLM is a constant reminder that we need our good priests and that each is chosen by God to look after our souls. I find that very comforting, not demeaning. I suppose you need just a bit of humility to recognize that and perhaps a bit more to allow Jesus and a priest feed you, like a little child, which is after all the goal.

  9. IMHO, either form of the Mass, IF PROPERLY CELEBRATED (aye, there’s the rub) does not necessarily lend itself to clericalism.

    I believe the biggest problem we face is when we mistakenly define “active participation” as meaning as many parishioners as possible need to be doing something, anything other than quietly praying, during Holy Mass. In some ways, I think too many people become mini-“priests”. There is a lamentable tendency these days to siphon away as many priestly duties as possible and hand them off to lay people. We end up with Masses where so many people are running around doing stuff and so many in the pews are watching Cousin Joe do this and Aunt Margaret do that “up there” that no one is actually offering any prayers to God. Father’s a nervous wreck praying all these ill-trained and poorly dressed (I have to put that critique in there. You know me. :-)) lay people remember their cues.

  10. Christopher says:

    True friendship, when there are inequalities, can only happen with a respect to the inequalities. We cannot approach God as equals, and so we cannot approach a priest as his equal, for he is Christ, and we are, but not in all the same ways. If we ignore this then we do not “treat what is truly good or bad” but do things under a “pretense of love” which St. Paul clearly admonished us against, this past week (last (Jan. 28th Thursday’s Epistle in the NO Lectionary?)
    equality is. but it also attempts to make the laity “clericalized” WHEN THEY ARE NOT…. AS eRASMUS ONCE NOTED, IT IS NOT EQUALITY FOR EVERYONE TO HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS.”

    The things that Marini has mentioned are not inherent of the NO, particularly, but these things lend to a true clericalism since they pretend to ignore what the true in
    In regard to tradition: it isn’t about what we know as much as Who we know, but Who we know makes demands about what we do. If we pretend otherwise, we deceive ourselves.

    May God bless you.
    Holy Mary protect you./

  11. Malta says:

    Braadwijk brings up some excellent points regarding the centrality of the priest at the Novus Ordo rite. Contrariwise the priest at the Vetus Ordo rite is subsidiary to the act of worship and consecration.

    The NO rite was formulated during a period in history where authority was under attack; McBrien is clearly still in a 60’s mindset, and even Pope Paul VI wanted to decentralize authority, and gladly discarded his Tiara. Of course relativism resulted, and the individual conscience is now the arbiter of what is right and wrong in most “Catholic” minds; a good example is contraception, which is used by over 90% of Catholic couples, even though it is a grave sin in the eyes of the Church.

    This is all percipient to the question of clericalism. We need clericalism, we need authority. We need our priests to be priest, and not just, “one of the guys.” We need the altar rail, and separation between priest and laity. For Heaven’s sake, the priest gives up family and possible fortune to act in persona Christi! Why can’t we show a little respect to him one hour a week? His hands do something ours cannot: turning ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. He, too, should humiliate himself to the enormous responsibility he undertakes. But to the question of clericalism: It is an aberration not to have clericalism and authority. McBrien’s piece about the NO precipitating more subjective participation and understanding is a canard that all liberal writers like to pass around. Just the opposite is true: The Traditional Latin Mass engenders a true Catholic conscience; it engenders a general belief in the real Presence, and it is the vehicle which formed the majority of the great Saints.

    Evelyn Waugh wrote:

    “The nature of the Mass is so profoundly mysterious that the most acute and holy men are continually discovering further nuances of significance. It is not a peculiarity of the Roman Church that much which happens at the altar is in varying degrees obscure to most of the worshipers. It is in fact the mark of all the historic, apostolic Churches. I think it highly doubtful whether the average churchgoer either needs or desires to have complete intellectual, verbal comprehension of all that is said. He has come to worship.”

    At Mass, we are there to give to God what is His; to worship, not to be entertained.

  12. Garrett says:

    I wonder how Fr. McBrien feels about the Byzantine liturgies. So many of these modernistic priests spew venom about how the TLM has “a barrier” between the laity and the sanctuary, Communion on the tongue, ad orientem celebration, etc., but they neglect to mention that the Eastern liturgies have all these things as well. But they would never disparage the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, or, they rarely do so.

    Somehow, the TLM is the proverbial whipping boy of liturgy for these fools. Either they hate the essence of the TLM even more than the abovementioned practices surrounding it, or they somehow think it would be politically incorrect to libel the Eastern liturgies, whereas somehow they have a God-given right to trash talk one the oldest liturgies in Christendom: the Traditional Mass.

    It’s sick and twisted on any number of levels.

  13. stgemma says:

    I agree with Patrick about it being somewhat of a loaded question.

    The Mass in either the ordinary or extraordinary form, is honestly not a vehicle for clericalism. The elevated “status” that the laity put on the priest and how the priest treats that “status” is how clericalism is allowed to fester. It’s all about pride and how one deals with being front and center. If you have humility, then obviously pride doesn’t become too much of an issue. If you diffuse the constant musings of those who try to curry favour with the priests and religious men/women, then, again, you don’t have many problems. It’s really when the priest or religious is in a position of need and derives his/her worth from being the center of attention and gratifying himself/herself by relishing the elevated “status”.

