Liturgical Awareness

A few posts in the ’62 Missal thread brought up the question of liturgical awareness as regards the laity. Let me toss another potential incendiary into the discussion.

I suspect that most Catholics both before and after the Council had a dim awareness of liturgy, its rubrics, and other practical or theological aspects. Lots of Catholics are more concerned about social justice, the rosary, book learning, their families, or their Friday night card game than the Mass. As long as they don’t neglect the essentials, it’s okay to be ignorant about the liturgy relative to other life aspects. This is cafeteria Catholicism in a good light.
More Catholics today than fifty years ago are liturgically aware, and that includes more conservative Catholics.

Conservative Catholics seem emboldened by two aspects of the culture: cable tv (EWTN) and the internet (blogs). Thanks to both of those, as well as adult formation in parishes and dioceses, lay people can either be more informed or think they are more informed about liturgy. It is far easier these days for somebody to You-Tube a Halloween Mass, and find another hundred like-minded Catholics to ridicule it, e-mail the Vatican about it, and mourn about putting together hell, liturgy, and handbasket.

Some Catholics–and even present-day Catholics–cared little for liturgy and assumed that whatever Father said and did (or says and does) goes. I do think that today, among both conservatives and liberals, there is more blatant distrust of authority. But authority still gets a nod when it aligns with personal preference. (Is this cafeteria Catholicism? I think so, but maybe not of an entirely healthy sort.)

In other words, if I dislike what my liturgist is doing, I’ll tell the pastor. If I don’t like the pastor, I’ll go to the bishop. If I don’t like any of their answers, I’ll refer to EWTN or write to Zenit. And if Arnize or the pope don’t give me my due, I’ll go to the way-out fringe, read some far out theologian, and say it’s all a conspiracy going back to not-so-good Pope John.

One of the fruits of Vatican II was a more informed laity. Note that I did not say a 100% more informed laity. Just a laity more informed than fifty years ago. Post-conciliar Catholics also know a heck of a lot more about a lot of theological stuff than the previous generation. And there’s also a lot of hogwash being trotted around out there. Including both the liberal and conservative sides.

But the phenomenon frequently discounted by liberals and conservatives both is the universal lowering of regard for authority. And that is a rampant symptom in conservative circles at least as much as it is in liberal ones.

I suspect this is one of the main contributing factors to fewer Catholics availing themselves of sacramental Reconciliation. I suspect it is why Mother Angelica can call out a cardinal she dislikes and gets applauded. Or CTA folks can remains members and thumb their nose at excommunication threats. It would be a better Church if neither of these things were going on. But let’s face it. They are.

I don’t think ignorance is the problem. I think a lot of the leadership of the Catholic Church lacks credibility with mainstream believers. These people aren’t necessarily apathetic or ignorant of good liturgy. If you give it to them, they’ll embrace it and appreciate it.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Liturgical Awareness

  1. John Heavrin says:

    “I suspect this is one of the main contributing factors to fewer Catholics availing themselves of sacramental Reconciliation.”

    Maybe, but the real reason is that many who call themselves Catholic no longer fear Hell. If you don’t fear Hell, why bother making the effort and undergoing the humiliation of confessing your sins? Unformed or malformed consciences, loss of any sense of the reality personal and eternal condemnation for sin — these are the reasons for the many spiritual suicides in the Church, as expressed in the abandonment of the confessional.

    Smirk away, ye moderns, but it’s the truth, straight up.

  2. John, for the record, I do think it’s a real issue, liturgically and spiritually. But many Catholics are willing to undergo the humiliation of non-celebrity 12-Step recovery and in those programs, they are finding formation for their consciences. I ask why a non-religious confession-based system works for AA and its daughter organizations, but the Catholic sacramental aspect languishes.

    I think it’s a whole lot more complex than saying “People have lost a sense of sin/hell/whatever.” But that’s a great topic for another thread.

  3. John Heavrin says:

    “I ask why a non-religious confession-based system works for AA and its daughter organizations, but the Catholic sacramental aspect languishes.”

    Because AA is about stopping a behavior from which you and yours are suffering agonizing consequences. The Sacrament of Penance is about being forgiven for your sins so that Jesus’ work of redemption on your behalf isn’t wasted and you won’t be condemned to Hell. Any byproducts, like “feeling better” or practical therapeutic benefits, are secondary. Since most Catholics can’t “see” its effects, they’ve apparently decided there are none, or that whatever effects there are, are unnecessary. Nothing complex about it.

    And it’s not “sin/hell/whatever.” It’s sin and Hell. When you throw in “whatever,” you exacerbate the problem and undermine the solution.

    But I don’t mean to divert the thread. As usual, I take issue with the fantasies and caricatures which you insist on using to talk about the preconcilar church and how breezily you draw conclusions about what was going on “fifty years ago.”

