Dumb down liturgy. Great idea, right?

I seriously object to the dopey notion that liturgy has to made “understandable”. First, liturgical worship involves mysteries, such as that one about Christ turning the substances of bread and wine into His Body and Blood. How is that easy?  Indeed, Mass ought to be hard!

But no… let’s dumb everything down.  How insulting to congregations that attitude is.

A long-time reader and benefactor of this blog (thanks!) sent me this quote about the changes (Bugnini) made to Holy Week from Evelyn Waugh: A Biography by Christopher Sykes (US HERE – UK HERE) with added emphases:

“(in the mid-1950s) ….the new service retained much of the beauty of the old, and the overwhelmingly impressive Maundy Thursday Mass, the ‘Altar of Repose’, the night offices of Tenebrae, and the liturgical masterpiece, the Good Friday ‘Mass of the Presanctified’, remained intact. Not for long. The belief grew that the celebration of Holy Week would be more valuable, would compel a greater corporate sense in the Church, if it was expressed in ceremonies which did not involve a keen appreciation of symbolism, if they were more easily understood by ordinary people and invited more ‘mass participation’ in the form of community singing; if they appealed less to the sense of awe, they avoided the accusation of meretricious aestheticism, above all of excessive indulgence of the sense of the past. Nowhere did the notion of a ‘Century of the Common Man’ exert more fascination than on Roman Catholic clergy. The entire edifice of the Holy Week Liturgy was swept away as being over-elaborate, and it was substituted by services of a more everyday kind. This was the beginning of a movement which was to reduce all Roman Catholic ceremonial to commonplace and to abolish the traditional order of the Mass in favour of a prayer-meeting in which only essential vestiges of the traditional celebration were retained.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Very, very true. The truth of the sorry liturgical mess we have now so clearly stated. Thanks Father Z for bringing this us.
    We must continue in our efforts to bring awe and wonder into our rites. Can one be really sustained or impressed or indeed moved by the ceremonial we have now? It is just liturgical sawdust.
    Let us keep our prayers going to restore the sacred.

  2. maternalView says:

    Most parishes around me tend to make the Mass relevant to our lives. The homilies are so general they can be interpreted in any way that makes you feel good. Often it seems that the liturgy interrupts the musical selections. Some parishes do excell in presenting “Mass, the Musical “. And why do priests always feel the need to thank the choir? To which everyone applauds? As if that was the highlight? Maybe we could instead thank Jesus Christ for dying for our sins?

    A few years ago a young priest in our area endeavored to learn the TLM. He offered it twice for two particular feast days ( of which I don’t recall). I was entranced. (He’s since been transferred unrelated to offering the TLM.)

    A week or so later after the first Mass I believe I was in a conversation with some young folks, religious and priests who had either participated or attended. These are people who take their faith seriously and yet the general tone was how much “work” it was among the participants (the celebrant wasn’t part of the conversation) and the young attendees said they preferred the vernacular as they didn’t know what was going on. Sensing that the conversation might turn into a gripe fest I interrupted and said I loved it. That I don’t know Latin but I felt like I was worshipping God in the manner so many including saints had done for centuries and that I felt connected to the rich heritage of my Catholic faith. It truly took me out of time and space. No one had anything to say after that.

    I think even among the so-called faithful it’s easy to get comfortable. We don’t want to be challenged too much. And we don’t want the Mass to take up too much of our day. My faithful family members do receive Communion kneeling & on the tongue. It is my hope that I can get them to consider driving to the TLM on occasion (I found one but it’s 30-45 minutes away). I’m hoping they’ll eventually realize that embracing such things is the antidote for the troubles in and outside the Church.

  3. iamlucky13 says:

    Is it really that it should be hard, or that it should have depth to it? This depth can make it hard to understand initially, but it can also provide a lifetime’s worth of elements to learn about and then to reflect upon as we participate.

    Yet, for all that depth, it can also have elements that are easy to understand, even to the completely uncatechized, such as those parts of the Mass when we kneel are more profound than those when we sit.

    To consider one point frequently complained about, is it really so bad if somebody doesn’t immediately know what “consubstantial” means, for instance? At the very least, it stands out as conveying something different than our regular daily language. The very lack of any other use of this word, to me at least, begs the person praying to ponder what it means, and once taught that, to reflect upon it.

  4. Sawyer says:

    “This was the beginning of a movement which was to reduce all Roman Catholic ceremonial to commonplace and to abolish the traditional order of the Mass in favour of a prayer-meeting in which only essential vestiges of the traditional celebration were retained.”

    That quote encapsulates the liturgical travesties on display at the RECongress this weekend. Masses there are not conceived as the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: rather they are occasions for musical entertainment and displays of ethnic pride (in full costume), oh with some readings from Scripture and the Eucharistic Prayer thrown in as the “essential vestiges” of traditional celebration.

  5. ServusChristi says:

    If I’m not mistaken the Russian and Greek Orthodox church uses Church Slavonic and Liturgical Greek during their masses and they haven’t introduced a new rite/’new ordinary form of an existing rite’ that is ‘ecumenical’ and is made to be more ‘understandable’ though I’d argue less of the faithful attending the NO mass understand what the mass is. The question I’m constantly asking myself is, why did it happen to us only?
    Also, I’m wondering Father if you’ve read ‘The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass’ by Father Michael Muller C Ss R.? I haven’t bought it yet, but looking at the sample alone it seems that today’s objections to the TLM were somewhat present in the 19th century.

