Saturday, 11 May 2013

Renewing the Church in Australia Step 2: Establish right worship!

A priest recently suggested to me that there are three key things the Church has a duty to do, pretty much in order of priority: to worship God; to transmit the faith; and to practice good works.  Not a bad summary in my view, and at the moment the Church in Australia seems to me to be failing badly on all three counts.

But as the ten commandments make clear, right worship is indeed the most important.

A few modest proposals...

Now I'm a traditionalist, and in an ideal world I'd be advocating suppressing the Novus Ordo altogether and returning to a more traditional form of the Mass.  In the current environment however such an agenda has no prospect of success, so let me suggest  much some more achievable measures that would go a long way, in my view, to reorienting Catholics to God rather than self.

First, insist, as a minimum, that the Ordinary Form actually be said in accordance with the rubrics set out in the General Instructions on the Liturgy (GIRM).  That should include giving all churches and chapels a makeover to ensure their furnishings and appearance is suitably dignified.

Secondly, consistent with Sacrosanctum Concilium and Pope Paul VI's assorted injunctions, restore Gregorian Chant to its proper place in the liturgy, and ensure all Catholics know a core repertoire of chants (remember Paul VI's Jubilate Deo?).  And let's ensure that all Catholics are at least occasionally exposed to a Mass (Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form) in Latin, the official and normative language of their rite.

Thirdly, remove all those options from the Mass that undermine the sense of the sacred: communion should only be given on the tongue and kneeling; the sign of peace should be dropped or turned into a proper ritual gesture; and celebration ad orientem should be encouraged.

Fourthly, hold Sunday Vespers and other the public celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours/Office regularly.

Finally, ensure all diocesan priests know how to say both forms of their rite, namely the Extraordinary Form as well as the Ordinary.

How to do it?  Why not take the opportunity of the release of the new GIRM to run some (compulsory) seminars for priests on the theology of the Mass and its continuity within the tradition (including learning how to say the EF), as well as some separate seminars for liturgy committees and other interested laity so priests don't run into the 'but we've always done it that way' problem.

Why do it?  Read on if its not already evident to you!

Liturgy and tradition

There has been a lot of talk in various quarters about the need for us to have a 'personal relationship' with God.  The protestant-evangelical terminology, I think, gives many of us heartburn, even if the underlying concept is valid.

The problem with the terminology, though, I think is, that few of those using it bother to unpick what the phrase is trying to get at, and re-contextualise it into the terms of Catholic practice.

Because for a Catholic, our relationship with God should surely be fundamentally grounded in the liturgy, and above all in the sacraments as the source of grace and holiness that God pours into the world through his Church.

The liturgy and the sacraments, correctly performed, serve to orient us to God and to remind us that our relationship with Christ needs to take into account not just his humanity, but also his divinity.

The priority of worship

Last night I went to a talk where in the Q&As at the end someone posited the classic aCatholica position that there is a disconnect between Scripture and dogma as the Church teaches it.  That fundamental misunderstanding, the failure to grasp that our dogma and practice is thoroughly grounded in the Tradition that encompasses Scripture, is nowhere more evident than in the liturgy as most of us experience it in Australia today.

For far too long we've been taught that ritual - at least when in a Church, as opposed to the footy ground  - is bad, and that Christ, in his various conversations with the Pharisees was somehow against it.

Never mind that in reality Scripture repeatedly depicts Jesus worshiping and teaching in the Temple or assorted Synagogues; and never mind that the apostles continued to worship there until they were thrown out and the Temple itself was destroyed.

Never mind that the Letter to the Hebrews provides an extensive exposition on the continuity between Jewish temple worship and Christ's high priesthood, reminding us of the importance of those detailed prescriptions that God gave his people on correct worship in the Old Testament which are still reflected int he priest's vestments and other rubrics.

Never mind the reactions of the apostles - and of course the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets such as Moses and Isaiah - to the theophanies they witnessed, which should teach us a sense of awe whenever we see the Eucharist confected.

And never mind the descriptions of heavenly worship provided for us in the Book of Revelation (and of course one school of interpretation of this book, led by Scott Hahn takes this a lot further in relation to the Mass).

