April 27, 2004
vol 15, no. 118

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Close only counts in horseshoes

    No matter how the modern church tries to forge and force the new liturgy, it still won't fit. They've been at it for decades and one thing is certain: basically it is like beating a dead horse, a shoeless and clueless horse! To put it bluntly: horsefeathers!!!

By Jacob Michael

Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in taking responsibility for releasing the latest Vatican document, rubber-stamped by the Pope, is like the blindfolded kid trying to pin the tail on the proverbial donkey. The jackass won't stand still and the ones doing the pinning are still blind!

    "Therein lies the confusion. Rome talks about the liturgy like it's this fixed-in-stone, immutable, unchangeable entity - it's not. It's fluid, it changes every week, new abuses suddenly become canonized as "licit" every time you turn around ... what a mess. Another difficulty lies in the fact that this new document is laced with all of the loopholes that plagued the original conciliar document on the reform of the liturgy, and every other liturgical document since then. Watch them get exploited now."

      Editor's Note: In Jacob's commentary about further Mass Confusion with the confusing language of yet another effort to heal a cancer out of control, he deciphers his comments from passages of the most recent document released last Friday Redemptionis Sacramentum by placing the documents' words in maroon, while Jacob's words in black type.

   Once upon a time, there was a liturgy that was plagued with abuses. The Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship released a document that was supposed to correct these abuses and give to the faithful the kind of liturgy they deserved.

   That document was called Inaestimabile Donum.

   The year was 1980.

   Now, 24 years later, we have another document of the same kind, intended for the same purpose.

   The troubling thing is this: most of the abuses identified in 1980 are also identified in this new document. In other words, Rome hasn't been able to correct the abuses of the liturgy, even though we've had 24 years to see it accomplished.

   This is a lovely document. Very verbose, written in that all-too familiar post-Vatican II fluid style, complete with flowery words and ambiguous statements.

   It's great prose.

   But it's not going to accomplish anything, for the reason I've stated before: it's not the abuses of the liturgy that are the problem, it's that the liturgy itself is a loose collection of endless options.

   It must be really confusing to be a priest. Every Sunday they get up there and have to spontaneously piece together a Mass from all the available options they have ... Greeting A, Penitential Rite C, Memorial Acclamation A, Eucharistic Prayer III, etc., etc.

   Building on this environment of spontaneity, these priests begin to add some of their own options - after all, it's been up to their discretion thus far, right? Then Rome says, "You do not have the authority to tamper with the liturgy."

   Therein lies the confusion. Rome talks about the liturgy like it's this fixed-in-stone, immutable, unchangeable entity - it's not. It's fluid, it changes every week, new abuses suddenly become canonized as "licit" every time you turn around ... what a mess. Another difficulty lies in the fact that this new document is laced with all of the loopholes that plagued the original conciliar document on the reform of the liturgy, and every other liturgical document since then. Watch them get exploited now.

   Finally, the real "teeth" of this document would be manifest in sure and certain penalties imposed upon those who violate these norms. But as we all know, those penalties only come surely and certainly to those priests who "abuse" the liturgy by deciding to celebrate the traditional Mass instead. Rome said what needed to be said back in 1980, but never backed it up ... now we have a new document which seems to be saying, "No, seriously, we really mean it this time."

    "Certainly the liturgical reform inaugurated by the Council has greatly contributed to a more conscious, active and fruitful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar on the part of the faithful.”[10] Even so, “shadows are not lacking".

   The understatement of the year.

   And why is it that in 40 years of renewal, we still have no precise definition of what constitutes "conscious, active and fruitful participation?" Is that an interior thing, or an exterior thing? Or both? To what extent should it be interior, and to what extent exterior? When is participation lacking enough that it is deemed "unconscious, inactive, and barren?"

    In some places the perpetration of liturgical abuses has become almost habitual, a fact which obviously cannot be allowed and must cease.

   Of course they've become habitual ... Rome has already sent the message: commit the abuse enough times and we'll just categorize it as having "the force of custom." That's what happened with communion in the hand and altar girls, right?

   So if these habitual abuses "cannot be allowed and must cease," what does Rome plan to do - not merely say - in order to make that come to pass?

    Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty.

   Indeed. There is a good deal of "false understanding" - but whose fault is that?

