QUAERITUR: Too fussy or righteously annoyed by unworthy worship?

From a reader:

Lately, with your help, I have had much higher expectations and a greater appreciation for the liturgy at my parish. I expect to see the altar servers with black shoes, and the music and Mass settings appropriate and approved, which is almost always the case. However, I still hear (pretty frequently) “Come as you Are” and “Companions on a Journey”, see way too many extraordinary ministers on the altar and witness some pretty irreverent behaviour from those ministering. I’ve found that I’ve been becoming increasingly annoyed with people who act irreverently or play that terrible music. Is this a righteous annoyance or am I being too fussy? Is it even possible to be too fussy with something as precious as the Mass? Or should I just put up with it and be grateful that we don’t have liturgical dance in my parish?

I think you are right to be annoyed with bad liturgical practice.  Also, I think you should put up with it even as you patiently, prudently, charitably, work for improvements.

I don’t think you are being too fussy.  We should have exceptional liturgical worship.

Also, it may be that you were always annoyed. It is just that now, you know why you were annoyed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. nialasfitch says:

    I sympathise. I just moved to a new town and a new parish. I knew it was a long shot but a tiny part of me dared hope that things might be better than at my old parish. But no: ugly seventies-style church interior, same dreadful mumbled hymns (seventies of course), same hideous vestments (seventies no doubt!), same homilies with no substance, same general blandness.

    I try very hard not to think about these things at mass and to focus on the most important thing: that I am so greatly blessed to be able to attend holy mass, to receive Christ in the eucharist – all of which does give me joy at mass and keeps me looking forward to going. And I try not to judge the no doubt good and sincere priests and laypeople responsible for the unfortunate aspects of the liturgy’s celebration. And hey, compared to many parishes, things aren’t bad at all; there are few outright abuses.

    But still part of me thinks: why is it still like this? Why do we still have to endure this? The glimmers of hope I see on the internet – photos of reverent liturgy, beautiful architecture, traditional vestments, etc – seem a million miles away from the reality in parishes around here (the north-west of England).

  2. Kerry says:

    Several weeks ago when temperature here held in the 90;s my wife and I looked for other churches to attend which had air conditioning. (Her hatred of the heat alone may keep her from Hades.) At one, the Credo was omitted (!). At another, the Priest passed in front of the altar at least twice without so much as a bend of the knee…We are still a bit yokel-jawed at that one.

  3. JPJT says:

    I think we can all relate to this. Just offer it up in reparation for what’s going on at the altar, and trust the Lord to make it right.

  4. Mike says:

    A good question, one I find myself asking nearly every Sunday.

    My entire parish needs to be (sorry for the word, it has ugly conotations) re-educated in regard to the reverence and adoration proper to worship of Almighty God.

  5. KAS says:

    I can so relate. I love to read the documents and liturgical books, but then, when I know what is happening is not right, it bothers me deeply.

    What gets to me even more is that some of the people in the parish who are most eager to serve and just plain really nice people are the worst offenders in the liturgical abuse arena.

    I am also becoming convinced that most avoid reading the documents for two main reasons, either they do not wish to change and know that if they were to read the materials available and learn what they are SUPPOSED to be doing that they would have to change because they aren’t really rebels OR (common among parishioners) they avoid reading the documents because they do not want to be disturbed by the many small and not so small liturgical abuses which never change.

    So I sit in my pew and try not to be bothered by what I have become convinced is not going to change until the people in charge die of old age…but those they trained will be warped by what is familiar and no more inclined to read the documents and follow them.

    I just wish this one EMHC would STOP blessing my child when I receive Eucharist!! I really really HATE that because her SIN is teaching my precious child that it is OK for a woman to act like a priest (I know this woman and I know for a fact she is more than capable of reading and understanding liturgical documents–but she likes doing blessings!).

    So I keep praying that God will make some changes in the hearts of those serving so they decide to read the documents and follow them.

    Don’t get me started on music, we rarely sing anything that was not written between 1960 and the present, and most of that is either banal, heterodox in the lyrics, or has a horrible tune that is almost impossible to sing. Every now and again something from the 1800’s will be thrown in, a verse or two sung and then back to the modernist drivel they have the nerve to call music. If you had to busk for your living with this crappy music you would starve!

