Saturday 9 February 2013

Liturgical Renewal – is it possible?

We are told a new handbook on how to celebrate Holy Mass will be published this summer. While Redemptionis Sacramentum was dead on arrival, I suspect the proposed handbook will be still-born. The only thing that can resuscitate our liturgy is clear positive legislation backed up by action.

We have spent fifty years ‘advising and encouraging’ clergy at all levels -from Cardinals down to associate pastors and deacons- to follow liturgical norms, but we have had very little success with such exhortations. Why? I think because if we were to follow even the norms that are in place now for the Missanormativa of Paul VI, we would have a very different kind of liturgy than we currently have in most parishes. Some questions we can ask ourselves about the liturgy in our own parish to see if we are following norms or not are the following. All of these questions should be responded to with a ‘Yes’ if we are following norms; a negative response means we are not following the norms (according to the General Instruction and Redemptionis Sacramentum).

Do we ever use Latin for the Ordinary of the Mass? (cf. RS #112; GIRM #41)
Do we retain use of the Communion Plate? (cf. RS #93)
Do we use Extraordinary Ministers only in exceptional circumstances? (cf. RS #151)
Does the celebrant stay within the sanctuary at the Sign of Peace? (cf. RS #72)
Do we omit the chalice if the greater proportion of the congregation does not receive from it? (cf. RS #102)
Do we allow/encourage Communion kneeling and on the tongue? (cf. RS #92)
Do we keep the Church and adjoining rooms quiet before and after Mass? (cf. GIRM #45)
Do we omit hymn singing to have an organ voluntary at the end of Mass? (cf. Celebrating the Mass, Bishops Conference of England & Wales, #225)

These may seem paltry things to some, but if they are so paltry, why refuse to follow them? It takes so little to put them into place, other than a sense of humility and obedience.

My personal reasons for taking liturgical norms seriously are two-fold. My first reason, in all honesty, is that I am not able to successfully subordinate my self-will to the will of God in all situations (i.e., I still sin), making liturgy the one area of my life where by the following norms I can subordinate myself with a measurable amount of success. Second (and this is a requirement of justice) because the people have a right to the liturgy with which the Church seeks to provide them. Justice is, after all, more widely applicable than just to issues of social poverty and/or oppression.

I return to a long-stated opinion here: if the Novus Ordo were celebrated exactly in accord with the Missal as provided by Pope Paul VI in 1970 in accord with liturgical continuity and the actual decrees of Vatican II, ie., altar-facing (rubric 133) with Latin (Sacrosactum concilium of Vatican II #54,116) and Communion on the tongue while kneeling (1970 GIRM 247) we would see significantly less hostility to the Church’s ancient form of Mass.


  1. I agree entirely, I hope you don't mind but I have reproduced this post on my blog

    1. I don't mind at all. I suspect many of us think along the same lines.

  2. "The only thing that can resuscitate our liturgy is clear positive legislation backed up by action."
    I agree.Sadly we will have to wait as we will need many more new bishops with the will to insist on observance of Liturgical law and doctrine....unless there is a miraculous conversion among the present Conference of bishops.

    1. I think the action is important; we still get ditties for the Gloria and celebrants wandering round the Church duplicating the peace they have already extended to the people from the sanctuary -their proper place.

    2. Yes, the way some priests go to every person with thesign of peace is upsetting AND bad theology. They give the impression that the peace can be extended only by the priest!

  3. I once explained to my PP after Mass that he should not leave the sanctuary to give the handshake of peace to everyone. 'Oh, really', was his reply, and then he turned his back on me. He continued as before. It is this arrogant dismissal of Church law and the opinions of parishioners in favour of personal choice that is part of the reason why people no longer wish to attend Mass. Why should the laity continue to support such priests when they habitually ignore the rules and do what they want, irrespective of whether it offends their parishioners? Parishioners are obliged to support their pastors but must this law apply if the pastors themselves are being disobedient to legitimate authority?

    1. Thanks for reading and replying.

      It is difficult to attend Mass where norms are not in place, and you are right to ask your pastor to follow the norms and to demonstrate humble obedience to Holy Mother Church. To my mind, I cannot ask my parishioners to follow my parish rules if I am not going to follow Rome's rules. However, I think priests who fail to follow norms are generally unaware of them or at least acting in good faith.

