February 17, 2000
volume 11, no. 34

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    Pat Ludwa, a committed lay Catholic from Cleveland, has been asked to contribute, on a regular basis, a lay person's point of view on the Church today. We have been impressed with his insight and the clear logic he brings to the table from his "view from the pew." In all humility, by his own admission, he feels he has very little to offer, but we're sure you'll agree with us that his viewpoint is exactly what millions of the silent majority of Catholics believe and have been trying to say as well. Pat puts it in words that help all of us better understand and convey to others what the Church teaches and we must believe.

    Today Pat applies a very basic tenet that has always worked: If you lose something, don't go looking in the wrong place for it but go back to where you last had it. He is referring to where we lost the sense of the sacred and he can trace it back to the fact few have followed the true code of the documents such as Sacrosanctum Concilium and post-consiliar documents such as Pope John Paul II's Inaestimabile Donum. That is the answer to clearing up the confusion over the liturgy and the music used, and returning a true sense of the sacred to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That is the gist of his column today, Looking for the liturgy in all the wrong places!

    For past columns by Pat Ludwa, click on VIEW FROM THE PEW Archives   If you want to send him ideas or feedback, you can reach him at

Looking for the liturgy in all the wrong places!

        I suspect I touched a nerve in many of the die-hard dissidents as well as embracers of the Mass as it is today who subscribe to the "any-kind-of-return-to-reverence-represents-a-pre-Vatican-II-stance" philosophy. Last Monday's article on music in the liturgy garnered a lot of e-mail for me. And I think I need to clarify some things. Anytime anyone begins to speak about the Mass, the Liturgy, one is sure to hit a few buttons. For some, the article was a call to return to the Mass before Vatican II, banning all hymn's written after, say, 1963. That isn't the case at all.

        When one talks about the liturgy, almost everyone agrees that something's wrong. Mass attendance, over all, remains low. For most of the churches, nothing can be seen as outright wrong, but something isn't quite right.

        In his book "Recovery of the Sacred" historian James Hitchcock points out, "The thrust of liturgical reform was, prior to the Second Vatican Council, primarily toward a more powerful restatement of the importance of the sacred. The principle criticism which liturgists made of the Mass as actually celebrated was that, in too many parishes, it was said quickly, sloppily, irreverently, as a duty to be performed rather than a divine mystery to be entered into." (Recovery of the Sacred, pg. 34)

        But today do we see anything is different? Many Masses are said as though there's a time schedule to be met. In some parishes the priest's vestments are more for statement than devotion. Once, we saw people saying their rosaries instead of participating in the Mass, now, we see them chatting with the neighbor about something. We see them coming to Mass in t-shirts, jeans, clothes which seem to indicate that what's coming after the Mass is more important than the Mass itself.

        Now, as then, Masses are being said, sloppily, irreverently, and more out of duty than devotion. What has the reform then accomplished? Some liturgists (to give them the benefit of the doubt) try to reverse this trend by new innovations. One such idea in my parish was to have the prayer intentions brought forth during the Offertory. Needless to say, this would have just disrupted the Mass more than it already was. Their intentions, by and large, are good, but do they really help?

        Some of the terms one will hear are: Eucharistic celebration, Eucharistic liturgy, etc. Almost anything but the word, Mass. Now, there is nothing wrong, per se, with these terms. There are aspects of celebration in the Mass. Thanksgiving denotes a celebration, and one of the ends of the Mass, to thank God for the many blessings He has bestowed on us. However, "The term "celebration," though venerable in the liturgical lexicon, is often used now in a rather different sense from its traditional meaning. The connotation is that we are going to have something very like a party, and that the Mass is an action which we who "celebrate" perform (indeed, liturgists often talk of our "doing Eucharist"), rather than a sacrifice which Christ offers. It is not many steps from this notion to the idea of the "community" celebrating itself." (THE JARGON OF LITURGISTS: BRAIN-WASHING THE FAITHFUL by Calvert Shenk) We see the congregation asked to applaud the choir, a baptism, whatever. The Mass is slowly, almost imperceptibly, changed from a sacrifice to a social event.

        The people in Mass aren't referred to as the congregation any longer but an Assembly. "This is meant as a somewhat tendentious translation of gahal or ecclesia: the coming together of the faithful. As opposed to "congregation" (the more common term until recently), it is designed to include all who "assemble," including the priest. The intention is to eradicate the distinction between the celebrant, acting in persona Christi, and the faithful who participate in the sacrifice analogically." (Ibid)

        Again, we see that it isn't that far of a stretch to go from the priest acting on our behalf to that of the community being the actual celebrant (since the priest is just a part of the whole). The notion of the cult of the community enters again.

