The liturgical mood of the moment

Is it possible that the mood of the moment, in liturgical terms, has changed to such a degree as to be irreversible?

Dom Mark Kirby OSB of Silverstream Priory states his position in his clear and balanced way, as one who had laboured for the new rites and made no headway in the direction that had been set for those rites by their own creators.

On the New Liturgical Movement we find a useful introductory synthesis by Dr Peter Kwasniewski of the increasingly public lamenting of the liturgical status quo.

Dr Joe Shaw investigates more deeply yet accessibly both the real disadvantage the Reform of the Reform (RotR) has faced, and the obsession with the text that was the fatal (?) flaw of the Liturgical Movement. In the first case, I think the real disadvantage is not necessarily insuperable (why not, for instance, offer a RotR Mass alongside the normal one, much as he advocates offering the old Mass alongside the prevaling liturgy?). The focus on the text, on the human word, is soberingly accurate, and it is an obsession that expresses the hyper-rationalism of modern man.

Mark Lambert examines Archbishop Roche’s telling if more subtle words on the liturgy at the Roman symposium last week on Sacrosanctum Concilium. Of particular note was the Arhcbishop’s highlighting the fact that:

…first of all, we attend Mass because we are in need. We are there because we need to be fed.

This could do with much fruitful unpacking. We go to the Mass not because there is something we can give (other than our bodies as a living sacrifice, our spiritual worship) but because there is something we must receive. We go not to do something but to have something done to us, to put it a little crudely. This is an essential insight for an authentic and fruitful liturgical spirituality.

There may well be more out there that I am yet to see.

jimmy-fallon-hosting-gettyPerhaps most surprising of all is an interview given by Jimmy Fallon, who is about to be promoted as Jay Leno’s successor on The Tonight Show, one of America’s biggest and most influential modern TV shows. This is the voice of one of the multitude whom we have lost in the wake of the liturgical reforms. Of his childhood he reveals what was probably the common experience of so many Catholic boys,

I loved the church. I loved the idea of it. I loved the smell of the incense. I loved the feeling you get when you left church. I loved like how this priest can make people feel this good. I just thought it was – I loved the whole idea of it. My grandfather was very religious, so I used to go to Mass with him at like 6:45 in the morning, serve Mass. And then you made money, too, if you did weddings and funerals. You’d get like five bucks. And so I go ‘Okay, I can make money too.’ I go, ‘This could be a good deal for me.’ I thought I had the calling.

Though ever the comedian he is being sincere, as will become obvious in his answer to being asked if he still goes to church:

I don’t go to – I tried to go back. When I was out in L.A. and I was kind of struggling for a bit. I went to church for a while, but it’s kind of, it’s gotten gigantic now for me. It’s like too… There’s a band. There’s a band there now, and you got to, you have to hold hands with people through the whole Mass now, and I don’t like doing that. You know, I mean, it used to be the shaking hands piece was the only time you touched each other…  I’m doing too much. I don’t want – there’s Frisbees being thrown, there’s beach balls going around, people waving lighters, and I go, ‘This is too much for me.’ I want the old way. I want to hang out with the, you know, with the nuns, you know, that was my favorite type of Mass, and the grotto, and just like straight up, just Mass Mass.

It is obvious to see why a Swiss cartoonist penned this sharp little cartoon in 2012.

vatican-2-opened

“Vatican II has opened up the Church”… “and the people have left”!

It is time to get these guys back.

Revive ’65.

Perfect papal timing

[updated]

Yesterday Pope Francis sent a message to the symposium recently concluded in Rome, entitled “Sacrosanctum Concilium: Gratitude and Commitment to a Great Ecclesial Movement”, and held at the Pontifical Lateran University. So far there seems to be no English translation of the Italian text, but we can still delve into it a little. There are a couple of interesting moments. Acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the publication of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s first document and its manifesto for liturgical renewal, Pope Francis declares that the anniversary,

…inspires gratitude for the profound and widespread renewal of liturgical life, enabled by the teaching of the Council, for the glory of God and the building up of the Church; and at the same time urges a revived commitment to accept and implement this teaching more fully.

This might sound like the beginning of another paean of praise for the post-conciliar liturgy: we’ve heard the formula before. However, maybe all is not quite as it might seem. “More fully” might imply in the eyes of some a desire for even more changes and modernizations. Yet it could also mean that the full meaning of the text of the document itself is yet to be implemented. The Missal of 1969/70 has but a tenuous link with what the Council Fathers actually wrote.

The Holy Father continues a little later by affirming the crucial truth that “Christ is the true protagonist at every celebration”. Neither the people, nor the priest, are the subject of the Mass: it is Christ, gathering His people together and leading them, through the priest, in His perfect worship of the Father.

