Variations on “Save the Liturgy – Save the World”

Here is an interesting article from Catholic Exchange.  A kind reader alerted me.  Let’s see what it says, with my emphases and comments.

August 19th, 2008 by Mary Anne Moresco

Recent decades have spawned an “anything goes” mentality in our culture.  Like cancer spreading through the body, this mentality has spread into every corner of our culture doing damage.  This “anything goes” mentality is dangerous because it can lead us to ignore moral laws and consequences for our actions. 

It is disconcerting but true that this “anything goes” mentality has crept into some corners of the Church.  This mentality has given birth, here and there, to “anything goes” Masses.  These Masses ignore liturgical laws and are designed to attract us to the Church by “spicing up” the Mass or entertaining us.  But the path to spice and entertainment at Mass is also the path to liturgical abuse.  The playing of non-sacred music at Mass on Sunday, the emergence of “liturgical” dance, and the phenomena where lay people supplement homilies with their testimonies have all led to habitual abuses

The intent may be goodRedemptionis Sacramentum (RS) 9 tells us “abuses are often based on ignorance, in that they involve a rejection of those elements whose deeper meaning are not understood… As one who has occasionally queried the good-natured initiators of these non-liturgical efforts at Mass, I know that for the most part the stated intent of these efforts is to “enhance” the liturgy or to “evangelize.”  But here comes some magnificent news — an umbrella under which we can unite.  A reverent Mass, prayed in perfect accord with liturgical norms does evangelize[This is a concept very familiar to regular readers of WDTPRS.]

Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has addressed the “Role of Liturgical Norms in the Eucharistic Celebration.”  According to Cardinal Arinze:  “Liturgical celebrations well carried out not only nourish the faith of practicing Catholics, but can also awaken the slumbering faith of the negligent, and attract people to the Church“ (Adoremus Bulletin Vol. XIV No.3 May 2008, p.3-4 (AB)).

When we follow the norms of the Mass, the Mass draws us away from earthly things and up towards the things of heaven. [Say the Black – Do the Red.]  A Catholic Mass prayed in accord with liturgical norms is a majestic sight to behold and thus by its nature is a light for others.  And we don’t have to add anything of our own making!  Cardinal Arinze has assured us that the “celebrating community does not have to re-invent the sacred rites in every age” (AB).

RS 7 states “not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false sense of liberty.  Yet God has not granted us… a liberty, by which we may do what we wish, but a liberty by which we may do what is fitting and right.“  To ignore the norms of the Mass is to sow seeds of discord and division.  To invent our own liturgies is to separate ourselves from Holy Mother Church and walk the path of disobedience.  This path of disobedience may attract others for its novelty.  But it cannot and will not attract others for its holiness.  And we are called to be holy.  We are called to be saints. 

That is not to say we are to approach Mass with some stuffy air.  The saints were not stuffy.  They were loving, interesting, and independent people.  But a deep humility and a profound obedience to the will of God and thus to Holy Mother Church and her authority permeated everything they were and did.  If we truly want to pray the Mass with devotion, we can follow Saint Padre Pio who stated: “If you want to assist at Holy Mass… keep company with the Sorrowful Virgin at the foot of the Cross on Calvary.

To properly pray the Mass, we must see ourselves as servants of the liturgy, not masters over it.  We can effectively elevate our souls in prayer by approaching Mass with a loving heart toward God and Holy Mother Church and a humble obedience to her liturgical norms.  From that love toward God and Holy Mother Church can flow a true and deep love for our friends in Christ.  From the depth of that love can flow an authentic evangelization and enduring unity which will stand the test of time because it has been built on a firm foundation. [Save the Liturgy – Save the World.]

To deliberately attract our brothers and sisters in Christ to actions and gestures outside liturgical norms, and to present such actions and gestures as desirable, is to dress disobedience up in tempting garb.  Drawing others toward our own disobedience is not love but deception.  To practice such deception is to build on sand.  When the novelties crumble, as novelties inevitably do, so too will the fruit of our efforts. 

