Sunday, November 16, 2008

On Liturgical Abuse

First of all, I want to thank everyone who commented on my "bleg" post and gave document suggestions, etc. I found what I was looking for in Redemptionis Sacramentum, from the Congregation For Divine Worship, in the following sections:
3. The Other Parts of the Mass

[58.] All of Christ’s faithful likewise have the right to a celebration of the Eucharist that has been so carefully prepared in all its parts that the word of God is properly and efficaciously proclaimed and explained in it; that the faculty for selecting the liturgical texts and rites is carried out with care according to the norms; and that their faith is duly safeguarded and nourished by the words that are sung in the celebration of the Liturgy.

[59.] The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy.

[61.] In selecting the biblical readings for proclamation in the celebration of Mass, the norms found in the liturgical books are to be followed,[136] so that indeed “a richer table of the word of God will be prepared for the faithful, and the biblical treasures opened up for them”.[137]

[62.] It is also illicit to omit or to substitute the prescribed biblical readings on one’s own initiative, and especially “to substitute other, non-biblical texts for the readings and responsorial Psalm, which contain the word of God”.[138]

[63.] “Within the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of the Gospel, which is “the high point of the Liturgy of the Word”,[139] is reserved by the Church’s tradition to an ordained minister.[140] Thus it is not permitted for a layperson, even a religious, to proclaim the Gospel reading in the celebration of Holy Mass, nor in other cases in which the norms do not explicitly permit it.[141]
The biggest problems to me are these: first, that the Gospel reading is not taken from the Lectionary readings for Christmas Mass but is made up of a blended, "cut and paste" set of readings from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew; some of the readings are from the Gospel for Epiphany, and not for Christmas at all! Moreover, since this pageant has apparently been done for years, the words from St. Luke's Gospel are not from the current Lectionary and do not match the approved texts for the Mass. Second, the interruption of the Gospel readings by no less than five Christmas carols is a serious disruption of the Mass, and fosters a spirit of entertainment instead of worship, and my family, being in the choir, would be expected to help lead in the singing of these carols.

Thus, while I appreciate everyone's comments, those who indicated that perhaps this was no big deal and should be overlooked for the sake of the community etc. are, I think, not looking at the whole situation. This isn't a case of possible "rule-bending" which my family would simply witness; it is a case of outright liturgical abuse in which my family would be expected to participate in the fullest sense (e.g., singing the songs between the "Gospel" reading/play-acting).

I realize the truth of several things which get said when these issues are brought up: that each of us individually is quite probably the gravest liturgical abuse at any given Mass; that a spirit of charity and assuming people don't know better is healthier spiritually than a critical spirit that jots down the slightest faltering as if it were deliberate abuse; that a priest may "ad-lib" a prayer or phrase here or there under the completely mistaken notion that he is permitted to do so; that focusing on all the possible errors at Mass (and this is true whether you attend an N.O. or a TLM) will rob you of the joy and peace which should attend you when you are worshiping God in this perfect prayer of the Church, and so on. Certainly I have left my "liturgical nit-picking" days far behind me, and am inclined toward charity even in this instance--that the people planning it do not know any better. The problem is that I do know better, and will be held accountable for that knowledge even if no one else is so held.

At the same time, being a member of a parish is not an arbitrary thing, and as some have justly pointed out, it is not really fair for me to put the whole choir in a bad situation by refusing to be present at this Christmas Mass, instead going elsewhere and leaving a much smaller choir to provide the legitimate music needed for the Mass. What I'll ultimately decide to do isn't clear at this point, because I have yet to communicate my concerns through the proper channels. Brief discussion at Mass with some other choir members leads me to believe that the community in general isn't uniformly thrilled with this way of doing things, but that because the parish has been doing it in this way for so long they don't see a possibility of change--even though we have a new pastor who may be more receptive to concerns, as well as a relatively new bishop who may not yet be aware that situations like these exist in the diocese.

So, at this point, I think my course of action is as follows:

1. Write a clear, brief, extremely diplomatic letter to the DRE who organizes the pageant, sharing the relevant quotes from Redemptionis Sacramentum and asking why unapproved texts, blended texts, and the Gospel for a wholly different feast are being planned for Christmas Mass; I think my real concerns can be expressed in a non-hostile, non-threatening way, and by writing to the DRE first I am not "attacking" her personally, but giving her the chance to respond.

2. If necessary, share a copy of this first letter with the pastor, asking politely if there is some provision I am unaware of that makes it permissible for the Gospel at Christmas Mass to be replaced by an assortment of texts including the Gospel for Epiphany, and to be interrupted by the singing of carols.

3. If necessary, share any correspondence I have had with the DRE and the pastor with the bishop or other chancery officials.

At that point, if the blended Gospel/pageant is going forward as planned, decide on what level of participation if any is possible for me and for my family. (One option would be to be present for and sing for the other parts of the Mass but to ask to be excused from the "mid-Gospel caroling" on the grounds of my serious disagreement with this practice.)

