Status quaestionis about liturgy by Fr. Blake

My friend Fr. Ray Blake of St. Mary Magdalene in Brighton has a very interesting post, which I share with you here, with my emphases and comments.

The Sacred Liturgy isn’t just about what happens in Church, it should touch every aspect of our lives, [Save the Liturgy – Save the World!] it has always been so. Fasting and feasting are an important part of the liturgy, I feel quite smug that at the end of Lent my belt needs to be tightened an extra two notches, but now is the time of feasting!

Yesterday I had a splendid cote de beouf, with a delicious bottle of Chinon, with a seminarian and later shared a bottle of rather nice bottle of prosecco [Not the Widow?] with a couple of the younger clergy of the diocese, in the evening there was a school governors meeting, just to get over, gently, the fact it was still Easter I took over some fizzy wine I had been given. The rest of the week seems to be about partying too.

Most of priestly conversation seems to touch on liturgy, I prefer that to diocesan gossip, we had all been to the Chrism Mass last Wednesday, it might just be my friends, but we were all a bit surprised by how retro the liturgy was this year; ["retro"!] odd introductions, apparently from the States were still in the renewal of priestly promises, which are not in the Roman Rite. [But this was done during the Holy Father’s Chrism Mass this year.] Music by people like Inwood, Dean, Ward and Haugen, which most parishes, I had assumed, had moved away from, where still there, hardly music that merited to continue in use for any length of time. All those superfluous Hosannas and needless repititions, and changes of texts! It was a bit of time warp, a move back twenty years. Even the congregation, seemed to be the same people who would have been there two decades ago but now are bit more stooped and greyer. Maybe that is because I am older and greyer.

It is very easy to for any priest to live in a little world of his own to assume that what is happening in his parish is happening elsewhere. A friend of mine was a little irked when his new head teacher expressed surprise that he didn’t allow the staff at his school to pass the Body and Blood of Christ from one member of staff to another during Mass, "… but Bishop X always does that whenever he celebrates mass with teachers," she said. Most dioceses actually have autodidacts as their "expert" liturgists, [That often works well wtih the TLM, however, since they learn structure.] possibly they picked up some diploma in pastoral liturgy at some American university twenty years ago, and have continued to demonstrate their liturgy is an excercise in nostalgia, not looking back to The Tradition, but to their own youths, 20/30 years ago, it is becoming increasingly off putting.

The problem most of us have is, what should be the liturgical norm?  [Say the Black – Do the Red?]

Most priests pick up notions of liturgy from rather selective reading, from what they see other priests doing, peer pressure amongst priests is as powerful as it is amongst adolescents. [LOL!] There are pretty clear guidelines in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Ceremonies of Bishops, Sacramentum Caritatis and other documents, but who really bothers to to read them? Who apart from me, who uses a communion plate? (SC, says it should be retained), how many female feet were washed on Holy Thursday, how many three sin or less penitential services took place during Lent?

One of the good things is seeing what happens in Rome at Papal liturgies, through the net or EWTN we can see what the Pope is doing. I am pleased to say I know what happened in St Peter’s on Good Friday in much more detail than I know what happened in our own Cathedral.

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  1. But this was done during the Holy Father’s Chrism Mass this year.

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to. I was at the Holy Father’s Chrism Mass this year, and as the promises were renewed in Latin, I find it hard to believe that anything other than the official texts were being used.

  2. Zadok: Pretty much my point.

  3. Perhaps it wasn’t the official translation which was used at Fr Blake’s Chrism Mass… there doesn’t seem to be anything ‘odd’ about the introductions used by the Holy Father.

    (BTW, Happy Easter!)

  4. Ryan says:

    What the heck is a “three sin or less” ceremony?

  5. Chironomo says:

    Ryan… that’s where the Priest says “There is no need to confess ALL of your sins, just pick the top three or so and confess those.” Hence the term.. “Three sins or less” ceremony. These are VERY COMMON around here (Florida) or at least they were before Bishop Dewayne took over two years ago…

  6. “It is very easy to for any priest to live in a little world of his own to assume that what is happening in his parish is happening elsewhere.”

    Sounds just like liturgical and parish life in the Birmingham Oratory, a world away from churches nearby. Long may that continue!

  7. David O'Rourke says:

    I’d love to know how Fr. Blake can tighten his belt two notches. I’ve trudged through the cold and eaten like a bird and my weight hasn’t budged.

  8. Bailey Walker says:

    Thank you, Mr. O’Rourke! Same experience here. I share your pain. God bless…

  9. Tom says:

    Unfortunately, I suspect poor Fr Blake and other like-minded priests have a lot to put up with at diocesan occasions in their particular diocese. And it’s unlikely they’ll get much of a lead from above towards orthodox liturgical and musical praxis. Some of the southern diocese in Ebgland are far from being orthodox; liberal and, in some instances, heretical liturgical edicts pretty much hold sway there.