    Yet the Eucharist “is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity or depreciation”.
I agree wholeheartedly. So let's start by publishing some non-ambiguous documents from Rome, eh?

    The Church herself has no power over those things which were established by Christ himself and which constitute an unchangeable part of the Liturgy.

   Given the near-total overhaul of the traditional Mass, one wonders exactly which parts of the liturgy that Rome still considers "unchangeable?" Christ established the words of consecration, and the ICEL changed even those - with no repurcussions from Rome. After that, what can truly be said to be "off limits?"

    For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal

   Again ... what is the liturgy right now, if not a necessary collection of arbitrary actions on the part of the priest? Greeting C, Preface 71, etc.

    On the contrary, it is the right of all of Christ’s faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes

   Small problem: what the "Church wishes" has been largely handed over to the "local competent ordinary," i.e., the bishop, to be shaped and molded at his discretion. He, in turn, has handed over those reigns to individual priests. They, in turn, have handed those decisions over to the parish-level liturgical committees. Most bishops, let's face it, could care less what their priests decide to do with the liturgy from one week to the next.

    every lawful celebration of the Eucharist is directed by the Bishop, to whom is entrusted the office of presenting the worship of the Christian religion to the Divine Majesty and ordering it according to the precepts of the Lord and the laws of the Church, further specified by his own particular judgement for the Diocese.


   So, from the "wishes of the Church," to the bishop's "own particular judgement."

    Still, the Bishop must take care not to allow the removal of that liberty foreseen by the norms of the liturgical books so that the celebration may be adapted in an intelligent manner to the Church building, or to the group of the faithful who are present, or to particular pastoral circumstances in such a way that the universal sacred rite is truly accommodated to human understanding.

   And from the bishop's particular judgement we further adapt according to "the Church building," "the group of the faithful who are present," and "particular pastoral circumstances." Which circumstances? What makes one circumstance pastoral, and another one not? What does it mean that the celebration be "adapted in an intelligent manner?" What would make it "unintelligent?"

   This is classic Modernistic conserve-and-progress methodology. We started with a liturgy that must be according to wishes of the Church, and we ended with a liturgy that must be specially adapted in an "intelligent manner" (whatever that means) to any one of a thousand "particular pastoral circumstances," none of which are defined.

   Is this document going to fix anything?

    Commissions as well as councils or committees established by the Bishop to handle “the promotion of the Liturgy, sacred music and art in his diocese” should act in accordance with the intentions and the norms of the Bishop ... experts are to be chosen from among those whose soundness in the Catholic faith and knowledge of theological and cultural matters are evident.

   "Evident" to who? What objective standards are given here to measure whether a given "expert" is truly "sound" in "knowledge of ... cultural matters?" Which cultural matters? Why does a liturgical expert need to evidence a soundness in cultural matters?

    As early as the year 1970, the Apostolic See announced the cessation of all experimentation as regards the celebration of Holy Mass and reiterated the same in 1988

   And in 1980. So what were you guys doing then that no one listened, and what have you changed about your approach since then?

    Accordingly, individual Bishops and their Conferences do not have the faculty to permit experimentation with liturgical texts or the other matters that are prescribed in the liturgical books.

   There's the Conserving Force ...

    In order to carry out experimentation of this kind in the future, the permission of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is required.

   And there's the Progressive Force. There will be no experimentation ... but if you do experiment, at least let us rubber-stamp it first.

    It must be lamented that, especially in the years following the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, as a result of a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation, there have been a number of abuses which have been a source of suffering for many

   Well, that admission has been a long time in coming. Now if we could just get the neo-conservative crowd to also admit the same thing, that - whatever "abuses" existed in the traditional Mass during the 50s - it was "especially" after the "post-conciliar liturgical reform" that we saw a real rash of "misguided... creativity," "adaptation," and "abuses."

    [Priests] ought not to detract from the profound meaning of their own ministry by corrupting the liturgical celebration either through alteration or omission, or through arbitrary additions

   Unless "particular pastoral circumstances" require it, and it can be executed in an "intelligent manner," right?

    Although it is appropriate that [the priest] should be assisted in the effective preparation of the liturgical celebrations by various members of Christ’s faithful, he nevertheless must not cede to them in any way those things that are proper to his own office.

   And "those things" would be ... what? How will the priest know if he has violated this norm by allowing the faithful to perform functions "proper to his own office," if "those things" are never defined?