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  16. Cole M says:

    Clericalism is more a question of priestly formation. It seems to me that either form of the Mass could exacerbate egotistical tendencies present in a priest. With the Extraordinary Form, an arrogant priest might come to see himself as above the congregation in an unhealthy sense, as opposed to the sense of acting in persona Christi which is “above” the congregation but (ideally) done with humility. With the Ordinary Form, an arrogant priest might come to see himself as the center of a drama. Modern sacred architecture has transformed churches into theatres where many priests see themselves as playing the leading role in a rather selfish way. A priest at my parish makes a broad and clearly dramatic gesture by breaking the large Host in half at the beginning of the Agnus Dei, and I cannot help but groan internally every time I see it.

    Even so, I still say that the Extraordinary Form is better because of the inherent separation between the mystery of the Mass and what goes on within it and the congregation’s role in the liturgy. God is GOD, I AM WHO AM, a concept that mere human beings cannot begin to understand. A liturgy that causes us to focus on our own weaknesses and shortcomings and recognize the wonder and the beauty of the power of God inherent in His Love is far better, and I think that the Extraordinary Form accomplishes this better by far. Bringing back that liturgy is only a start; the next part is revitalizing priestly formation.

  17. Richard says:

    In the Traditional Latin Mass, the clergy and the laity are facing in the same direction, toward the Lord, whose presence and self-giving love is especially symbolized by the crucifix and really made present in the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the Mass on the high altar. The presence of our Lord on the people’s altar in the Novus Ordo is obscured by the fact that the priest from the people’s view is standing right behind it, facing them, leading the liturgy as if it were something to be watched and entertained from instead of something toward which one directs the mind and heart in prayer. The attitude and character by which the priest leads the liturgy in the Novus Ordo thus becomes a more consequential factor in how the laity experiences the Mass. The priest usurps our Lord as the center of the liturgy. Indeed, throughout the past few decades people have begun going even to different parishes because they enjoy the manner in which Fr. X says the Mass and delights the crowd with his homily over how Fr. Y does so. Such attitudes considerably lend to clericalism. Families are now possibly driving farther to a different parish and accordingly adjusting their Sundays based upon as relative a factor as a comparison of the personalities of particular priests.

    All of the developments of which Fr. McBrien speaks lend to the notion that the liturgy is a set of activities in which the laity participate more inasmuch as they are more involved in the outward actions which accompany it. What he seems to praise most is the laity’s participation in those tasks which are traditionally assigned to the clergy, i.e., distribution of Holy Communion. This perception does two things.

    First, it lends to the notion that one’s benefit from the liturgy depends on how involved one is in the outward activity. The more involved the laity is in such tasks as carrying around baskets and holding others’ hands, the more they get out of the liturgy. This notion disrupts the complementarity of external and internal participation in the liturgy by overemphasizing the external to extent of dismissing the very possibility of internal participation. Such a notion also further lends to clericalism by the fact that, if there is going to be a Mass at all, the priest remains to be the one obviously most involved in carrying out the outward activity of the liturgy.

    Secondly, such an emphasis on outward activity, especially that participation in tasks traditionally assigned to clergy, lends to clericalism because the standard by which the laity judges to what extent they are involved in the liturgy is how closely the tasks they are carrying out resemble tasks normally assigned to the clergy. The more one is doing something which looks more like a task the priest normally does, the more one is involved in the liturgy. Consequently, the clergy and its role is ironically posited at the center of how the laity determines its own role. Such a notion furthers lends to clericalism.

    The notion of equality, too, of which Fr. McBrien speaks also sets the priest as a standard in the same way, as the laity is measuring up its equality in reference to the priest. The way in which he elaborates upon this equality of the laity with the priest in reference further to when the laity approaches the priest for Communion shows how entrenched the mindset of seeing the priest at the center of the liturgy really is. The notion that we approach our Lord and not necessarily the priest at Communion seems foreign to his discussion. One does not kneel before the priest at the Traditional Latin Mass, but kneels before the Lord, to whom we owe our existence and every bit of fealty. Putting the priest and how the laity are his co-equals at baptism at the center of the discussion of Communion puts our Lord aside as an afterthought to the whole matter.

    Such notions which underly Fr. McBrien’s thought amount to the liturgy being self-worship as opposed to that of our Lord. It’s no wonder that the awesome notion of worship of God, especially expressed in the common facing toward the Lord between the clergy and the laity at the Traditional Latin Mass, is capturing the spiritual lives of so many today. After decades of empty self-worship, people are once again finding substance in the traditional liturgy.

  18. TJM says:

    I think some folks here are missing Father Z’s very practical observation on “clericalism.” Of course, the Novus Ordo, hands down, vests the priest with far more power than the TLM. Just look at the power he has to shape the character of the Mass with the legitimate options, i.e. choice of introductory rites, canon, children’s liturgies, etc. And that’s just for beginners. An unfortunate consequence of these “choices” has lead many priests to simply make it up as they go along irrespective of the sensibilities of the people in the pew. I’d call that, high-handed clericalism. In contrast, the TLM with its careful rubrics and non-vernacular language, places significant constraints on the priest. As a matter of fact, I’d say with the TLM the priest and people are equal by virtue of the fact that their respective roles in the liturgy are clearly established. Sorry folks, but I’m with Father Z on this one. Tom

  19. Liam says:

    I think people often misunderstand the nature of some of the conciliar reforms concerning the dialogical participation of the congregation. Fundamentally, it’s not about distributing part of the priest’s role, but those of the servers and choir. That is, the congregation’s dialogic role is no longer reserved to specialist lay roles. Thus, the significant shift was not between priest and laity but among the laity.

    So, one could say that the OF is less specialist-oriented in terms of functions than the EF. The issue of clericalism is less clear-cut.

