I try to be optimistic. As much as I don’t like the Novus Ordo rite of the Mass, I still sometimes attempt to see the good and the love of God in the priests who celebrate it with sincerity and faith.
With this attitude, I came across an essay in an issue of Celebration magazine, which bears the suspect subtitle of “Ecumenical Worship Resource.” (Incidentally, this article had been handed to me by a priest at the seminary when I was still considering a Novus Ordo vocation.) Frowning a little bit, I decided to read on. The article was entitled “Beyond Ritual to Jesus” by Rev. Fr. Ron Luka, CMF. It was this piece of writing that once again nearly extinguished my positive attitude, because it came from an educated Franciscan priest who works for parish renewal, and yet the suggestions he made for a liturgy that 'allows us to experience Jesus more' were nothing short of pathetic. Indeed, I think a priest who holds the opinions of Fr. Luka concerning a possible “improvement of the liturgy” has simply not understood what the Mass is in essence and what it is all about.
Fr. Luka’s ideas for a “better liturgy” came, as he says, directly from his inspiration by John Michael Talbot. Fr. Luka was so moved by Talbot and "the presence of Jesus in Talbot" that he wanted to incorporate these fuzzy feelings he had gotten at the concert into the Mass somewhat. His conclusions are now recapitulated in “Beyond Ritual to Jesus” and are, as you can probably imagine, disastrous, to be frank.
Let me first make a note about Fr. Luka’s interesting modernist terminology. He does not call priests by their legitimate title—“priest” or “presbyter”—, but rather refers to them as “presiders.” This difference gives people the impression that the Mass is simply a “social communion fellowship” that a particular person “presides over,” where it obviously plays no significant role who in fact that “presider” is, as we can see by the dangerously increasing participation of laywomen in the sanctuary and around the altar. Put bluntly, the public is starting to believe that the difference between ordained ministerial priest and layman is simply one of authority, one of legitimate exercise. While this is indeed one of the differences, the most significant one is that the priest has, by virtue of his ordination, certain powers that a layman does not have—the power to confer five of the seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick (Holy Orders can only be administered by a Bishop, and Holy Matrimony can only be conferred by the couple who wishes to get married).
This, namely the confusion about the difference between priest and layman, is one of the heretical consequences, intended or not, that we have to deal with if we start calling priests “presiders.” Once again, the old axiom lex orandi, lex credendi (‘the way we pray reflects what we believe’) holds true. For these reasons Fr. Luka does a terrible injustice to the office of presbyter, and inflicts damage to the doctrine of the Mass and the Real Presence, by his use of the term “presider.” Quite noteworthily, he mentions the title of “presider” as merely one among “greeters, ushers . . ., and other liturgical ministers” (Ron Luka, “Beyond Ritual to Jesus,” Celebration, November 1998, 488). We can easily see what consequences such an approach has.
The last 35 years in Eucharistic and sacramental theology have given people the impression that the Mass is merely a meal, not a sacrifice of propitiation, and that there is no such thing as the Real Presence as defined by the holy Council of Trent, or at least it’s not that important. We have been taught, by the way the liturgy has been celebrated, especially in the U.S., that the most important thing in the Mass is the people and the sharing of a common meal together, and that somehow we give worship to God by doing that. "We gather to celebrate God's love" is the new teaching, rather than gathering in order to give God His due: adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and petition.
The reason for such confused and under-educated Catholics is people like Fr. Luka: while they may mean well, the outcome of their suggestions for renewal is horrendous, and it can precipitate the ruin of many souls—whether intended or not is irrelevant.
Fr. Luka does not like the phraseology ‘saying/hearing Mass’ either. For him, it’s ‘celebrating the Eucharist.’ There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but the term seems to imply that the people have as much to do in the Mass as the priest. Statistics show that it is precisely ever since the shift from "assisting at Mass" to “celebrating the Eucharistic liturgy together” has occurred that Mass attendance has ceased dramatically, that vocations have vanished to an astonishing 5,000 seminarians in the entire U.S., and that belief in the Real Presence has dropped abnormally (Cf. Ralph M. McInerny, What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained [Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1998], 10-13; though this is not a book that I can really recommend).
