QUAERITUR: What to do about liturgical abuses?

I am under siege in email from frustrated people pouring our their tales of liturgical abuses, perpetrated or scheduled, for Holy Thursday. They ask “what am I supposed to do”?

Most of the time, there is nothing we can do in the face of some priest who in his arrogance or, sometimes, ignorance but sincerity, imposes his whims on God’s people. Liturgical abuse is abuse of people, by the way.

What can you do?

This depends on circumstances.  Sometimes, in the face if ingrained arrogance or ignorance, or that unbeatable combination of both, you can do nothing except pray for patience and pray for the people involved.  Offer your sufferings to God for the sake of some good purpose.

If you are going to act, however, take a few moments to read the end of Redemptionis Sacramentum:

6. Complaints Regarding Abuses in Liturgical Matters

[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.

[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.  It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.

Read all of Redemptionis Sacramentum and other liturgical legislation.  It may be that what you think is an abuse, is really a legitimate option.  Be sure.

You can also review my tips for writing to ecclesiastical authorities.

Also, I would engage is a deep examination of your own conscience before setting pen to paper. Examine carefully your motives and your own practices. You need to be clean.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. “Liturgical abuse is abuse of people, by the way.”

    Brilliant, Father. Thank you!

  2. acardnal says:

    Last year I attended a Holy Thursday evening Mass where the priest invited members of the congregation into the sanctuary to surround the altar as Father said the Eucharistic Prayer. About half of the congregation did so; the remainder stayed put in their pews as I did. I informed Father that this was not an approved rubric. I plan on attending tonight to see if he repeats this bad behavior or has changed and follows the rubrics.

  3. Geoffrey says:

    I just recently wrote a gentle and charitable letter to my pastor. Before the introduction of the new English translation of The Roman Missal, he was pretty faithful to the texts. Since then, however, he has persisted in saying “for all” instead of “for many” in the words of the consecration. I prayed over this for weeks and finally decided to send the letter after Palm Sunday saw something very strange: the moving of the Passion narrative to after Communion / before the Prayer after Communion. Yes, you read that right. Not sure why it happened, but I knew then it was time to write.

    As for shenanigans at the triduum liturgies and the occasional word-changes here and there, I have grown used to it and just pray. But I felt the “for all” vs. “for many” needed to be addressed.

    Suffice it to say, my general prayer intention for this Lent has been “for the restoration of the sacred in the liturgy”. Oremus!

  4. AnnAsher says:

    Thank you for that validation that litirgical abuse is abuse of the people. I am staying home, again, this year. On Sunday I will travel to TLM. There is no circa 1962 liturgies for Holy Thursday or Good Friday near me. Since Advent I have tried my two local parishes several times. One means well and is a hippy charismatic; the other means well and is simply inept at liturgical function(?). He doesn’t know when to be a clown and when not too; when to keep quiet and not have chatter with alter servers, etc. Sadly neither seem to have ever been taught how to offer these liturgies. So in my weakness and lack of charity I am staying home to read the liturgies.

  5. AnnAsher says:

    That should be “Altar ” servers, although “Alter” servers works too since they are almost always female. Ha! Girls=Alter Servers ;)

  6. eulogos says:

    Anne, Are there any Eastern Rite parishes near you? Holy Thursday is usually Vespers and the Liturgy of St. Basil, which is wonderful (but I really really miss the Western Holy Thursday and am thinking of the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to a side altar. ) The Byzantine Good Friday service is very different, but quite amazing, with the priest carrying the “shroud” in procession. Just a suggestion for a way to worship on these days which I think would not upset you. (I know what it is like to be upset in that way.)

  7. tonyfernandez says:

    One thing I always worry about is how my pride plays into my concern over liturgical abuse. For instance, do I demand a liturgy that follows the rubrics because I am genuinely concerned about reverence, or is it because I want to show off how much I know about the rubrics? I know I’m sincerely concerned about the former, but I wonder how much of the latter enters into my mindset. Personally, it’s sometimes hard for me to distinguish. Any suggestions?

