Liturgy and the Politics of the Church

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Liturgy and the Politics of the Church

There has been an underlying battle raging in the Catholic Church between advocates of the post Vatican II style of liturgy and those who seek a greater dignity. Fuelled by excesses seen by many in the liturgical styles since the liturgical reforms issued under Pope Paul VI, the more traditional elements within the Church look for a more solemn and dignified liturgy.

The reforms of Paul VI appear to be here to stay. But the form these revisions and alterations were to take is open to discussion by pretty much EVERYONE! Since liturgical action is the heart of the worship of God in the Catholic Church the way Mass is celebrated touches all people. This includes not just the Mass, but also all sacraments because there is a revised liturgy with each. All liturgical actions were altered in appearance, wording and spoken language.

Perhaps if the changes had been introduced over a greater period of time, a sort of incremental change, it could have passed in a more orderly fashion and the unifying nature would have been maintained. But with the rapid alteration from the familiarity of the unchanging Traditional Latin Mass of St Pius V, a familiarity of 500 years, to the sudden shift in vestments, language and form, many people were left behind. It was no longer their church.

Since then the excesses mentioned above have been, at times, minimal in appearance, to quite outrageous in some recent cases (and many of these can be witnessed in YouTube). The uninhibited creativity has resulted in liturgies that bear no resemblance to the Mass before 1969, and even to the revised version.

Priests are enjoined to “read the red and do the black” meaning read and perform what is written in the red coloured instructions in the Missal and read aloud the parts published in black letters. So many priests simply changed what they wanted, and in some cases, still do. Everything becomes optional from vestments to correct Mass Propers etc. So many “change it up” in order to avoid repetition, which is a danger in the vernacular liturgy. This risks the Mass being invalid. The Extraordinary Form (EF) of the Mass (as Benedict XVI called it), was so precise and unchangeable, invariable, there was no chance to alter it and thereby invalidate the Mass.

Even in areas where there has been efforts to standardise the liturgy so that a truly unifying liturgy might take place, there are still rubrics that are avoided so as to continue the “spirit of Vatican II”. We have witnessed the virulent rage against Cardinal Sarah at the suggestion that priests return to celebrating the Mass “Ad orientum” (which is called for in the Rubrics of the Missale romanum 2011).

So whether in the halls of the Vatican or the battles weekly encountered in the parishes, this is not a simple discussion. It is profoundly personal and corporate. For the priests caught in the “war zone” there is often personal anguish between obedience to a local hierarchy opposed to the EF Mass and at times quite large numbers of faithful who would like to have it. It can create a personal discomfort caught like that with no support other than the papal document permitting it, but not enforced locally.

There will be no peace in the Church until there is accommodation. Not compromise per se, but accommodation that will, as Benedict XVI had hoped, would permit peace to reign. That can only happen with the full cooperation of the ordinaries. And this has not happened in a great many instances.

If the Church hierarchy can seemly (tacitly even) permit outrages at the Sacrifice of the Mass in the Paul VI Mass, then why not a more permissive will towards the Latin Mass of St Pius V. Nothing could be lost, and potentially peace could be found. This is a quite simplistic vision of this issue, such is the nature of a short blog post. But this issue won’t go away and is not being addressed. We need leadership that will try and bring healing and peace to the Church and dignity returned to the Mass and all liturgical actions.

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I will be away for a few weeks and so will not be posting to this blog during that time but will write again after my return.

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