  6. romanrevert says:

    I can say that I have experienced pretty much everything that has been listed in the comments thus far. While I continue to pray for the pastor of my parish as well as the musical director, I have voted with my feet. While we are still registered at this parish and I attend Mass there during the week (my children attend the parish school), I take my family, and my money to another parish on Sunday. I no longer can stomach the lounge act that performs on Sunday morning – I am tired of the anxiety of walking up to the doors wondering what I am going to hear – and I am certainly tired of the anger that I experience during Mass. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to de-program my children on the way home from Mass telling them how inappropriate the “music” was. I will not subject my children to seeing the Mass defiled over and over again. It is not good for their souls. That being said, I have the luxury of living in a city with multiple Catholic Churches. I don’t know how those in a small town with a single Church can do it.

  7. bookworm says:

    Personally, I think being “fussy” about liturgy is a virtue ONLY if you are personally responsible for the conduct of liturgy in some way… if you are the pastor, or the music director, or liturgy coordinator and have some influence or control over how the Mass is celebrated or what music is chosen. Being motivated to present the best liturgy possible is a good thing.

    However, if you are NOT in control of the liturgy, I don’t see where being super picky about the music, etc. is any kind of virtue — all it does is upset you, distract you from praying and feed your pride and envy.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you need to constantly subject yourself to gross liturgical abuses or blatant heresy, or that you shouldn’t go to a parish that you like better if you can (I often attend a parish I don’t belong to simply because the Mass times are more convienent and because their liturgy is a bit more “traditional”). But I personally am not going to complain as long as the liturgy is within current universal and diocesan norms (e.g., altar girls, Communion in the hand) and is conducted by a validly ordained priest who does not say anything obviously contrary to Church teaching. As long as I have access to the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist, I’m not going to complain too much about how it is “served” unless it is served in such a way as to completely spoil it.

  8. Supertradmum says:

    Isn’t irreverent and badly done Liturgy part of our cross on earth? I consider attending Mass such a privilege, that unless it is one which is illicit or illegal, I feel blessed. The day is coming soon when we shall not all be able to get to Sunday Mass, much less daily Mass.

  9. bookworm: A reading from the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum

    [183.] In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism.

  10. bookworm says:

    “let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected.”
    I agree — presuming that “abuses” refers to things that are actually, right now, contrary to Church law or have been forbidden by duly appointed diocesan or universal authority (e.g., homilies being given by lay persons, illicitly using leavened or sweetened bread in place of properly constituted Hosts) and NOT simply to variations in musical or celebratory style or to things that we WOULD LIKE the Church to forbid (altar girls, Communion in the hand) but does not at this time actually forbid.

  11. akp1 says:

    @ nialasfitch: I can totally sympathise with you as my Mum lives in the NW. When I spent a month with her in May/June whilst she recuperated from an operation, I tried a number of local Catholic churches; To cut a long and sadly all too commonly depressing story short – if you are anywhere in the Liverpool area I can wholeheartedly recommend Our Lady Star of the Sea in Seaforth weblink:
    http://www.olstarofthesea-seaforth.org/ – a beautiful Church, and reverent liturgy, including EF Mass.

  12. Joanne says:

    KAS, I would find it weird and inappropriate for any Eucharistic Minister to bless a child, whether male or female. Don’t see how it’s a sin, though. If this is so upsetting for you, why don’t you sit in a part of the church where you can avail yourself of the priest giving out Communion? You could also say something directly to the person who offends you so much. Wouldn’t you be doing her a favor as well by saying something if you believe her to be sinning? Agree with you though that the EMs tend to be good, well-meaning people.

    Voting with one’s feet is probably the best idea (although sometimes I don’t know – maybe those of us with different sensibilities about the Mass SHOULD be where the worse offenses are, so we can be a better example?) I tend to go to Mass mostly at an EF/OF parish where the priest offers every Mass reverently. Sometimes, however, my schedule dictates that I go to my OF parish, which is alot closer to my home. When I go there, I wear my chapel veil, dress appropriately for Mass, stay kneeling before the Mass (usually praying the rosary), don’t participate in the sign of peace, receive the Eucharist on the tongue from the priest, etc. Cliched phrase, but we do need to be the change that we want to see. I cringe at alot of what I see, but it IS important not to let one’s annoyance cloud what we should be profoundly grateful for, ie, the privilege to be at Mass.