  4. Cantor says:

    Todd – I wonder if you give V2 too much credit for a more informed laity. I stand by my theory that the fact that the laity let so much junk happen confirms that something to correct the problem was called for, but I think technology and just changes in how information is disseminated in society have done an awful lot toward changing the level of education of the laity. EWTN and Adoremus’s archive of liturgical documents would have happened with or without V2.

    And, of course, if we take into account that the vast majority of the laity are not regular churchgoers, whereas they were in 1955, the idea that the laity are more educated about liturgy than they were may become more questionable.

  5. Gavin says:

    “It is far easier these days for somebody to You-Tube a Halloween Mass, and find another hundred like-minded Catholics to ridicule it, e-mail the Vatican about it, and mourn about putting together hell, liturgy, and handbasket.”

    That’s the fun of the internet. We see so many people on here who demand X and Y, so we like-minded people assume that’s what “everyone” wants even if the Z Mass people are more vocal about it.

    Of course for me, music is an example. I was discouraged and talked to my boss asking about the reception of the reforms I implemented at the parish. He said “well everyone likes you, they’re very pleased with your playing,” but ultimately he didn’t say that he had heard a word of “thanks for throwing out those awful G&P songs.” Where are the Haugen Haters? Where’s the traditionalists? They certainly aren’t at my church. And I said to my boss, “you know, from all the blog reading you’d think there’s this big silent majority that does want good liturgy and music, and the few loudmouths keep them shut up.” But perhaps that’s not the case.

    In effect, what the internet has done for conservative (and liberal) Catholics is it gave them a collective “majority”. Perhaps I have heard from more traditional Catholics online than there are members in my parish. But even all of those people are nothing compared with all the Catholics in the USA. And not all of the traditionalists are American! Liturgical awareness may not be so widespread as we think, but those who are aware are seizing the media available in a way they couldn’t before.

  6. FrMichael says:

    Todd, how are you defining “informed?”

    I doubt whether contemporary Catholics are more theologically “informed” (i.e. knowlegeable) than the pre-V2 generation. The memorization of the Baltimore Catechism gave the average American Catholic of the first half of the 20th century a lot more book knowledge about the Faith than what we find in contemporary Catholics. The small percentage of the laity with professional theological degrees in contemporary American Catholicism don’t make up for the increased religious ignorance of the great majority.

    If by “informed” you mean “aware of contemporary theological movements,” then I would agree. The internet and the battles over women’s ordination, the GLBT movement, etc., are widely known in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in the 1950s and earlier.

    I’ll firmly second Mr. Heavrin’s motion about the neglect of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The disappearance of the fear of Hell is the primary driving force IMHO. Authority issues are secondary– nobody who recognizes the danger of mortal sin would allow a local SOB of a priest to deprive them of the sacrament. Not in a modern society with alternate parishes everywhere.

  7. Eric says:

    We hear a lot about people not going to confession anymore, but I question that assumption. I think they’re still going to confession, but just not as often.

    In the old days, it was assumed that you had to go to confession weekly, on Saturday before you went to Mass on Sunday. Then there were those lines for confession during Mass, with people trying to get it done before communion.

    That was excessive use of the sacrament. People were going not because they had committed grave sins, but because they were told they had to go every week.

    Now many people go two or three times a year, maybe some a little more. But to say people are not going is, I think, a wrong assumption. Contrasting the numbers between excessive, routine — and probably unfruitful — use of the sacrament and a more reasonable use of it now distorts the picture. It’s not how often you go that is important. What is important is going when you need to go. Quality, folks, not quantity!

  8. Liam says:


    While I can share some of your caution, I think you are overgeneralizing and distorting the pre/post picture.

    There were considerable variations. Women (especially wives) tended to confess more than men. Why? From listening to women of the period discuss this, there were two different rudders to this: (1) the customary pattern of mothers (in both Christianity and Judaism) to try to set best example for their children, and (2) the tendency for women to take more of the (spiritual and otherwise) burden for contraception than their husbands, something I’ve noted in prior threads. The lines for “pastoral” confessors were a key indicator of the latter, btw. So one can see the interplay of different kinds and structures of sin in this.

    A lot of folks confessed and communed monthly; typically more common of dads.

    Kids normally confessed monthly but communed weekly.

    My understanding was not so much that people were simply directed to confess weekly, but that they were counseled that weekly confession would insure that they need not worry about mis-evaluating the gravity of their sins through laxity. Now, we just have the opposite problem — people are passively discouraged from considering the gravity of their sins on a daily/weekly basis, originally out of a concern about scrupulosity (remember that there are a lot of priests whose experience of self-selected penitents is that penitents are prone to scrupulosity — and the priests don’t realize the sampling error because they miss the current context).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s