It gets better. Pope Francis restates the truth expressed by St Paul in Romans 12:1 that “to celebrate true spiritual worship is to offer oneself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. A liturgy without this element of spiritual worship risks being empty of true sacredness and becoming “quasi-magical and an empty aestheticism”. That might sound like a shot across the bows of those who value the old Mass or more solemn worship, the Reformers of the Reform for example. No doubt the pope has little time for those who obsess about lace or the depth of bows (if such still exist in any numbers). Yet aestheticism works in more than one direction. It is also a type of aestheticism that seeks to manufacture an atmosphere of community, an emotive and artificial sense of togetherness, mutual-affirmation and acceptance. The rainbow stole is just as affected as an obsessive use of lace.

He goes on to say that “being the action of Christ, the liturgy from its innermost moves us to put on Christ, and in that dynamic all reality is transformed”. The liturgy should transform us into Christ, and since we are the salt of the earth and the yeast that leavens the bread, through us Christ transforms the world. It brings to mind Fr Z’s tag line, “Save the liturgy, save the world”. What Pope Francis is pushing here again is the centrality of Christ, not ourselves, in the liturgy.  He elaborates this dynamic of transformation by quoting Benedict XVI, which is surely significant. More on that in a bit.

His conclusion is also worthy of noting carefully:

To render thanks to God for that which has been possible to carry out, it is necessary to unite in a renewed willingness to move forward along the path set by the Council Fathers, because much remains to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy on the part of the baptized and of ecclesial communities. I refer in particular to the commitment to a strong and organic initiation and liturgical formation, as much in the faithful laity as in clergy and consecrated persons.

Pope Francis, so fond of the off-the-cuff, is here using very well measured words indeed. In fact, it takes no great stretch at all to see this encouragement for those who yearn for a renovation of the liturgy along the lines discussed in a previous post, one more obviously in line with the 1965 Missal. That certainly is closer to a “correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”. Correct (in the Italian, corretta) - not normally a word we might hear from this pope. But here he uses it, in relation to worship. He emphasizes the need for a “strong and organic… liturgical formation” for both laity and clergy. As Arhcbishop Gänswein said of Pope Francis, he seeks to change not the Faith but the faithful; or here, by transference, he locates the more urgent need as in the faithful and clergy to understand, correctly, the Council teaching on the liturgy, rather than to change the liturgy at will.

And as if to provide a lens, or a hermeneutic, by which to view and interpret his short teaching, he quotes only scripture and Benedict XVI. It is hard not to see this as an implicit affirmation of the liturgical theology and praxis of the Pontiff Emeritus.

The two popes today

The two popes today!

Given that Pope Francis is not overly concerned with liturgy, having other fish more urgently in need of frying, his message can reasonably be read as an encouragement, indeed a mandate, to the Church to recover the “correct and complete” understanding of the conciliar teaching on the liturgy – not least that it is the work of Christ not man; that the people’s most essential role is to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice in union with Christ’s –  our spiritual worship; that all the faithful might be actively engaged in the mystery of worship so that the mystery of worship might permeate their lives (the nub of Pope Francis’ quotation Benedict XVI). This is wholly consistent with Francis’ repeated emphasis on a faith that is expressed in daily living; that putting on Christ in the liturgy our whole life might be transformed.

Pope Francis clearly wants doers of God’s word, and here he affirms that we must first hear God’s word, or Word, and that we hear Him in the most privileged way when we turn from ourselves to Him in the liturgy. This is the timeless teaching of the Church, and not least of the Second Vatican Council. If the current liturgy as very often celebrated does not correctly express that teaching, we need urgently to embrace a liturgy that does before our churches are totally empty. The 1962 liturgy has the centuries of proven achievement; and the 1965 Missal enhances that liturgy, correctly interpreting the Council Fathers’ express desire. Is it too late to give it another go?

Revive ’65. It is not such a silly hope. This pope has shown himself adept at breaking moulds, and surprising us in our complacency. It could well be, for example, that the Vatican bank, or IOR, might not be around in its current form for much longer. Is it impossible that Pope Francis might do something bold and dramatic with the liturgy? He might if he hears enough of us clamouring for it, especially the young. Moreover, he seems to surf the net and read papers for himself. To quote Pope Francis, go out and make a noise!

_______________________________

On the matter of the interim liturgy, between Sacrosanctum Concilium and 1969, Michael at St Bede Studio plans to do a series on this process of imposed liturgical change and acceptance, which he introduced briefly today. It should prove very interesting indeed.

**Caveat: my Italian is not brilliant so when the official translation comes out it might not be in precise agreement with my rough and ready one. However, mine hopefully captures the essential meaning of Pope Francis’ message.**

Another’s conclusion

My recent change in blog design was not unanimously acclaimed, and there was even a gentle but heartfelt plea for a return to the previous theme. So the innovation has been abandoned and the traditional theme restored. This seems spookily emblematic of something… cannot think what though…

___________________________________________

Dom Mark Kirby of Silverstream Priory in County Meath, Ireland, has noted (with unwarranted kindness) my cri de ceour on the Mass. He admits to having been a fellow-traveller in the Reform of the Reform school, but has now reached a somewhat different terminus than the one at which I find myself. He concludes:

The cracks in the post–conciliar liturgical edifice became evident almost as soon as the new rites began to be “lived in.” Today, the same edifice appears like so many shabby buildings put up hastily during an economic boom, now revealing their structural flaws, and threatening imminent collapse.