Liturgical norms are a gift.  They are our carefully woven safety net.  They protect us from falling into irreverence.  Ignoring liturgical norms is like taking a knife to that net, and once the net is sliced there can be no end to just how far we can slide down the slippery slope of liturgical abuse. 

The Mass is not about “tweaking,” “enhancing” or “inventing” something on our own.  The Mass is about receiving a loving gift from God.  As Cardinal Arinze stated ”It is to be remembered that the Eucharistic Sacrifice and indeed the sacred liturgy as a whole are not something that we make or invent or put together on our own.  They are gifts that we receive, keep, treasure, celebrate and for which we are grateful.(AB)

The good news is that there is a cure for the “anything goes” mentality that has crept into some corners of our culture and our Church.  This cure is Jesus Christ.  The path that will take us to Him is the path of loving obedience to the teachings of Holy Mother Church.  May we humble our one billion different opinions and embrace those teachings.  Through that embrace, may we at last unite in peace on this precious path to Christ as one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Tina in Ashburn says:

    This blurb emphasizes the idea that God tells us how He wants to be worshiped – a concept apparently lost today.

  2. Nick says:

    This was a very good article, but it misses one key factor. The main factor, in my opinion, that facilitates (not causes in and of itself) liturgical abuses is the fact there are so many “options” given at Mass. These “options” are part of the official liturgical laws. When someone has a wide range of options for prayers and music and such (especially when the priest gives this “power” to the “music director”), you cannot say anything, despite the fact you are kept on the edge of your seat guessing which “option” it is going to be this week.

    Sure Latin is “encouraged” by the Church, but we have the “option” to not use it, and in fact most parishes never do use it.

  3. Chris says:

    How can the use of options that the rite provides be abusive? The options are there to be used for different pastoral settings. Such options mean that on a Sunday we can offer a Mass without music, one with more modern music and one with organ, choir, incensce etc. We even have some Latin and Greek!

  4. RichR says:

    I agree with Nick. With so many options, norms are mere suggestions. This has led to the idea that anything does go. The problem is that it is so hard to teach people what the norms are because it gets so complicated with all the concessions, indults, exceptions to the rule for pastoral reasons, local customs, variations between dioceses, etc….. Some may look at “adaptability” as a good thing in the Missale Romanum, but others see the imprecise rubrics as poor support for those in favor of the “norms.”

    So, it’s a sort of theoretical improbability. You can say, “The New Mass allows for Gregorian chant, Latin, ad orientem, male-only altar servers, altar rails, Communion under the species of the Host only, no EMHC’s, with all the Latin Proper antiphons for the day,……….but will you ever be able to say that this is how it should be done?


  5. Petros says:

    You cannot improve the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  6. Jayna says:

    Thanks for posting this article. I am caught up in the debate with one of the religious education coordinators at my parish and it completely counters every point she made. I made sure to tack it on to the end of an enormous e-mail I just sent her.

  7. Warren says:

    The problem is not so much with options. The problem concerns a lack of proper formation on the one hand and willful abuse on the other. With the introduction of the new translation of the Mass, hopefully bishops and priests will make use of the opportunity as a teachable moment in the life of the Church to properly communicate the content and structure of the Mass. As a teacher, I use rubrics all the time to provide students the necessary scaffolding to help them engage and enter into the treasure hunt for knowledge. There must be a balance between necessary structure to guide learning and (responsible) freedom to engage by being active contributors or being actively receptive. Likewise, at Mass we are (or should be) actively receptive to what the Lord has done and is doing for us, and that active reception issues forth in a response of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication.

    The rubrics of the Mass are designed to help us remain on the path, i.e., focussed on the Lord, while helping us to avoid straying off into “me centred” worship (emotionalism, etc.). The affirmation of the EF Mass in our day is a great reminder that rubrics can and do point us to something (some ONE!) beyond. Rubrics bring into focus the nonverbal or gestural forms of communicating the ineffable and the full measure of the Gospel. Without rubrics to help us communicate in nonverbal ways, through poetic or artful movement, we would be prisoners to verbosity and there would be no room for the Lord to speak and act at Mass. As it has been said, Jesus is the principal actor in the Mass. Rubrics help sustain that orientation by providing space (silence, stillness, sacred movement) for the Lord.

