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Friday, August 04, 2006

How Not To Defend Liturgical Reform--Exhibit A.

Fr. Jan Larson of the Archdiocese of Seattle shows you how, in a tidy 766 words.

I was recently watching a part of the daily televised liturgy on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network).

You know--them. No doubt Father had a snifter of vermouth handy and had already taken the precaution of slathering himself with a topical cream to pre-empt the hives.

The liturgy there is an odd mix of English and Latin, while following the texts of the current Roman Missal.

And so Fr. Larson begins his anthropological examination of this strange relict population ("odd mix", whatever that is). The difference being that this particular anthropologist wishes his subjects would get themselves extinct, posthaste.

The priest and ministers of the liturgy look way too somber and serious.

What--no balloons, streamers and spandex? Oh, that's right--this band of unreconstructed Alabamans still believe in that "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass" hokery.

How quaint.

[If you are wondering why the Brompton Oratory/Assumption Grotto/Saint Agnes/Irondale approach is still an isolated phenomenon seen only at a handful of stubborn enclaves, here's your sign, as Bill Engvall would say. Note that Fr. Larson is a "liturgical consultant." 'Nuff said.]

The ritual is performed with all the exaggerated exactness of the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy. The Mass is overly formal and mechanical.

Come on, lighten up--warm the crowd up with some jokes, funny stories about your visit to the proctologist and supermarket, and extemporaneous commentary during the consecration--we're an Easter people, don'tcha know? I'm sure the Last Supper was more of a roast, anyway, with Peter goofing on Jesus always picking up the check and such.

It's probably the real reason Judas got all ticked off and left. He was too much of a rubricist and thought everything should be more solemn. In fact, I think I read a biblical scholar saying that somewhere once.

Needless to say, there are no women allowed in the sanctuary area,

They even read the long form of the second reading for August 27th! [Cue hissing]

there is no procession with the gifts,

Because the 35% of the audience that is composed of XYs really need to see that brunette in the spaghetti straps bounce up with the wafers. Talk about "conscious participation"!

Ba-da-boom!

OK, I exaggerate. Abuses probably aren't good enough reason to eliminate it in their entirety. But they aren't a bad argument...

no Sign of Peace, and, of course, no Communion from the cup for the lay people who are present.

OK, I can see the gripe on these. So long as the former isn't a tooth-grinding enforced Hugfest, I've never understood the grousing.

And complaints about making the cup available to the laity have zero--zero--traction with me. Unless you are talking about barely-catechized Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion not understanding the fuss about "spilling the wine."

Apart from that, communion under both kinds is a fuller sacramental sign, folks.

The liturgy, in effect, is unlike anything that Catholics experience in the vast majority of Catholic parish churches.

And that's.............bad? Oh, of course.

Diversity for me but not thee.

I am certain that the planners of these liturgies would explain their differences from parish liturgies with the familiar refrain that the post Vatican II liturgical reforms have taken too much of the mystery away from the Holy Mass.

Not that I've actually ever tried to talk with one of them, of course. What are you, nuts? No, I just know what they're thinking. You know how they are.

Certainly, they say, allowing the congregation full, active and conscious participation in the ritual is what empties the rites of their mystery, so the further we keep the secular congregation away from the clerical activity and space, the better to preserve the liturgyÂ?s mystery.

Well, of course that's what they say: Strawy the Sockpuppet is my ever-helpful foil! Right, Strawy?

[Strawy nods.] "You got it, Fr. Jan. You good guy liturgists illumined by the Holy Spirit have seen through our hateful charade again! That's exactly how us preconciliar sexist troglodytes think and speak! Curses, foiled again!"

Thus the need to eliminate any personal touch with the lay folks, and, by all means, do not allow them to communicate with each other, even to wish oneÂ?s neighbor the peace of the risen Christ.

Strawy: "Damn, but you're good, Fr. Jan. Can't fool you!"

(One wonders what these people think of the pope as he hugs and kisses the children who present him with the gifts to be offered, giving each of them a small gift as a remembrance of the liturgy. Perhaps it is all right for the pope to be warm and personable during the liturgy, but inappropriate for lesser souls.)

Strawy: "The bright face--it burnsss us, burnnnsss us. Nassssty liturgissstt! Gollum. Gollum!"

Time for more topical cream, Fr. Jan. Oh, hell--just dump the vermouth all over yourself.

All we've managed to learn thus far is that a liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle ["Welcome to Hunthausen Country--Hope You Like Your Felt Banners in Teal!™"] doesn't like EWTN much.

Cotton, I feel shocked...

I think the folks responsible for these stuffy

Smiles, everyone--Smiles! Welcome...to Liturgy Island!

liturgies are confusing mystery with mystification. Rites that express mystery will invite people into the unknown, into what lies beyond the action of the ritual. Liturgy done well this way will cause people to ask, 'How does this ritual which I can see, and in which I am participating, lead me more deeply into the beyond, into life of the God of mystery whom I cannot see? Mystification, on the other hand, leads one to ask,What on earth does that mean, and why in God's name is he doing that?'

