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).

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Survey showing US priests dislike new Missal: not what it seems

There has been some buzz in the Catholic media, both new and old, about the findings of a recent survey of priests in the United State showing that just under 60% are unhappy in some way with the new Missal. An example report can be read at a Canadian Catholic website. But the organisers of the survey, at the Benedictine St John School of Theology at Collegeville, have issued a press release which is worth closer examination; headlines do not tell enough, as we recently saw with the English bishops on royal marriage.

Don’t accept too quickly the spin this press release puts on the survey. It says that “U.S. Catholic priests are sharply divided”, and after presenting a highly selective and inadequate presentation of the alleged findings, the press release indulges in some Missal bashing. Thus, “The new translation theory has been sharply criticized by many liturgists and experts in translation”. It offers no examples, and we are supposed to accept that this assertion is an accurate representation of reality. In this negative atmosphere the statement is generating, it then asserts that “The new English Missal was a key initiative of the papacy of Benedict XVI”. So that awful Benedict XVI was resposnible: typical! – we are meant to cry. Of course, the translation is of the 2002 Roman Missal, an initiative of Bl John Paul II. You would think, from the Collegeville statement, that the mere fact of an English translation was Benedict’s initiative, rather than an inevitable development in the light of the current obsession with vernacular liturgy.

But the press release ends with a blatant plug for the blog run by the monk heavily involved in the survey, Dom Anthony Ruff OSB, a monk of Collegeville. Dom Anthony and his Pray, Tell blog (no link from here) have been fomenting opposition to the Missal for years. Of course this is not because he was not included in the translation committee.

Let’s look more closely at the details of the survey. 32 dioceses participated, though all 178 US dioceses were invited. There is the first alarm bell – the diocesan participation rate is a mere 18%. Is this survey going to be representative? The press release also states “A total of 1,536 priests participated in the survey, with a response rate of 42.5 percent.” Yet if we read the survey’s full report we find that the number of respondents varies from question to question, down to 1527 for one question. Even more importantly, the highly manipulable section for comments on various issues never has more than 372 respondents for a single section, and sometimes as few as 20 (for Chant in the Missal), 22 (for Missal format) or 64 (for theological content of the Missal – this is a bizarre category!).

Most of the survey report draws wind for its sails from this comments’ section. Taking the highest number of respondents, 372 for Aesthetic Expression, we see that at best these comments represent 2.7% of the 14000 priests in the US. Yes, this supposedly damning report is really based on, at best, 2.7% of priests in the US, and of them up to 40% are favourable to the Missal on various issues, leaving less than 2% who are clearly vehement in opposing the new Missal. Given that the vast majority of priests who are content with the Missal would have been unlikely to respond to this survey, especially given its nuanced questions and notoriously dissenting organisers, then probably only those who militantly oppose the Missal would have bothered to reply, so that they can be “heard”, no doubt. Barely 2%. Piddling.

The survey seems to have been a waste of time and money, not only because of the poor rate of response, nor only because the Church does not change anything on the basis of political lobbying by tiny minority groups of dissenters, nor because it actually confirms what Catholics might rightly hope for – that the vast majority of their priests are happily getting on with their job using the Missal. It is not only wasteful but verging on scandalous in its attempts to foment discord and opposition to the new Missal.

The preamble to the main report of survey results has the temerity to end with “Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus” (That in all things God may be glorified) This survey singularly fails in that regard. Let it be consigned to where it belongs.

garbage-can1

Benedict XVI back home – two interesting photos

A couple of days ago Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome, returned to the Vatican. His dower house, Mater Ecclesiae, has been made ready for him, and Pope Francis toddled down from the big house to welcome him. Some have suggested that it is awkward for Pope Francis to have his predecessor living in the garden. If so, he hides it supremely well.

Perhaps I am reading too much into the angle of the photo, but Benedict seems much gaunter in the face, and slimmer in the body. Age seems suddenly to have hit him. Is he well? If not, is this possibly one small reason why no live coverage of his return was allowed by the Vatican? It adds an ominous undertone to a lovely picture.

Another picture has emerged from the day. It shows Pope Francis and Benedict at prayer in the dower house chapel shortly after Benedict’s arrival.

After struggling still to absorb the remarkable sight of two live popes at prayer together, my eye wandered around the chapel. It’s lovely.

