Getting (to) Good Liturgy


I confess: I’m a sucker for many liturgical threads on other blogs. It’s a good way to get me out from hiding, especially if the blogger is a sensible type. Up a few days ago at open book, this thread led to this post, and for visitors from open book, welcome, and here’s where I want to go with the discussion:

My first take on the liturgy wars is lament. I think Catholic liturgy and Catholicism is weaker for the bad attitudes we bring to liturgy and the tussles that go on around it. Yes, yes, some commenters will say the liberals started it by breaking from a smooth tradition in 1970 and disrupting all things holy and venerable. And back comes the claim that the curia was trying to button down the Council in 1959-62, so why shouldn’t we go as far and as fast as we can to reform the Mass before the evil crackdown hits? It’s a chicken and egg kind of thing, I suspect.

The battle is most often a parish one. Get a new priest, do new things. Get a new music director or liturgist, do new things. Old things get undone in the wake of such changes. I hear calls for respect for tradition, but I see a mixed record coming from both conservatives and progressives on the respect front. I heard of a recent new pastor who took the parish’s ceramic chalices out to the front yard, put them in a canvas sack, hammered them to bits, then buried them. Does this teach your average in-the-pew Catholic reverence? Run the film, ask your grade school child and wait for the answer.

My assessment on this line of thinking and acting is chalk it up as self-reliance; individualism, if you will. To a degree one can see how incoming newcomers from the pope down to the 5 o’clock cantor want to lean on their own track record when they hit town: what went well before, what didn’t and go from there. You see it in conservatives pining for the 50’s, liberals yearning for the heady late 60’s and 70’s, or for many of today’s Catholics, just a yearning for the way things were before the sex scandals broke loose. Just give me liturgy when it was safe and warm. This is a mixed bag. On one hand, the spiritual life demands we leave behind possessions, let go, and take up the cross. But on the other, there is a line of respect for individuals: it’s not up to the experts, not even the pope, to tell an individual when the letting go time has come spiritually. A respectful person can only suggest, invite, and open the door. People choose to move or stay put. And sometimes the situation calls to give people the freedom to hold up for awhile.

On one level, I don’t think material resources are the end-all, be it for catechesis, liturgy, or whatever endeavor the Church undertakes. On the other hand, when spiffy new suburban parishes build schools first, they send a certain message: your assessed home values in our booming suburb are what matters … send your kids to school, but Sunday Mass is optional. So are the virtues of justice and charity. The fact is, most complainers go to parishes with incomes, budgets, etc.. To suggest that money is part of the solution for schools (be it bigger budgets, tax breaks for parents, or whatever) but not for good liturgy strikes me as being a bit disingenuous. This would be my main beef with Amy’s post: she missed my point about people who invest or don’t invest themselves (not their money) in liturgy.

My main complaint with Catholics isn’t conservatives; it’s with apathetic folks who have a lip for complaint, but no effort to make a difference. And that goes for any ideological persuasion. It is my sense that many of St Blog liturgy commentators are happier complaining about the status quo than getting to work praying, singing, and making that difference. And most complaints don’t even target one’s own parish; so often it seems this other parish or even a diocese not one’s own. Some seem to expect heads to roll courtesy of the new pope, but I just don’t see it happening.

My bottom line? Liturgy must be a commitment for a Catholic. Talking the talk on the internet is fine, but does the walk get walked in the parish? Is complaining done to hear one’s voice or read one’s comment, or does it have a point? Amy makes a four point suggestion:

– trust the liturgy that the Church has given us
– put every other agenda aside
– put a lid on our own egos
– pray

It’s good advice. Conservatives and liberals alike have problems with all four. Not because of ideological blindness, but because we’re human sinful beings. It is difficult to put trust in human institutions, at times. It is difficult enough to set aside distractions, let alone agendas we bring to the liturgy. It is hard to separate from our egos. It can be hard to pray.

People heavy on complaint and light on prayer and action fall short in the virtues of trust, selflessness, and surrender to God. We all do it on occasion. Some people just make it their habit, that’s all.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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