        We may hear of the church called a "worship space" instead of what it is, a church. "A "space" is just a space; a church (building) is a symbolic, visible expression of the Church (the Body of Christ)." (Ibid)

        We don't come together to give glory and praise to God - rather we 'Gather' and the Mass is a 'Gathering'. "This idea-really just the fact of people being present at the same time and place-has been elevated by modern liturgists to the level of sacred action. As a "gathering rite," the opening prayers and hymns of the Mass (introit, penitential rite, Gloria, collect) become entirely a matter of people "gathering." The emphasis shifts from prayer and praise to such concerns as "hospitality:" This is the trivialization of worship. We also, of course, gather for club meetings, sporting events, and virtually every other human enterprise involving more than one person in the same vicinity." (Ibid)

        The priest is no longer the celebrant of the Mass, but the 'Presider of the Eucharistic celebration. "This term, which connotes to Americans the chairman of a meeting, is another attempt, when used in place of "celebrant," to eradicate the distinction between the priest and the faithful. Anyone can preside, and indeed, one has heard of celebrations over which non-ordained persons have presided. The aim is to desupernaturalize holy orders. Some years ago the preferred term was "president," which seems, mercifully, to have disappeared-perhaps as a side-effect of many liturgists' strong reactions to a succession of Republican administrations." (Ibid)

        The one catch phrase which drives me crazy on many levels is "We Are Church" "Word. Eucharist. Church. Liturgy. These terms become jargon when used without the definite article, "the." A dependable rule of thumb is never to trust anyone who drops his articles, as in "to do Eucharist" or "to be Church." The idea seems to be to eliminate (along with capitalization) the notion of the Eucharist or the Church as a specific definable entity. Whatever the user of the term would like "Eucharist" or "Church" to mean becomes its meaning." (Ibid)

        We no longer offer ourselves with the bread and wine at the Offertory, rather we "prepare the gifts". "Banishing the word "offertory" in favor of "preparation of the gifts" implies quite a different relationship between ourselves and the oblata. "Preparing" the gifts is hardly the same as offering them. A whole devotional tradition of offering ourselves with the bread and wine on the corporal, to be transformed with them by the action of Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, is here obliterated by a simple substitution of words. The Missale Romanum and the Graduale Romanum still refer to the cantus ad offertorium. What is good enough for the editio normativa should, one would think, be good enough for us." (Ibid)

        On the surface, again, most of these don't seem wrong, but as we can see upon closer examination, they aren't right either. So we may see this at the beginning of Mass. "Before the Eucharistic celebration begins, the assembly gathers in the worship space. As the assembly sings the gathering song, the presider and other ministers enter."

        As I said, though it doesn't sound totally wrong, there isn't something right. This can't help but add confusion to the Church. Is it a sacrifice or a celebration? Is God the focus or is it the community? Is the priest the celebrant of the sacrifice of the Mass or the presider at the Eucharistic celebration?

        Again, many think this is what Vatican II called for in 'updating' or 'modernizing' the Church. None of these things can bring good results. The consequences are-and cannot fail to be-the impairing of the unity of Faith and worship in the Church, doctrinal uncertainty, scandal and bewilderment among the People of God, and the near inevitability of violent reactions.

        The faithful have a right to a true Liturgy, which means the Liturgy desired and laid down by the Church, which has in fact indicated where adaptations may be made as called for by pastoral requirements in different places or by different groups of people. Undue experimentation, changes and creativity bewilder the faithful. The use of unauthorized texts means a loss of the necessary connection between the lex orandi and the lex credendi. The Second Vatican Council's admonition in this regard must be remembered: "No person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority." And Paul VI of venerable memory stated that: "Anyone who takes advantage of the reform to indulge in arbitrary experiments is wasting energy and offending the ecclesial sense." (Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery; Approved and Confirmed by Pope John Paul II; INAESTIMABILE DONUM; April 17, 1980)

        James Hitchcock points out that (radical) "Ecclesiastical reformers were concerned...that Catholics move beyond the 'ghetto' of the Church and into the larger world, usually without noticing that the Catholic Church is perhaps the largest 'ghetto' in the world, much larger and more diverse in membership than any 'worldly' group. However, here as elsewhere a notable irony developed: those who left the ghettos of the parishes to become part of the larger world often ended by joining even smaller and narrower ghettos than those from which they had liberated themselves - underground church groups, encounter groups, political sects, etc." (Recovery of the Sacred; pg. 106)

        And as polls show, this increase in the notion of community has, in fact, led to the breakdown and destruction of the community. " It is an error, consequently, and a mistake to think of the sacred liturgy as merely the outward or visible part of divine worship or as an ornamental ceremonial. No less erroneous is the notion that it consists solely in a list of laws and prescriptions according to which the ecclesiastical hierarchy orders the sacred rites to be performed. It should be clear to all, then, that God cannot be honored worthily unless the mind and heart turn to Him in quest of the perfect life, and that the worship rendered to God by the Church in union with her divine Head is the most efficacious means of achieving sanctity. In this connection, Venerable Brethren, We desire to direct your attention to certain recent theories touching a so-called "objective" piety. While these theories attempt, it is true, to throw light on the mystery of the Mystical Body, on the effective reality of sanctifying grace, on the action of God in the sacraments and in the Mass, it is nonetheless apparent that they tend to belittle, or pass over in silence, what they call 'subjective,' or 'personal' piety." (The Sacred Liturgy; Encyclical Letter by Pope Pius XII; MEDIATOR DEI; November 20, 1947; Nos. 25,26, 28)

        When I was younger and lost something important, my mother gave me very sound advice. Rather than running around trying new things, looking in all the wrong places for what I lost, go back to the last place you knew you had it and go from there.

        We really need to go back to Vatican II, to it's teachings in SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) to see how it sought to build on the traditions of the Church and renew the Liturgy, from it's music to it's devotion and prayers, to bring the faithful a greater devotion to God in the Mass, to hear the Mass more reverently. So that when we enter a church, we know that we are in the presence of God (even if the Tabernacle has been moved to an out of the way ante-chamber), and not just a community gathering. It is vital to rediscover the sense of the Sacred.

    Pax Christi, Pat


February 17, 2000
volume 10, no. 34

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