Friday, October 5, 2012

Decorum, maybe?

The Holy Father's reflections on liturgical prayer at the last couple of Wednesday General Audiences have been most enjoyable. For the sake of creating a context for my comments, let me just quote the last paragraph from a week ago:

"Dear friends, we celebrate and live the liturgy well only if we remain in a prayerful attitude, and not if we want “to do something”, to make ourselves seen or to act, but if we direct our hearts to God and remain in a prayerful attitude, uniting ourselves with the Mystery of Christ and with his conversation as Son with the Father. God himself teaches us to pray, St Paul says (cf. Rom 8:26). He himself gave us the appropriate words with which to address him, words that we find in the Psalter, in the great orations of the sacred liturgy and in the Eucharistic celebration itself. Let us pray the Lord to be every day more aware of the fact that the liturgy is an action of God and of man; prayer that wells up from the Holy Spirit and from us, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the Son of God made man (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2564). Many thanks."

Complex world that we live in and people we are, I should not be surprised or shocked to have picked up from "comboxes" that the Pope's words appear to have set the teeth of one or another on edge, maybe because he reaffirms the teaching of Vatican II in the course of his reflections and quotes the documents of that Council whose golden anniversary of convocation falls in these days. Granted, I suspect a goodly part of this bitterness or even cynicism is spawned by the liturgical abuse which has often characterized Catholic liturgy over more that four of these five decades. I find myself asking once again: What is to be done? Can we not turn things around? Should God not have the upper hand in what is truly His action? 

Friends who have read me with any regularity over the last years both here and previously on ISLAND ENVOY and particularly there on my page "Liturgy and Reform" will know that I am firmly convinced that much can be done to not only eliminate abuse but also to sacralize the experience of OF liturgy simply by strictly adhering to the rubrics in the Roman Missal (to quote Fr. Z. - "Say the Black and Do the Red"). Whenever and wherever possible I recommend opting for celebrating the OF ad Orientem. Beyond that the choice of truly sacred music must also be or become the norm. Taking the hectic out of the Communion procession by returning to the rail would also go a long way to breaking bad habits and restoring a sense of the sacred to all we do in Divine Worship. True worship is not showmanship; it is indeed something out of the ordinary and every day in the sense that it is or must be sublime even in its simplest of forms.

Some would claim that nothing short of a full restoration of the liturgical tradition can put us back on the straight and narrow by healing the obvious rupture with the Mass of All Times, with our heritage, which seemingly, at least often enough in practice or in application, would need to be conceded as that which sadly and not infrequently the OF represents even yet today. Behold this stolen quote from an interview given by Archbishop Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the National Catholic Register:

"NCREG: Could they (SSPX) perhaps help correct some of the abuses?

Müller: That is not their task, but ours. One extreme cannot be the equivalent of the other. The extremes must be corrected by the center."

In other words, a society or a brotherhood (we think of the role played by the mendicant orders and later by the Jesuits and the Theatines in restoring or rebuilding the Church) needs a mandate, needs recognition by the highest instances of Church authority to play a role. If and when such a mandate to spearhead Church reform were ever given, the clincher in the argument in favor was usually a saintly founder or leader, with any number of other truly saintly and excitingly so around him.New orders have done so in the past by flanking a charismatic leader like St. Francis, St. Dominic or St. Ignatius of Loyola, with evidence of "first" and "second generation sanctity" all around. Francis had great and reforming saints in his train, so did Dominic, so did Ignatius. It was not the blueprint but the fruits of a life lived as witnessed in other lives which carried the day.

What about the vernacular? A younger priest friend of mine some years ago expressed despair over the possibility of the language of the people being capable of setting the right tone for true worship. I don't know what he thinks now that the new English edition of the Roman Missal has come out. In any case, for a very long time people have yearned for some inclusion of the vernacular in the liturgy and I think for quite natural and not ignoble motives.