  13. nialasfitch says:

    @akp1 Thanks for your recommendation. I do often visit Liverpool (I have family there) so I’ll try that church some time.

    I’m presently in Bolton (in the Diocese of Salford) for a few months. If anybody can suggest a church there I would be interested!

    I feel bad about “church-shopping”, but like many people on here I just want a church where I don’t feel continually distracted by liturgical funny business… :)

  14. Dr. Eric says:

    Cardinal Arinze, this morning on EWTN, talked about how he would rather go to Mass offered by “Fr. Saint” than “Fr. Doesn’t Care”. “The Mass is still the Mass, no matter what. But I would rather go to a Mass offered by a Saint than by ‘Fr. Doesn’t Care,'” he said.

  15. benedetta says:

    I agree with our Church that protecting the Blessed Sacrament from distortion, irreverence or abuse is the responsibility of the entire faithful. I don’t think on the whole that placing the full power of numerous things in the hands of, a liturgist (who may or may not be Catholic?) or a committee of a few has really served the interest of everyone and nor is it the way the Church envisions who gets to control what. Protecting from certain things means stepping up. Also I don’t think it necessary or constructive to, label ourselves ‘fussy’ in shame, merely for desiring experiences of transcendence, and I don’t think it necessary to hang around and subject one’s self to escalating annoyance. At this point if liturgists refuse to acknowledge what people have been saying and mostly quite patiently and charitably for, years, decades, really it could be construed as either, being totally out of date or being defiant and sort of resentful of the faithful.

    If irreverence is prized then one should expect an open door to be able to have a discussion about it with the committee or whomever, as Fr. Z says with charity and patience. They could simply have no clue and might appreciate a chance to talk it over. But if the approach is met with ratcheting up the Haugen another notch then I agree the irritation factor is simply not worth it. One could then seek out and support those who do choose to support reverent (not necessarily, “elaborate” or “perfect” or “performance”) prayerful worship. If there are zero alternatives then one might see about connecting with others and getting their take on it. The idea that “everyone” just loves irreverence and wants it is a myth. If there is one person who feels saddened then there inevitably are others. It’s not a cause for anger in and of itself. But if dialogue isn’t permitted that is its own response which seems aimed to generate real anger and that is very sad.

  16. Rachel says:

    I know many people have little or no choice about which parish they go to, but those of us who live in cities with lots of parishes can take the trouble to look around for a reverent one. The churches I go to definitely aren’t the closest to my house, but they’re worth a longer drive. If I ever have children it’ll be even more important to be at a parish that illustrate to them the holiness of God.

  17. Mike says:

    Legalism here, as anywhere, isn’t going to cut it. Most of the folks in my upper-middle class parish are clean and showered for holy Mass, but often wearing a sports tee-shirt, shorts, sandals, flip-flops, etc. The teenage girls usually show they have no idea what modesty in dress is. The music is 99% post 1968; no chant; 99% English language Liturgy. The gravitational pull is towards the emotional self. Can God’s grace work here? Sure, but we are putting up barriers.

  18. Jason says:

    Find a TLM in your area. You will never go back. If there is none in your area at the present time, first pray for one. Then maybe think about getting together with like minded folks in your parish and finding a sympathetic Priest in your area and ask him if he could help.

  19. Guglielmus says:

    The Reader is ready for the Extraordinary Form. I would have told her that she should try to find a TLM.