Now, I know from some of the responses I received in person, there are people who are simply scratching their heads. Why care? Why bother? Let the kiddies have their fun--it's Christmas, after all, and who would be such a Grinch as to insist on some dull liturgical rules instead of getting with the spirit of things? seems to be the gist of a lot of it.

The fact is that despite what a terrible series of events has caused us to believe for the past forty years or so, the Mass is not our property, to do with as we wish. It's not about "inclusion" or "community" or "making people feel happy" or any similar things, even if those things are a part of it. The Mass is our highest and most solemn act of public worship, the unbloody re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. The priest offers this sacrifice to the Father on our behalf, while we participate by uniting ourselves to this most holy prayer, whether silently or by speaking and singing the various prayers the people may join in saying or singing. Anything which adds to this worship, such as periods of silence at the appropriate times, reverence for the Sacred Body and Blood as evidenced by careful purification of the vessels after Communion, newer and more accurate English translations of the Latin prayers, etc. is the sort of "innovation" we should appreciate even if these things are "new" where we are.

But welcoming innovations for the sake of novelty or insising on "old customs" which were never appropriate in the first place, especially when these things detract from the solemnity of the Mass, ought not to be appreciated or clung to stubbornly. We need to be evalutating these extraneous customs that have crept in to examine whether they were ever permitted, whether they are desirable, whether they ought to be part of the Holy Mass or belong quite properly in devotional practices outside of it, and the like. And this is true whether the practice is one we actually like or not--I recall hearing about a priest who for a while had added a "Hail Mary" in at a quiet part of the Mass out of his deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, but who eventually realized that Our Lady was not honored by his decision to add a prayer to the Mass which is not a part of it.

Many of us speak about the "reform of the reform," and are glad to be living in a time when this concept is beginning to bear fruit. But it is frustrating to me that so many (though not my readers, necessarily!) seem, even in the face of verifiable liturgical abuse, and serious abuse at that, to counsel silence, even though silence may seem to give consent (Qui tacet consentire vid├ętur). It is not a small thing to wish for the integrity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be preserved and respected, and the example we give to our children, including the ones who are in the pageant, is not a small thing either. When I remember the dubious liturgical celebrations of my youth, and the free and easy way in which the Mass was often "re-imagined" for the sake of us children, I do not feel gratitude towards those presumably well-meaning devastators, but a deep unhappiness that they consipired to rob me and my contemporaries of our Catholic birthright, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, untainted by modern tampering, limited political/social agendas (e.g., the Mass I attended in high school where the "readings" and "Gospel" were from the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.) and a personal axe or two to grind with the Church in regards to women's ordination, lay overreaching, and other misguided fantasies of what some of them thought the Church ought to be. And I doubt that those of today's "Christmas pageant children" who haven't left the Church by their adulthood will think fondly of their coerced involvement in heterodox practices, either.


Jeanne said...

"When I remember the dubious liturgical celebrations of my youth, and the free and easy way in which the Mass was often "re-imagined" for the sake of us children, I do not feel gratitude towards those presumably well-meaning devastators, but a deep unhappiness that they consipired to rob me and my contemporaries of our Catholic birthright, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass..."

It happened to me and I agree with you completely!!!

Anonymous said...

Why on earth do you think you will be held accountable? The conduct of the mass isn't your responsibility. Yes, feel free to make your concerns known, but it isn't earning you any points in the accountability department. You have a reasonable request to make: the gospel assigned for the day be read in its entirety. Don't confuse your case with ancilliary stuff.

Don't get wrapped up around the material cooperation aspect. First, it isn't a grave offense. Singing is commendable. Rome isn't issuing excommunications over the matter. 15 years after the fact they are getting around to formally condemning the matter. Secondly, there is no qualitative difference between taking communion in that mass and singing in that mass, even as a member of the choir. If the former would be okay than the latter would be okay.

Anonymous said...

We, the laity, have a right to the Mass celebrated in a way that is without abuses. We also have the duty to bring it to the priests/bishop's attention when these abuses happen so they can do something about them.

I don't think it is NOT a big deal.
You just have a hard decision to make.

If you have a spiritual director, why don't you contact him/her after you have contacted the DRE (which I think you should go straight to the priest) to help you know what is right for you and your family?


Deirdre Mundy said...

I would also say that, as a Mom, you have a responsibility NOT to take your kids to a Mass like that, or even to allow them to participate.

Why? Because if you let them participate, you're telling them you think it's OK. And no matter how much you say "I don't want to do this, but we can't let the choir down," what your actions are teaching is - "not hurting feelings is more important than the Truth."

Not a good place to be.... So yes, you WILL be held responsible, because your kids are still learning....

(Though if liturgical abuses like this are run-of-the-mill, you may want to loiok into switching parishes...)

Deacon Dean said...

This is probably why many parishes have a Christmas "pageant" outside of the Mass. Perhaps you could suggest this venue for future Christmas celebrations.

Anonymous said...

I wrote this today with you in mind.
God Bless you.

freddy said...