The chapel is utterly simple and un-ostentatious (it is not only Pope Francis who can be so, though he certainly is). Yet, for all its simplicity, it is utterly Catholic. To my poorly trained eye, it looks as one might have hoped for a chapel to look in the wake of Vatican II’s document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctun Concilium. The focus is exclusively on the altar, the place of the Sacrifice, symbol of the Cross and of Christ himself. It is a symbolism boldly affirmed by the imposing yet elegant crucifix above the altar. The altar faces East, the direction of the rising sun and the Returning Son, the ancient and now so tragically neglected direction of Christian prayer and worship. The altar is dressed simply but worthily. Christ abides in the small tabernacle directly behind the altar. The big six are there too, appropriately sized.  The Paschal Candle is the only other object to compete with the altar for attention. However, one might reasonably suspect there is an image or statue of our Lady in there as well. St Joseph too? The Sacred Heart? St Benedict?! Hopefully we will be allowed a few more glimpses into the dower chapel.

It strikes me that this chapel is undoubtedly fitted out according to Benedict’s desires, shows Benedict’s commitment to the liturgical vision of Vatican II. That is not quite the same as a commitment to the liturgy as it is most often celebrated around the world. Cloistered with the Cross though he now is, Benedict still witnesses to the liturgy the Church treasures and deserves, even if only God and the angels might see it day by day.

Still, now we too have had a brief and privileged glimpse. It is enough, let us pray, to remind the Church of Benedict’s parting call to rediscover the “true Council”. Just as the Council’s decrees began with the liturgy, so may the Church look again to the Council’s liturgical reforms as they actually decreed them, and confirm whether it is these reforms we were given. If so, let us rejoice. If not, let us waste no time in reclaiming them.

May the Lord protect and defend Pope Francis and Benedict; may they both bear much fruit to God’s glory and our good.

The Tablet, and the English bishops: whom do they serve?

Last week in The Tablet the Letters pages were opened to what we were meant to see as a flood of complaints about the statement made by my confrère, Fr Paul Gunter OSB, in his capacity as Secretary of the English Bishops’ Department of Christian Life & Worship. Quoted in the previous edition of The Tablet, he had clarified the status of Pope Francis’ setting aside Church law on reserving the mandatum on Maundy Thursday to males, explaining the reasons behind the law and also why Pope Francis’ actions do not licence clergy to a similar liberty. So he was doing his job.

The gushing stream of outrage from The Tablet’s correspondents was directed at Fr Paul, as if he were imposing his personal opinion on us all. The usual arguments of an emotive, “pastoral” nature were employed. Now Fr Paul is well able to defend himself, and his terse but apposite response has been printed in the latest edition. But I felt it necessary for several reasons, to write in support of Fr Paul for doing his job. My letter has not been printed. I am not surprised. Here is what I wrote:

It seems to be the spirit of the time to return to old simplicities, and many of your correspondents last week (Letters, 20 April) seemed intent on reviving the ancient simplicity of slaying the bearer of unwelcome tidings.

In addressing a clarification issued by my confrère, Fr Paul Gunter OSB, in his capacity as Secretary of the Bishops’ Department for Christian Life & Worship, they gave the impression that they saw Fr Gunter as peddling his own personal opinions. In fact he was doing his official duty in reminding the clergy of the pertinent facts and liturgical laws as they stand with regard to the optional rite of mandatum on Maundy Thursday. These are laws which Fr Gunter has not the power to change. Those who object to them would better serve their cause, and charity, by addressing their complaints to the Holy See.

One point raised against him merits particular attention. Fr Jim Lawlor asks Fr Gunter why “restorationists” allow themselves to see as exemplary the liturgical practice of Benedict XVI, yet refuse to allow Pope Francis’ liturgical praxis to be likewise exemplary.

Surely the answer is clear with but a moment’s reflection. Benedict XVI retrieved legitimate elements of Catholic liturgical tradition to enrich the celebration of the modern liturgy in accord with its proper laws and theology. Pope Francis’ mandatum contravened both current liturgical law and its theology. As pope, Francis has the power to dispense himself from such laws ad hoc. This dispensation does not extend to the rest of the Church.