  10. Terth says:

    Expectation: I don’t mean this as a jab, but it’s my prayer that the fragrance of reverent Masses at one church like the Birmingham Oratory waft over and better all others, near and far.

  11. David Andrew says:

    Mr O’Rourke,

    I’m never able to get my belt to go down during the winter. . . it’s not until summer that the hybernation wears off and with it the winter fat!

    Fr. Z: “Not the Widow?” – LOL. As an organist I have a particularly warm spot in my “coeur” for the Widow and her champagne, because of her relationship to the great French Classic organ builder. I toasted the two major phases of my doctoral work (departmental oral and final defense) each with a bottle of the Widow with the members of the committee, much to their amusement.

    On a more serious note, I’m not surprised by Fr. Blake’s reference to the music of Inwood among others. Paul Inwood is a “rainmaker” for the American Catholic publishing house “OCP,” which specializes in sacro-pop and for the most part poorly crafted quasi-traditional consumer-driven music. He was the diocesan director of music for the diocese of Arundel and Brighton from 1986 to 1991, and is currently the director of liturgy for the diocese of Portsmouth. You may recall his name from the dust up over the MP, in connection with a truly uncharitable statement he published in his official capacity to the faithful of that diocese. (I recall the bishop actually had to publish a retraction.)

  12. A Philadelphian says:

    Fr. Blake really makes a good point about the retro character being off-putting. For all of the talk about inculturation and liturgy, mass in the US is completely enshrined in a particular historical, and might I say, ethnocentric (um, folk music is not universal!) moment. I am amazed at how hostile contemporary liturgists are to chant (which is universal), and yet they are rigidly trapped in 1967-1973.

  13. I very much agree! So many parishes are trapped. Time to bring them into the 21st century. I’ve had discussions with several priests, and they’ve echoed the same sentiments. Save the Liturgy, save the World Amen

  14. Diane says:

    As an aside, it is great to hear about priests spending time together, as well as with seminarians. I think those kind of fraternal dinners and related follow right behind a solid prayer and sacramental life for priests today. I’ve seen it in my own parish, sometimes including young discerning men of the parish.

  15. Christopher Mandzok says:

    I’ve read the post three or four times. I am still trying to grasp the point he is attempting to make.

  16. michigancatholic says:

    Christopher, I get his point exactly. He’s saying that a priest can become isolated very easily and it’s important not to have that happen. Communication is often so stilted that it is easier to find out how mass is said at EWTN or at the Vatican than it is to find out how mass is said in the very next parish over. There are many dioceses in the US that are made up of parishes in just this condition. And often the chancery is no help whatsoever, nor are the music publishing houses which tend to be monotonous and in poor taste with their materials. Nor are many lay ministers, who once went through some training program and now hang onto their mimeograph sheets with all their might along with their dated pseudo-theolog*ies.*

    In just such ways, parishes have often become stuck in the recent past. In fact, many of them are stuck now in the 70-80s. If they don’t move along to the universal things, where else can they go from where they are?

    [For myself, it’s not so much the ones that sound like Peter, Paul & Mary that get my goat. It’s the ones that tried to move on in amateur style and now sound like cocktail hour at the bowling alley that make me wince.]

  17. Royce says:

    What does Fr. Blake mean by “communion plate”?

  18. Guy Power says:

    Royce: What does Fr. Blake mean by “communion plate”?

    I took it to mean patten.

  19. A Communion plate is like a patten with a stick on it to hold under the Lord’s body during distribution of Holy Communion. I restored them when I read Redemptionis Sacramentum. It is clear that they should never have been removed. Many priests think it is foolish, however, I often clean large and small particles from them at the purification of the sacred vessels.

  20. Royce says:

    Ah yes, I am accustomed to hearing those referred to as pattens. Perhaps it is a British / American thing. I have seen them used in the Novus Ordo at certain parishes.

  21. Sharon says:

    The word is spelled ‘paten’, at least in Australia.

  22. Kradcliffe says:

    If a priest is new to a parish, and doesn’t like the felt banners and guitars, is it difficult for him to change things? I think it may be. I once attended a Mass with quite a few liturgical abuses. I was naive at the time and so I emailed the priest a very polite email asking why things were as they were. He wrote back that he was new to the parish and was introducing things very slowly. He seemed to hope that there would be a way to get kneelers back into the pews.

  23. Kradcliffe: Yeps, very much hard to change, as things are done for “pastoral reasons” and we all know that’s code for disobey Rome.

  24. Diane says:

    Kradcliffe asks: If a priest is new to a parish, and doesn’t like the felt banners and guitars, is it difficult for him to change things? I think it may be.

    Well, in some dioceses if he tries to change those things or dares to give a wholesome sermon he may find that the complaints to the chancery end up getting him moved repeatedly.

    The good news is that the aging hippy crowd running most chanceries are, well, aging. Soon, there simply won’t be enough “outposts” to which these good and holy priests can be sent.

    Pray for priests!

  25. Chironomo says:

    From my experience, it is easier to change things IMMEDIATELY when a new Priest arrives than to wait and allow them to continue.

