A reflection on “pastoral liturgy”

A pioneer of the Catholic blogosphere, Amy Welborn, popular before I came onto the stage, has on her site a comment or three about a Mass she experienced.

Here is the part I found most interesting.  My emphases:

When I went to Mass on New Year’s Day there, I thought about what “pastoral” means.   It’s a word with many dimensions, and there are many ways to be “pastoral.”  One foundational way is to give the people what the Church wants them to have, and not impose one’s own ideology or narcissistic personality on the ritual, whether we are ordained or lay.   It’s respectful all around.  It’s respectful of the Holy Spirit working through the Church’s tradition of prayer and worship, it’s respectful of the maturity of the people in the pews, it’s respectful of the delicate dynamic between human and divine action at work in all the Church’s life.  God works through our efforts and presence, but we have to be continually humble and discerning of when our own needs and desires are creeping into the picture and threatening to distort what is there.  When a “pastorally sensitive” liturgy turns on the opinions, tastes and likes of the celebrant, musicians and liturgy committee, you never end up with a “pastorally sensitive” liturgy.  You end up with a liturgy that – not surprisingly – reflects the opinions, tastes and likes of the celebrant, musicians and liturgy committee with, quite often, personalities, rather than ritual, dominating the proceedings.

There’s a school of formation that believed that “the people” would best experience Christ through the distinctive personality of the minister – so that the celebrant’s warm, welcoming, and personal style was key in an individual and community’s encounter with Christ.   It’s too much.  It makes an idol of that person at the center.  It opens a door to manipulation and cults of personality.   We certainly meet Christ through the love and compassion of others, but structures and rituals exist as a form of checks and balances – to minimize the chances of an attention-seeking cleric or other minister to exploit his or her leadership position, and to afford a setting for prayer so the rest of us aren’t dominated by that personality.

When I went to Mass this week, the priest, quite honestly, hardly “did anything” – from an external perspective.  He prayed the appropriate prayers – chanted most of them – without inserting his own extemporaneous remarks.  He preached.  But there were two deacons, several servers and a lot of music that was well done, but not intrusive or overbearing.  In other words, the whole thing was organic, with no one piece or person dominating.


Read the rest there.

I say…

Allow me to add that the word is pástoral and not pastóral, pástorally and not pastórally, and FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY not ever “pas-tó-ree-al.”

And, finally…

Pastorally sensitive liturgy?

Reason #87 for Summorum Pontificum.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Something to keep in mind is that the term “pastoral liturgy” came originally from the Francophone wing of the 20th century Liturgical Movement. The French term was pastorale liturgique. In the French, the word “pastorale” is the noun and “liturgique” is the adjective. “Liturgy” modifies “pastoral”. You might translate it as “liturgically pastoral”. When it was translated into English, the noun and adjective got switched around, and we ended up with “pastoral liturgy”, so that “pastoral” modifies “liturgy”. Hence the popular Anglophone understanding that “pastoral liturgy” is some new way of doing liturgy that is somehow pastoral. But this completely stands the original sense of the French on its head.

    In the original understanding, the term pastorale liturgique meant “the way of being liturgically pastoral”, that is, taking the liturgy as the source and foundation of pastoral activity. Liturgy is prior to ‘pastorality’, and informs what the pastor, parish, and its members do. This is fitting given liturgy’s place as theologia prima. It also fits very well with the whole thrust of the Liturgical Movement to restore the liturgy to its proper place as the “source and summit” of the Church’s life and activity. And this is precisely the opposite of the contemporary Anglophone mindset of some a priori abstract definition of “pastoral” being used as a justification for monkeying around with the liturgy.

    As in so many other cases, bad translation has wrought untold confusion and misunderstanding. Properly understood, pastorale liturgique provides a sound principle for understanding the relationship between the liturgy and the church’s pastoral activity.

    Fr. Rob Johansen

  2. Magpie says:

    For those who have this allergy, I mean ‘sensitivity’, there are special tablets available – I mean there is a special Mass available, the ‘Extraordinary Form’, kind of like anti-histamines. Lol I am just being playful. I find it amusing that Pope Francis referred to those who ‘have this sensitivity’, just like they have some kind of dust allergy.

  3. benedetta says:

    Fr. Rob Johansen, that is so interesting, thank you. It’s very hard to trace how this state of things has come about.

    This sort of pastorally-run liturgy is very like a town meeting/edu-tainment/musical theatre/pep rally. I appreciate that some people have, for whatever reason, become sort of attached to it and convinced of its superiority.

    However I think even these adherents would concede that it is nearly impossible to enter into a true spirit of active prayer for congregation in this sort of liturgical interaction. Ms. Welborn’s points are right on.

    I would add that these liturgies carry a certain “look at us” and “we are great” triumphalist character that is grating and runs counter to a spirit of humility and solidarity with the suffering. For one thing, if one is not feeling celebratory or happy clappy, for whatever reason, and craves the sacrament as balm for what ails, this kind of approach is problematic and alienating. One can’t presume that everyone who comes into the church is on board with what the liturgy committee and the musical liturgist dreamed up. However, the Eucharistic Lord, the holy sacrifice, always gets it right. I think the better approach is to withdraw so much attention getting grabs to the “us” and focus on the Lord “with us”.