It may be that Pope Francis will change the theology and rubrics of the mandatum. Until he does, however, priests are obliged to celebrate the Church’s liturgy in its integrity and not their personal versions of it. To the best of my memory neither Vatican II, nor the subsequent reform of the liturgy, gave priests a mandate to do whatever they want in the liturgy.

What is of particular interest to me is that only one letter has been included in the latest Tablet on the subject, Fr Paul’s own reply in his official capacity. To the casual reader the impression might be that a flood of outrage against Fr Paul was received at The Tablet but only a few dribbles in support of him. This is a classic propaganda technique. This impression seems confirmed in another regard, namely Cardinal Schönborn’s recent talk in London, which has been mischievously used by some to convey the impression he supports same-sex civil unions. In last week’s Tablet there was only one letter printed that countered this impression, and that too was a letter from an official of Cardinal Schönborn’s Vienna diocese. Yet I know that at least one other letter was sent in the same vein, by a layman prominent in the City, who wrote in a balanced and reasoned way. His letter was not published.

So, the orthodox line is reduced to representation only by officials; the liberal line (to give it a generous label) is open to clergy and laity in any quantity. So, you can see the propaganda technique here: only officials push the Church’s line – the clergy and laity want change! One thing gives me some cheer though: the vast majority of active young Catholics do not read this quasi-Anglican journal. This does not augur well for the future of The Tablet. Its only hope is to come out of the closet and proclaim its allegiance to Anglicanism, which it serves so well. This should preserve its life a few more years.

The English bishops, too, seem to be serving something/someone other than the Church. It is reported that the General Secretary of the bishops’ conference, speaking on behalf of its president Archbishop Nichols, has assured lawmakers that in the case of a mixed royal marriage the children do not need to be brought up Catholic. Royals are dispensed where commoners are not. There is a long history of making concessions to royalty, so there is no real surprise here. It is being painted as a “pastoral” approach. But it raises two points in my mind:

(1) Do the bishops believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life”; and if so, do they agree with Pope Francis when he preached a few days ago that Jesus cannot be found outside the Church? If so, how can they in good conscience deny royal children born to a Catholic parent the right to find Jesus in his Body the Church? Surely the only truly “pastoral” approach is one that leads to Jesus where he is truly to be found. Unless, of course, you believe that all the churches are basically equal…

(2) As a strategic tactic it is appallingly inept. Just when lawmakers are openly proposing the removal of the infamous bar on heirs to the throne marrying Catholics, the bishops are surrendering the obligation for a Catholic spouse to raise children as Catholics precisely at the moment when there is absolutely no need to do so. In fact, the Church should be keeping up the pressure by insisting on the obligation for Catholic royals just as it insists on it for every other Catholic. The bishops seem intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Tablet, the English bishops – whom do they serve? Jesus and his Church? That seems an increasingly difficult position to argue.

Liturgical darkness and light

Yesterday the Holy Father received in audience Archbishop Piero Marini, the previous papal MC (Marini primo). In 2007 after 2 years as Benedict XVI’s MC, and 18 years before that as Blessed John Paul II’s, Marini primo was moved to a curial position, and in his place a young Genovese monisgnore was appointed, Guido Marini (Marini secundo).

Marini primo was apt to dress Benedict XVI like this:

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Whereas Marini secundo was apt to dress the pontiff like this:

APTOPIX Vatican Cardinals

‘Nuff said….

Needless to say, this audience Pope Francis granted to Marini primo yesterday has set liturgical teeth on edge. Given Pope Francis’ rather Jesuit, graceless approach to matters liturgical, is Marini secundo about to be removed and his predecessor restored? Marini primo is not a bad man to the best of my knowledge, but his taste leaves a lot to be desired. Moreover, his appointment might be counterproductive in light of Pope Francis’ agenda for simplicity and poverty. Marini primo was fond of spending money to make innovative liturgical fashion statements; Marini secundo was happy to look first to the papal sacristy and see what was already in stock. Anyway, time will tell…

There are many around who resent money being spent on the liturgy, with the inevitable refrain that it would be better spent on the poor. Apart from being a simplistic argument, and one that is not easily reconcilable with our Lord’s own words (Matt 26:6-13 comes to mind), it is often found to be contingent on the way it is being spent. If for modern vestments or architecture, then it can be praised as modern, part of adapting Christianity to the contemporary society and taste &c, and any objections quickly forestalled; but if for traditional-style vestments, buildings or fitments, then it becomes costly indulgence in nostalgia, “dressing up” &c. Monasteries are not immune from it. It is a mindset wholly alien to a true Christian spirit, and one certainly incomprehensible to eastern Christians, not least those who live in much poorer countries than ours. They tend to sacrifice much for the sake of their liturgies.