  8. “Liturgical abuse is abuse of people, by the way.”

    Indeed, and a couple of generations of the faithful have undergone a white martyrdom of serial spiritual abuse in the liturgy that has been inflicted on them.

  9. cdnpriest says:

    Everyone is horrified by the scandal of sexual abuse by priests. But what about liturgical abuse? If sexual abuse is a physical and psychological form of abuse, then liturgical abuse can rightly be called a “spiritual abuse”. After all, a priest who deliberately chooses to engage in what he knows to be contrary to the Church’s rubrical norms….Can we not say that such a priest is abusing his people spiritually? Abuses that concern the body and the human psychological make-up are awful; but are not abuses against the human soul infinitely worse?

    As a priest, all I can do is pray for the conversion of my brother priests who do not see how dangerous their liturgical abuses are to the souls of the faithful. After all, did not Our Lord pray for His crucifiers, and even “make excuses” for them to His Father? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” And yet, one cannot help but think, “But they do know, they do know!” Another classic example of the Mercy of God “trumping” His Justice (so-to-speak). Thankfully, God does not give us “what we deserve” but freely offers to us what we could never hope to merit by ourselves. As we pray to Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Communion Rite of Holy Mass: “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church” (Ne respicias peccata nostra, sed fidem Ecclesiae tuae). Interestingly, in the Extraordinary Form, the priest says these words in the first person singular: ne respicias peccata mea (“look not on my sins”).

  10. keithp says:

    Well, I gave up on Holy Thursday Mass at my local parishes. They ran the gamut from the full on everyone gets up to wash each others feet to the Fr washing the feet of the children who will recieve holy communion for the first time on Easter.

    The solution, if possible, is to find a local religous community that will allow the laity to attend their Triduum. That is what I am doing tonight.

  11. Joy says:

    In our small, mission parish I am one of a very few who are are bothered by Liturgical abuses – I wonder if most do not realize they are even abuses? I love the Liturgy and am saddened by the lack of reverence (most of it unintentional, I think)here. Since I have no reasonable alternative for Mass anywhere else, and don’t have the desire to be a social pariah, I have mostly relegated my concerns to prayer and only have only spoken up when the abuse became more than an annoyance.
    Our little parish has the feeling of a lay-run parish, because in many respects it is, and it would take a very special priest to bring us all back to the straight and narrow without starting a large-scale rebellion! On the one hand, I find a greater depth to the Mass when it is said and done properly, but on the other hand I am grateful each week that we currently have a priest who makes the journey to us most weeks – something which was not always a given in years past.

  12. CarismaTeaCo says:

    Well after the 8 extraordinary EMinisters on Ash Wed, I decided it would be TLM for this year’s Holy Week. Palm Sunday Low and High Masses= Voilà!! No Abuses; it was beautiful! I will attend Friday service at my home Parish as well only bc the service is conveniently scheduled for after the Liturgy at the local Priestly Society. That and I miss the people at home parish of Christ King. But the Priestly Society of Christ King… Love it!! 830pm Holy Sat:)

  13. Glen M says:

    It’s very sad to read for many people the only solution is to stay home rather than endure liturgical abuse during the Triduum. At this point in Church history the laity do need to speak up and insist the liturgy is respected.

    The Church has given us the tools required to fix liturgical abuse. We must not be afraid to use Redemptionis Sacramentum however, with charity.

    Don’t assume every priest knows better. Many were poorly formed in the seminary and may honestly think they can make things up on the fly. They may have been told to wash women’s feet. The best thing to do is speak with him first prior to writing any letters.

    Of course there’s another papal document that helps improve the liturgy – Summorum Pontificum. Form a stable group and then start making requests for the Extraordinary Form. That’s the mind of the Pope and where there’s Peter, there’s the Church.

  14. Marie Teresa says:

    sadly, I’m staying home so as not to see the chosen women have their feet washed. oh, I was one of the chosen and I have DECLINED every year.

    Father is like a like a reed bending to satisfy everyone.