  26. Royce says:

    George Weigel documents one good case of this with regards to Fr. Jay Scott Newman’s arrival at the parish at which he is currently pastor. You can find it in his “Letters to a Young Catholic.”

  27. Simon Platt says:

    Readers unfamiliar with the term might like to know that in practically all the parishes in the north west of England where I have served or assisted at mass, the communion plate has been something like the one shown in this image, although more typically somewhat elongated.

  28. Jim says:

    Speaking of “retro” I had an interesting experience on Easter Sunday. I have been attending an Eastern rite (Ukranian) parish for six months and was looking forward to my first celebration of Pascha in that tradition. But I was called out of town because my aunt was dying so we attended Eastern mass in an urban Latin rite parish. The first thing I noticed was a band practicing next to the altar; everyone in the church was chatting and nobody appeared to be praying. The music was in the Haugen-Haas tradition. This parish did not use traditional hosts; the Lord’s body was in the form of square pieces of brown bread. The priest was kind enough to place a round white host on my tongue when I went up for communion (they must have consecrated a few for old duffers like me), but the experience was unnerving. The focus of this celebration was not on the resurrection of the Lord. There seems no longer to be any consistency to liturgical practice in the Roman rite. Anything goes.

  29. Il Prete says:

    Yes,Simon of England, Sharon of Australia, we are separated by the same language. In the US we have traditionally called it a “paten” (spelled with one “t”) We use that term for the gold plate that the priest uses at the altar for the large host and for the plate (with or without a long handle) that is used at communion to catch any falling particles of the Sacred Host.

  30. Lee says:

    When our new pastor came to the parish seven years ago, he immediately took down the huge risen Christ on a cross on the wall above the altar, smashed a thirty foot high hole in the wall and installed a large stained glass window depicting our crucified Lord, smashed two holes in the wall on either side of the tabernacle and installed two eight foor stained glass windows depicting angels, one of them holding a chalice, the other a crown of thorns, and put papal flags on all the light poles in the parking lot. And he did much else besides.

    In other words for him gradual and “prudent” change was for the birds. It seems to me that unless a new pastor comes in like that in the face of a situation he cannot abide, he very greatly risks being gradually and imperceptibly cowed and silenced into cooperation with the tepidity and errors of the past. Making an immediate break with the past and taking over the parish with “shock and awe” seems as prudent a policy as any other, and will have people sitting on the edge of their seats waiting with eager anticipation for what you may say or do next. What better disposition could you have in the people you want to form as excellent Catholics?

    But this is only “a view from the pew”

  31. RBrown says:

    we are separated by the same language

    When I was a student in Rome, I was visiting a friend at English college, Martin Edwards (now Fr). Anyway, I ran into a student priest there who said we had already met. Then he said, “Adrian Towers”.

    I thought for a long second, shook my head, and replied, “I don’t remember ever having been to a place called Adrian Towers.”

    He said, “No, that’s my name.”

  32. Alice says:

    “From my experience, it is easier to change things IMMEDIATELY when a new Priest arrives than to wait and allow them to continue.”

    Takes a bit of gusto to do that. I know a young priest suffering along with the basic junk most of us have to put up with. I’d like to tell him (maybe he’s lurking) to just do what he needs to do as a pastor, just as I have to do what I need to do as a mom, right? But I suppose there are collection plate worries or worse, getting shipped off to a nursing home by the wrath of parish council, or priestly peer pressure (LOL). A lot of these new young priests are in the trenches and need a hefty bolstering of heroic courage – support and pray for them.

    Any berating is just out of frustration – I’ve already lived through the 70’s and I do not want to go back there. So just stop it.

    Dear priests – Say the black, do the red. Preach the truth. People will leave but others will come because they’re thirsting for it. Give us some living waters, huh?

  33. Fr Ray Blake says:

    Thank you for hightlighting this piece, Father.
    I have a bee in my biretta about contemporary liturgy which can only work if it follows one of two options:
    1, it should be in a constant state of flux and renewal, twenty years old is dated today: this seems painful and ultimately unworkable.
    2, it should return to the Tradition, by using Traditional elements, music, vestments – the Benedictine brick by brick approach: this seems the only workable possibility, that will not ultimately alienate the faithful.

    For those who were a little confused at what my focus was, well, this is the underlying theme of my blog, and my own approach to the ordinary form of the liturgy.

  34. Ohio Annie says:

    “Music by people like Inwood, Dean, Ward and Haugen, which most parishes, I had assumed, had moved away from, where still there, hardly music that merited to continue in use for any length of time. All those superfluous Hosannas and needless repititions, and changes of texts! It was a bit of time warp, a move back twenty years.”

    Gracious, this sounds like all of our parishes around here. Very little choice
    I’m afraid. 8-(

  35. Simon Platt says:


    Is that the same Martin Edwards whose excellent book my youngster is using as preparation for his first holy communion?

    And is that the same Adrian Towers who has recently begun to celebrate the traditional mass at his parish in Preston?

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