Which explains perfectly, of course, why the average American parish liturgy has all the mystery and sacramental transcendence of the annual company picnic.

Complete with sack races.

Luke Timothy Johnson, author of The Creed and other works, wrote recently in Commonweal magazine about the concerns of many conservative Catholics that paying attention to one another during the liturgy (what he calls horizontal values) have distracted us too much from the vertical values-our relationship with God and Christ.

So much easier to have someone else do your thinking for you. Actually, I often like LTJ--I own and have profited from reading two of his books. But he's talking out his condescending tailpipe here.

He writes:

Critics who complain that these horizontal values have been realized at the cost of vertical ones, that mystery and a sense of the transcendent have disappeared among all the folksiness, need gently to be reminded of the difference between mystery and mystification. We who grew up in a Tridentine liturgy and who witnessed the travails of reform can bear an important witness to those of a younger generation who hanker after the good old days.

OK. Being a troglodyte and all, I'm not one to discount out of hand the wisdom of my elders. But, having heard enough hyper-emotive carping from a certain segment of those elders, I am not particularly impressed by the bottom line content of the complaining. Yes, Sister Mary Margaret Flagrum and her rosary belt and all that--but that doesn't mean you are in a position to tell the rest of us "shut up." Methinks all too many of you giddily tossed the baby with the bathwater.

The griping sounds like the Catholic liturgical equivalent of having to walk to school ten miles each day, uphill both ways, having to chop wood on recess and writing the daily lessons with a broken pencil on scraps of cardboard you collected while spending the remaining 26 hours of each day working in the salt mines so you could have fresh kelp on your dry toast every third Sunday. Not...particularly persuasive.

Some fear they have missed the solemn richness of Catholic piety,

We haven't "missed" it--it's been hidden from us by people who think they know better. And have given a lot of crap excuses for the hiding. See, e.g., Lynch, Bishop Robert N.

believing that the reformed liturgy comes dangerously close to Protestant worship, and that the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is the essential expression of authentic Eucharistic theology.

Well, some would argue that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is essential. But what did he know (scroll to No. 25)?

But we are in a position to state that for every example of splendid monastic liturgy in the old days there were countless examples of parish worship that appeared meaninglessly mechanical.

Like it too often isn't today? Behold the Haugen-Haas Four Hymn Sandwich, coming to your parish this Sunday. And I'd be willing to bet a substantial portion of my next paycheck that, if you pick any parish at random out of the directory, you will not hear the Roman Canon this Sunday.

We know that birettas and fiddle-back chasubles, mumbled (and often mangled) Latin, and truly execrable renditions of Gregorian chant were no more aesthetically than theologically impressive. Having lived through speed-typing Masses guaranteed to last no more than twenty minutes, we can point to the greater seriousness, even greater solemnity, of parish worship today. Those who call contemporary worship insufficiently sacred literally do not know what they are talking about.

Oh, of course not. Why believe our lying eyes and ears when we can just take the voice of experience at face value?

Fine--I buy that way too many of the masses in the 50s were slapdash mumblefests, that the music was treacle (plus ca change) and that too few understood what was going on.

"But everything's just great now--trust us"? Sorry. Not buying at any price. I've been to too damn many masses featuring the precious/stupid/cutesy/ego-tripping and, yessir, the flat-out heretical. All of which do a fine job of obscuring the transcendent features of the Mass--that mystery stuff--and turning the liturgy into the vehicle for a different agenda.

So, yes, I do know what I'm talking about. And Houston, we have a problem.

As for the growing similarity among the Eucharistic celebrations of Catholics and Protestants, we should rejoice that Catholics now feel at home at Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopalian worship,

Every last one of those churches is bleeding out by the hour, but yeah--rejoice....

Would that this were entirely the case, though--after all, my old Methodist Church (built in 1912) had altar rails and stained glass with Catholic themes (Peter being crucified upside down). My current parish has neither, of course.

and that our Protestant neighbors have gained much through our process of renewal and reform.

Such as? Whatever it is, it sure hasn't caused them to worry about SRO every Sunday.

The Catholic form of worship remains a strong motivation for conversion among adults. As we have known all along, God works powerfully through the words and gestures of the liturgy; the hard work of renewal has served to make God's work plain and public each Sunday when we gather as 'church.'

Yes, it can. But the exact same thing can be said for the Catholic liturgy before the 21st ecumenical council, too. The fact remains that there is the strong and growing sense among many of the faithful that something has been lost--something is missing--since the reform of the liturgy in 1970.

And sneering "Look at the EWTN freakshow" or "Shut up, Junior, I know better" isn't a response.

It's denial.

Still, whatever helps you stay smug at night.

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