  20. Gil Garza says:

    Any attitude which fosters the equivalency of the laity and the clergy during worship is clerical in the extreme. This attitude begins with the notion that the laity should be like the clergy because they are the same as the clergy. It isn’t surprising that this kind of clericalism has the laity trying to mimic the clergy during worship and even to the point of rushing the altar for every kind of “ministry.”

    The purpose of the clergy is to minister to the laity. The purpose of the laity is to be in the world to transform it and bring Christ.

  21. I am generalizing and using stereotypes and I am criticizing the attitudes of priests, not the Mass in either form, but:
    Have you ever told a “Novus Ordo priest” you didn’t like what he was doing or allowing in the Mass? Whether it was regarding rubrics or just style? Oh my, look out! You will usually get the most condescending reaction that he is the priest and he knows much more about liturgy than you. How dare you question his actions! Think about the reaction you would get if you constructively criticized McBrien’s Mass.
    The “Tridentine priests” usually just follow the rubrics (since abuses are under pain of sin). If you don’t like what they do, then you don’t like what the Church instructs them to do.
    It seems like “Novus Ordo priests” always have ideas to make the Mass “better.” That in itself speaks volumes. If the Mass is so great, why fiddle with it?

    Obviously this is not always the case. There are many priests who say the Novus Ordo who are faithful to the instructions of the Church, and I’ve seen abuses in the Tridentine Mass as well.

  22. WFW says:

    Ask the average parishioner at my parish and they would know as little about the mass as someone forty years ago, perhaps even less so. In TLM the priest was bound to perform certain rituals and ceremonies; now “as pastoral circumstances dictate” means that if Fr. Such-and-such needs to jet off to another function he can omit just about everything to save a few minutes. Fr. McBrien’s Church looks awfully protestant—I wouldn’t be surprised if he preferred the term “minister” to “priest” as well. When I see a Novus Ordo Mass I sometimes think to myself, “This is a mass for old men!” (And, of course, it was thought up by older Reveredissimi in Rome!) The Tridentine Rite can of course be celebrated by older priests but in my opinion it is more taxing on the clergy and servers because of everything that goes on. The new liturgy was pared down considerably ostensibly to make it more understandable but really all it did was strip it down to its skeletal form. (And radically change the theological themes too!)

  23. TNCath says:

    I usually think of “clericalism” as condescension employed by a priest towards the laity in non-liturgical situations. “Clericalism” at Mass occurs when the priest draws attention to himself as a “presider” and not a “celebrant.” In a proper celebration of the liturgy, there is no room for clericalism to exist.

    I must admit, however, that at Novus Ordo Masses I have attended over the years, the “talk host style” celebrant can unduly draw attention to himself at Mass, which one could possibly label as “clericalism.”


    1. After the Sign of the Cross and Greeting, the celebrant says, “Good morning!” demanding the congregation to respond, “Good morning, Father!”

    2. When Father then welcomes us (and our visitors, of course) gives the weather report in his introductory remarks saying something like, “Welcome to all of you gathered here today on this beautiful morning! I hear we are going to get some rain later in the week.” Or worse yet, when Father announces the score of whatever ball game is going on at the time.

    3. At the “Orate fratres…” when Father ad libs his “lines,” often referencing what he said earlier in his homily.

    4. During the Eucharistic Prayer, when Father adds or restates the obvious. One example is during the two pauses during Eucharistic Prayer I, in which the celebrant will tell us what he wants us to pray for instead of letting the prayer speak for itself and pausing for silent prayer.

    5. At the introduction to the Our Father, where Father once again finds it necessary to remind us what he talked about in his homily.

    6. After the Agnus Dei and before the “Domine non sum dignus…” when once again Father finds it necessary to reference what he talked about in his homily.

    7. After the Prayer after Communion when Father feels the need to read the bulletin to us and, quite possibly, add a little more to what he talked about in his homily.

    8. At the “Ite Missa est” when Father has to ad lib this to once again reference what he talked about in his homily.

  24. DebSTS says:

    We have the impression that through some cracks in the wall the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God: it is doubt, uncertainty, questioning, dissatisfaction, confrontation…. We thought that after the Council a day of sunshine would have dawned for the history of the Church. What dawned, instead, was a day of clouds and storms, of darkness, of searching and uncertainties. [Pope Paul VI, June 29, 1972, Homily during the Mass for Sts. Peter & Paul, on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of his coronation]

    So what was His Holiness talking about? I find conflicting things about this statement. I am inclined to think people like McBrien cause “clouds and storms, of darkness,…”

  25. Whatever happened to the papal title “Servus Servorum Dei” ?

    The priest is set apart from the people, not above the people, in order that he may minister the sacraments to them, that he may celebrate the sacred mysteries. His whole life becomes a Eucharist.

    He gives up a very great deal to do this.
    His life, to the end of his days, becomes a totally different life.
    It is a hard life, not an easy one, in a way the laity can scarcely begin to understand, let alone imitate for a few minutes every Sunday.

    Lay people who want a role in the sacred mysteries, e.g. to distribute Holy Communion, very often want to participate in the role preserved to the priest, as do many liturgists, lectors, etc.

    They want to be on stage, as it were, and participate in the attention of the people normally given to the priest.

    This is completely to misunderstand the nature of the Mass, which is not entertainment, but an act of worship.
    Worship of not of self, or of the priest.
    Worship of God, led by the priest.

    It is also completely to misunderstand the function of the priest, and the very nature of the priesthood, which is to stand as an alter Christus, not only in the Mass, but all his life.

    Of course, the attention given to the priest is supposed to be directed to the Lord.