    Our parish and diocese are quite liberal. Very few people seem aware of the blatant abuses.

  15. Will D. says:

    In my parish, they always say that “whoever feels called” should go up to the sanctuary steps to have their feet washed. Sure, it’s daft, but I won’t let a few minutes of silliness put me off of going to one of the most important Masses of the year.

  16. AnnAsher says:

    Yes, what a happy reminder you give me, there is an eastern mission parish about 2.5 hours away. Perhaps I can work that in!

  17. Geoffrey says:

    “In my parish, they always say that “whoever feels called” should go up to the sanctuary steps to have their feet washed. Sure, it’s daft, but I won’t let a few minutes of silliness put me off of going to one of the most important Masses of the year.”

    Amen to that! I came to that realization years ago, and the good Lord has given me the grace to enjoy these sacred liturgies regardless of the silliness going on. Deo gratias!

  18. Feet are cleansed of the cursed dust to which Satan was condemned back in Genesis, the same dust of condemnation that is shaken off the feet of the apostles against the towns which do not accept them.

    Jesus tells us the reason: Because you are not all clean — referring to Judas, who was now possessed by Satan.

    Priests and bishops are exorcists. Priests and bishops are sifted and harassed by Satan with a special vengeance. One quarter of all the Gospels is given to scenes involving Satan and exorcism in the ministry of Jesus, our Priest, or the ministry of His apostles.

    Men are to be chosen for foot washing during the Last Supper because this symbol of exorcism refers to the establishment of the Kingdom of God by way of the ministry of exorcism wrought through the apostles and priests and bishops. Men symbolize men, no?

  19. Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    The washing of the feet is optional. It was not in the Pre-Vat-2 Roman Rite as part of the Mass of Holy Thursday. Priests who are tired of being attacked by both sides in this question should just drop it and explain why.

  20. James Joseph says:

    Avoiding Maundy Thursday tonight… I am afraid of my pride. Contemplating avoiding Good Friday Pre-Sanctified as well…

    …I love going to holy Mass, and truly love being with my fellow brethren but everytime it is a struggle and I force myself to be remain intellectually sedate (be still and know)… The gold at the end of the rainbow is the Epiclesis!

  21. Federico says:

    Well, Ok, You can write to your bishop, or you can write to Rome (and if you stick to the facts, your bishop will have to answer about it, probably on his next ad limina visit).

    There may be another option.

    If the abuse is significant, get a hold of a canonist near you. There’s a bunch of them through various channels (e.g. The St. Joseph Foundation) and most of us will take on the occasional pro-bono case. Or, if you can’t find one to work for free, pool up and pay the recommended CLSA hourly rate of $100 an hour — it’s not huge when divided by many faithful.

    There’s a growing opinion in the canonical community that hierarchical recourse is available for a member of the faithful whose right to access the spiritual goods of the Church is violated through liturgical abuse. Something as simple as a priest’s request that a communicant stand is an elaboration on the application of liturgical law; such a request, even if it’s not in writing, can be characterized as an instruction or a general executory decree (c. 30, c. 34) or, at the very least, an act of administrative power (see e.g. John Beal, “Hierarchical Recourse: Procedures at the Local Level,” CLSA Proceedings 60 [2000]: 96-104). In these cases, hierarchical recourse is the proper forum for protection of the rights of the faithful (c. 1400 § 2; Beal, Supra).

    Hierarchical recourse is technical and time-limited, so be close to your canonist. It’s more likely to bring fruits than a general informative letter (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    Worth a shot.