I'd have to agree with Deirdre -- you do have an obligation, as a parent, not to expose your children to heterodoxy. If you can't get anywhere with patient explanation, (and sadly, I doubt you will) you must find another Christmas Mass to attend.

It's not about making nicey-nice with folk who just want something "special" at Christmas time, it's not about getting "the children" involved, it's not about anyone's emotions or feelings or self esteem or limited attention span. It's about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and a Catholic's proper disposition to participate in it as the Church -- the CHURCH -- not Fr. X and some committe of merry little elves -- has determined is correct for, again the CHURCH, not the "Catholic Community of St. Whimsy-On-The-Podunk."

Anyone who thinks this isn't a battle worthy of being fought; anyone who thinks you ought just to "go along to get along;" anyone who thinks that you ought to step aside because it's tradition, it's for the children, it's Christmas, seriously has their priorities mixed up.

Defend the Faith. There is nothing else.

Anonymous said...

This discussion is starting to sound like a bunch of nit picky traditionalists are again trying to tell the Chruch what to do, rather than showing obedience (even if the kiddy pageant is a misguided notion) for ONE mass on ONE day out of 364 other masses/days of the year.

It makes those of us who are curious to go to a traditional mass scared. Your reputations for inflexibility precede you.

Charlotte said...

Does this kind of thing happen often at your parish? I can't imagine you attending a parish where this sort of thing that you don't like goes on?

I don't know what happens at my church on Christmas Eve or Christmas, because we're always out of town. But not this year, so I'll soon find out!

Rebecca said...

I don't get anonymous' point...obedience to whom? Are you saying it would be disobedient to the priest, not to participate in a liturgy which is disobedient to the Church? Or are you saying the Church requires the faithful to participate in liturgical disobedience, and you're being nitpicky if you don't? Please clarify?

+JMJ+ said...

I think you are wise not to let your children witness abuse. You ARE responsible for what they see and how you teach them the faith.

Many faithful priests will tell you that seeing error repeatedly makes you think it is right. In fact, a priest who gave a lecture once said that vocations are lost in parishes that put forward error.

All the little deviations always lead up to graver deviations just like the Baltimore Catechism will tell us that little sins lead to bigger sins.

God protect you. The Holy Spirit is already moving in you.

Scott W. said...

To put my twist on a Robert Fripp: Liturgical abuses are always forgivable, rarely excusable, and never acceptable. Of course how we go about correcting is not as clear. Rich Leonardi gave some ideas at his blog:

(1) Don't stop and kick every barking dog. Don't fill up your pastor's email inbox with excessive complaints about liturgical abuses or catechetical errors. Chances are he knows about them and either doesn't care or is too feckless to do anything about it.

(2) Get sanity checks. Just because you don't belong to a healthy parish doesn't mean you can't visit one. Make it a monthly habit to go Mass at a such a place.

(3) Remember you are a member of the universal Church. Follow the Church's liturgical calendar and take advantage of the wealth of resources available on the Internet, e.g., homilies, commentaries, saints of the day.

(4) Kick the big dog. If you want to reform your parish, focus on a big problem and recruit fellow parishioners to change it. Do not hesitate to involve your bishop or Rome if you have exhausted local options.

(5) Form apostolates. Ask your pastor if a Bible study or catechism group can meet at the parish center, or, if that is not an option, meet at parishioner homes.

(6) Pray for your parish. It all starts -- but doesn't end -- with prayer.

(7) Lead your domestic church. You are the primary educators of your children. Make it a practice to read the lives of the saints, review a weekly chapter from a solid catechism, and gather for some form of evening prayer. Responsibility for your personal formation is part of this too.

(8) Don't scowl too much. This is somewhat related to tip (2), and one that strikes a personal chord, especially as a father. A cheery witness is a good witness; a grumpy one isn't.

(9) Be a Vatican II Catholic. The primary message to the laity of the Council was to engage and sanctify the world. It is outward directed. So becoming an active Catholic doesn't necessarily mean joining parish commissions, serving as an extraordinary minister, or joining the PTO. There are plenty of Catholic apostolates and organizations that need your help.

(10) Be hopeful. By hopeful, I do not mean "optimistic," a natural disposition or outlook. Hope is theological -- close to God. Put it all in His hands. Do not engage in the sort of conspiracy theories that predictably and lamentably circulate in troubled dioceses. The problems out in the open are probably bad enough.

(11) Seek fellowship. A fellow parishioner is organizing an Advent Bible study for couples. Many of the participants in my Monday morning catechism group have become dear friends. Strengthen the bond with your fellow Catholics by celebrating your faith with them.

Daddio said...

They really should do it as a separate event. Or as you suggested in the original post, do it before mass begins. Or after communion (probably still not appropriate, but not as bad).

What a tough situation to be in. I hope your letter works out. If they insist on going forward with it as planned, I'd definitely not be in the choir for that mass, and probably not attend that mass at all. If you tell them WHY you aren't participating, they might get upset and make you feel unwelcome to come back. So I'd tell them that you were going out of town for Christmas. Which is technically true... if you go to mass at a different church in a different town that day...