    Here also is the misunderstanding, frequently fostered by those who know better, of participatio actuosa.
    The actual participation of the people at Mass is interior.
    It does not does not mean an exterior active participation.
    Quite the contrary.
    It is an interior receptive participation.

    It is most easily recognised when the priest is standing before the altar, silent before the Lord.
    Not when he is engaged in dialogue with the people.

    This misunderstanding is what I would call “clericalism”.
    It affects our understanding of the Mass, the priesthood, and, yes, even the Church itself.
    And it is not, I’m sorry to say, confined to the laity.

    Which form of Mass more easily lends credibility to this misunderstanding ?
    Well, I have to say it is the Novus Ordo, and the manner of its celebration.

    But, oh dear, catechesis is urgently required to combat the bad theology and ecclesiology of recent decades.

    A return to to traditional worship would help.

    Otherwise, clericalism will be with us for a long time.

  26. London Calling says:

    The comments so far have gone on at some length about how the priest can “clericalise” the Mass. But the people can also have a powerful effect. If they are inattentive during Mass, wander in late, leave early, then the Mass, whether EF or OF, becomes something that Father and his servers are doing at the altar, not the body of Christ together in worship.

    It’s certainly possible in the Extraordinary Form for the people to focus elsewhere, e.g. in private prayer or in saying their rosaries, only attending to what is happening at the altar once in awhile, e.g. when a bell is rung. That is what I remember from low masses in the early 1960s.

    Nowadays, enthusiasm for the Extraordinary Form and the sense of joy that Summorum Pontificum has de-restricted this form of Mass means that EF congregations tend to follow the Mass closely, use hand missals, strive for active receptiveness. But in fairness to Fr McBrien and to some of the older priests who oppose the EF, this degree of congregational participation is new. It probably isn’t what they remember from offering the Tridentine Mass before the Novus Ordo came along.

    As far as I can see, “clericalism” is best dealt with through catechesis, not simply by preferring one form of Mass to the other.

  27. Dob says:

    Fr McBrien starts out with his own clericalism to argue his point. For example, he assumes people were kneeling before THE PRIEST and putting out their tongues to recieve FROM THE PRIEST. This is a false assumption. People kneel because they are receiving their Lord and King. They do not kneel to humble themselves in front of their priest. They recieve on the tongue to venerate what they receive not from whom they receive it.

    As regards the two forms. The TLM requires the priest to submit himself. Submit his body, his personality his spirit even his own tongue to fixed rubrics that are highly stylised. To a man who wants to put his own stamp on what he does this type of liturgy is abhorant. Such a man is convinced that his own personality must be evident for the glory of God and the good of the people. He is full of his own importance. He is the source of his own clericalism and the NO mass provides him with the perfect playground. For the humble priest the NO mass hides the dignity of the priest, setting him up to harassment by power hungry laypeople, forcing him to place himself in the centre of activity when he knows that’s not where he should be. Seducing and corrupting some and breaking the heart of many humble priests.

    There is no doubt that the TLM highlights the importance of priests. However, it is not the importance of the personality of the priest but the role Jesus Christ has given them. When I first read through the liturgy of the TLM the second thing that really shook me to the core was this role of service of the priest. I came out of my first TLM and every one since with deep love and gratitude for these men. I say the second thing because the first thing that really shook me was the actual reality of what the Mass actually is. A reality that for me was hidden in the NO mass. I have yet to meet a TLM priest who suffers from clericalism. I have met many NO priests who stink to high heaven of it and many great and humble priests bullied and harassed by the most awful power grabbers in the parish.

  28. dcs says:

    I haven’t assisted regularly at the Novus ordo for some time. But my impression of it, as a recent convert at the time, that it engenders a sense of importance among certain lay people (e.g., extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, lectors, etc.).

  29. Michael says:

    My perspective is perhaps way off on this but I do not see how any of the changes instituted as part of the NO could be seen as relieving the more odious aspects of clericalism. We are still sorting our way out what is probably one of the absolute worst scandals the Church has ever suffered through, the priestly sexual abuse scandal. Can anyone, in assessing how that played out believe that a culture of clericalism did not serve to keep both the laity and the civil authorities in the dark about the crimes that were being committed by fellow clerics. Most of the abuses were perpetrated by NO priests. If the new rubrics were supposed to be teaching them that they were not above the laity, whom they apparently regarded with utter contempt, then they failed. The changes made only created an illusion of equality between the laity and the clergy, nothing more.

    Are the TLM priests subject to the temptation to clericalism? The only TLM priest I have had extensive exposure to seems to hold the laity in his care with barely disguised condescension reminding the congregation in several homilies every year that their only real obligation is to be obedient. Sad? Yes. But our Catholic faith does not require our priests to be saintly.

  30. Gavin says:

    I actually am not a fan of the EF over the OF, but the OF, AS COMMONLY CELEBRATED, is a huge expression of clericalism, ie the idea that a priest is “better than” the congregation. Now, if celebrated according to the rubrics, there is no such danger in the OF. So neither form is conducive to clericalism in and of itself, but the popular disregard for rubrics does bring it about.

    I’ve noticed it as long as I can remember as a child. Look at the church layout; what’s in the front? The priest, sitting on a large throne. The guy who makes jokes during the liturgy is someone who thinks he’s better than others. And if you have hundreds of people facing one way, and another facing a different way, who’s on the ego trip? If you need any more proof of the clericalism involved in an ignoring of rubrics, see what happens if you kneel to receive communion from one of those priests – if you’re not doing it his way, you’re lower than dirt.

