So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Competing Narratives. What is the soul of the Liturgy?

Battleground on holy ground?

The battle for the Liturgy is an ongoing struggle between those who rightly defend the Liturgy according to the Tradition of the Church on the one hand, and on the other those who seek to appropriate the Liturgy and (mis)use it to their own ends. This battle is played out in parishes on an ongoing basis.


The Tradition-minded see the work of the Holy Spirit shaping the Mass down through history. The Tradition-minded understand the Mass as the action of Jesus Christ, something to be received, cherished and celebrated with absolute fidelity. The Tradition-minded understand that truth, beauty and goodness in liturgy reflect the truth, goodness and beauty of Jesus Christ. The Tradition-minded understand that worship is oriented to Christ, and so promote ad orientem worship, i.e., worship oriented to the East. Because we receive Christ in the Mass, we receive with humility and dignity as God's redeemed children Holy Communion on the tongue.


By contrast, those who do not receive Tradition but instead promote an agenda of dissent and/or ignorance of history routinely promote liturgy as a form of religious entertainment or as a mere social gathering. The vocabulary of the liberal-religionist reflects a preoccupation with novelty resulting in false dichotomies: table vs altar; meal vs sacrifice; service vs Holy Mass; bread and wine vs Body and Blood of Christ; and so forth. The liberal-religionist envisions the Mass as a closed circle (Mass in the round) that has people surrounding the altar. Worship is decidedly horizontal and earthbound.


Because Mass has become people-centred, the Mass has become subject to every manner of personal preference that has little relation to what the Church has taught continuously on the nature of the Mass and decorum in worship. Large liturgical gatherings, such as those at the Mahoney inspired religious education conference in Los Angeles, have become goofy paganesque sideshows that confirm an innovationist misappropriation of Church teaching regarding inculturation of the Mass.

The most successful activity of the liberal-religionists has been the imposition of substandard vernacular songs that have replaced the music of the Mass. The marginalization of sacred chant and polyphony is a cultural tragedy of epic proportions. Catholic and non-Catholic music historians alike have mourned the loss of beautiful music of the Mass. Most contemporary music one hears on any given Sunday is trite to the point of being offensive. The composition, text and performance of said music is not acceptable for worship. If a parish music group really intends to worship in spirit and truth, they should also feel obligated to learn how to play their instruments and sing on key so as to avoid being a distraction. The fact that so many singers and instrumentalists who occupy lofts and sanctuaries are not interested in improving their craft is yet another sign that banality has become the norm.

Confusing the language of the Liturgy with the language of personal devotion.

An article in the Tablet (aka, The Bitter Pill) typifies the confusion and blurring of lines between personal/private devotion, i.e., the personal conversation between the individual and God, with public/liturgical worship of God by His Church.
The Battle for the Soul of the Liturgy 
26 June 2014

Tiernan MacNamara quotes F.M. Cornford's Preface to his translation of Plato's Republic (The Tablet, 21 June). The battle for the soul of liturgical language is far from new. Fifty years ago Archbishop Francis Grimshaw of Birmingham penned a trenchant Preface to the 1964 Small Ritual published as a result of the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy.

The Archbishop praises the quality of modern translations from one European language to another and compares such skill with the apparent desire for literal translations in vogue among ecclesiatical translators. The tendency to copy Latin syntax is, he claims, justified by some on the grounds that this is the solemn language of prayer demanded by the majesty of God. Others, he points out, insist that prayer, whether private or public, should be expressed in the simple language of ordinary people.