    [I’ll put it on my Kindle wish list.]

  6. David says:

    The last entry in Waugh’s diary is a lament for the vandalism inflicted on the liturgy and the remark:
    “I shall not live to see things righted.” He didn’t.

  7. L. says:

    “I seriously object to the dopey notion that liturgy has to made “understandable”?” Father, I see and hear things that I don’t understand at virtually every Mass I attend!

  8. RichR says:

    Waugh seems to be contrasting the Pian Holy Week reforms of 1955 with the Pauline reforms of 1970, correct?

  9. Traductora says:

    Francis and his coterie are flat-earth persons. That is, the earth is flat, a plain, a place with no depth, no reflections, holding creatures that are just functional units. Their flat earth has nothing that is not practical from their statist political point of view. They want to control the earth and they think they can.

    The Christian view is that the earth is a round and almost nebulous mystery, a round mystery with cloudy borders, and that it holds human beings with depths and heights in God that the human mind cannot comprehend and for which it must trust revelation. And that the moral life is part of this, and it does not depend on positive law (meaning human constructs).

    So any liturgy that comes out of Francis-world and, in fact, the liturgy that came out of the VII world that spawned him, is going to be seriously defective.

    That said, I think the Presanctified is one of the most beautiful liturgical moments ever.

  10. JabbaPapa says:

    I seriously object to the dopey notion that liturgy has to made “understandable”

    hmmmm — I actually think it should be ; but by actions of a genuine active participation of the Laity, viz. by such means as :

    1) Learn your Latin (or your Greek and so on as the Rite you belong to might require)
    2) Learn about the Faith
    3) Learn about both the symbolism and Meaning of each Liturgical Act
    4) Learn how to practice Worship and Sacrifice in proper Reverence of the Soul, Spirit, and Mind
    5) Learn how the Liturgy is a mirror of the Scriptures and of the Dogma

    … and so on

  11. William Tighe says:

    “Waugh seems to be contrasting the Pian Holy Week reforms of 1955 with the Pauline reforms of 1970, correct?”

    Hardly, as he died on Easter Sunday, 1966.

  12. JabbaPapa says:

    6) AKA learn : WDTPRS

  13. Henry Edwards says:

    RichR: “Waugh seems to be contrasting the Pian Holy Week reforms of 1955 with the Pauline reforms of 1970, correct?”

    I think the biographer–with whose words (quoted in this post) Waugh surely would have agreed fully–is suggesting that the 1955 Holy Week reforms were of one piece with the 1970 reform, a first step in the devastation of the vineyard. Indeed, Msgr. Bugnini, as a member of Pius XII’s liturgical council, played a key role in 1955 as he did in 1970.

  14. Henry Edwards says:

    Will any of us? Writing in the year 2000, Fr. John McCloskey—he of the prominent Washington converts—predicted (here) how it would be in the year 2030:

    “The sacrileges, blasphemies, irreverence, and downright ugly bad taste has gradually petered out . . . . As it turns out, contrary to some opinions, the problem was not at all with rites but rather with reverence, obedience to the rubrics, and the interior lives of those celebrating the sacraments. Now that the priesthood and the religious life are generally healthy in belief and spirit, the Mass being celebrated the way the Council intended in order to give glory to God, foster devotion in the laity through their active participation. While the Tridentine rite in all its glory continues to be celebrated in some churches, every parish has a Latin Mass every Sunday morning, along with other vernacular Masses, celebrated with reverence, a well prepared homily, sung chant, incense, and beauty in appointments that leaves no one among us who remember the old Mass nostalgic for it. The lay faithful realize when they walk into a Church that it is not a meeting place but rather a place of worship and personal prayer, where Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament complete with Benediction, and other devotions such as the Way of the Cross and liturgical Morning and Evening Prayer can almost always be found.”

    From here to there in only a dozen years? How likely does it seem now?

  15. Gripen says:

    RichR, Waugh died in 1966, so he must (hopefully) have been speaking about the more minor reforms (mainly vernacular in the liturgy) to come out right after Vatican II. I’d be interested in Fr Z’s thoughts on the pre-1955 liturgy, though–the more I learn, the more it seems we’ve lost even in the EF.

  16. Henry Edwards says:

    “Will any of us? Writing in the year 2000 . . . .”

    In response to David at 6:o5 pm – “I shall not live to see things righted.” He [Waugh] didn’t.

  17. RichR:

    “Waugh seems to be contrasting the Pian Holy Week reforms of 1955 with the Pauline reforms of 1970, correct?”

    Apparently not. Waugh lamented the reforms of Holy Week enacted by Pius XII in 1955. He wrote in the Spectator in 1962: “During the last few years we have experienced the triumph of the ‘liturgists’ in the new arrangement of the services for the end of Holy Week and for Easter …”

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  19. Deacon Ed Peitler says:

    I don’t want to be unfeeling but it’s more important to be truthful. You’d have to be really dimwitted to say that because you cannot speak Latin you cannot understand what’s being prayed in the Latin Mass. As an eight year old boy with his St. Joseph Missal in hand, I could follow along with the simultaneous translation into English.
    I am certain in today’s superior world, there’s even got to be an app so as to obviate the need to purchase a religious book.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

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