He has both reason and experience in his rhetorical arsenal, and the courage of his convictions. He and his brethren have found a happy home in the bosom of Mother Church, enjoying the freedom to use the liturgy of 1962 as confirmed by Benedict XVI. He is no sectary. It is his community’s just-getting-on-with-it that is so attractive and so compelling. Arguments must be made, of course; still, to see a community making the old liturgy not so much an ideological stand but, well, normal daily practice is consoling. It is how liturgy is meant to be: not something controversial and almost political, but part of the warp and weft of Christian life.

I still think something can be fruitfully salvaged from the liturgical reform, and in large measure it will come from communities such as Silverstream quietly and faithfully worshiping as the Church has always desired we should. For some it will be with the liturgy of 1962, and for others the liturgy of 1969 and after. I still think there might be something in those interim missals immediately after the Council. They merit further study as they are far more clearly in communion with the previous liturgy of the Church, while just as clearly reflecting the desires expressed by the Council Fathers. They are not so much a via media but more of a path too quickly ignored.

Pax.

The Lament of a Liturgical Loner

Monks live liturgy. “Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” (Rule of St Benedict 43:3) our holy father St Benedict bids us. The Divine Office and the Mass punctuate and structure our day, uniting our lives with Christ’s sacrifice of perfect praise in his Body and Blood on the Cross. This union is what gives the monk’s life its truest and deepest value. A monk with no taste for liturgy is akin to a bird who fears to fly: things can only be difficult and frustrating. So if some of us monks seem to be endlessly focusing on liturgy, you might cut us some slack. For us, the liturgy is the privileged way to live in Christ’s Body, a privilege which necessarily imposes demands on our daily living outside the liturgy. These demands we spare no effort to meet faithfully, though we so often fail.

If liturgy was a live issue before the Council of 1962-65, it has become in the wake of that Council an explosive issue. Liturgy seems never to be at rest. For some, the Council gave a licence to change comprehensively the performance of the Church’s liturgy, and the change has been unrelenting. For others the changes were unjustifiable, unconscionable even, and they reject them outright. For others still, liturgy has been something to be coped with, an unavoidable battlefield on which they try to find shelter in some compromise that acknowledges the reality of change and seeks somehow to keep it organically connected to the Tradition of the Church. Few have been satisfied.

We might ask ourselves: where is my foxhole, my bunker, my bastion, on this battlefield? So much of my reading the past year or more has shown my foxhole to be filling with mud, slowly but ever more surely. It is not a tenable position in the long-term. Two things that have brought that conclusion home with a whack in recent days. One is an article by Fr Thomas Kocik at the New Liturgical Movement. Fr Kocik is one of the leading lights of the Reform of the Reform movement, which sought to modify the reformed liturgy imposed in the wake of the Council by realigning it with both the actual teachings of the Council Fathers and with the rich liturgical tradition that had developed gradually and organically from the times of the primitive Church to the 20th century. Fr Kocik cites Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI as a prime example of a Reformer of the Reform, who proceeded

not only by his teaching and personal liturgical example but also by legislation. He accentuated the liturgy’s beauty, promoted the liturgical and musical treasures of the Western Church (including of course the usus antiquior of the Roman rite), and introduced more tangible continuity with tradition in the manner of papal celebrations (e.g., the ‘Benedictine’ altar arrangement, offering Mass ad orientem in the Sistine and other papal chapels, administering Holy Communion to the faithful on their tongues as they knelt).

But Fr Kocik is throwing up his hands in surrender. The Reform of the Reform cannot be done. It is impossible. He finds that

the ‘reform of the reform’ is not realizable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than I had first imagined.

Things are so far advanced now that it is necessary to go back to the beginning (or rather, to 1963) and start afresh on the basis of the Council’s actual, explicit, written teaching in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

[T]he road to achieving a sustainable future for the traditional Roman rite—and to achieving the liturgical vision of Vatican II, which ordered the moderate adaptation of that rite, not its destruction—is the beautiful and proper celebration, in an increasing number of locations, of the Extraordinary Form, with every effort to promote the core principle (properly understood) of “full, conscious and active participation” of the faithful (SC 14).

____________________________________

The other thing that has sobered me up was a video embedded at Catholicism Pure & Simple. It compares the old and the new Masses in the act of their celebration. It is a little weighted in one direction: the sole example of the post-conciliar Mass is a portly late-middle-aged priest with some annoying American habits (and please, it is not only American priests who can have annoying liturgical habits, I know) who is set against more than one youthful and much slimmer celebrant of the Mass of 1962. The young guys are indeed examples of “best practice” of the preconciliar liturgy, though perhaps many ordinary Catholics back then did not always receive best practice. The older, new-Mass man, is not what you would call an example of best practice; though he is by no means the worst, and perpetrates none of the more spectacular abuses that could so easily have been found on Youtube.