Liturgy as the source and summit

We need then, in my view, to recover the sense of the crucial importance of good liturgy that promotes the true worship of God, and provides a framework within which we can develop our 'personal', direct relationship with Jesus.

We don't, as a result of our baptism, become instant best friends with Christ.

Rather, our faith has to develop, starting from that gift of the spirit we pray for in today's novena, fear of the Lord, which is, as Scripture repeatedly tells us, the beginning of wisdom.  This gift is not servile fear, though, as St Benedict makes clear in his rule, fear of hell can certainly be a good starting point to get us onto the right path and keep us there at times of stress.

But the gift of fear is rather that sense of awe that we should feel at Christ's self-revelation to us, and sacrifice of himself for us.

Liturgy, Vatican II proclaimed, "is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows".

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reinforces this message saying:

"Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love. "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve," says Jesus, citing Deuteronomy.

To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the "nothingness of the creature" who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world." (2096-7)

The liturgy is not, of course, the only way we worship God: worship can take the form of prayer and devotions, and even practical action.

All the same, the GIRM affirms the critical importance of the Mass in particular as "the worship the human race offers to the Father, adoring him through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit" as the centre of the life of the Church, both locally and universally; of the individual Christian; and the means by which God sanctifies the world.

Abolish liturgical abuse

I brought a copy of the new GIRM recently, thinking I might run a series on the theology of the Mass expressed in it.  But I had to stop reading because it just reminded me afresh that pretty much every Ordinary Form Mass I attend includes abuses.

Now most of the time the things I experience are small issues, and one can quickly put them in perspective when faced with some of the horrors faced by people living in country areas, where there is no choice of parishes available, or stories such as the one related over at Fr Z's blog recently where Sister purported to start the Mass, and Father took over at the Offertory!  And too, in most cases the minor problems you come across are outweighed by other features of the Mass and the benefits of being there.

All the same, Canon Law makes clear that we are actually entitled to the treasures of the Church as she prescribes them, not as individuals decide they prefer to do them.  Even small things, such as the Extraordinary Minister going up to the altar at the Our Father rather than after the priest's communion as the rubrics prescribes, are actually important to the symbolism of the Mass - the priest's communion marks the completion of the sacrifice of the Mass, and the separation of it from the people's communion reinforces the idea that the ministerial priesthood differs in nature not just degree from the priesthood of the people for example.  

And anyway, just why is it so hard for priests and others to just say the black (and nothing else!) and do the red?!

So here is what I think the bishops should do. First run all priests through a refresher course on the theology of the Mass and the rubrics.  Give them an update on the latest research, to counter all the misconceptions that were taught at seminary on things like ad orientem worship.

As part of this, put together a checklist distilled from the GIRM and send it out to every parish, asking them to certify that they are complying with it.  

Then send out 'auditors' to check that they really are.

And if they aren't, take any necessary disciplinary action until the problem is fixed.

Right worship is the foundation on which faith is built, and imaging obedience is important.

Revive sacred Music

Once the Mass is actually being said at least in accordance with the rubrics, then the focus could shift to enhancing the sense of the sacred at it.

Music is, in my view, one of the most powerful means of promoting - or undermining - that sense of the sacred.

So dump those 70s numbers, and ditch the guitars.

Instead, restore the organ to its proper place in the liturgy, bring back the traditional hymns, and above all the chant.  There is a core of trained Gregorian chant singers in all Archdioceses in this country in Extraordinary Form communities.  Use them.

And in each diocese, make the Cathedral at least a place where the great patrimony of sacred music is regularly employed.

Promote reverence

The biggest problem with the typical parish Mass though, is arguably the 'it's all abut me' mentality of both priests and people.  And there options within the current provisions that could help to deal with clericalism and self-worship, that are open to priests and bishops.

The arguments on these issues have all been well set out elsewhere so let me just point to the essential elements of a possible program.

Celebration ad orientem, so priest and people all worship in the same direction would go a long way to solving many of the problems of the clericalist mentality in my view.