    In contrast, what struck me about the EF is that the priest’s facing with the congregation makes him one of us. Maybe some may be scandalized by that as a lack of respect for the priest, but I find it MORE “relaxed” (not the right word, but hopefully you know what I mean) when the priest is essentially doing the same thing as us as opposed to staring at us from across a wooden table. I think many who attend the EF have a tendency towards clericalism also, BUT I think that is more due to the conservatism among the group than the Mass itself communicating that the priest is a high class of person. Although look at the cults of personality surrounding many of the more liberal priests… At least the traditionalist manifestations of clericalism tend towards an exaggerated respect for the office of priest and NOT an obsession with a single renegade individual.

  31. Patrick says:

    Wow! The generalizations and fallacies and bile spewn at the beautiful NO in the comments are just WRONG! I could try to argue against all of this nonsense, but instead I will here include a few links that justify what I believe to be the truth (let us not forget, by the way, that we should as Catholics be faithful to the magisterium, and thus should love and trust our Pope, who celebrates the NO, and we should love the Vatican council as well). The first web site is a little-known blog maintained by a friend of mine who celebrates the TLM for the Diocese of Helena, Montana. The second link comes from none other than Fr. Joseph Fessio. These two priests show me that at least some people have their heads screwed on correctly!

    I hope that these posts will enlighten all of you about the beauty of the NO (as it should be celebrated).

  32. dcs says:

    I hope that these posts will enlighten all of you about the beauty of the NO (as it should be celebrated).

    The problem isn’t the NO as it “should” be celebrated, but the NO as it “is” celebrated. Fr. Fessio is one man and not everyone can go to his Mass.

  33. Brian Day says:

    My apologies if this is going down a rabbit hole.

    Dr. Wright says,
    Lay people who want a role in the sacred mysteries, e.g. to distribute Holy Communion, very often want to participate in the role preserved to the priest, as do many liturgists, lectors, etc…
    They want to be on stage, as it were, and participate in the attention of the people normally given to the priest.

    and dcs says,
    But my impression of it, as a recent convert at the time, that it engenders a sense of importance among certain lay people (e.g., extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, lectors, etc.).

    Yes and No. No doubt that what is described does happen. I am a lay reader (lector) at my parish, and at our regular meetings it is constantly reinforced that we are to proclaim the readings with great care and preparation. We are to proclaim well, but without drawing attention to ourselves. It is not easy.

    It is interesting that my wife and I were talking about this subject this morning. She says that I do this because I like being in front of people and paying attention to *me*. I politely disagreed and said that while I do enjoy being a lector, that I want to do a good job to help set an example of good service to the Liturgy.

    At our parish the “look at me” crowd seems to tend toward the choir in general and the cantors in particular. :)

  34. To answer Fr. Z’s question, I’d say the extraordinary form reinforces the division between the laity and the priest and because of that lends toward the sort of clericalism in question. I’m thinking here of everything being reserved to the priests and the amount of silent prayer that goes on. I attended an FSSP parish for months, and there were definitely times where I felt like an onlooker, an extraneous accessory to the mass the priest was celebrating up there by himself.

    I can appreciate the reverence, the transcendence, the mystery, and the theological profundity that the extraordinary form tends toward and hope its broader celebration will enrich the ordinary form towards those, but I think the extraordinary form could be enriched by the ordinary form in terms of accessibility and plain old, ordinary human involvement of the laity.

    To those who try to criticize the participation of the laity in the ordinary form, it makes me wonder if they have ever offered their time and energy in those ministries. Being a lector or extraordinary minister of the Eucharist is a service to the community, a *ministry*. Knowing that there are ignorant people out there who think we’re on some ego trip is surprising and upsetting. These ministers deserve your gratitude and need your prayers, not your malicious ill will.

  35. jack burton says:

    The creation and implementation of the novus ordo strikes me as at least reminiscent of clericalism. Pushy clerical “experts” deciding what the sheepish “people” ought to have in spite of what they actually want and in spite of the venerable traditions of the Church. Clearly a factor in the tyrannical suppression of the Roman rite (properly speaking) is an aggressive clericalism wryly disguised as a revolution “for the people”. In my opinion, based on the common sentiments of many influential scholars of the time, the real issue is the destruction of the hierarchical nature of liturgy. Based on the hundreds of illicit Eucharistic prayers that floated around in the years after the Council it is safe to say that the common motif was (and is) that of perversely horizontal celebrations. It makes sense to me that McBrien would not understand (or would at least ignore) that the reverence of the faithful towards the priesthood is in reference to God and not man.

    Funny that the pundits of this age of enlightenment are found appealing to the same old egalitarian themes. The Vatican as a domineering monarchical establishment, the laity as serfs, the need for the people to fully understand and participate, the Mass (a transference of the Church at large) of the people, by the people, for the people. I can see why the American news media love this guy.

  36. jack burton says:

    “McBrien believes that liberalism, commonality (read: communism) etc. is the highest good…”

    And yet he was predestined from the foundation of the world to bear the anointing of Christ the High Priest. If McBrien were to put on the sacred vestments and ascend to the altar of God I would see a priest without blame capable of opening the heavens and calling down the life giving Spirit, leading us into the Passover of Christ, and revealing the love of the Father. I may cringe when I see him on TV, but he can forgive my sins… Just something I find interesting to think about. As I accept without doubt the validity and sacrality of the novus ordo Mass there are similar considerations that make me regret my many indiscretions in this department.