The video, however, put a living face to the theories and principles of the liturgy that have been at issue. And they left me torn, almost asunder. Why?

____________________________________

Both had aspects that did not attract. The new-Mass man was a little too cavalier in his bearing and demeanour before the most sacred things the Church has in its gift. The loud munching on the Host and the long swig of the Chalice both jar. The music was dire in its banality. The poor man felt a constant need to inject meaningfulness into the words he pronounced, even when they were addressed to God and not to the people. He fiddled around with the traditional formulas (eg “…in Jesus’ name, who reigns gently with You…”) in order to be relevant, or caring, or creative, or whatever. He gave out Communion like it was corn chips and not his God.

Yet, it is hard not to conclude that the structure and the rubrics of the new Mass lend themselves to such a practice and attitude. If you remove so many of the sacralizing elements of a ritual, of course it is going to end up secularized. Rather arbitrarily included after the Council among the “useless repetitions” the same Council had deprecated, nearly all the signs of the cross and genuflections and kissings of the altar were removed from the Mass. To one not formed under the old Mass, these gestures can appear to be fussy and pedantic and almost obsessive. They seem to cry out for some rationalization. But is such a principle appropriate to the symbolic and sacred ritual of the Mass? Are time-and-motion principles suited to something that should take us out of time and out of ourselves?

It is this same unfamiliarity with the old Mass that can make it seem quite alien. Even with my theoretical knowledge of it, it can still throw me to watch it. While I have no beef with the idea of rubrics in liturgy (for one thing, they spare the faithful too much of the priest’s ego), the old Mass can seem dizzyingly rubrical: where exactly the Missal sits on the altar, the depth and direction of bows, the placement of the paten, and the like. It does not come naturally to me. Mind you, should it?

That said, a solemn and formal liturgy does feel right. A solemn, chant-filled new Mass is wonderful. Even the vernacular does not normally worry me, and in fact I have rarely said a Mass in Latin (apart from singing daily the parts of the Mass in Latin). The ritualized movement, if not overplayed, makes sense. One hides, subsumes, oneself into it. Using the little logic that God has given me, it is apparent that in the old Mass this submission and surrender to ritual is taken to the next level. It is hard to object to it in terms of liturgical logic.

____________________________________

Here probably comes the nub of the issue: the new Mass has the inherent quality that it allows the celebrant to take over. He is “president” (an awful word in liturgy), and too easily he becomes star of the show. I have seen regularly the pressure that some priests unconsciously feel to be creative, to say something relevant or meaningful, to be constantly babbling. Being in the vernacular allows the priest to dominate the Mass, in a way that is near impossible in Latin. In the vernacular he can interject and extemporize at will. There is the modern plague of the opening mini-sermon telling you what the readings are going to be about (cannot the people understand vernacular readings for themselves?!). Then there are the myriad changes and “improvements” that some priests feel that they must impose (must the people be patronized so?). The most dangerous thing of all, perhaps, for the priest is facing the people. Now, everyone’s eyes are on him and not on God and his Christ, who will return from the East. Instead of priest and people together facing God they face each other, a closed and often self-satisfied circle. Many a priest will recite the Eucharistic Prayer with his eyes on the people, and so inevitably end up talking to the people, even showing them the Host as he pronounces “Take this all of you…”, talking to the Father, but looking to the people.

In other words, there is a disjunction between what we are taught happens at Mass and what seems so often to be happening. There is an incongruence between the words and the actions. It is possible to do the new Mass properly; but the new Mass seems to have the inherent flaw that it is so easy to do improperly.

____________________________________

Then there is the dazzling array of options and variations now available: options for penitential rites, for readings, for Eucharistic Prayers. More is not always better. The more the range of options, the less is it possible to have ritual in the truest sense of the word. The new lectionary has many flaws, not least that it swamps people with chunks of scripture, often out of their context, and too much for people to assimilate in any deep way. Priests either have to retrain themselves as amateur scripture scholars or waffle about some experience they have had or some story that comes to mind to illustrate the easiest point that can be mined from the readings. And not a few end up talking about themselves. Scripture is wonderful, and we should all be spending time with it in some systematic way each day. But Mass is not a scripture class. Nor should it ever be one. The Word serves the Sacrifice which is the real reason we have gathered: to unite ourselves to Christ’s perfect worship of the Father on the Cross. Anything else is secondary in the Mass.

____________________________________

So this priest is left dazed and disquieted, and feeling rather alone in it all.

