Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Thinking about thinking about the liturgy

Mark Shea recently admitted to the hideous personal failing of not being, you know, liturgically obsessed:
I’m not at Mass to be entertained, charmed, fascinated by a dazzling personality, or amused.  I’m not there to worship myself or hear about the People’s Democratic Republic of Heaven, where the energies that should go to build up the kingdom of God are wasted fighting over which lay martinets dominate a few “ministries” in the parish that have long ago ceased being about serving the least of these and are now platforms for personal power struggles in tiny tyrannical fiefdoms.  I don’t want to hear a homily in which a priest is now so remote from the most elementary truths of the Tradition that he sees the Mass as a forum for giving barn-burner political speeches to inform me that “Jesus needed to learn to overcome his racism like the rest of us” (and by “us” he means “you lot”).  I don’t want to improve the Our Father to the Our Mother nor pray in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  I don’t want to live with the impression that the last words of Christ to Peter were “Try experiments on my rats” and not “Feed my sheep.”

Why am I at Mass?  I want God.  That’s why.

But for exactly the same reason, I’m also not interested in the reaction to all this sort of twaddle from laity who have made it their life’s mission to be perpetually angry or obsessed with the minutiae of liturgy and hyper-critical of the Paul VI rite.  Just as I don’t want a priest to take me out of the Mass and into the cult of “Aren’t I Fabulous?” so I likewise don’t want angry Reactionaries endlessly critiquing and carping about how intrinsically inferior even a well-celebrated Paul VI rite is.  I don’t want to listen to paranoid rants about the Jewish conspiracy tunneling under the sanctuary, or how the vestments aren’t quite the right color, or how we must all panic because Pope Francis’ priorities are not particularly on gorgeous liturgy. I find his simple offering of a beach ball to God in gratitude for 3 million hearts touched by Christ at World Youth Day to be an occasion of deeply moving joy, not a reason to scream "Sacrilege!" I also don't think the Little Drummer Boy insulted God by not playing Palestrina. I’m not super-inspired by singing “City of God”, and I can't stand "Anthem", but on the whole, I think that if that's the worst suffering I have to endure, I’m getting off way better than the Hiroshima martyrs and I am not going to let it destroy my peace.
For which statement Mark then pays in the comment boxes at the Register.  Apparently, a lay person admitting that he doesn't spend all that much time thinking about the liturgy is proving that he's one of those Catholics (and if I have to define those Catholics for you, you're probably one of them too).

I tend to think that there are roughly three types of Catholics who spend a lot of time thinking about the liturgy.  They are as follows:

1. Clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons), especially those who most suited to thinking about and implementing the liturgy properly.  In one sense all clergy have to think about the liturgy, but I bet we've all known at least one good, holy priest who is quite content to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass without lots of deep pondering about liturgical matters in general--and who perhaps isn't really suited to that sort of thing, anyway.  And that's okay!  There are many gifts, etc.

2.  Lay Catholics who are scholars, historians, musicians, and otherwise people who have reason to delve deeply into liturgical minutiae by virtue of their callings in the world.  I actually enjoy reading the writings of and/or talking to these people, because they are so knowledgeable and because they so rarely have a special liturgical axe to grind.  This may be because, immersed in the history of the Church's various worship forms, they don't seem to believe that the good Lord handed St. Peter the rubrics for the 1962 Mass in the Roman Rite just before His Ascension; they know that the form of the Mass has changed many times, in ways major, minor, and every way in between, in the two thousand and counting years since the Church was born.

3. Lay Catholics who are liturgical hobbyists.  These are people who are interested in the liturgy even though they don't have any special qualifications or backgrounds or roles--they just get deeply interested, in the same way some people get deeply interested in candle-making or stained glass art or other things that are somewhat related to worship.  Some of these people are cheerful hobbyists, capable of debating for hours on the question of whether or not shoe buckles are mandatory for priests celebrating the Extraordinary Form without taking it personally if Father doesn't actually own a pair of shoes with buckles on them; others of these people are liturgical cranks, people who believe that the Novus Ordo/Ordinary Form Mass was a conspiracy by Masons to drain people of their immortal souls by simultaneously suppressing the St. Michael Prayer after Mass and making people listen to Marty Haugen and Dan Schutte, people who believe that us poor suckers who attend the Ordinary Form are being cheated out of the required number of references to Hell and damnation in the Propers of the Mass, people who believe that their Mass produces superior, grade-A holiness in the souls of those who attend it, which can be proven by the concerned way in which they inform the rest of us that they don't so much hate the bishops as they fear and distrust them and worry that they'll lose the E.F. any day now as Satan gains his ascendency over the Church via all those bishops he's already corrupted and owns fully...

Here's where it gets complicated: you can meet liturgical hobbyists, and even liturgical cranks, at any O.F. Mass, and you can meet lots of nice people at the E.F. Mass who aren't liturgical cranks at all or even liturgical hobbyists except sometimes for the fun of it--and then, of course, you can meet lay Catholic scholars who turn out to be liturgical cranks, and some of the time you can meet Catholic clergy who are liturgical cranks, so there's a lot of overlap in these categories.  The bottom line is that just because you meet someone who tells you up front that unlike Mark Shea he or she actually enjoys thinking about the liturgy, it doesn't make them the kind of bitter liturgical crank who is convinced that most of the O.F. Catholics are contraceptors and Marxist-feminists who are already going to Hell.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to tell the difference between people who say they love the liturgy (either form) and mean exactly that, and people who say they love the liturgy but mean that they love some image of a perfect Mass they've never actually seen (again, in either form) or seen only rarely because the Masonically influenced bishops and modernist priests keep stealing their--our--liturgical patrimony, and it is this: let them talk for a bit.

People who love the Mass love it, full stop.  If you tell them you've only been to an E.F. Mass twice and didn't really "get" it, they might enthusiastically encourage you to try again, or they might be joyful that you like the O.F. Mass and go to Mass every Sunday.  What they won't do is tell you you're an inferior modernist hippie-chick Catholic so used to eating "baby food" or "pablum" that you can't yet stomach the "solid meat" of the Extraordinary Form, but that they will pray a Novena to St. Suspicious for you to gain the holiness, wisdom, and spiritual maturity to be able to attend, with the proper amounts of awe, fear, and trembling, the Extraordinary Form before it is just too late for your immortal soul.

There's nothing wrong with thinking about the liturgy; there's nothing wrong with just being grateful for it, either (unless you're a clergyman whose job involves thinking about the liturgy and you are shirking, of course).  But there is something wrong with thinking that thinking about the liturgy and coming to conclusions very much against the mind of Holy Mother Church is a good thing.


AJC said...

But what *is* the mind of Holy Mother Church with regard to the liturgy? That seems to be the crux of the disagreement. Compare the liturgical styles of Benedict with Francis, or of the FSSP with the SJ; they're so very different, it's hard for some of us to wrap our brains around the idea that it's all the same thing.

Red Cardigan said...

Sure, AJC, but there's a reason the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is called the "ordinary" form, and it's not because Holy Mother Church is just biding her time waiting to suppress it and mandate a return to the 1962 Missal. So many of the Trad bloggers I read seem to take that as the default position, as if "everyone knows" that the pope is just waiting to issue the suppression order--and yet if it didn't happen under Benedict XVI, one would think they would realize that it's not going to happen at all.

Improvement in the overall "style" of the liturgy, as you say, is always a good goal to have, so long as one isn't trying to do what the Church is not (and that goes for the reformers and the wreckovaters equally).