      Are we obliged to support pastors who are disobedient? I think we have an obligation to inform them, and if we receive no sound response, to seek the help of their Bishop, but I think we still need to support them as their ministry is much wider than liturgy: pastoral counselling, housebound and sick visits, school visits etc., are some of the other, many tasks in which we support our pastor.

  4. I saw an item recently about a 19th century Anglo-Catholic priest who was sent to jail (by the state, not his Church) for using incense and raising the bread and wine at the altar. What sort of "action" do you envisage to force clergy to observe norms? Are not these dreams of rigid policed uniformity (which probably never existed even in the "good old days") pure fantasy and why should they matter? In my parish most people now receive communion in the hand and receive from the chalice. If they were ever forced to do otherwise there would be pandemonium and why should they be made to conform with "the Church's" ideas on what is reverent when they are just as much the Church as popes and priests and, so far as I can see, receive communion with perfect attentive reverence? We have no communion plate, lay women help to administer communion and the whole congregation joins joyfully in singing a final hymn. The church buzzes with living faith unlike the chilly tombs where the Latin Mass is celebrated with regimented perfection and everyone looks deeply miserable.

    There is a good comment on the kind of endless nitpicking about liturgical minutiae beloved of some clergy in Thomas Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure.' Walking along a street in Oxford Jude hears two clergymen arguing about the eastward position. Jude/Hardy remarks, 'Good God! The eastward position and the whole of creation groaning in travail.' Please fathers get real.

    1. I thank you for reading the post and replying. I shall try to respond briefly.
      I would first of all say that I trust the people of God to have more humility and obedience to the Church than to create pandemonium simply because they cannot receive Holy Communion in their hand or sing a final hymn. These two innovations are relatively new in the Church, and are therefore more easily abandoned. If we look back fifty years, the Magisterium asked the people to give up centuries of Tradition and Catechesis, and they complied without pandemonium. I suspect the people can respond in such mode again.

      While the people are indeed "The Church" as much as are the ordained, the clergy do not replace their baptism with ordination but take on the added responsibility of being Shepherds in Christ's stead. Guided by Him, the Magisterium thinks with the mind of Christ and speaks with the voice of Christ, the Holy Spirit calling to this Office those whom He wills.

      The practical actions I am thinking off? In the first instance a simple reprimand from the Bishop or CDWDS, with re-training in liturgy as a consequence for continued failure to follow norms. If the priest or Bishop continued to refuse to comply, I do not think a short suspension would be out of place since their action constitutes public disobedience.

      While I cannot make judgements about any specific parish, I suspect that a community can be perceived as buzzing with faith when it may only be buzzing with chit-chat and left-wing social activity.

      I cannot help but note that the whole of creation does indeed 'groan in travail', but this is not what Catholics for centuries did at Mass: love for the Mass did not suddenly arise with the Novus Ordo and the failure to follow norms.

  5. I think you misunderstand my point. The people of the Church have moved on. They are now often more theologically educated than their priests. They will not be dictated to or condescended to any more, since they realise that obedience in a Christian sense does not mean doing what you are told by those who have power, but a mutual listening to the Holy Spirit. As the people of the Church they will more and more claim their baptismal birthright to be partners with the clergy in whatever pertains to them.
    Your third paragraph is moonshine: you know that what you envisage there could never happen. And your fourth paragraph is a baseless slur on people of whom you know nothing.

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      It is not the case that educational qualifications in theology -while obviously important- can be equated with authentic teaching, which comes to us only via the Magisterium as erected by Christ (Matt.18v15-18; Eph.2v24; 4v11; 1 Tim.5v17-22 et al). Those who feel they have ‘moved on’ may well be souls who have moved out of the Catholic Faith while retaining a formal allegiance to the Church.

      I cannot see that obedience to norms is a case of people being ‘condescended to’ by those who have ‘power’; the baptised (including the clergy) are called by God to humility before Him and His established Magisterium and its teachings (even Popes must be loyal to and are bound by, Tradition). I wonder if the Magisterium is perceived as having ‘power’ by folk who have not understood that what the Magisterium has is a solemn responsibility before God for His flock, rather than ‘power’.