    If people understood the rubrics and Who is acting in the Liturgy, people would come to ad orientem worship entirely on their own because it makes perfect sense.

  8. I’ve seen this mentality across the board, not just in “liberal” parishes, but also “conservative” or “traditional” parishes. I’ve seen priests do things that are supposedly more “traditional” even though they are different from the rubrics of the Mass. They often fail to realize that a “traditional” or “pious” change to the Mass is still a change to the Mass. And sadly, they have the same mentality that they can improve the Novus Ordo Mass, when in fact they are just following their own whims instead of the mind of the Church.
    I know it mostly comes from their formation in the seminary. As much as they think they haven’t bought into some of the “liberal stuff” in actuality they have adopted the mindset.
    Canon 846 is pretty clear on the matter:
    “Can. 846 §1. In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent authority are to be observed faithfully; accordingly, no one is to add, omit, or alter anything in them on one’s own authority.
    §2. The minister is to celebrate the sacraments according to the minister’s own rite.”

    ie: Liturgy by the books.

  9. Chris says:

    You can say, “The New Mass allows for Gregorian chant, Latin, ad orientem, male-only altar servers, altar rails, Communion under the species of the Host only, no EMHC’s, with all the Latin Proper antiphons for the day,……….but will you ever be able to say that this is how it should be done?

    I find it hard to understand why you jumble so much together. Once more reflecting on the experience of this parish (which I know is only one) we have some Latin and Greek, a well trained group of both male and female altar servers, Holy Communion under both kinds (a great gift) and extra-ordinary ministers who serve with reverence where needed in the liturgy and who enable house bound parishioners and those in hospital to recieve the Lord far more frequently than the priests alone could manage. For all of which, duly sanctioned by the Church, I say Deo Gratias!

  10. Tina in Ashburn says:

    I have to agree that so many options at the Mass suggests ambiguity. And as some curse upon us over the last 40 years, there is an overall pattern of taking advantage of any ambiguity, whether its in Mass rubrics or interpretation of Vatican II documents. How this ambiguity continues to thrive is a complex subject with many causes.

    The audience of this article might not receive well any criticism of the Ordinary Form. The author doesn’t identify the sources of abuse, but that abuse exists. Much safer and still gets the point across without hardening hearts.

    For the many people unaware of the fruits of the Extraordinary Form, trapped in crazy parishes, describing abuse is a place to start. For most of the Catholic world, if we could just get the OF said properly, even with allowable options, we’d be way ahead. In how few parishes do the people kneel after the Agnus Dei? How many hold hands during the Our Father and greet each other at the Kiss of Peace while completely disregarding the Consecration? How few people bow at the ‘became Man” in the Credo? How many priests inappropriately chat extemporaneously during Mass? How many parishes promote irreverent, irrelevant, or improper music that has nothing to do with imitating the Propers? How many bare churches exist without art to assist meditation or exhibit ugliness?

    How many Masses are there where the role of the priest is almost obliterated where the laity are in the Sanctuary, laity do the readings, laity preach the homily, laity distribute communion, and confusion about roles of men and women?

    Respect for and compliance with the rules that DO exist in the Ordinary Form is crucial.

    It seems we have a very long way to go to re-introduce not only the old Mass but Truth, Beauty, and Goodness as its reflection. Can we get there when people have no experience with rules and reasons even in the Novus Ordo?

    There is an audience out there that knows little to nothing about the old Mass so the explanations of what’s wrong have to start very simply – and start where they are, not where we are.

  11. Simon Platt says:

    Dear Chris,

    why is Holy Communion under both kinds “a great gift”?

    (I interpret your meaning as being the general reception under both forms as opposed to that of bread alone).

    I have myself never received from the chalice since I nearly knocked it out of the priest’s hand one day many years ago, and I haven’t lost anything. When I receive Holy Communion I still do so in its fullness.