    I think it would be neat to email Fr. McBrien. I wonder if he’d reply…

  37. TJM says:

    Patrick, you would probably be happier commenting on the National Catholic Reporter website than here since it appears that you would be in like company with Sister Chittester, Bishops Trautman, Gumbleton and that crowd. Dominus Tecum. Tom

  38. This discussion was proceeding in a quite civilized way until danphunter intervened.

    The issue of clericalism is one of major importance, which should constantly be on the minds of all priests, not matter how liberal. But clericalism is reinforced by the attitudes of the laity who have imbibed the clericalist ideology for a long time.

    Of course one of the problems is defining what clericalism is. I would think it means any understanding of the presbyteral ministry that leads to a devaluation of lay authority and experience, that sees lay people as having only a passive role in the Church.

    Lay people sometimes find a type of clericalism useful, in that they fob off on the idealized priest their Christian ideals or responsibilities.

  39. Just an observation:

    Before VII, there were no thrones for the priest, and the bishop’s cathedra was off to the side indicating the Magisterial authority of Christ, tabernacled in the centre.

    Although forbidden by VII, with the N.O., as an abuse, granted, we see dizzyingly high thrones in the centre of attention, not only for the bishop, but for the priest.

    Granted, much of this has to do with ad orientem or not, but there is a permission for non-ad orientem in the N.O. that was not present previously.

  40. California Girl says:

    “The communicants stand rather than kneel because they approach the priest as co-equals with him in Baptism, not as serfs coming before their lord and master to express their fealty.”

    No, I’m not kneeling to the *priest* as my lord and master.

    It is *Christ* whom I approach–and yes, He is indeed my Lord and Master, to Whom I owe fealty.

    Does Fr. McBrien really think that everyone in the Communion line is waiting to meet him? Rather than waiting to meet our dear Lord Who deigns to come to us with such love?

  41. Geoffrey says:

    “Before VII, there were no thrones for the priest…”

    Excellent point! So often I see “presider” chairs where the tabernacle once was (front and center), and the tabernacle itself off to the side!

  42. David Billington says:

    I am reminded of the words of Alexander Pope on the Reformation “New Presbyter is but old priest writ large.”

    Last Sunday I attended my new parish church (we just moved to a new town). After having had the joy of a truly orthodox parish for the last three years (NO please note) I was immediately struck by several things that made me uncomfortable. First we had a long spiel from a lay MC explaining the mass and readings of the day and ending by inviting us to greet our fellow worshippers as though this was a group of neophytes. Secondly, although this was a regular Sunday congregation the Confiteor, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei were all displayed by overhead projector as though we were all incapable of learning the standard responses of the Mass. Thirdly following the Our Father I was distracted by the EMHC’s rushing around the sanctuary, opening the Tabernacle and generally reducing Father to an extra. Finally I noted that no more than 10% accepted the chalice. I wondered why therefore it was necessary for two EMHC’s to be distributing the wine – followed by the said EMHC’s messing about in the sanctuary cleaning the chalices.

    My impression of the priest was that he was humble (too humble in his sermon which was exactly 10 minutes long of which 5 minutes involved announcements) but that the laity involved in the sanctuary were the true ‘clerialists’ making much of their position as the ones ‘up front’. Clericalism does not simply mean the priest believing himself above the people it involves all who serve a role n the mass. Sadly I felt that Christ was the least important person there. As for the congregation they looked just as disengaged as my sister used to be during the pre VII mass. Understanding the mass leads to participation regardless of the language it is said in. Equally the vernacular is no guarentee of understanding.

  43. RosieC says:

    My experiences include well-celebrated TLMs, well-celebrated NOs, poorly celebrated NOs, and one or two NOs that made me wonder if I was really in a Catholic church.

    Based on my experience, when the Mass is celebrated exactly as written (strict constructionism, if you will), the cleric is actually removed from the equation and Our Lord is much more clearly visible.

    When the cleric tinkers with things, the Mass becomes more difficult to understand and there are more distractions between us and Our Lord.

    I would say the second case is more open to clericalism, because the cleric takes the opportunity to impose his views and attitudes on the faithfull.

    There is a third case, which I think is even more insidious but perhaps doesn’t belong in this discussion. In many parishes, there is an elite group who have Father’s ear and they impose their attitudes and views on the way the Mass is said. This elitism is in some ways worse because it allows some of the laity to improperly impose upon the majority of the laity in the parish. These people are not duly appointed authorities, nor have they received the formation necessary to properly do what they’re doing. This is a wide open doorway to all kinds of abuse. I’m grateful to have a pastor who filters all sorts of “recommendations” he receives through the GIRM.

  44. MSusa says:

    I will give my limited view of this.
    Clericalism is a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy.

    Clearly, from the beginning, McBrien is very Antihierarchy. One would even wonder if he, as his place as a teacher, even considers himself a teacher or if that is to strict. Anyway..

    Which mass leads to that more?
    Since pride is one of the Capital sins and we are all subject to it, I would say that no
    one is exempt from a superior/authoritative attitude.
    So, my limited view would be that both could be.

    BUT there is something the NO has that the TLM doesn’t. Where TLM has very direct and exact instructions,
    NO can be monkied with, added to, subtracted from and abused easier than TLM.
    And if the phrase Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi, how we worship and pray reflects what we believe and determines how we will live, then McBrien’s rebellion and refusal to accept hierarcy, affects
    those whom he teaches and preaches to. Because, if you logically remove all hierarcy, then you
    are left to do whatever you feel like, you decide. You become a mini “god”.

