April 17, 2001
volume 12, no. 107

The Germs of GIRM

Part Two: WYSIWYG or Improvising!

    Suffice to note that a lot of older priests know subconsciously that something is wrong in the celebration of the Mass. Some of these good men, who have offered their lives in the service of the salvation of souls through Our Lord's true Church, were enthusiastic about the changes when they took place between 1964 and 1969; others were bewildered and disturbed. Some of the enthusiasm for the new Mass among priests was the result of the spirit of the day in the 1960s when progress was associated with change.

    Some of the bewilderment among priests at the time was caused by the fact that seminary education in liturgical matters had long been reduced to the level of canon law and rubrics. There were no serious efforts in most seminaries to explore the living liturgical tradition of the Church so as to give future priests an appreciation for how substantial parts of the Traditional Latin Mass dated back nearly 1500 years.

    Thus, when the antiquarian movement for the "discovery" of the sources of the liturgy began in the 1920s and the 1930s, the groundwork had been laid for a revisionist history of the liturgy which became accepted as gospel truth by the time the new Mass was devised synthetically and promulgated.

    However, even some of those priests who were enthusiastic about the changes began to see the wreckage which took place before their very eyes. The wreckage of souls. Wreckage of belief in the Real Presence. Wreckage of reverence in dress and behavior during Mass. Wreckage of the actual design and architecture of church buildings. A lot of these priests, desperate to do something to right the liturgical ship, began to try to "emphasize" their belief in the Real Presence, an unwitting and perhaps even unconscious admission on their part that the new rite does not communicate the fullness of the nature of the Mass in its prayers and rituals.

    To wit, a parish in the western United States (which will not be otherwise identified) features a number of very elderly priests who really do believe in the Real Presence and in the sacrificial nature of the Mass. One priest, who is in his eighties, lifts the consecrated Host very, very slowly after he has prayed the words of consecration. It takes nearly a minute for him to elevate the Host before he holds Our Lord in It aloft for another minute or so. The descent takes an equal amount of time. He does the same with the chalice containing the Precious Blood. This is an abuse. It is idiosyncratic. It is an effort on the part of this priest to say, "Look at me. I believe in the Mass." But what he is really saying is, "Look at me. I am adding my belief in the Real Presence to a Mass which does not convey it, and which features many priests who do not believe in that Real Presence." Other priests believe they have to sing at inappropriate times (such as the "Domine non sum dignus"), while yet others provide a running narrative during the consecration.

    One priest on Long Island, who was persecuted endlessly by his former ordinary, Bishop John Raymond McGann, says frequently before he consecrates the Eucharistic elements (right during the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer): "Focus your attention now on the most solemn event you can ever witness." He then pronounces the words of consecration slowly, doing the same with the consecration of the wine into Our Lord's Most Precious Blood, speaking into the chalice loudly and slowly.

    All of this is the direct result of the triumph of the very sort of individualism and idiosyncratic manipulation condemned by Pope John Paul II in Dominicae Cenae. However, this triumph of individualism and idiosyncratic manipulation is only the logical result of a liturgical rite so loose and subject to so much individual interpretation and cultural and/or congregational adaptation.

    As subsequent articles will explore in great depth, the problem faced in the Novus Ordo is not merely a matter of having the right set of instructions. Indeed, the new set of instructions actually feed into and reinforce the very concept of the liturgy which has emptied our churches and robbed Catholics of their belief in the Real Presence and of the nature of the Mass itself.

    "Conservatives" are not the only ones who delude themselves into thinking that reality is something that it is not. The Holy See itself makes the gratuitous claim that the new Mass is a "witness to unchanging faith," a claim which will be explored in great detail in future columns. This gratuitous claim, though, links the Holy See with some of the very supposed targets of the new General Instruction to the Roman Missal: the liturgical apparatchiks in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (which is the new name for the old National Conference of Catholic Bishops). Consider the following claim, made by Father James P. Moroney, executive director of the bishops' secretariat for the liturgy, in his cover letter which was dispatched with the NCCB's translation of the new GIRM:

    "The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council have enjoyed great success in brining many Catholics closer to the perfect sacrifice of praise which Christ the Lord offered from the wood of the cross. Perhaps most of all, the reforms of the Missale Romanum which regulates the celebration of the Eucharist as the 'source and summit of the Christian life' have been the cause and witness of this great work."

    What kind of "success" is Father Moroney referring to in his letter? If what we have experienced in the last thirty-two years is a sign of success, a sign of the Church's qualitative renewal, I would really hate to see what failure is. Far from being a witness to an unchanged faith, the new Mass, while valid, has been responsible for the destruction of the faith in the lives of many Catholics and for the triumph of emotionalism and sentimentality as the substitutes for the worship of the Father through the Son in Spirit and in Truth.

Tomorrow: Part Three - Revisionist History Writ Large

Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives

April 17, 2001
volume 12, no. 107
CHRIST or chaos
Return to Today's Issue