  4. tcreek says:

    In the same context, more on the Mass by Amy Welborn, this back in 1998.

    “Why Go to Mass?” First Things magazine. Fr. Richard Neuhause was a big fan of her blog.

    Here are several snippets from the article.
    …There are, I understand from what I read in cheery features in the Catholic press, parishes that are “alive” and “vibrant,” mythic places where the pews are spilling over with youthful joyous faces of the Future of the Church. I’m beginning to wonder if they’re not just making it all up. Because by the time my Catholic high school students in my little part of the world reach me as seniors, if I take a poll on any given Monday, out of a class of twenty, perhaps five have attended Mass the previous weekend.

    …What’s happened, of course, is that over the past thirty years the central purpose of Catholic worship—the Eucharist—has been all but lost in a sea of concerns about community building, lay ministry, liturgical language, battles over music and statues, and yet more community building.

    … Those Vatican II grandbabies are desperately hungry. The tragic thing is, the nourishment they need is right in front of them, but those of us with the power to share it with them are too busy feeding them trifles of our own creation to be of any help. It’s junk food that looks attractive for a moment, entertains and satisfies the egos of those in charge, but has left an entire generation empty, groping, and vulnerable.

    … The feast is there, but we’re blocking their view of the table with our own arrogant presence, demanding that they bless us and our own shabby efforts rather than trusting in the simple, profound gift God has already given to do the work of grace in the joys and sorrows of our children’s lives.

  5. Matt R says:

    Thank you for the fascinating commentary Father Rob.

    I recommend the blog of Joseph Shaw, the Latin Mass Society Chairman, for commentary on the pastoral liturgy (or rather, being liturgically pastoral) stemming from the Holy Father’s concerns in Evangelii Gaudium . Very interesting.

  6. vandalia says:

    One of the worst mistakes a priest can make is to think that they automatically understand what other people need or desire.

    That is when they try to act “cool” for the teens, and end up leaving those teens cringing in embarrassment.

    I know at least one occasion when a priest unilaterally decided to move the Mass the evening before Holy Days from 7pm to 5pm. His reasoning was that would allow families time to get their children to bed. I will leave it to those who have a job, a family, and children to judge how “convenient” that actually would be.

    On another occasion, a priest was worried about his elderly parishioners driving in the dark, so he decided to add a 10am Mass on Holy Days so they could attend during daylight. He said he didn’t need to ask them their opinion, because he knew what they needed. Every person over the age of 50 still attended the 6:30am Mass.

    These two examples are not necessarily “liturgical”, but they do provide a clear example of the problem.

    One of the fundamental flaws behind “pastoral liturgy” (if we ignore the most obvious one that it is usually illegal) is that it basically means that the priest is unilaterally deciding what his parishioners “really want.” This is almost always a reflection of his own beliefs which often have no relation to the actual situation of his people. I know one priest who decided that his parishioners could not understand the readings, so he went ahead and now reads a summary of the readings before they are proclaimed by the lector. The people don’t like it, they think it is insulting, but he is convinced he knows what the people really want. (One can draw a very clear parallel with politicians and the government.)

    So, brother priests, if you decide that you want to be more ‘pastoral’ in your liturgy, at the very least make sure you figure out what the correct “pastoral” response would actually be. At least consult others. Don’t be so arrogant to think that you perfectly understand the life of teenagers, or families, or widows, or anyone else.

  7. One of those TNCs says:

    @ tcreek: Thank you SO MUCH for that link. What an excellent insight into what we in the pews are getting vs. what we in the pews need. I know there are many parishes out there that “do liturgy right.” May 2014 bring us many more, please God!

  8. ‘Pastoral Liturgy.’ Pfft! I’ll tell you what’s pastoral: for the Priest to appear in dazzling vestments and act like the New Levite that he is, conforming His entire being to Christ, Priest and Victim, offering Christ and himself in Sacrifice for all the faithful. Yes, that is a pastor, i.e. a shepherd, in imitation of the True Shepherd.

  9. Vecchio di Londra says:

    I’m struck by the memory of those pictures one used to see of Christ as the Good Shepherd, leading his sheep from the front (the Middle Eastern shepherding method) with them following obediently behind him, at an orderly pace, in the trust that they will be fed.
    That’s pastoral.

  10. Ben Kenobi says:

    “So, brother priests, if you decide that you want to be more ‘pastoral’ in your liturgy, at the very least make sure you figure out what the correct “pastoral” response would actually be. At least consult others. Don’t be so arrogant to think that you perfectly understand the life of teenagers, or families, or widows, or anyone else.”


    Fantastic comment. I’d just like to add my two bits – if you’re going to do a famous protestant hymn with a different arrangement because that’s ‘reaching out to the people’. Don’t. Just, don’t. Those who know the hymn, won’t feel nostalgic. It will just feel – wrong. Those who don’t know any better, won’t recognise the tune and won’t care.

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