If we keep going with this approach to sacramental theology, in the near future there will probably be nothing left to distinguish us from Protestants. We must keep in mind that the Mass is not something we do (emphasis on both words) that makes us feel comfortable and cozy and gives us all sorts of other fuzzy feelings; rather, it is the sacrifice promised by the prophet Malachi (1:11) that is offered to God in expiation for our sins,
and in adoration and thanksgiving to Him. So it is first of all an act of worship to God, which God is offered by the priest, who may or may not be assisted by the faithful hearing Mass. That is the historic faith!
Perhaps we should once again focus on God in the Mass, not on us, our feelings, our experience, or similar things. Mass is not a social gathering! Mass is transcendental. It should be other-worldly. How about that for an innovation?
Throughout the article, Fr. Luka fails to make a clear distinction between the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the presence of Jesus in “John Michael [Talbot] and each person present at the concert” [sic](Ron Luka, “Beyond Ritual to Jesus,” Celebration, November 1998, 487), because of the way Fr. tries to incorporate the emotional fuzziness he must have gotten when he went to the Talbot concert, and because he does not seem to realize that Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist is essentially different from and more important than any other kind of his presence. The result is that Fr. Luka, whether intentionally or not, comes across as if a John Michael Talbot, as much as we may admire him, is just as good as the Eucharist. Uncatechized people can easily be misled here, and this is everything but what a priest should like to achieve.
But, interestingly enough, Fr. Luka has made sure that he all of his readers are pacified by saying that he wants to “appease” Mother Angelica by clearly stating he does believe in the Real Presence (even though this is not reflected in the rest of his article). In fact, he refers to Mother and to the Adoremus society as “cantankerous” (Ron Luka, “Beyond Ritual to Jesus,” Celebration, November 1998, 487). Did you know that if you stick to what the Church has believed and taught for 1,900 years, you are called cantankerous these days? We're truly in bad shape.
There are a few more novel items Fr. Luka wishes to introduce to the celebration of the Mass, however. One of the most astonishing innovations he proposes is that during the introductory rite of the Mass, people should be invited to introduce themselves to each other in order to “meet Jesus in the people around them” (Ron Luka, “Beyond Ritual to Jesus,” Celebration, November 1998, 488). I must say that shaking hands with somebody sitting next to me has never enhanced my spiritual life, nor has it enhanced my devotion to Jesus. Besides, I have never made any new friendships with someone sitting next to me by introducing myself to him before Mass; it degrades this sacred place where Christ is made present physically to a community hall where we simply “gather” as in Protestant Bible rallies. We have time to meet Jesus “in one another” during the other 167 hours of the week—let’s take a single hour to meet him in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the altar for once! Similarly, and quite prophetically, Pope Leo XIII remarked in an encyclical that "The world has heard enough of the so-called 'rights of man.' Let it hear something of the rights of God" (Tametsi #13, November 1, 1900).
It’s getting worse, however. Fr. Luka next proposes people talk before Mass for the same reason—to find Jesus in the people sitting next to one (Ron Luka, “Beyond Ritual to Jesus,” Celebration, November 1998, 488). Maybe it’s about time that parents smack their children again when they talk in the pews while others are trying to pray. Now we have this sacrilegious gesture of indifference towards the Blessed Sacrament and and those who try to pray and prepare their hearts for the most glorious act on earth—the Mass—as a suggested innovation so we can "experience Jesus better." This is ridiculous. Fr. Luka can say what he want, but he does not believe in the Real Presence as defined by the Council of Trent and as believed by the Church for 2,000 years. This is evidenced by his "suggestions." One can pay lip service to the dogma of Transubstantiation, but one's actions will betray one in the end. But just imagine what would happen if we accepted Fr. Luka's "suggestion" that people talk before Mass. We all know, of course, what people would talk about: certainly only about the love they have experienced during the last six or seven days, the presence of God they felt when they fed the homeless, and the desire for repentance of their sins and renewal of life in Christ that they are about to receive in the sacrament of sacraments—the Eucharist. Right? Wrong. No, let’s get real. I can imagine much more easily that people will be talking about last night’s football game, about the problems they’ve encountered while trying to set up their new computer, and about the beer party coming up next weekend. In extreme circumstances they might even catch up with the latest gossip.
Our glorious Popes must be turning in the grave. Even Martin Luther would cringe at the sight of what is being done to the Catholic Mass. Knowingly or not, Fr. Luka is another one of the devil's tools in the latter's fight for the destruction of the Church.
Next Friday: Part Four Are we heading toward what Pius XII called 'theological suicide?'
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Mario Derksen, see Archives