Of late, I have had some doubts about my own thesis concerning the sufficiency of following the rubrics as step toward restoring a sense of the sacred. Not that long ago I was reviewing a training video for the postures and gestures required for the celebration of a Low Mass in the EF. I remembered as a child the precision used to describe bows and the proper positioning of the head, body, hands and arms of the priest in the orans position, but I had forgotten things like feet together and approximate distance from the altar. All of these strictures, if you will, bring poise to the priest's every movement and stance, lending not only added but the necessary decorum to the rite. OF rubrics come nowhere near the precision and leave much to family upbringing and seminary training. How do you bring a priest to understand that there is a decorous and truly Latin way to partake of the chalice at Communion time? Tell me I am as bad as my dear departed aunt who used to poke us children between the shoulder blades at table and bark: "Sit up straight!"

When the Holy Father speaks about the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the one rite, I suggest that the EF could well gift the OF and exceedingly when it comes to decorum. Might I also suggest that this would not be a bad argument in favor of teaching the EF and to all in the seminary today?



  1. Your Excellency, your last couple paragraphs lead me to wonder about the possibility of some publishing entity putting out a sort of "fill-in-the-blanks guide" to the OF, in which those things that are not specified in the OF but are in the EF (in a way not contradictory to the OF's rubrics) could be listed so that a priest - whether or not he celebrates the EF - could more easily add to the decorum with which he celebrates the OF if he so wishes.

    1. It is certainly a right idea, but actual formation to celebrate the EF with all the discipline and order that implies would have a formative effect on lumbering people like me, on distracted types who don't know how to stand within a space. Somehow I cling to the notion of mutual enrichment over filling in the blanks.

    2. Your Excellency, I support such formation very much, but I have often heard that some priests do not have time or otherwise have the opportunity to do so in virtue of their assignments. I certainly wouldn't want such a guide to replace priests (and seminarians) learning the EF, but it might be a useful aid or a stepping stone, especially for those who forever reason do not (presently) want to learn the EF, but perhaps are willing to learn from it. I think also of places where there is great hostility to the EF: Father starting to stand a certain distance from the altar with his feet a particular way (thanks to an ebook on his iPad) is, I think, much less noticeable than Father being away for a week or weekend to go learn the EF. But I am not a priest, so I have no direct personal experience with that. However, as one who has been trained to serve and has served a number of Masses in both Forms, I can certainly say that learning to serve the EF has left quite a mark on my manner of participation in any Mass, whether I am serving or not.

    3. Very good, Hidden One, let's go with "both-and". My specific wish was to speak to the seminary training issue, but as I know a specific self-taught priest, who represents a Jekyll-Hyde on such things, not really letting the EF influence his OF style, I guess I shouldn't exclude the possibilities that others might get the principle of mutual enrichment and move accordingly. My own conviction about ad Orientem as best for the OF is not rubrical but rather first an opening to the thought of the Holy Father and the witness of the dear bishop of Tulsa and others. Secondly, it was a deliberate step on my part, which has been repaid in my own life and that of others many times over.

    4. Your Excellency, I agree with you that mutual enrichment is a great thing. The one danger that occurs to me is that one might accidentally 'mutually impoverish' the Forms - but I do not think that I have ever seen this happen, and hope I never will. Ad orientem celebration, for example, is definitely not an impoverishment of the OF!

      I love to attend (or serve) Masses celebrated ad orientem - OF or EF - both because it seems so right to me and because it has been so beneficial for my soul. Even recalling ad orientem Masses - and the principles that lead to it and are made evident by it - while I am at a Mass celebrated versus populum can be helpful, at least for me. Ad orientem celebration of the OF, perhaps unlike some other things valued by 'trads' (often justly), is something that I think really can become the norm in any parish - and I hope it does.

  2. Your Excellency, I just finished reading a paper by Fr. Sven Condrad, FSSP, that (near the end) touches on this issue. (In general, I think you may find the paper interesting if you have not already read it.)

    Renewal of the Liturgy in the Spirit of Tradition: Perspectives with a View Towards the Liturgical Development of the West":

    1. Dear Hidden One!
      Thank you for the article! It was a marvelous antidote to "post election blues"... Ha! I will come back to the article, I am sure again and again, because of its reasoned approach to what the Holy Father means by mutual enrichment. I also does an excellent job of grounding my option for Dobszay over Kirby in my article about Reform and Restoration:

      God bless!

    2. Your Excellency, you are most welcome!

      That article is the first (and, so far, only) article that I have read from Antiphon; I think that I will have to do some more looking through their archives ( Where there is one gem, there is often another.


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