It is clear that so many of the young are abandoning the liturgical practice of the Faith, and who can blame them if all they were to get is Fr Superstar and pop muzak they would never want to hear outside of church, and clearly do not want to hear inside either. Why would they come if they are talked down to like children, and are never challenged with hard truths that will give them quality of life? How often do priests confront them, challenge them on things like sex before marriage, pornography, alcohol abuse? Children thrive on challenge, and youth can handle hard truths as long they can see they are not being talked down to but called upwards. If we do not tell them, then we are complicit if they go astray for lack of guidance. And we should all remember our Lord’s warning regarding those who lead his little ones astray. And when was the last time a priest mentioned hell as a reality, and a real prospect for grave and unrepentant sinners?

Communion in the hand is too often an awful spectacle. The Sacred Host – Jesus Christ no less! – is handled and fingered and self-administered in a way that does not seem congruent with what we believe the Host actually is. How I respect the goodly number at our abbey Mass who receive the Host in the throne of their hands and then raise that throne straight to their mouths, not a finger in play. They are usually converts who have made an often painful decision to submit to the Saviour in the Host. But Communion in the hand was a concession that has become the rule, and it can really jar.

Just as many youth are just leaving the churches to an ageing generation who are usually either faithful no matter the cost or who find some sort of forum for self-expression in creative liturgy, so too a healthy number of young are also finding their way into church where the Mass is celebrated properly, with dignity, with a clear sense of worship of God and not a tacky public meeting led by a dominant self-appointed few; and in fact where very often the Mass being offered is the old Mass. They participate actively enough, not by doing things but by losing themselves in the mystery. It resonates with them, it makes sense, and it challenges them, takes them out of themselves towards God.

___________________________________

So is there no hope for the new Mass? Is the solution for our many dying parishes to return to the Mass of 1962 and then try for a renewal of the Mass that is more consistent with what the Council Fathers actually mandated? We certainly cannot rule out the old Mass – it is the Mass that admirably served the Church for well over a millennium, for which saints thrilled and martyrs died, which so firmly directs our gaze to God and from ourselves. It is authentic worship.

That said, the Council Fathers were neither stupid nor total dupes. They were on to something. I look at some of the interim Missals that emerged towards the end of the Council and just after and see what we might have had. One Eucharistic prayer, in Latin (since it is addressed to God, and he does speak Latin!) with readings in English, facing east but with more streamlined (and not gutted) rubrics; no vast array of options for this, that and whatnot but some apposite offerings for seasons and certain days. In those missals we were seeing the fledgling emerge before, seemingly inexplicably, a cuckoo took over the nest: a new and totally different Mass, constructed by a committee according to their personal theories of what in liturgical antiquity was to be revived (and which often, we know now, never really existed in the form asserted. Eucharistic Prayer 2 is supposedly Hipploytus’ canon, but if you read the original it differs markedly from this rudely brief composition we now have. It’s just one example. Mass facing the people is another. Communion in the hand is yet another). Alcuin Reid gives some insight into that committee which composed the new liturgy in the wake of the Council, here and here.

___________________________________

So there is life beyond the old Mass, but we will need the old Mass around to inform a renewed liturgical practice and spirituality. Surely the new Mass can be saved, though it requires surgery. The revised Missal of 2012 was a step in the right direction, giving us a vernacular more suited to worship. Yes, it can be clunky, but better that than simplistically banal. But as Fr Z often says, if you do not like the translation you can always go back to the original – Latin. Moreover, maybe I need to learn the old Mass to know what I am talking about in more than abstract theory, to give it a chance. After all, I have given the new Mass over 40 years of undivided attention. Moreover, perhaps the Missal of 1965/67 which is the subject of the Agatha Christie indult should be given another, longer and better chance that the paltry few years it was allowed.

One thing seems sure: without a wholesale renewal of liturgical practice and spirituality the New Evangelization will remain just another expensive white-elephant of a programme. And priests will remain faced with the temptation to entertain and be creative in worship, and in so doing seriously undermine that worship. Without authentic worship the faithful, especially the young, will not be truly challenged to live with integrity, treating their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and their neighbours as Christs in disguise.

It is a daunting task, and if the Church is relying on me then all may be lost. There are many places where such a renewal is already underway, or where the desire for a true renewal is brimming up. Many priests and people are discovering the liberation of a more God-centred liturgy, and its child, a more surely God-centred life. Many other priests and faithful feel the same I am certain.

Pax.

A welcome change

Sandro Magister has alerted us to a change, promulgated on 22 February this year, in the Rite of Baptism for Infants. While Magister paints a compelling and not improbable picture of the personal reasons for Pope Benedict’s decision to make the change, the underlying basis for the decision is not so hard to discern.

First, the change. It concerns the minister’s ritual welcome of the newly baptised. From 1973 till last February the particular text read:

The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.

The text in Latin, and thus in all translations, has been amended to read as follows (in English):

The Church of God welcomes you with great joy.