He suggests that whatever has become the accepted form of address to one whom we respect yet love should be the form to adopt when we speak either to God or about him. Slavish, ad literam translation will not do any more, he says. We must avoid anything that makes the language of prayer unreal. (The argument that liturgical language that respects the literal meaning of the Latin original is "unreal" is founded on a faulty premise: liturgical language is not the same as individual devotional language. Liturgical language affirms exactly Who God is so we can direct our prayers to the Father in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is a theological necessity that liturgical language is precise and in perfect conformity to the received Tradition, which for us Latins means we have an obligation to insist that all translations conform precisely to the Latin original, even if our English sensitivities may suffer a little. Catholics, if they be faithful Catholics, depend on the orthodoxy of liturgical prayer to guide their private prayer. Personal prayer is firmly rooted in the liturgical.) Tiernan MacNamara thinks it's significant that no one is prepared to publicly admit ownership of the present so-called translation (That is an unfortunate misrepresentation of the facts. The translators were well known to the bishops and other committee members, and the process by which the translation achieved approval was completely transparent. The reason why some raise the issue of responsibility is because many of the complainants were not included in the process. Perhaps that was a good thing.).
Private prayer should conform to the liturgical model, not the other way around. The language of liturgy and personal devotion need not be subject to a false dichotomy which pits private prayer against poetry and hieratic language. One would be a fool not to make the beautiful prayers of the saints one's own.

Adopting the language of liturgy shapes our relationship with God in authentic ways, ways that help us, for example, to think and act with Holy Mother Church. Is it any wonder that a generation of liturgical tinkerers have led so many astray by projecting a vision of the Church on to the Church which resembles more the flawed human face of men more than the perfect human and divine face of Jesus Christ?
Liturgy is the “soul” of the Church. Each Particular Church has its own specific liturgy. For example, Maronites celebrate their own liturgical tradition, as do the Coptic, Chaldean, Armenian, Latin, and Byzantine Churches. Liturgy is what makes a Church fully “Herself,” and makes the Particular Church a gift to the Universal Church. For this reason, we must respect and protect the integrity of liturgy, safeguard its power to transform and pass this sacred work intact to the next generation, so that through the liturgy Christ may continue to do in others what He has done in us.—Liturgy and Prayer, Third Pastoral Letter of Most Reverend Gregory J. Mansour, STL, Eparchial Bishop of St. Maron of Brooklyn, 14 September 2008.
If one has never been protestant in name and/or in spirit, perhaps it is more difficult to understand that when the language of me+God alone, for example, is admitted into the Mass, the Liturgy is reduced to a collection of individuals subjecting the public worship of God to individual biases and opinions. In such a gathering, the worship of God takes second place to the feel good sentiments of a religious social club whose members think God will be conformed to their demands. In the church-of-me, homilies typically divorce the quest for holiness from the grace of God and make the worshipper the centre of the universe.

Worship in spirit and in truth.

What separates Catholic liturgical worship from sectarian services is that the Mass is Christ praying to the Father. We enter into Christ's prayer to His Father, a prayer He makes in the unity of the Holy Spirit. The Liturgy, then, is properly called divine—hence the Divine Liturgy, as our eastern brethren call the Mass—because the Mass is Christ, True God and True Man, praying to the Father. We enter into Jesus' one and same sacrifice at Calvary. Every Mass we enter into the Upper Room of Holy Thursday when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist (Mass) and Holy Orders because Jesus identifies Himself with the Mass. How can we not offer our very best effort to welcome Jesus in the Mass? Furthermore, if we cannot recognize Christ in the Sacred Liturgy, Jesus Who has made Himself completely vulnerable in His Body and Blood received as food, how will we recognize Jesus in the poorest of the poor?

Generic music, anonymous god.

Most liturgical music is an obstacle to worship and a hindrance to formation in the Faith because it fails a most basic test: it has us focussing on us instead of God. The Propers (proper chants) of the Mass, by contrast, excerpt the text of Holy Scripture. On occasion, the truly inspired poetry of canonized saints is presented. The Propers (Introit, Offertory and Communion chants) have us praying to God not at Him nor confine our thanksgiving to a gift received. Rather, the Propers have us offering to God our thanks and praise, contrition and adoration and our petitions for help. Much praise and worship music frequently fails to refer to the Father and omits the mention of the name of Jesus. Generic references that could be applied to Buddha as much as Jesus are used instead of the Divine Names.

The battle for the soul of the Liturgy requires that those who defend the Mass from abuse of one kind or another must be equipped with the weapons provided by the Church. Many resources are listed in the Pages section of the left column of this blog. Happy hunting!

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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