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Let’s Make the Liturgy Beautiful*

“The liturgy, as the worship which the Holy Spirit has given His Church, always requires beauty in its celebrations.”
—Bishop Robert Morlino, Diocese of Madison Catholic Herald

“The beauty of the liturgy is part of this mystery; it is a sublime expression of God’s glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth.”
—Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis #35

BISHOP ROBERT MORLINO’S VISION OF LITURGICAL BEAUTY

We need beauty to help us celebrate the Mass. This is what Bishop Robert Morlino said in an address to St. Thomas More Parish, Scranton, September 6th (“Beauty in the Liturgy as an Aid to Evangelization”). In his published commentaries on beauty in the liturgy (see here and here), Bishop Morlino argues that Beauty, Truth and the Good are one, that we need them in the liturgy to ennoble us. That beauty must be such as “to envoke the correct sacramental attitude of reverence”.

To achieve this, Bishop Morlino has followed through on Cardinal Sarah’s appeal and required the congregation AND priests in his diocese to engage in worship ad orientem, facing the “liturgical east”—towards the apse. He is also requesting that in the near future, communicants will receive the host on the tongue, kneeling, to manifest the proper reverence in receiving the body of our Lord.

In his address, Bishop Morlino enlarged on his vision of the liturgically beautiful: beauty does not lie in the eye of the beholder; it is not a matter of majority opinion; that which is beautiful must also be true. With respect to this last criterion, there are hymns that fall short. In his April 2011 commentary, Bishop Morlino gives as an example the lyrics of “All are Welcome”:

“…All are welcome at the liturgy who truly seek salvation in and through Jesus Christ, by following God’s Will, as spelled out through His Son’s very Body, the Church. People who have little interest in doing God’s Will don’t fit at the liturgy… Thus the song, “All Are Welcome,” gives an impression that the choice for the Will of Jesus Christ, as it comes to us through the Church, makes no difference; and nothing could be further from the truth. It could therefore be concluded that the song, “All are Welcome,” is not beautiful so as to be appropriate-for-liturgical-use. Being true is necessary before anything can be beautiful.” [emphasis added]

BEAUTY IN THE ANGLICAN USAGE LITURGY

It was particularly appropriate for Bishop Morlino to talk on beauty in the liturgy at an anniversary celebration of St. Thomas More Parish.  This Parish is part  of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter**,  essentially a diocese (spread through the United States and Canada). established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 to accommodate former Anglicans and Episcopalians who, as individuals, priests and congregations, have swum the Tiber and become Catholic

My wife and I attend Mass and evensong at St. Thomas More as often as we can (it’s a two hour drive). The Anglican Usage liturgy is part of the Roman Rite, but has  important differences in language,  being based in part on the  “Book of Common Prayer”, written by masters of the English Language from Elizabethan times and later.    I quote from the “Questions and Answers” Ordinariate site linked above

The mission of the Ordinariate is particularly experienced in the reverence and beauty of our liturgy[emphasis added] which features Anglican traditions of worship while conforming to Catholic doctrinal, sacramental and liturgical standards. [emphasis added]   Through Divine Worship: The Missal — the liturgy that unites the Ordinariates throughout the English-speaking world — we share our distinctive commitment to praising God in the eloquence of the Anglican liturgical patrimony and Prayer Book English. “

The language, including all the “thee’s” and “thou’s”,  is beautiful and a reminder of  our heritage.   (Unlike the prescriptions of some present day Catholic liturgists, there is no attempt to debase the English language by subscribing  to politically correct gender neutrality and inclusiveness.)   There is also frequent and appropriate use of Latin, again as a reminder of the Church’s heritage as the Church of Rome.

The music is without guitars and drums, using hymns from the English Hymnal (as compiled by Ralph Vaughan Williams). Communion is given on the tongue, kneeling at the altar rail, with the Host distributed by the priest with intinction in the Precious Blood. After this Mass, I feel that Bishop Morlino’s goal has been achieved:

[The Mass] must be nothing less than beautiful, reflecting the perfect beauty, unity, truth, and goodness of the object of our worship and adoration Themselves, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
—Bishop Robert Morlino, Madison Catholic Herald, Oct. 20, 2011.

*Part of this post has been published in the New Liturgical Movement Blog, September 29th, with author credit given as Gregory DiPippo, who adapted it from a piece I submitted to him.  It won’t hurt to give it more exposure.

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Bob Kurland, Ph.D.

Retired, cranky, old physicist. Convert to Catholicism in 1995. Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith. Intermittent blogs and adult education classes to achieve this end (see http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/ and http://home.ptd.net/~rkurland). Extraordinary Minister of Communion, volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC. Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.

9 Comments

  1. You say that like there’s something wrong with it.

    It’s not that difficult to execute a handsome liturgy and would require fewer man-hours than what you see nearly everywhere. Sell the piano, tell the parish diva to put her arm down and return to her seat, cancel the subscription to OCrap Press, have a small choir in back chant the ordinaries and a small schola or cantor in the sanctuary chant the propers, have one (male) acolyte, tell the aspirant extraordinary ministers that their labors will not be needed until the Christmas vigil, and develop a file of sermons for each Sunday of the liturgical year with commentary on the readings. Oh, and tell the lectrix not to show up in CFM pumps.

    They won’t do any of this because they.just.don’t.feel.like.it.

  2. This also brings up an issue I’ve been struggling with lately. At what point is the liturgy so bad that it’s okay to drive to a far away parish?

  3. Beauty does not need a reason to exist. Why does the priest leave the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the altar abandoned and shake hands with people in the pews after the Lavabo, when all people are in the Sacred Heart of Jesus?

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