  22. Indulgentiam says:

    I live a block away from a Catholic Church that looks more like a contemporary banking facility than the House of the Almighty, inside and out, but we’ve all heard it before so why rehash. We make the drive to a neighboring state for the TLM and no matter how high gas goes the Lord gets us there and we’re grateful. However they are not doing any of the traditional Holy Week services so we will go about 4+ hours to the nearest FSSP Parish for Good Friday. Even tears can not express how I feel about missing Holy Thursday and Vigil Mass but sadly it is not only the architecture that is sorely lacking at this nearby Parish. From the Priests who choose to dress in; jeans, sneakers & sweatshirts for Mass and smoke before Mass outside the Church… too the women whose jeans are so low, skirts so high, shirts so tight and see through that my child once asked “how come I don’t see your bra?” well there you have it. I’ve written the Bishop using Father Z’s template but have gotten no reply so I shook the dust and kept moving. The scandal that goes on at the Parish next door has been the fodder for many a fire in the young and impressionable mind of my child. I don’t mind engaging in hand to hand combat with the world for the soul of my child but I kinda resent having to go toe to toe in the one place on earth where I can go for help. I agree with –cdnpriest. Without the writings of the Church Fathers and Saints I would never have found the strength to overcome child abuse and I never found the Fathers until the TLM. For years I sat in my pew angry and sick in my soul and heard not a word about redemptive suffering. Instead I got platitudes in the confessional, sappy songs and complete strangers who insisted on touching my hands or worse hugging me. In my opinion worse than child abuse is someone who has the key to let you out of the hell hole of those memories and keeps it from you. I had long since given up ever coming out from under that burden when Our Lady put an FSSP Priest in my path and 30 years of chains rattled to the ground. Shortly after, every so often, my child would say, “I like it when you smile mama” and sadly I know for certain that I was not in that darkness alone. Our Lady Queen of the Clergy pray for us!

  23. yatzer says:

    I am so, so grateful for our ever-so-faithful priest at our combo EF/OF parish.

  24. Warren says:

    I will be limiting my attendance to Easter Sunday Mass. I simply cannot stomach the gushy music, the liturgical screw ups and wayward preaching at our local parishes. In years past, I have mustered the presence of mind to focus beyond the abuses and saccharine ditties and immerse myself in the profound mysteries of the high holy days. However, this year my coping mechanisms have been worn down by 40 days of Lenten garbage, i.e., the liberal-socialist nonsense and abusive liturgical improvisations of the replacement chaplain. This year, I simply don’t have the mental wherewithal to see beyond the distractions.

  25. heway says:

    I, too, am grateful for the priest who visits us every week. No triduum this year….just the Vigil Mass at 4PM with Bishop’s permission. Priest will say another at 8:00 in another distant parish. I have been in this parish for 8 years and there has never been an ad limina visit….but I won’t complain because if our priest would be transferred…we would have nothing!
    The sacraments are valid and that is most important to me.

  26. It wasn’t even *adult women* whose feet were washed at my parish. An equal group of young teens from the music group came up which Father used to illustrate a point about the different kinds of people in our lives via their instruments.

    Then before the procession out of the church he stopped mass, said “I know that this is against rubrics” or something similar, then gave a quick speech about the teen music group going to Rome next year and getting everyone to clap for them. And they didn’t even sing something appropriate for the reposition.

    I will always go to Holy Week services, but Father has specifically requested “peppy” music for Easter Vigil. Here’s hoping I make it through without an aneurism.

  27. Dan says:

    I am curious – how would one know if a priest saying the extraordinary form were committing certain abuses or not, considering how much of that form is said inaudibly?

  28. Cathy says:

    I guess I would suggest, before you do anything, pray for the priest/pastor with whom you find fault, and don’t ever stop praying for him. Then, when your heart has love for him, then speak.

  29. off2 says:

    tonyfernandez says: 5 April 2012 at 3:30 pm “Any suggestions?”

    A few thoughts from a hyper liturgical nazi –

    1) Knowledge of the correct forms and of the development of the liturgy can increase ones appreciation of the sublime rites which are a gift to us. Enjoy!

    2) Demanding an improved liturgy usually does not work does it?

    3) Discerning motives. Pray God to make it clear to you. That’s easy for Him.

    4) I’ve know my current priest since before his ordination. We loan books to each other. OUTSIDE the church I can say anything to him. And I do. Sometimes he laughs at me. Once in a while he takes my suggestions.

    5) We’re slowly growing a new choir. We cannot yet do Holy Week right. But we’re working on it.