This is not so much a correction of an error as a clarification not just in wording but in meaning. The “Christian community” option no doubt reflects the prevailing ecclesiology of the 1960s that sought to downplay the hierarchical and institutional elements in the Church’s identity, and emphasize the Church as the People of God. To this extent “Christian community” is hardly wrong.

However, one suspects that it might also have been influenced by the debate about the identity of the Church of God, which came to an unsatisfying climax at the Second Vatican Council in its constitution Lumen Gentium, section 8, where the Church is said to “subsist in” the Catholic Church governed by the Pope. The debate about this phrasing endures to this day, arising from the (deliberate?) ambiguity of the word “subsist”.  Is the Church of God to be identified with those Christian churches in communion with the Pope, and no others? Or is the Church gathered in communion with the Pope to be see rather as the fullness of the Church’s identity, with separated communities sharing an imperfect identity with this Church of God?

The question gains extra spice from the fact that any Baptism made in the name of the Blessed Trinity by means of the sprinkling of water (or immersion into water) is considered valid by the Catholic Church. Into what does such a Baptism insert one – into the general Christian community, be it the fullness of the Church under Peter’s Successor, or into one of the imperfectly-ordered Christian denominations having an impaired identity with the one Church of God?

The previous formula allowed the easy inference to be made that Baptism was made into the more general Christian community, not to be strictly identified with the Catholic Church. However that makes no real sense theologically. Christ founded a Church, built on the Rock of Peter, and it is into this creation of His that he commanded his apostles to baptize disciples of all nations, and it was this Church that Christ commanded to be One. Thus Baptism can only ever be into the Church of God, which “subsists in” the Church in communion with the Peter’s Successor, and not into to some amorphous “Christian community”. So we can say, then, that “Christian community” is not an adequate synonym for “Church of God”.

In fact, on this logic, every valid Baptism, be it Anglican or Lutheran etc, inserts one into the Catholic Church and makes the newly-baptized a subject of communion with the Pope and the one Church gathered in communion with him. As politically incorrect as many may still find it, the logic is clear: every baptized person has an impaired and deficient Christian identity while he or she is outside communion with the Catholic Church. This highlights the importance of the Church’s missionary effort, not just towards non-Christians, but also towards those who are deficiently Christian.

So Pope Benedict’s little change has huge significance and clarifies a question perhaps deliberately (at times, by some) confused. When we baptize anyone, he or she is baptized into the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” which is always and of necessity in communion with Christ’s Vicar, the Rock, St Peter and his successors. Which raises the question: what of those ministers who do not intend to do this?

But that is another issue…

Pax.

Fears confirmed: no ESV lectionary

Face to face contact is usually superior to the written variety. This was proved yet again upon reading that from the archbishop’s mouth my worst fears about the proposed new ESV lectionary were confirmed.

It’s off. There will be no ESV lectionary. It is not yet known what there will be in its place.

In the previous post and others earlier, were listed some reasons why the ESV (English Standard Version) was so promising as a translation for the lectionary. So much work had been put into it that introducing the Sundays volume next year had been mooted. On this point I can sympathize with those who were so disappointed by the shelving of the 1998 draft of the new missal – it had been drafted in its entirety after much work. While the 1998 translation was undoubtedly a vast improvement on the previous translation of the missal, it failed to satisfy the reformed priorities for liturgical translation, not least that of replacing the paraphrasing of dynamic equivalence with the more explicitly faithful principle of formal equivalence. For that reason I could see the point of shelving the 1998 text, and could agree with it, disappointing as it must have been for those who had worked on it.

In the case of this proposed lectionary I can discern no similarly compelling principle. The ESV combines formal equivalence with clear English that never sinks to banality. It reflects the best scholarship, and allows a sound ecumenical involvement while avoiding imposing dubious nuances on the text. In fact the only principle I can discern is a retrogressive one. More likely, it is the victim of the incessant power games in curial corridors. Some might accuse me of mere pique at now being on the losing side (though until the last papacy I was always on the losing side), and I cannot rule out an element of that. Yet my main grievance is that this development marks a significant loss for the anglophone Church. Perhaps something better will take its place – let’s pray so.

This development, not surprisingly, makes it more and more unlikely the publication of the other document/s (I am not now certain if one or two documents had been intended), directed at priests, in particular their celebration and concelebration of Mass. The instructions they were intended to contain are much needed. In many places there is a generation (or two) of priests formed to see their celebration of Mass determined by a need to please people rather than to please God. The rigid rubrics of the old Mass had passed; but the new, gentler rubrics of the new Mass suffered the fate of most other teaching, becoming subject to popular approval. In an age of “liberation” from authority in general the new rubrics were quickly discarded except on the occasion when they happened to suit the new mood. The same happened with concelebration, originally conceived of as being an infrequent practice, except maybe in some religious and monastic communities. Now in most communities it has become the norm, and in a minimalist form.