      My fourth paragraph does not slur anyone; it only suggests that there is another way of perceiving the ‘buzz’.

  6. Christopher Buczek20 March 2013 at 00:43

    From your mouth to God's ears, Father--and perhaps from there to the ear of Pope Francis! Thank you for pointing out that the liturgical norms that emerged from the Council are far, far away from the ones in place nearly everywhere now. I believe the vast majority of Catholics go along to get along and would accept a return to the actual Conciliar norms if they were adequately explained. Sadly, while the attitude of reverent worship which is encoded in these norms seems obvious, the spiritual benefit of adopting such an attitude is no longer apparent to the two generations of Catholics who have grown up divorced from its practice.

    Of the norms you list, the one I would welcome a return to most is that of simple silence. The reception of Holy Communion in silence, and silence for a time afterwards to allow the congregants to enter within and worship their Eucharistic Lord. I am no theologian, but it seems to me that the whole of the Mass is public worship but the heart of the Mass is that still moment of personal, individual union with Our Lord in Holy Communion (whether one receives physically or spiritually). There is no substitute for this--certainly not the Communion hymn which forces the communicant to continue to adopt a public form of worship and to praise God in words (often banal) that she or he did not choose, and which cannot replace the intimate articulation of their own heart's longing. The moment of silence that attends the end of the hymn is sweet, but all too often immediately broken by a recitation of parish announcements—the worst possible time to engage the congregation in quotidian matters. One longs for silence for the space of time it takes to reverently recite an Anima Christi, but the recessional hymn and an organ solo (ending in applause as if one were at a concert) must be waited through first.

    It seems to me that the majority of congregants leave Mass never having experienced a moment's reflection or offered a private prayer. Everything in our culture drives to distract us from ourselves and from any notion of an inner life. Mass should be the one hour during the week when we are encouraged and given the opportunity to enter deeply within ourselves to recover an equilibrium that is continually eroded--and to listen for God's voice responding to our public and private prayer.

    In the end, this is perhaps why I miss the silence most. There is no opportunity anymore to listen to God except through scripture and the medium of the liturgy. Of course, these are essential--but it is a pity if they deposit us at the threshold of the experience of union only to frustrate our deepest longings by never leaving us and Our Lord alone.

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      I am in agreement with you from beginning to end, especially concerning silence. Holy Communion may well have a communal aspect since we are united to one another by our reception of the Lord, but unless we are personally united to Him in that one-to-one moment when we receive Him then union with one another cannot, it seems to me, be attained.

  7. Dear Gary
    I am at a loss as to what this site is all about. It seems to me that if you put as much effort into your priesthood, as you do into this rather odd website, you might actually be doing the Lord's work. Jesus came for the sick and the sinner, he walked among the people who needed the mercy and forgiveness of God - I don't see much of this in your efforts on this site, which was pointed out to me by another priest who was also at a loss as to the point of all of the above. I think you ought to be ashamed at the things you have inferred about Pope Francis, this is a man who has probably done more for the poor in our world than you could dream of, but then the poor don't seem to matter on your site. Having spent time with you at seminary, the views I read here on this site do not surprise me, as a working priest who is trying to live out the gospel they DO offend me. All I know is that both of us, like the rest of humanity will stand before the Father, (I hope you are wearing your rochet and mozzetta) and will have to give evidence as to what we have done with the gifts he gave us.....

    and having re-read my comment, and looked again at what I find on your site, I think it sad. That's all, sad. I will pray for you.
    Blessings on your tired brow
    Fr Jim Clarke

    1. Dear Fr Jim,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m sorry you are disappointed by my blog; it is simply a way of sharing disparate thoughts and personal reflections, which are mostly on liturgical and renewal issues.

      I’m disappointed that from a distance and no first-hand knowledge you would judge anyone’s ministry to be inadequate and not the Lord’s work. Authentic liturgy does not and never has precluded care of the sick, the poor, the bereaved or the marginalised. Do however, pray for me; none of us is above the need for prayer.
      God Bless.


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