  20. benedetta says:

    bookworm says that communion in the hand is evidence of approved irreverence by diocese. I tend not to agree. When people were trained to receive communion in the hand being irreverent about it wasn’t something anyone was told to do. I guess it just sort of happened over time. As sense of decorum generally declined and as the Church was asked to be secular as a virtue first and foremost, apparently. All well and good but I don’t think it is so much the intention of those who approved communion in the hand back when that people take issue with and I have no doubt that people were at that time well intentioned and certainly did not plan certain results. But we shouldn’t want to be frozen in time, we should expect to take stock, individually, and communally and just as one might worry they are being too fussy others might worry whether their choices have contributed to something that has taken away from, not just the ‘service’ of the meal but the entire holistic experience of that meal. If we regard it as a meal. If one recognizes Eucharist for one’s self why shouldn’t one hope for that same recognition for everyone. In other words why not treat everyone as equally deserving, in equal dignity, in terms of need for Eucharist and not just the enlightened few who managed to come to grips and have it for one’s self. It is not our self satisfaction that makes the experience or our pronouncement of it as so. It is not really on our terms in the first place, whether liturgist or pew-sitter is it.

    Just as I don’t necessarily agree that Bl. JPII expected that his permission of female altar servers would be hijacked (and we are talking, using children, then, as pawns?) to serve as the means for an agenda to change the Church, nor could it be said that he would have been able to predict that once female altar servers became predominant that males would be less interested in service at the altar or in vocations to the priesthood. Again I don’t think the problem is with what is ‘legally’ permitted but with the choices that were made (and a lot of this is not just speculation but one can find all kinds of corroboration published) that tended to make even the legally permitted seem like something totally different from what was ever intended.

    Perhaps DREs when First Communicants are taught in the parishes to receive in the hand they could also be taught, proper way to dress and behave in the presence of Our Lord and at Mass, showing honor by bowing before receiving communion, prayers before and after Mass, how to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, a few classic Catholic hymns, and how respect for the prayers of each other can be expressed in many ways and contexts. Also inviting family to participate along the way of sacramental preparation not just through meetings but with opportunity for prayer, Adoration and confession, catechesis all along the way.

    I just don’t think it’s enough from an evangelizing standpoint to receive Eucharist and receive spiritual nourishment for ourselves without also hoping that others will have the same opportunity. From experience, walking up and popping communion in mouth whilst strolling along and not stopping to blink as in drive through experience is not optimal spiritual nourishment. On the fly or on the battlefield, in certain situations, maybe it’s the best we could do, but then again, maybe not. Maybe it’s precisely because we live in a land of relative abundance and peace we should pause for a moment. Or maybe it’s precisely because we are living in time of harsh stressors that we should pause for a moment. I just know that the liturgist or pastor who permits me to have a moment to catch my breath and receive the spiritual nourishment is the one who shows me mercy and love. The parish leader who lets others receive what they themselves have the benefit of, lets the youth have an opportunity to pray in peace and find their strength in communion is the one who shows kindness and loves with the same love that the one we worship first showed to us.

  21. raitchi2 says:

    I’ve given up on the five parishes in my area. I no longer give any money or time to them. I don’t have TLM’s within a reasonable distance for weekly use. However, I still use the local parishes for confession (when it’s valid) and obligatory masses. I get through mass by kneeling in the back for an hour while I pray a rosary to myself. I stand for the Gospel reading, and pay attention for the consecration, occasionally receive communion, but other that that it’s me and Mary time.

  22. Kevin B. says:

    On the contrary; I would say that irritation with bad liturgy is a sign that one has sound Catholic instincts. What to do about it is a prudential matter. The reader might try talking with their pastor or those involved with the liturgy. I’ve found that many of them are genuinely oblivious to how difficult they make Sunday Mass for some people. Remember to be charitable and patient. If they know full well what they’re doing and say “Good riddance” to Latin, chant, incense, and all the rest, then you can always vote with your feet. By all means try to change the ars celebrandi if you can. If the funny business is too egregious and you find yourself leaving every Sunday Mass feeling angry or depressed, then it’s definitely time to find another parish.

    I dislike having to parish hop, but I dislike committing sins against charity even more.

  23. It’s certainly good to work for reform. We need to be mindful of what it was like when we didn’t know what we did not know.

    I think battles need to be chosen wisely and care needs to be taken to not push so hard on every thing that annoys us at a parish that people become disinterested or annoyed with what we are trying to help with.

    Take one thing at a time and and work to win hearts, not force others to accept it. This requires more tact and skill than simply saying what we think.