    In the songs, the melodies, the choice of prayers and readings, the giving of the homily, the preparation of the prayer of the faithful, the occasional explanatory remarks, and the decoration of the Church building according to the various seasons, there is ample possibility for introducing into each celebration a certain variety by which the riches of the liturgical tradition will also be more clearly evident, and so, in keeping with pastoral requirements, the celebration will be carefully imbued with those particular features that will foster the recollection of the participants.

   Whaa...? Glad we cleared that up! So, in other words, there are all of these flexible parts of the liturgy, the "certain variety" of which will make "more clearly evident" the "riches of the liturgical tradition," but these things must be "in keeping with pastoral requirements" in order to "foster the recollection of the participants."

   You know what's coming. Which "riches" of what "liturgical tradition?" The "liturgical tradition" of the past 40 years? The "liturgical tradition" of the traditional Mass? What "pastoral requirements?" Who decides? Fostering the "recollection" of what?

   If this is a blank check just waiting to be filled in, the preceding sentence is even moreso:

    In addition, ample flexibility is given for appropriate creativity aimed at allowing each celebration to be adapted to the needs of the participants, to their comprehension, their interior preparation and their gifts, according to the established liturgical norms.

   That's it. No definition for what constitutes "appropriate creativity" (as opposed to "inappropriate"), no fixed boundaries for the "needs of the participants," no explanation of how to adapt the "celebration" to "their comprehension." Should it be adapted to the lowest common denominator? Some median level of comprehension? Does the parish priest need to take a representative group of parishioners and make them take IQ tests first to get a better idea?

    Nevertheless, from the fact that the liturgical celebration obviously entails activity, it does not follow that everyone must necessarily have something concrete to do beyond the actions and gestures, as if a certain specific liturgical ministry must necessarily be given to the individuals to be carried out by them.

   Well, thank God for that. We should be expecting the abolition of layministers of the Eucharist anytime now, and it might be nice to see the priest read the epistle once in a while too.

    Instead, catechetical instruction should strive diligently to correct those widespread superficial notions and practices often seen in recent years in this regard, and ever to instill anew in all of Christ’s faithful that sense of deep wonder before the greatness of the mystery of faith that is the Eucharist, in whose celebration the Church is forever passing from what is obsolete into newness of life

   Another welcome, yet shocking admission: it has only been "in recent years" that we have seen "widespread superficial notions and practices." I keep hearing about how badly the pre-conciliar faithful suffered from lack of proper catechesis, and there were all these misunderstandings about the liturgy ... sounds like the "renewal" hasn't done much to change that situation.

    It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed servers, provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechesis regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension. Nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these.

The Conserving Force ...

    Girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop and in observance of the established norms.

And the Progressive Force. Notice the loophole: "at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop." How many bishops do you know who are willing to prohibit altar girls in their dioceses?

    It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments.

   It's sad, isn't it? We have to have "certainty" regarding "the validity of the sacraments," and so this document spends two paragraphs talking about the valid matter (bread and wine) for the Eucharist - yet nothing is said of the many gross changes to the form of the Most Holy Sacrament, up to and including the ICEL translation, "for you and for all." Have not these issues, more than the issue of bread and wine, caused a great number of the faithful to question the validity of the sacraments?

    It is the right of the community of Christ’s faithful that especially in the Sunday celebration there should customarily be true and suitable sacred music

   This is getting ridiculous now. Forty years of "suitable sacred music" has translated into the most insipid folk Masses. Why doesn't the document prescribe something specific here? Why not just say, "Gregorian Chant must be used in at least one Mass per Sunday?" Or, "Truly suitable sacred music is that which is performed on the organ, and not by a guitar band?" In keeping with the custom, everything is left to the imagination here.

    The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy.

   Has it occured to anyone that a liturgy which prescribes three options for every one suggestion is already "unstable?" And what, pray tell, is the "authentic meaning of the Liturgy?" The meaning that is authentic, and also liturgical, right? And round and round we go...

    If the need arises for the gathered faithful to be given instruction or testimony by a layperson in a Church concerning the Christian life, it is altogether preferable that this be done outside Mass. Nevertheless, for serious reasons it is permissible that this type of instruction or testimony be given after the Priest has proclaimed the Prayer after Communion. This should not become a regular practice, however. Furthermore, these instructions and testimony should not be of such a nature that they could be confused with the homily, nor is it permissible to dispense with the homily on their account.