The prospect the new instructions offered was that of ensuring that such deficiencies in formation could be overcome and that all priests would thus have been enabled to sing the from the same missal, as it were. It would probably have contained a restatement of liturgical theology that would have allowed the principles informing the new English missal to be more comprehensible and coherent to those priests formed under a different mindset. So, in the wake of these instructions, we might have been spared the sight of celebrants making a gesture of offering to the people with the host and chalice as they said the words of consecration, as if they were speaking to the people rather than to the Father (admittedly, facing the people has been the biggest cause of this absurdity). Likewise we might have seen the demise of the equally absurd practice of concelebrants speaking the people’s part before the Prayer over the Gifts, “May the Lord accept the Sacrifice at your hands”, which rather negates their own role as concelebrants offering the Sacrifice together with the celebrant (though some would argue that the whole idea of many priests standing in place of the one Christ at any one Mass was equally problematic).

An authoritative document (or documents) which clarified such areas of confusion would have rescued many priests from liturgical absurdity and enabled them to embrace more fruitfully the revised English missal, so the better to lead their congregations to share more effectively and peacefully in the liturgy.

However, the ESV lectionary having now bitten the dust, even after so much work, there is little hope that these liturgical instructions will now emerge. A pity – we all would have been winners.

Missal Moments IX: Bidding Prayers – getting them right

Previous Missal Moments here have focused on explaining the changes made in the English version of the third edition of the Roman Missal that came into use at the end of 2011 in Britain. The focus today is not any change as such, but on an element of the post-conciliar Roman Missal that has always been there, but too often poorly practised: the bidding prayers after the Homily (and Creed if there is one).

When they are poorly done, it can be excruciating. When they are abused, they can be infuriating. No wonder many, even laity, often wish they might be omitted altogether.

You have probably been exposed to this poor practice. There are the long, rambling, incoherent monologues that seek to tell the congregation (or even God sometimes if the reader is truly abysmal) the whole story behind the prayer. Sometimes they are so long an actual prayer is never made. Then there are the political manifestos, laden with editorial comment, in which the reader effectively preaches rather than intercedes. Even here I have heard diatribes against the authority of the Church and invectives against bankers, masquerading as intercessions. Then there is the often laudably brief intercession, which states the person/s being prayed for, but not the grace being sought for them. Some of the worst can be the spontaneous ones, in which the pray-er gets so muddled in his or her spontaneity that grammar ceases to function; or those which become sentimental addresses to God about nothing in particular.

What’s in a name?

In England, they tend to be called bidding prayers. In Australia the favoured term is prayer of the faithful. In some places I have heard them termed general intercessions. In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal or GIRM (2008) the phrase is Universal Prayer (though it mentions Prayer of the Faithful too).

The name is important in revealing the true nature of this part of the Mass. Universal Prayer and General Intercessions are closest to the essence of this optional rite. (And yes, it is optional, though GIRM does say it is “desirable”.) It is a period of intercession for all beyond the confines of that small community at worship. It is when the congregation looks out of itself to embrace the wider community and intercede for the rest of the Church, and indeed for the world. This is it universal in scope, and general in context. We are not praying for ourselves, but for others.

The nature of the beast

So what is this Universal Prayer? GIRM is quite succinct:

In the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all … [in which] petitions may be offered for holy Church, for those who govern with authority over us, for those weighed down by various needs, for all humanity, and for the salvation of the whole world. (GIRM, #69)

The theory is that having heard the Word proclaimed and preached, and on solemn days professed our faith, we are then moved quite naturally to look to the needs of others in response to God’s Word. We are called to move beyond self-absorption, both of the individual and of the congregation as an entity, to embrace the whole Church and the world at large in our prayer and our sacrifice. It is the moment when the baptised can augment their offering of the sacrifice of praise and their own selves with the sacrifice of intercession for others.

Fr Jeremy Driscoll OSB offers good insight into this rite:

The prayers are also called general intercessions, or sometimes even universal prayers, as an indication of the direction in which our prayer ought to go. These petitions should be very broad, all-embracing. Individuals can pray for their particular needs in the the quiet of their hearts. Here the Church is giving voice to her relationship with the whole world. (What Happens at Mass, Gracewing/LTP, 2005, p.59)

Thus, these petitions should never be for ourselves, and usually not even for our own congregation. Normally I allow a short space of time at the end of the petitions for the people to offer their own particular petitions in “the silence of your hearts”, ending with the standard dialogue “Lord in your mercy/Hear our prayer”.

The structure

There are two levels of structure to be remembered. The first concerns the subject order of the petitions; the second concerns the structure of the individual petition.

(1) GIRM quite clearly states as normative (not merely recommended, though exceptions are as ever allowed) that:

The series of intercessions is usually to be:

a) for the needs of the Church;
b) for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;
c) for those burdened by any kind of difficulty;
d) for the local community.             (GIRM, #70)

Thus our petitions from the universal to the more particular, from the Church (which as it encompasses the Communion of Saints, is greater in scope than the world), to government, to the world at large, to those in particular need, to the needs of the community in which the congregation is situated. There should no reason at all ever to change this structure, and deacons and laity who lead these intercessions should be properly instructed in how to order them, and how to construct a petition.