  24. Jason says:

    raitchi2 I said a prayer for you upon reading your post. You are bearing your cross well. May He continue to give you the graces to do so and may you soon be able to know the joy of beautiful, Catholic liturgy.

    What a mess has been made.

  25. RickMK says:

    I have found for me the best way to avoid being distracted or disturbed like that is to keep my eyes closed for almost the entire Mass. It’s amazing how much you can put up with just by keeping your eyes closed! I wish it were as easy to close one’s ears, especially when the old ladies in the back of church can’t stop their endless, noisy chattering up until the moment the Mass starts, or when the priest decides that his own words are superior to the words the Church says for the priest to use.
    As long as there’s nothing you can do about it, just keeping the eyes closed does go a long way toward making messy Liturgies a bit more bearable.

    At least it’s only for daily Mass that the problems exist, since I go to the traditional Latin Mass every Sunday. (Oh, if only there were a daily Latin Mass close-by, then I could keep my eyes open at Mass every day.)

  26. benedetta says:

    Diane, unfortunately that doesn’t always work (in terms of bringing about actual reform), and one must be prudent as far as whether one has children or is single. I don’t think it helpful for children to be subjected to irreverence and then a weekly de-briefing. Unfortunately often irreverence does go hand in hand with homilies that are, not only contrary to teachings of the Church but seriously inappropriate for children to entertain. This is not always the case. Sometimes one finds a remarkably good pastor and homilist just making do with the liturgist he has. When I find myself in such places when I see the humility of the pastor, which sometimes contrasts with other aspects, I just don’t have any worries and give it to God. It is sad that the sung prayers are not in harmony with what the pastor is doing but that is as far as it goes. I generally give thanks to God for such pastors and pray for them and their parishioners.

    The spiritual growth one can undergo as a result of realizing our own limitations in terms of bringing about reform is not something to underestimate. It’s not what we wish for usually. I have come to a point where I have so little control over most of my preferences for this or that, in the Catholic realm or in the rest of daily life that my sense is that the only solid approach available is prayer. I realize though that this could have far better “results” over time compared with anything I could ever effectuate personally.

    I really have never been interested in changing people but when I have responsibilities for others’ development then I have to make some tough calls and sometimes that involves asking others who have insight and wisdom about such things, more experience in the spiritual life, and their replies helps me discern what is best for those whom I am responsible for. It might seem to some as matters of mere taste and preference. What I like or tolerate might not be what is best for another given their needs at particular places in life and this requires some looking into, does not happen in terms of conclusions overnight and is not a matter of feelings or irritation. Irritation could be a red flag that indicates more is going on than excessive pride or overly high expectations.

  27. anncouper-johnston says:

    Unfortunately, the most irreverent things seem to happen at the most solemn part of the Mass (or perhaps that’s just the bit I myself like solemn not sloppy!) I am most annoyed by two particular practices, neither of which are diversions from what is written, but both of which I find intrusive and unhelpful.

    Why is there such a long acclaimation at the Elevation? I would revert to the simple: “My Lord and my God” to acknowledge that He is now come among us. Instead we have a whole rigmarole of commentary covering the whole of salvation, when we have already said the Creed. WHY? I usually say quietly to myself “Ave Verum Corpus”, because what is there is now truly His Body.

    I wish we could move the sign of peace! I don’t like enforced friendliness anyway, but I particularly object to it between the Consecration and Communion when I wish to be directing my mind vertically to what is happening on the altar, not horizontally to what is happening around me. Maybe there is good reason why not, but I would prefer it during the Offertory when there is already movement of collectors in the Church and thus it would not intrude. I would ignore it altogether and just let people get on with it if they so wish, but someone always puts out a hand towards me so it would be churlish to ignore it (and not only that, but they encourage any children they may have with them to do the same, so I have many hands of complete strangers extended towards me).

    Many of these practices (Communion in both kinds and the sign of peace particularly) I find appropriate in a small group of retreatants or students who are expressing community that is genuinely present; in a large parish where communication between members is a long-standing and acknowledged difficulty that has not been resolved it seems an empty and meaningless gesture.