    6) Cultivate the habit of taking every awkward moment to Our Lord in prayer.

    7) Have a glorious Easter. Even a badly done NO cannot diminish the Resurrection.

  30. Ed the Roman says:

    Ah well. Lady foot-washing last night, from the assistant who seems a little more trad than the pastor, at that.

  31. Sid says:

    Full disclosure:
    1. I am not a Christmas Christian; I am an Easter Christian. Specifically I am a Triduum Catholic; more specifically, I am an Easter Vigil Catholic. (I’m not denigrating Christmas; yet – as everywhere in the Christian World except northern Europe, the vestiges of old British Empire, and America – Easter is more important than Christmas and should be celebrated with even more intensity).

    2. I attend the Triduum in the Ordinary Form at a parish that obeys the rules and offers a beautiful Liturgy.

    Now more generally:
    1. The Triduum is our High Holy Days. It is Christian Eleusian Mysteries; it is the transfiguration of Yom Kippur and Passover. The Triduum is the supreme expression of our faith, and — as we go in the Triduum first into darkness and then into a burst of light — the Triduum is a preparation for our returning to the Lord both by our deaths and by the Parousia. It is not entertainment; is is joy, a joy that can laugh in the face of evil and death. Not to attend Triduum is to lead to poor spiritual formation and a skewed piety. (Sorry to put this so bluntly.)

    2. In the face of appalling liturgical abuses, especially during the Triduum, let me make a suggestion: Save your pennies and your vacation days during the year, and then for the Triduum go to a parish that does it right – however far away –, stay in a hotel/motel, and attend the Triduum there. If your not sure if a parish is liturgically kosher, write the parish and ask a few weeks ahead of time. (A tell-tale sign if how the foot washing is done.) If you receive no answer, don’t go there. Your can be almost certain than when the Triduum is offered in the Extraordinary Form, it will be without abuses. If the pastor offers the Extraordinary Form on a regular basis yet offers the Triduum only in the OF, you can be fairly sure the OF Triduum will be kosher.

    For some of you, finding such a parish will be burdensome. You might have to get on a plane and fly far away. Still, considering the importance of the Triduum for your spiritual welfare, consider paying the price. And one of the prices to be paid is leaving a generous offering to this parish.

    I can say that at the FSSP parish in Rome, the Triduum is done right.

  32. Mary Jane says:

    No abuses last night here! Beautiful EF liturgy, lots of chant and polyphony. No ladies getting their feet washed.

  33. Sissy says:

    Indulgentium: your post brought tears to my eyes. If priests knew how much it means to us to see our Lord, our Lady, and his Church treated with reverence, and how much pain it causes when we see them abused – perhaps they would be more careful. I pray for all priests to be the shepherds their flocks need them to be.

  34. liebemama says:

    We were blessed with a beautiful OF Holy Thursday liturgy without the washing of feet. Beautiful is actually an understatement. We have a young assistant priest who ensures a noble, prayerful liturgy. (I even ordered him a “Save the Liturgy…” mug) We will also attend the Easter Vigil at that Parish.
    Today, the Good Friday liturgy in a different Parish was just fine, except that the Priest left out the 3rd part of the liturgy, the distribution of Communion. Afterward he explained to my husband and me that this 3rd part was added by Pope Pius XII , and our priest feels this addition to be unnatural and took the liberty to leave it out. He explained a bit more his reasoning, which I could follow and agree partly, but I was left insecure about this decision of his. I really wish he would ask for permission from our Bishop before taking such liberties. Maybe I am wrong, maybe it is no problem to leave out this 3rd part of the Good Friday liturgy. Does anybody know????