   Now, quite honestly, I've been away from the New Mass for a long time, and I wasn't aware that this was a problem. But I'm going to make a prediction: given the major loopholes here (such as permitting these layman-led "sharing" times "for serious reasons" - whatever those may be), I predict that even in places where this was not happening before, it will begin to happen with more regularity. Look for "open mic night" coming soon to a Novus Ordo parish near you.

    It is not permissible to link the celebration of Mass to political or secular events, nor to situations that are not fully consistent with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

   Well, so much for the Social Kingship of Christ then. Before this, it was recommended by the pre-concilar popes that political/governmental functions should include a public and visible celebration of the Catholic "mysteries." Not anymore, I guess.

    Finally, it is strictly to be considered an abuse to introduce into the celebration of Holy Mass elements that are contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books and taken from the rites of other religions.

   Now, that's ironic. Isn't the current "Prayer over the Gifts" lifted from Jewish rites? Is not the current Missal very much laid out and arranged such that they eerily resemble the liturgical books of Thomas Cramner?

    The Church’s custom shows that it is necessary for each person to examine himself at depth, and that anyone who is conscious of grave sin should not celebrate or receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession

   Anyone who is a state of mortal sin "should not .. receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession?" Shouldn't that statement say "must not, under pain of committing sacrilege and compounding sin with further sin?"

    The Communion-plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling

   Forgive me for asking, but ... why? Fragments are already coming off like crazy when communion is administered in the hand (which is almost everywhere, almost all the time), so what good is the plate going to do? And how does that work, functionally? You're standing, the priest (or "extraordinary minister") is standing ... does the altar boy have to get real low and crouch between you?

    It is not licit for the faithful “to take . . . by themselves . . . and, still less, to hand . . . from one to another” the sacred host or the sacred chalice. Moreover, in this regard, the abuse is to be set aside whereby spouses administer Holy Communion to each other at a Nuptial Mass.

   The above is a precise definition of the role of the "Extraordinary" Minister of the Eucharist. This statement is entirely inconsistent with that practice.

    Except in the case of celebrations of the Mass that are scheduled by the ecclesiastical authorities to take place in the language of the people, Priests are always and everywhere permitted to celebrate Mass in Latin

   Translation: since the "celebrations of the Mass" that have been pre-scheduled "by the ecclesiastical authorities to take place" in the vernacular take up all of the available time slots every Sunday, priests are never or anywhere permitted to celebrate Mass in Latin.

    According to the structure of each church building and in accordance with legitimate local customs, the Most Holy Sacrament is to be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is noble, prominent, readily visible, and adorned in a dignified manner” and furthermore “suitable for prayer” by reason of the quietness of the location

   Well, those have always been the requirements, and it seems to have inevitably escaped people's attention that the place that is most "noble, prominent," "readily visible" and "adorned in a dignified manner" is in the sanctuary, on the altar - as it is in traditional chapels. But there is a contradiction here: it is presumed that a place "suitable for prayer" and affording "quietness of the location" is a place somewhat removed from the sanctuary, and thus, this place cannot really be "readily visible" or "prominent." Besides, what do these terms really mean? What makes it "noble?" Or "prominent?" "Readily visible" from where? From inside the sanctuary, or from down in the basement?

    Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged

   We've heard this requirement before as well, but where other documents have failed, this one fails as well: there is no definition of what "unduly prolonged" means. Does it mean five minutes? Fifteen minutes? Forty minutes? The document attempts to give further definition:

    This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.

   Same problem. What is a "brief prolongation," and how long does it last? What are to be considered valid "circumstances and culture of the place?" Don't expect to see anything change in this regard in Novus Ordo parishes in the United States.

   And so the document goes.

   The real rubber meets the road, however, as I said before, when it comes to enforcing these norms. Thus far we have not seen any concrete examples of such. If these abuses were in existence 24 years ago and a Vatican document didn't fix them then, what hope do we have that this document is going to bring about any real change? Let's face it, close only counts in horseshoes and they're not even close to the pit. Isn't that the pits!?! We might take the 's' out and add a 'y' as in 'why' to the reasoning of continuing to try to prop up a rotting corpse at all, for it truly is a pity!

Jacob Michael

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    April 27, 2004
    vol 15, no. 118