Similarly, the sign of peace disrupts the flow of the Mass and turns us to each other instead of God at a point in the Mass when we should be preparing ourselves to receive the sacrament.  Either drop it altogether, or prescribe a properly ritualistic gesture (not a handshake) to replace the current running around the countryside to greet friends and others nonsense that often prevails at the moment.

Thirdly, bring back altar rails and give communion on the tongue and kneeling only.

Teaching priests the Extraordinary Form, I would suggest, would also help them to understand the tradition from which the current Mass emerged, and how to better say the Ordinary Form.

And exposing everyone at least occasionally to Mass in Latin would help connect people to the tradition.

The Office

Finally, Vatican II hoped for a revival of the Office in parishes.  But there are two great barriers to this.

First, Sunday night masses.  So ditch them, and put on Vespers instead!

The more fundamental problem is that the Liturgy of the Hours is not really designed with a view to being sung in common, as opposed to said in private.  But there is no reason you can't use the older form of Vespers, even in a 'novus ordo' parish....

You can find the next part of this series here.


The Loon said...

I could not agree with you more. Abolishing the OF form for the UA would be nice but yes it won't happen for a long time. Here is my ten point plan (in no particular order). Priest and People need to be retaught the Sacrificial nature of the Mass and participation and that ad orientem is the tradition, communion in the hand is not tradition, Roman Canon is older than No.2, Gregorian is first place (Vat2) and not some high art medieval invention, Vat2 did not call for facing the people, no Latin, no Chant, no Crucifix and statues, changed the theology of the Mass and our participation, no high altars, shove the tabernacle out the way, communion standing in the hand, horizontal (or circular seating) Churches instead of vertical and all those other myths.

1) Mass is Calvary (above all else)
2) People actually participate by offering themselves in sacrifice to the Father
3) Silence before and after Mass in the Church
4) No syncopated music, acapella or organ (not guitars, bass, drums, percussion)
5) Gregorian chant (Eng or Lat) the dialog between Priest and People, then Sanctus, Kyrie, Agnus Dei, Pater etc then and only then the '4 song sandwich'
6) Only ever use the first options, e.g. Confiteor, Nicene Creed, Roman Canon
7) Communion kneeling on tongue (it's quicker)
8) EMHC (only if needed) come out after the Priest has received (as per the GIRM), not after the Angus Dei, and simply hold the paten (it’s in the GIRM).
9) Ad Orientem (as per the GIRM) with Crucifix and Tabernacle in the centre either of the old altar (which is allowed to be used) or on the wall behind the altar (unless stained class prevents a crucifix there)
10) Teach all Priests the UA. Make it mandatory – they should know it. Priests have a right to know their rite.

pab said...

Dear Kate

Thanks for your kind invitation to comment.

When the NOM is, when valid, still in itself a liturgical abuse, what's the point of trying to improve the manner of its celebration? How could anyone who wants what you want for the NOM not find all that in the TLM?

Saying that there's no foreseeable future in abolishing the NOM is doing the enemy's work for him. Instead, people (priests and laity) should right now just say "no" to the NOM. Priests stop offering it. Laity stop attending it. Then see what happens.


Kate Edwards said...

Sorry Paul but a properly promulgated right can never, by definition, in itself be an abuse!

A liturgical abuse is something contrary to proper legislation.

Either we accept the authority of Rome to legislate, or we are not Catholics (in communion with Rome).

We don't have to think it is the best possible form of the Mass, nor do we have to like the various elements that make it up. But we do have to go a little further than simply acknowledging its validity.

Bruce Stafford said...

The Loon:
In fact the changeover from Gregorian Chant and its allied forms can be precisely dated; it's the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610.
After that we saw Church music adopt the modern classical style we know today i.e., Bach Mozart Vivaldi Bruckner et al.
1610 is late Renaissance, not Mediaeval.
Go to
BTW the a capella Latin setting of the Mass by Ralph Vaughan Williams is arguably the best such setting of the 20th Century. Yet Vaughan Williams was a nominal Anglican and a self-confessed agnostic!

jeff said...

Is the new GIRM out yet?