    One thing that makes me so sad about McBrien is one has to wonder if he really has any
    true friends; friends that aren’t afraid to tell him he is way off. Or maybe he has driven them
    away. Another sad thing is our Bishop has no problem with having him in our paper
    because people are going to “disagree” with one another; he doesn’t see that it isn’t
    “disagreeing” but dissent.

  45. Crusader says:

    The priest’s sacrificial role MUST be central to the Mass, because it is this Sacrifice offered to God BY THE PRIEST that brings salvation to the world. The Novus Ordo, when it does mention Sacrifice, usually downplays it and makes it seems like it’s only a Sacrifice of thanksgiving, not a propitiatory Sacrifice.

    The Novus Ordo is Protestant through and through to its core (that fact has nothing to do with how it’s offered) and must be discarded utterly due to its deletrious effects on the spirituality of the laity (and even more so of the priest).

  46. Philothea says:

    Fr. McBrien says: “The communicants stand rather than kneel because they approach the priest as co-equals with him in Baptism, not as serfs coming before their lord and master to express their fealty.”

    Luke 14:8-9 says:
    “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, nd the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.”

  47. danphunter1 says:

    Spirit of Vatican II,
    And your comment implying..?

  48. Habemus Papam says:

    Clericalism exsisted before Vatican II and the Novus Ordo. We are a hierarchical, ritualistic Church so clericalism is inevitable. I think some good points have been made here about what “actual participation” was meant to be; a sharing of the laity in the role of the servers rather than in the role of the priest. A Latin Novus Ordo dialogue Mass is perhaps the best expression of actual participation. However, clericalism depends on factors and attitudes outside of Mass as well as during Mass in whichever form.

  49. Nathan says:

    + JMJ +

    I think I just discovered the difficulty with this thread. Are we all confusing two concepts? Father McBrien uses the term “de-clericalization” and Father Zuhsdorf uses the term “clericalism.”

    Clericalism is a word in the dictionary, and I have difficulty applying it to liturgical matters. My Webster’s defines clericalism as “a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy” while American Heritage defines clericalism as “a policy of supporting the power and influence of the clergy in political or secular matters.” Clericalism, it seems, has a political and a policy connotation.

    De-clericalization, on the other hand, isn’t in the dictionary. I found three uses of the term in a Catholic context on a quick Google search. One was Father McBrien, the second was a Voice of the Faithful-related newsletter that read “And declericalization is the foundation for the renewal of the church.” The third was an article by Cardinal Lustiger on the EWTN site that said, “Then, the dialectics of power led to the desire to entrust the latter to the democratic assembly of the faithful. This went by the name of ’declericalization.’”

    I fear Fr. McBrien is using a rather fuzzy term. If he means applying “dialectics of power” in the liturgy, there’s not a lot of clericalism per se involved. It seems to me like its more of a code word for “what I like in my personal agenda.” That’s why it’s so difficult to really discuss these pieces—you cannot engage in honest intellectual discussion if you can’t find the boundaries to a concept or a term.

    In Christ,

  50. Kate Asjes says:

    Am I the only one who sees the subbtle lie that whipped up the women’s movement frenzy in Fr. McBrien’s comments? Men really are better, so you women should fight to be just like men! Rather than espousing the truth that men and women are complimentary to one another, that we need each other and have different roles, there is a canard that one role is better than the other. Priests are better than the rest of you, so you should fight to get to be like them! If that idea is present, it is a diabolical idea, and a vicious attack on the harmony created by God.

  51. danphunter1 says:

    God bless you

  52. danphunter1 says:

    God bless you

  53. Carl H. Horst says:

    The Novus Ordo is by its very structure a celebrant-centered communal meal whereas the TLM is a Christ-centered sacrifice.

  54. Habemus Papam says:

    As Fr. Tim Finnegan comments on his blog for Friday 1st Feb, the comparison of the masonic altar to the peoples table may be a bit much for some people…

  55. Karen Russell says:

    Much good and thought-provoking discussion here; I’m afraid I can contribute little.

    I rather got stuck on the second sentence Fr. Z quoted above, ” In their minds, the Church is identical with the hierarchy and the priests who serve under the bishops.”

    I can only speak for myself, but my understanding of the Church is very different and vastly broader than that. And as one traditional-minded laywoman (of Fr. McBrien’s generation,) I clearly fall into the category he is “mindreading”

    Since his basic premise is so flawed, I have trouble taking much else of what he says seriously.

    Kate, that is a very good observation!

  56. RBrown says:

    The issue of clericalism is one of major importance, which should constantly be on the minds of all priests, not matter how liberal. But clericalism is reinforced by the attitudes of the laity who have imbibed the clericalist ideology for a long time.

    Of course one of the problems is defining what clericalism is. I would think it means any understanding of the presbyteral ministry that leads to a devaluation of lay authority and experience, that sees lay people as having only a passive role in the Church.

    Lay people sometimes find a type of clericalism useful, in that they fob off on the idealized priest their Christian ideals or responsibilities.
    Comment by Spirit of Vatican II

    Although I understand your point, I tend to disagree with your analysis.

    1. There are two basic approaches to Ecclesiology: a) The Church as Mystical Body and b) the Church as Perfect Society.

    The first is based in Scripture, St Augustine, and St Thomas–it was revived by Pius XII with Mystici Corporis. Here the status of the sacerdos is primarily centered on his Sacramental actions and responsibilities for preaching.

    The second comes from the Jesuit St Robert Bellarmine and was the dominant theology from the Council of Trent to Mystici Corporis. In this the status of the priest is primarily a matter of governance–Christ created the priesthood to have someone in charge. This is a very legalistic concept of the Church and to me is the font of clericalism.

