As I alluded to in my last column, these days, it seems easier to have dinner with the Pope than to find a Catholic hymn that mentions "sacrifice" and "propitiation" and "atonement" in relation to the Mass. But why is that, if that is what we believe? How true is the Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi – what we believe is reflected in how we pray. No wonder, then, with such architecture and such music, does the majority of "Catholics" at Mass deny the Real Presence of Christ. We live in a culture that is already anti-religious and secular enough that at least Church songs should contain proper expressions of the faith. Is this too much to ask for? Especially in our modern, secular, and banal society, which denies anything that cannot be empirically verified, it is important for the hymns at Mass to offer solid Catholic teaching – in the face of all secularization, scientism, and denial of the metaphysical. The Church has never been of the world, after all, but merely in the world.
Another typical example of the systematic denial of beliefs peculiarly Catholic in liturgical music is the song Look Beyond. It encourages us to "look beyond the bread you eat; see your Savior and your Lord." This seems orthodox at first, but even Protestants "look beyond" the bread and the wine they eat to remember Jesus – without in any way believing in the Real Presence. We do not eat bread at Mass, nor do we drink wine; hence it is difficult to see how one should look beyond the "bread" we supposedly eat or the "wine" we supposedly drink. If the song were really Catholic, it would say, "Look beyond the bread you see" because what we do see are the accidents of bread, as opposed to what we do eat, namely the substance, which used to be bread, but which has now been transubstantiated into the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. By ignoring this extremely crucial distinction, the song has shrewdly succeeded in injecting the poison of modernism.
Talking about transubstantiation – it’s another such word that people in the pews can’t pronounce or spell because they don’t hear it anymore. In the Mass of St. Pius V, it was required that the priest speak about transubstantiation at least once a year – on the First Sunday of Lent. Nowadays, it is at times questionable whether the "presider" himself even knows what it is.
These critical states of common liturgy in US parishes which I am presenting are in no way new, however. Back in 1978 already, Fr. Kenneth Baker, editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, wrote in response to a reader about the example of a hymn "that urges us to 'eat bread together on our knees' and 'to drink wine together on our knees'" (HPR, October 1978, p. 6). Father observes: "There is no indication here of belief in the Real Presence, and there is also something vaguely pagan in another verse [the very chorus of that song] that has us falling on our knees with our face to the rising sun" (ibid.). Fr. Baker is referring to the song Let Us Break Bread Together [sic], whose title alone already indicates some heavily modernist tendencies. It is not we who break bread, but the priest who offers the most holy and unspotted Sacrifice. How about that for a hymn?! Oh, no, that could offend some Protestants, and since we’ve become a religion that models the most important expression of its faith by the standards of heretics, we cannot use that, of course.
Where does all of this leave us? In short, the "new liturgists" have engaged in unspeakable sacrilege and made the Mass a mess. What used to be the most holy time for all Catholics has in many parishes been transformed into a social gathering at which people celebrate themselves. The altar has become a table, the sanctuary has become a stage, the chalice has become a cup, and even the priest himself has become merely a "presider." The actual edifice is not really a Church but more of a multi-purpose building.
All those subtle long-term changes indicate an implicit rejection and denial of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrifice. Pope Pius XII realized that these changes were being suggested by people whose pretext it was to revert back to the liturgy as it had been celebrated in the earliest days of Christianity. But this is a false archaism. Obviously, the standard for the Church’s liturgical practices cannot be found in its earliest stages or during times of persecution, but rather in its golden age. Pius XII emphasized this when he said, "It is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device" (Mediator Dei #62). Yet, the warnings of Pius XII have gone unheeded, and we now see the results.
These shocking observations in modern churches are not limited to architecture and liturgical setup alone, however. Let’s look at how people dress for Mass. We see teenagers with Michael Jordan shirts and old shaggy blue jeans, women with tops that are so tight and see-through that it would be less revealing were they to wear nothing at all, and girls showing off shorts so short that, in extreme cases, their underwear can be seen. This is often topped by the fact that more and more people are found chewing gum during Mass. Give it another 10 or 20 years, and you’ll find "No Smoking" signs posted in church.
Pastors, the shepherds who are to take care of their flock, often excuse these abuses as being contemporary and so they must tolerate them, "otherwise hardly anyone will come to Mass." In other words, what they mean is that if the Catholic faithful won’t conform to the Church, the Church needs to conform to them. Yet this is not what teaching is all about, and it is still the primary mission of the Church to teach and preach the Gospel. The Mass is the Heavenly liturgy on earth – it is a feast for our King, who deigns to come down to us again in sacrifice and sacrament. We must be dressed properly for having been made worthy to assist at such a gracious act.
It is obvious that the faith of the ordinary Catholic is subtly and tactically being endangered and undermined, not only by heretical and liberal "theologians" but also, and probably much more so, by architecture, liturgical setup, and music at Mass. Even the uneducated Catholic – and probably especially the uneducated Catholic – can "read the signs" in these exterior abuses. They say and teach more than a mouthful, and teach unorthodoxy at that. Lex orandi, lex credendi – how true. And how dangerous.
Next Friday: Part Three Warm 'fuzzies' quickly cool off the Faith!
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Mario Derksen, see Archives