    I’d really like a comment on this from Fr Z or someone with greater knowledge than mine. I don’t have the option of going to another church where I might find more sense of the transcendent; although I complain, because what I really love and what I find nourishing is a setting of the Mass with the Ordinary in Latin (preferably Mozart or some classical music written for the purpose) our parish does try hard to provide as many options as it can.

  28. MissOH says:

    If the abuses you are talking about are minor ones and visual ones, my vote is for just closing your eyes and continuing to reflect on the fact that you can attend mass freely and you have no fear of being assaulted or killed (unlike our brothers and sister’s in the Middle East). I am blessed to have no problem attending a TLM every Sunday. The one time this year, when I had to attend a Sunday afternoon mass (which meant either a parish “folk” mass or a parish “teen” mass) I went with the folk and I still disliked the music, but I just focused on being grateful I could attend mass (and I still wore my chapel veil :).
    I also try to focus on the blessing of being able to attend mass when I have to go to daily mass at the parish where one of the priests (who also almost always hears confessions after mass, though it is not on the schedule and who is very active in pro-life activities) gives a chance for people to add their own petitions after he prays the general ones), and where the EMHC use hand sanitizer that is kept on a table before they go up the altar stairs. Would I prefer no “liturgical shout out” and the priest just giving communion (both species are given which is the prime reason for the EMHC), yes, but I can attend mass and the priest is very good and Holy.

  29. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Well I got to hear “Amazing Grace” as the closing hymn today at my parish. Sad. Doesn’t anyone know it’s a Protestant hymn in terms of its theology?

  30. FXR2 says:

    Dr. Eric says:
    11 September 2011 at 12:03 pm
    Cardinal Arinze, this morning on EWTN, talked about how he would rather go to Mass offered by “Fr. Saint” than “Fr. Doesn’t Care”. “The Mass is still the Mass, no matter what. But I would rather go to a Mass offered by a Saint than by ‘Fr. Doesn’t Care,’” he said.

    No disrespect to the good Cardinal Arinze, but it seems to me that “Fr. Doesn’t Care” is likely to rush through the mass and not attempt to inject himself and his personality into mass. More often than not “Fr. Saint” will inject his personality into mass going even as far as to personalize the prayers by changing the liturgical texts. I will usually prefer the homily of “Fr. Saint” to that of “Fr. Doesn’t Care”.
    I know in my heart that almost all priests are good and holy people who are either confused or misled to take on the extra burden of injecting themselves into the mass instead of losing themselves as another Christ following the Church’s liturgy.
    Therefore when ever possible I fulfill my obligation with the TLM.

    My perspective for what it’s worth.


  31. Centristian says:

    I find myself irritated every weekend by how magnificently Holy Mass is NOT celebrated. My irritation stems, of course, from comparisons with the way I imagine the Ordinary Form of Mass ought to be celebrated, as opposed to the way it actually is celebrated. I’m not even talking about abuses, here. I’m just talking about the ho-hum, bare-bones, slovenly presentation of the liturgy that one typically encounters.

    I happened to catch on TV some of the memorial Mass for 9/11 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. I had to turn the channel because I found myself so annoyed by the archbishop’s hurried, sloppy, and folksy manner of pontificating. I found myself embarrassed by it, in fact. And I’m not sure why; his manner was typical. I suppose it was because I was aware that so many people around the country were watching it. Why does this lame approach to pontifical liturgy persist? It’s almost as if the pope’s excellent example–so obviously being put forth as an example for the whole of the Latin Church–is spited by some of them.

  32. heway says:

    I am sorry but I had to chuckle at some observations. If you are not pleased with what is going on in your parish then get involved……prepare yourself to act as a liturgist, a catechist, a choir member, a ssacristan, etc. I have to believe that every diocese has preparatory courses as mine does.
    As a cantor I have given Paul Fords’ Psalitte to our organist for beginning this music the first week of Advent. I received the answer that I knew was coming.”I don’t like it. I don’t like chant”
    Please note the “I” in her words. No consideration for what might be suitable for the whole congregation or for the celebration of the Eucharist. Well, I”ll try again next year…but she leaves for 6 months soon…and I will try my darndest to get the people to learn the Psalitte.
    If you are not happy with things, then “get out of the boat and walk on the water”. Our Blessed Lord will help you!

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