So when one finds an ecclesiastical craftsman who fosters intelligent liturgical tradition without stooping to nostalgia or kitsch, he (or she) is to be encouraged in every way possible. One such can be found at the Australian St Bede Studio. This is not mass produced material, but hand-crafted beauty. During the papal visit for Sydney’s World Youth Day in 2008 (where has the time gone?) Michael at the Studio was commissioned to make vestments for Pope Benedict’s visit, and this was the stunning result:

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It is a traditional vestment which does not slavishly ape any one period. It is a full cut chasuble of unostentatious beauty. Its use of the tau cross I find particularly attractive. The Studio makes vestments of many styles, always with an eye to beauty, good taste and quality. If I had the money I would stock our meagre sacristy with Michael’s work without a second’s hesitation!

Yes, Michael also has a blog which is very informative. Rather than being a mere vehicle to advertise his work, it offers restrained analysis and background on styles of vestments and the ways in which they employed. Recently he has been looking briefly at Pope Francis’ liturgical style. It is a blog you should visit if you value the liturgy and its worthy celebration. You will discover that Michael is a true and serious student of liturgy. Go there now! The Saint Bede Studio Blog

Of Guns and Priests

A busy Christmas and New Year, new tasks taken on including redesigning the abbey’s website (a work still in progress but light is at the end of the tunnel), and a speechless-making horror at the gun debate currently recently re-ignited in the States have kept me from here. Mea culpa. If the forecast levels of snow actually come to pass here tomorrow, there may be more time than I had bargained for.

In fact, I did touch on the topic shortly after Sandy Hook. Still, the gun debate is a live (as in grenade) topic in Catholic circles as much as secular ones. While there is always need to beware of simplistic arguments in any direction, it is hard to see how difficult it is for so many Americans, not least conservative Catholic ones, to see the need for gun control. Dubious arguments about other countries with gun controls and higher rates of death by firearm do nothing to allay the disquiet. No serious advocate of gun control would argue that there is more to the issue than merely restricting access to firearms. Culture plays a significant role in a nation’s level of crime. Brazil is not open to direct and unconditional comparison with the USA. It has levels of urban poverty, as well as police and political corruption, that are in a league beyond that of America.

Likewise, to follow another line of argument, until recently the Swiss had an almost full armed population, which arose form the population at large forming a standing reserve militia to be activated in case of invasion. Firearm homicides there were stunningly low. So, the argument goes, the issue cannot be guns. Well, the Swiss did not go toting them around like trophies or fashion accessories. There were not rapid-fire assault rifles. They were locked up and never removed from their housing except for their regular maintenance. They were in case of foreign invasion and nothing else. The American gun lobbyists’ rhetoric is aimed at their own government, not foreign invaders. While the Swiss have a stable democracy which they trust, Americans have nothing like the same trust in their democratic government. Their mistrust leads them to carry guns. The logical conclusion if that way of proceeding does not bear thinking of… or maybe it does, now more than ever.

Another argument recently reissued by the lobbyists is self-defence: we need guns to protect ourselves from criminals (and others?). Given all the mass shootings in the USA, how is it that none of these have been prevented by gun-toting citizens? And who needs a military assault rifle to protect their families? For pity’s sake… If a man has a knife, he might kill one or two people before he is overpowered. If Adam Lanza had gone to Sandy Hook Elementary School with a knife, he would not have been able to kill 28 people. Instead he accessed the arsenal in his mother’s home and armed himself with a Bushmaster rapid-fire rifle, among other weapons. Most knives are designed to cut food or other objects; all guns are designed to kill. Is that not obvious?

America has many problems, as do all nations, but one almost unique to them is the sin of idolatry of the gun. Because the right to bear arms is in their constitution, they will and must exercise that right. Guns are a symbol of their freedom. Little matter that the constitution was written more than two centuries ago, and the authors also wanted to be able to raise a militia in case the redcoats returned. In other words, the second amendment seems very much to have been a product of its time, a time long past. It is particularly disturbing to see priests loudly opposing gun control, posting pictures of all sorts of weaponry that again raises the question of the American idolization of guns.