(2) Each petition is in fact an invitation to the congregation (bidding them) to pray for those intentions announced. Thus the English bishops in their official commentary on the new Missal spell it out as clearly as they can:

Both the priest’s introduction and the proposed intentions are addressed to the assembly, not to God. (Celebrating the Mass, CTS, 2005, #173)

We should never hear the reader say “Lord, we ask…..” or the like. The reader is not talking to God but to the congregation, inviting them to pray for the announced intentions. Moreover, since it is an invitation, the phrasing should reflect this fact. Thus, “We pray for the….”. The phrase “We pray” is not an invitation but a declaration, and it is wholly inappropriate. How does the reader know that “we pray” for that intention. Rather the proper phrasing should be “Let us pray for…”.

How NOT to do bidding prayers.

How NOT to do bidding prayers.

Having announced the person/s being prayed for, the petition should then specify succinctly what is being sought for those persons. Thus a petition should have a structure something like “Let us pray for…, that….”. So an example might be, “Let us pray for the Church under its shepherds Pope Francis and the bishops, that together they might grow ever stronger in faith, hope and charity.  Lord in your mercy./Hear our prayer.” The people’s response is their affirmation of the intention or petition and their presenting it to the Lord as the people of God.

Thus the rite of the Universal Prayer should follow the schema given by the English bishops’ Liturgy Office:

  • Invitation to Prayer (to the people, by the priest celebrant)
  • Silence
  • Intentions
    • Intention (“Let us pray for… “)
    • Silence for prayer
    • Response
  • Concluding Prayer (to God, as a collect, by the priest celebrant)

Noble simplicity

The Roman Rite  is known for its noble simplicity, and this should be manifested no less in the petitions. They should be as short as possible, succinct and to the point. They should be so phrased that no one in the congregation might feel unable to affirm them. The reader is serving the congregation not him- or herself. The English bishops again:

These intentions should be short, clear, and objective enough for the faithful to understand and respond to them without difficulty. They should express the prayer of the entire community. (Celebrating, #173)

Moreover, they should be strictly intercessory, that is, asking for a grace or graces for the benefit of others. They intercessions cease to be so when they lapse into (usually self-indulgent) praise, gratitude or other sentiments. Again, the English bishops state regarding the petitions,

The response they are to evoke is petition rather than praise, thanksgiving, or repentance. (Ibid.)

When, for example, we use the intercessions to offer thanks to God then we have lapsed into self-absorption again. After all, the Eucharist itself is the great thanksgiving.

An excellent set of intercessions.

An excellent set of intercessions, tainted by the “We pray to the Lord”. So close!


Best practice

To the surprise of many, I am actually a fan of the general intercessions, but only when they are well done. If they cannot be done properly they should not be done at all.

Properly includes the necessity for the petitions to have been drafted beforehand in writing, and approved by the priest celebrating the Mass. Spontaneous intercessions are dangerous, all too often ending in confusion, incoherence, poor grammar and syntax, and so becoming a burden to the congregation, not a help. Certain types of Protestant have a knack for making intercessions, a knack not found as often in Catholics. Therefore, the Catholic should draft the petitions beforehand, and have them approved by the priest.

Brevity is also essential. Otherwise the point of the petition can end up being forgotten, and also there is a danger of lapsing into story telling or editorializing. Likewise, there should be only one reader of the intercessions. Having several readers of intercessors tends to lengthen the rite beyond reasonable bounds, and give it an importance that is not proper to this rite. It also risks reducing the rite to banality. In other words, too many cooks spoil the broth!

Ideally, the intercessions should be announced by the deacon, or a competent layperson. This allows the witness value of having a non-priest offer the congregation’s petitions, since the petitions are meant to express the response of the people to the Word of God and to begin their preparation to take part in offering the Sacrifice.

The Universal Prayer, or whatever name for it your prefer, should be given the same care and attention in preparation as any other part of the Mass. If done properly they can serve as a powerful and effective means of transition from the more passive reception of the Word of God to the more active offering of ourselves as a living sacrifice in union with Christ’s one sacrifice of the Cross made present on the altar. This movement of passive devotion to active devotion addresses the need we have to move from self to others, an evangelical movement that makes us intercessors for the whole world.

Caveat

There is a strong and lucid argument that holds the Universal Prayer to embody precisely the “useless repetition” that the Vatican Council sought to remove from the liturgy. The Mass itself is one great universal prayer, offered not only for ourselves but for the whole Church and for the salvation of the world. The argument is a powerful one, and it touches me deeply. However it strikes me that the Universal Prayer allows the people of God to articulate and become more conscious of their need to move their focus from self to others, and through others to God. In that sense it can be a fitting preparation for the Eucharist proper.