    Further, this approach is most compatible with the German theology of the nature of the Episcopacy, i.e., that jurisdiction is included in Episcopal consecration.

    2. BXVI has a Eucharistic Ecclesiology, and so he embraces the first approach–thus the miter in his papal coat of arms. The pope is the Pontifex Maximus–the High Priest.

    3. From what I’ve read of Fr McBrien, he is still married to the second approach, with one difference: The paradigm has changed from monarchy to democracy. And life in the Church is not defined by legalism but rather sociology.

  57. Margaret says:

    I think it would be neat to email Fr. McBrien. I wonder if he’d reply…

    I actually have corresponded with Fr. McBrien via email. I was calling him on a factual error in one of his published columns. He was initially condescending, but when I *politely* provided water-tight documentation in a subsequent email, he simply stopped responding.

    As far as clericalism in the NO goes– I think the versus populum orientation can lend itself to that kind of “showboating” which I suppose could be defined as clericalism. But NB: I know many fine priests who can and do say the NO, versus populum, and who draw no attention like that to themselves whatsoever. It is doable.

    What drives me bonkers is the “new” clericalism cited by previous commenters– the explosion of “ministries” that all the laity, apparently, must engage in to fully engage in the liturgy. I actually attended a Mass about a year ago, unwittingly wandering in to “Ministry Sunday.” All the lectors, catechists, musicaisn, EMOCs, etc. were all invited to stand and profess their faith by renewing their baptismal promised. But only the “ministers,” mind you. The rest of us schmucks just kept sitting there and had no opportunity to make the profession of faith that Sunday. I guess spending oneself entirely in the matter of building up the domestic church just doesn’t count… sigh.

  58. Patrick says:


    What? Did you read what I wrote?

    The NO is beautiful! Comparing badly celebrated NO to properly celebrated TLM isn’t any different from comparing poorly celebrated NO to well celebrated NO. Of course, the properly celebrated mass of any kind will be preferable to the badly celebrated mass of any kind!

    I profess loyalty to the Pope (who again, celebrates the NO) and the magisterium. In this sense, I am much closer to the Church than those on this website who prefer to criticize, and who prefer their own preferences to those of the Church. If we reject the NO because we have a particular devotion to the TLM, that is one thing–to reject the NO and Vatican II completely is quite another! And to those who reject the council and the NO, well, they are much closer to Sr. Chittiser and the NCR than I have ever been!

  59. Derik Castillo says:

    Clericalism probably means to accept the fact that the structure of the
    Roman Catholic Church is hierarchical, along with all its implications.

    This does not prevent laity from having a deep
    spiritual life, respect for the sacred, fully understanding what Holy Mass
    is about, etc. On the contrary, lay people must study about Holy
    Mass, and the Roman Catholic Church, and then make an exercise of
    humbleness to accept it. The fruits of catholicism probably are richer
    in this way

    But we lay peple want power. We want to be stars, we are taught to climb
    any hierarchical ladder we stumble with. We are also ready to fight
    whoever denies us what we think is our right.

    We don’t want to kneel for communion because that is old-fashioned, we
    want Mass in our mother tongue, because we want familiarity, but
    we forget the Church is also our Mother. We would like to think that
    removing the altar rail will allow us to be in direct contact with the
    Holy of Holies.

    Prayers and scriptural reading are deeper than they appear to be. To
    say that we understand them at once during Mass is an overstatement.

    Sorry for the harsh remarks

  60. TerryC says:

    I think that you have pinned down the real difference between the Ecclesiological divide often sited, incorrectly in my view as liberal/conservative. Those are terms defined in a framework of political rather than religious discussion and really have no place in a discussion or orthodoxy, where the proper terms would be orthodox/heretical.
    Siting the two schools of thought and pointing to the place where the Church as Perfect Society school has slipped into heresy is very helpful.
    I see it in my own parish, where some of the laity believes, in conflict with both Scripture and the teaching of the Church, that if we(the mortals who make up the Church now on Earth) just worked a little harder war and poverty would disappear and we would have Heaven on Earth.
    It also points out how people like Fr. McBrien can believe their own PR. They don’t believe that this is something they have created whole cloth. They can point to a school of thought 500 years old to support their premises, while quietly overlooking the modifications they’ve made to the saint’s original premises.
    As to the NO, I believe that a properly celebrated NO can be every bit as non-abusive an environment as a EF Mass. What is required is for the bishops to hold the celebrant’s feet to the fire to ensure that the NO is celebrated in conformance with the GRIM. This is not just a matter of enforcement but of formation, and it must start in the seminaries.
    To begin the altars must be moved, and the tabernacles restored to the sanctuary. Communion rails are optional (I can kneel just as well without one.) Latin must be restored to the ordinary. Gregorian chant must return to the cathedrals, at the least, and to the major parish churches, For at least some of the Sunday Masses. Even at Masses at which it is not used Hymns should be banished from the places where antiphons are listed as the preferred option. THe easiest way to accomplish the last point is to teach seminarians that where there are options in the liturgy option 1 should be done most of the time, other options rarely or not at all. That alone would banish two of the four hymns in the four hymn sandwich. Get rid of that bane of the new liturgical music the “meditation hymn” which fills the required silence after communion, as well as another of the unnecessary musical accompaniments, that during communion itself and the true beauty of the NO would show through, those changes really suggested by Vatican II, in more scripture and limit use of the vernacular, and even the responsoral psalm.

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