Priests check the firearms of Marines who will be sent to Basilan province in southern Philippines during the 110th founding anniversary of the Philippine Navy in Manila

It’s not America… but similar scenes there are highly likely.

One fact stands out clearly, the overwhelming majority of fatal mass shootings have occurred in the USA, where a large majority of citizens can buy and use an assault rifle. School shootings seem to be a particular speciality in the States.

SchoolShootingsThis map shows school shootings throughout the world since 1996, and can be accessed in full interactive detail here. I, for one, am happy to be living in a country with gun controls. It is hard to see how Catholics can be pro-life and also pro-guns. Maybe I am slow…

On a happier note, there is news that the Vatican will issue a new manual for priests, on how to say Mass properly. Alleluia! At last we have a single resource that all priests can refer to in order to guarantee that Mass is celebrated according to the mind of the Church rather than the individual priest’s. I wonder at the adequacy in some places of the preparation for celebrating Mass and the sacraments. This manual will help to remedy any inadequacies, it is to be hoped. Publication is due this summer. You can read more over here.

Portsmouth Diocese Roman Missal Survey

A while back I remember a copy of survey questions, emanating from the diocesan bureaucracy, floating around our common room. It struck me, even without reading it through, as an exercise either in futility, at best, or potentially wilful pot-stirring at worst. After that I gave no more thought to it.

Alas, its results have been released under the name of Paul Inwood. The report makes some desultory attempts at being impartial and even-handed but largely fails in that endeavour. It tends to confirm both my initial musings. You can read it here.

Others better than I can dissect it if they choose to do so. One section will suffice here. The section on the “language of the texts” (pp.9-11) has the equivalent of 8 paragraphs describing (in obsessive detail) negative comments, and the equivalent of 2 paragraphs at the end with the positive comments. It is clear that the editorial preference of this report favours the negative. This is confirmed in the conclusion when Mr Inwood opines:

The final outcome, however, as evidenced from the overall reactions summarised above, is clearly weighted towards the negative, with narrative reactions indicating just how bleak the landscape is for many. The majority are disappointed and hurt, even angry, and remarks about the deleterious effect the texts have had on their prayer lives are both moving and disturbing. At a more prosaic level, it also appears from many comments that church attendance is haemorrhaging as a result of the introduction of the new translation.

That something so tendentious and self-serving could come from a paid diocesan employee is food for thought. His conclusions may well be a justifiable assessment of the survey, and that might be telling in some circumstances. But wait… some context is enlightening.

At the outset Mr Inwood admits that “a significant number” of responses came from outside the boundaries of the diocese of Portsmouth, including some from overseas or from temporary visitors. That alone should make us wonder how representative this survey actually is of the true balance of opinion in the diocese. What rather confirms that it is most definitely not a reliable gauge of opinion within the diocese is in the very final paragraph (p.18):

Although the final number of responses received is not enormous (a total of 307), they appear to be broadly typical of what has been heard in parishes all over the country. It is to be hoped that the Bishops will indeed not file them away but take appropriate action.

The total number of responses is 307, out of a diocese with an estimated Catholic population of 192,000: that is 0.16%   It is freely admitted that of this paltry total of 307 responses, a “significant number” are from those not part of the Church in this diocese. Mr Inwood offers no evidence at all for his claim that the survey accords with national opinion. A survey with a greater number of respondents, and executed far more rigorously, while admittedly from the USA, tells a far different story to this one. The American context may involve factors lacking here, catechesis perhaps, but its results tend to demand that Mr Inwood provide evidence for his peremptory assessment of the national Catholic mood.

Ironically, given its insurmountable inadequacies, what Mr Inwood hopes to avoid is precisely the fate that this survey deserves: to be filed away. It hardly justifies any action by the bishops against the new Missal, even if there were action able to be taken. Liturgy and doctrine are not products of popular surveys at any time, and that such a deficient survey can be touted as justification for action against the 2011 Missal is the stuff of cloud-cuckoo land.

Neither Bishop Philip, the diocese nor the wider Church are in any way well served by this flawed survey and report, and at a time of financial constraint for the ordinary person one might ask if it was a judicious use of the faithful’s money.

Advent blessings.