  12. Simon Platt says:

    Dear Chris,

    I think you misinterpret Nick\’s criticism of options in the newer form of mass. All the options you list are related to ceremonies which are also optional in the traditional mass.

    I interpret the criticism of \”options\” as being essentially about the wide scope to include prayers of different forms, including extemporised prayer. I also dislike this and agree with Nick that it encourages a regrettable spirit of invention among some priests.

  13. Chris says:

    Simon, I am in haste so can only reply to your first question.

    Communion under both kinds is a great gift because it opens up to us in a tangible way the symbolism of the heavenly banquet to which we are called and the rich scriptural imagery of the cup/chalice. Of course there exists some danger of spillage. I think we’d need to ask the Lord about that, who gave himself to us under these signs of broken bread and spillable wine. ‘Take and eat, take and drink’. He chose two forms, not one, not because he isn’t fully present in either but to show the greatness of his gift.

  14. CPT Tom says:

    Having just fought my way through getting a mass with chanted propers with Latin ordinary with vernacular Mass parts (Celebrant and responses) You’d of thought I was advocating some sort of heresy! The endless debates over parish “micro-traditions” and what people “prefer” etc., and out and out lack of understanding of the Church’s liturgical history is just mind boggling.

    I have some issues with communion under both kinds…First it seems it is popular (at least here) because it almost requires you to have Extraordinary Ministers for communion, second, it seems to go against the council of Trent, and echos previous heresy, in that you somehow do not have a complete experience of the sacrament if you only receive the host.

    From the GIRM:
    282. Sacred pastors should take care to ensure that the faithful who participate in the rite or are present at it are as fully aware as possible of the Catholic teaching on the form of Holy Communion as set forth by the Ecumenical Council of Trent. Above all, they should instruct the Christian faithful that the Catholic faith teaches that Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and consequently that as far as the effects are concerned, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any of the grace that is necessary for salvation.

    If this were actually done I’d have less problem with it. But the idea that only receiving in one kind is somehow defective, or not partaking fully of the “heavenly banquet” is not in keeping with the teachings and traditions of the Church.

  15. TerryC says:

    The problem is not one of options, but one of discipline and formation. There have always been options in the celebration of Mass, else the EO form could not encompass the low Mass, Missa Cantata, High Mass and Pontifical Mass. The problem is a lack of discipline on the part of the priest. And bad formation of the faithful.
    It has been aided and abetted by the refusal to correct(or in some cases the active endorsement of) abuse by the episcopacy.
    Of course adding the word “preferred”, as in “preferred option” for specific choices wouldn’t hurt either.
    My priest isn’t an innovator. He sticks to reading the black and doing the red, but he personally prefers certain options in the Missal which I, and I suspect most people on this blog, would consider not the optimal options. But I can tell you if the bishop sent out a letter saying Eucharist Prayer I was preferred or that antiphons were preferred over congregational hymns father would listen and incorporate those into his Masses, because father is a good priest and listens to the guidance of his bishop.

  16. Chris says:

    CPT Tom
    Do we receive Christ whole and entire under either form- yes of course we do. No heresy there.
    Is it still a fuller sign to recieve under the two forms- yes of course it is. Why do you think the Lord gave us both forms?
    And why (apart from a rejection of appropriately commissioned extra-ordinary ministers) would anyone be against it? As a boy communion under both kinds was introduced in our parish by a saintly 70+ Canon, who was also a very sharp canon lawyer. We were carefully prepared, duly instructed in the faith, and found that the overwhelming majority of people, especially the older ones, found great spiritual blessings in receiving that way. Of course no one should be forced to or made to feel awkward if they don’t but I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to say we can’t receive from the Chalice of the Lord.

  17. Lynne says:

    From CPT Tom…

    “I have some issues with communion under both kinds…First it seems it is popular (at least here) because it almost requires you to have Extraordinary Ministers for communion, second, it seems to go against the council of Trent, and echos previous heresy, in that you somehow do not have a complete experience of the sacrament if you only receive the host.”


  18. Chris says:

    I can only ask you to read what I posted in response to Cpt Tom. No it isn’t heresy and yes, extraordinary ministers are approved by the church.

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