  35. JKnott says:

    Holy Thursday was a great consolation our church. The Mass parts were all sung in Latin. There were 12 young men in black cassocks and surplices and 2 deacons.
    However when the time came for the washing of the feet, the deacon announced, “Will the twelve men representing the apostles please come forward.” And they came from the pews.
    At communion time the 12 servers knelt in a row on the step in front of the altar and all received on the tongue.
    Father’s homily was the most outstanding homily I have ever heard, ever. He began with Four marks of the Church, the Eucharist and the priesthood. He built up to speaking about his own love for God, the priesthood and the Eucharist. He emphasized how no other denomination can do what a priest does. Choking up himself at times, his words from the heart brought tears to many of us. Some were even crying after Mass. God bless these good priests. I just want to keep praying for them constantly.
    Father also does the EF on Sunday mornings. I think he is a perfect priest.

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  37. Thanks for all these posts.
    Due to time constraints we did not have time to travel to the EF so we went to Holy Thursday at the closest parish up the street.

    There are so many abuses at all the parishes around me, but it seems the one closest is one of the better ones I suppose.

    The Bad:
    -Big Glass Salad Bowl filled with hosts that they used to consecrate for the Liturgy of the presanctified.
    – Washing the feet of women.
    – Readings / prayers / Homily – Half in English / Half in Spanish.
    – Clay “Chalice”
    – Instruments from Bongos to hand bells to guitar to drums – the whole gamut.

    The good:
    – Incense was used – first time I’d ever seen it used a this parish – it smelled dusty.
    – Eucharistic Prayer III was used – they ALWAYS use II so I suppose III was an improvement over II – and he didn’t change any words.
    – I wasn’t denied Communion Kneeling.

    The Great:

    I had been very frustrated by the bad the entire time, I was going to tell my wife we would never come to the parish again as the bad was REALLY bad, but… for the procession…. at the end of the liturgy… I was floored to hear the Choir chant the Pange Lingua Complete in Latin. All my anger, frustration, pain went away and I just had to go kneel in front of the Altar of repose.

    If only they knew that souls are better fed with the food Holy Mother church provides than what they think they know better.

    Have a Holy Easter, may God Bless each of you…

  38. Mike says:

    My parish is a mixed bag–some Latin hymns (Ubi Caritas), but some awful, sentimental musical dreck too. We had an auxiliary bishop from DC as main celebrant, +Holley. He struck me as a devout, humble man. He washed the feet of 12, men, women, kids. Ah, well.

  39. The Cobbler says:

    Crotalus/tric-troc sighting! (Or some wooden clapper along those lines, in any case.)

    In the midst of all the concern over liturgical violations during Triduum, I thought I’d write in with a bit of good news for tradition. At St. Gertrude’s in Cincinnati — the Dominican parish, not the SSPX one — during the last Mass on Holy Thursday I was startled to hear a loud wooden “tap-TAP, tap-TAP!” at the consecration, and suddenly remembered Fr. Z’s post about “rattlers in the sancuary“. The same wooden clapper was used at the start of the service on Good Friday (the usual veneration of the cross and Communion service but no Mass) much the way older parishes ring a little bell by the sacristy when the priest and servers come out for Mass.

    Way cool. I think I would’ve gotten what was up even if I hadn’t read that post last year (being used to bells at those points in the Liturgy), but it was definitely awesome realizing that here was an old, obscure little tradition still alive and kicking — or rather clapping.

  40. tnconvert says:

    I am happy to say that after years of washing the feet of a smorgasbord of parishoners ,this year the priest chose 12 MEN! It was purposeful, because a young woman I know asked to be included, and was turned down. Thanks be to God. My only regret was that it was not taken as an opportunity for catechesis as to why we choose men only.

  41. Supertradmum says:

    Suggestion. Pick your battles and your letters. I have two friends who have basically made themselves unable to effect change as they have, rightly so, complained and pointed out so many things wrong in their diocese in Ireland that the priests just see them as “trouble-makers”. Although each incident is an abuse, I suggested to them recently to pick the battles which are the most important, instead of going out after each one. For example, if the Eucharistic Ministers are blessing people, children included, and the priest is not wearing clerical garb, or even complete Mass vestments, ever, chose which thing is most important. Or, if the priest is promoting homosexual groups to use the church hall, and the EMHCs are wearing blue jeans at the Easter Vigil, pick your battle.

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