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Tuesday, September 23, 2003

How Bullwinkle Helped Me Find Liturgical Peace, Part II.

Or, How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Dumb.

Here's why it won't work: Rome can issue all the "disciplinary documents" in the world. It can drop them into the hands of well-meaning, orthodox prelates. It can drop them from the sky if it wants. Unfortunately, that's where the buck stops. If priests and diocesan liturgists want to follow it, they will. If they won't, the directive becomes so much toilet paper covered with Latin cognates. After all, no one ever gets disciplined for liturgical abuses. Ever.


Nighty-night, Inaestimabile Donum. Rock-a-bye Liturgiam Authenticam. Sleep well, Ecclesia et Eucharista. Rest in peace, As-Yet-Untitled Liturgical Disciplinary Document XXIX.

I'll give you four examples from across the nation. Let's start in Beantown, where new Abp. Sean O'Malley has given the thumbs up in response to the finger routinely extended by the very experimental Fr. Walter Cuenin. Yep, No. 29 is going to strike fear into the heart of Fr. Cuenin. I can hear him trembling here in the Wolverine State. Or is it shaking with laughter...?

Closer by these parts, for those of you who prefer something completely different, we have St. Sabina, whose pastor, Fr. Michael Pfleger, also extends the Tall Finger of Fellowship to his ordinary, Francis Cardinal George, another archbishop renowned for his orthodoxy. Amongst the liturgical innovations promulgated here are allowing such luminaries as the Rev. Al Sharpton to give the Sunday homily, using a non-Catholic lectionary (yes, on average, I like the NIV translation better than the NAB, but it's still seven books light), and, joy of joys, inviting Louis Farrakhan to speak to the parish. I don't know about you, but I prefer to take my Catholicism with a little less heretical racist Islam, thank you very much. Response from the Chicago Cardinal? Brooding resignation. Message sent, and received.

[Actually, there's a lot St. Sabina's does that is praiseworthy and should be copied in terms of witness, outreach, ministries and going into the community--boldly, but it comes with a big price.]

Finally, no parish survey would be complete without a visit to the smug, granola-gobbling pantheism that is St. Joan's in Minneapolis. What's not to like? The DRE is, uh, an unmarried woman whose partner conceived via artificial insemination (very Catholic), and the summer "Bible" Study consisted of an encomium to one of Aussie apostate Michael Morwood's Sp*ngian flatulations.

And the liturgy? Say what you will about Fr. George Wertin, the ringmaster of this exemplar of Barnum Catholicism: he only periodically bothers his flock with a homily. Why do that, when anyone can do it on any ol' inoffensive subject they desire. Note also that St. Joan's stands shoulder to shoulder with St. Marcion in dispensing with that scary, turgid Old Testament with its scary, turgid and judgmental god. No sir--why listen to the neuroses of a bunch of homophobic, patriarchal dead white males who didn't have indoor plumbing when you can listen to St. Joan's Mission Statement instead [read it quick--they only stay up for a week]?

St. Joan of Arc is a joyful Christian community which celebrates the loving Word of God in worship and in action.

We transcend traditional boundaries and draw those who seek spiritual growth and social justice.

We welcome diverse ideas and encourage reflection on the message of the Gospel.

We are committed to the equality of all our members and strive to ensure their full participation through liturgy, education and service.

By these means we seek to empower all who come to grow in wisdom and bring to reality the promise of Christ.

Ah, yes--Celebrating the community as though it were the Word of God! Good self-esteem there. I guess they "welcome diverse ideas" with the caveat that it not include anything found between Genesis and 2 Maccabees. Apparently, there's only so much you can tolerate in a week. Next week's homilist? Some guy who's going to expound on the inspired word that is the Kyoto Treaty. Boo-yeah!

Response from well-regarded Minneapolis archbishop Harry Flynn? Protracted

No one expects the Badger Inquisition! Poke them with the soft cushions!Oh, St. Joan's is made of sterner stuff! Monsignor Fang: fetch the comfy chair!

Finally, we make our way to St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, and Susan Benofy's exasperated recounting of the 2002 Gateway Liturgical Conference, sponsored by then Abp. Justin Rigali's archdiocesan office of worship. Marvel at her report, the story of reams of recent Liturgical Vaticanum completely ignored by bold promoters of reform relying on mildewed 35 year old documents by American fans of liturgical sitar, cowbell, 'n' community. All under the nose of the sternly orthodox fellow who just got promoted to the head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and is about to get a red hat.

I could go further west to Los Angeles, where the planning for the 2004 Religious Education Conference is well underway, and where Reforming Folk are no doubt planning to suggest that, say, for Children's Masses, the priest, deacon, lectors and EMEs dress up like Teletubbies to mime the Passion for the youngins. I haven't the stomach, though.

Go ahead and tell me that someone at the RLC won't suggest something equally ridiculous next year. I dare you.

That's why No. 29 doesn't matter.


Strange as this seems, this is not a counsel of despair. It is a counsel for realism. If your parish has good, reverent liturgy, keep it that way. Fight like a maniac any efforts to water it down. If anything, yours might be one of the few where No. 29 does matter. But that's only because Nos. 1-28 mattered, too.

If you are in a parish that has some abuses but not others--expect a middling response. You'll get some, but not the others--if you nag the right way.

And if you're stuck in a parish on the road to St. Joan's, well--expect squat. Rome's not riding to your rescue. Your orthodox bishop's not riding to your rescue--take a run at trying to bend his ear, though. Just don't be surprised if his liturgy office is really, really cool with the "reform." Understand--No. 29 doesn't matter. It won't matter until it really matters to your ordinary. By now, you should know whether it does or not.

Stop getting worked up over the failure of Bullwinkle to pull a character from Watership Down out of the top hat. You'll find more peace that way, and even more by going somewhere else, even if the drive's a lot longer.

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