Is There a Liturgical Counterrevolution Underway? I Hope So.
There have been a number of conflicting reports about impending changes to the liturgy in recent weeks. The National Catholic Register, on the one hand, reports that:
On Aug. 22, the reliable Vatican watcher Andrea Tornielli reported that cardinals and bishops of the congregation voted almost unanimously at their plenary meeting in March “in favor” of 30 proposals aimed at increasing reverence in the liturgy. He said these included “a greater sacrality of the rite, the recovery of the sense of Eucharistic worship, the recovery of the Latin language in the celebration, and the remaking of the introductory parts of the Missal in order to put a stop to abuses, wild experimentations and inappropriate creativity.”
Tornielli also wrote that the bishops had reaffirmed the importance of receiving Communion on the tongue rather than the hand, and that Cardinal Cañizares was studying the possibility of “recovering” the practice of celebrating Mass with the priest facing ad orientem (literally “to the east”; i.e. in the same direction as the people).
As we might expect, however, the National Catholic Reporter remains skeptical about any proposed changes:
On Aug. 24, a Vatican spokesperson effectively denied the Il Giornale report, saying, “At the moment there are no institutional proposals regarding changes to the liturgical books currently in use.” Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s No. 2 official after the pope, dismissed the reports as “fantasies” in an interview with the Vatican newspaper.
So it would appear that, as of right now, all we can say is that there are discussions about the liturgy taking place.
Though I ought to know better by now, I continue to experience amazement when I detect the fear and apprehension of “progressive” Catholics at the notion of a “reform of the reform” of the liturgy. Can it really be that taking communion in the mouth as opposed to the hand, and having the priest face away from the people, are really that terrible? For my part, I don’t expect that a reversion to the pre-conciliar liturgical norms is going to be mandated, but I do think it is accurate to say that the Vatican is ready to take action against outright liturgical abuses.
As important and as wonderful as I find the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, I am opposed to what I recognize as a tendency to believe that the Church is the Social Doctrine and that even the liturgy must be subordinated to it. One of the chief arguments for the “ordinary form” is its supposedly more inclusive and, dare I say, even democratic nature. ‘The people” (in reality, intellectuals and malcontents) are to have a greater role in the liturgy, just as they are to achieve political and economic power.
On the contrary, I contend that if the social teaching of the Church is detached from a reverent and spiritually significant liturgy, it becomes another “ideology” to contend with liberalism, fascism, socialism, communism, etc. The object of the liturgy is not, was not, and should not be to advance a social agenda or a ‘revolution’ against earthly injustice.
More reverence in the liturgy would actually serve as an inspiration for Catholics to take their faith and its demands – which I do believe include an obligation to serve and improve our communities and our country – more seriously. Because I reject materialism, I reject the notion that society must be remade so that men can be remade, as seductive as an idea as that has been and remains to this day.
It is man being remade through Christ and the Church, especially through the liturgy and the sacraments, that will serve as his greatest impetus to live up to the standards that God holds him to. This will never lead to a utopia, for, as Christ tells us, “many are called, but few are chosen”. Thus the traditional liturgy is not inadequate, for it helps to perfect those who are called and who wish to be among those chosen. For those who will not heed the call, no series of liturgical gimmicks is going to change their hearts.
In the end, I hope we will see a return of the notion that we go to Mass to please God, and not ourselves. This was the attitude of my former priest, Fr. Kenneth Fryar (FSSP), who said of the Tridentine Mass in response to a journalist’s question of how it would be received:
“This is for God,” Fryar said in the rectory of St. Thomas. “It doesn’t matter what the people think. It wouldn’t matter if nobody was there.”
I second that notion. It doesn’t matter what you think of the liturgy. Maybe you aren’t greater than the 2000 year tradition of the Church, maybe your whims are not a substitute for the accumulated wisdom and practice of countless generations. Maybe the Mass is how we show our reverence and devotion to God instead of serving as some kind of “self-expression”. If there are things more important to a Catholic than what it has always meant to be Catholic – things like social justice, or even being a faithful adherent to the political platform of the GOP – that Catholic ought to consider which religion he professes.
I say this in all sincerity, for I have great respect for certain Protestant advocates of social justice and traditional values. I think of the Reverend Walter Hoye, who was spent time in jail for refusing to capitulate to an unjust law that would have prevented him from counseling women on their way to an abortion clinic in Oakland. There are many other examples.
Though it would sadden me, I would prefer that a Catholic dissatisfied with the Church would simply find one that better suited his spiritual needs than to remain within the Church and try to ruin it for those who love it as it is. In other words, if I must choose, I will take pluralism over the revolution. I can be friends and allies with a sincere Protestant, Jew, or Muslim (while praying for their conversion); for a dissenting Catholic who wants to prevent tradition from returning to the liturgy, I can muster little more than contempt. The Church is not your playground.
Even if you don’t leave the Church, at the very least, leave the liturgy alone, and let the counter-reform, should it come about, run its course. For in the end, there is no reason you can’t protest injustice on Saturday and sit through a Latin Mass on Sunday. If Dorothy Day could do it, so can you!