Richard McBrien seem to make something of the rumors afoot on changes from Rome on liturgical style, specifically Communion on the tongue and hiding the celebration of the Eucharist (more accurate than “facing East” or the priest “turning his back” on the people). I don’t always agree with Fr McBrien’s liturgical analysis, but his sense of sociology is close enough to the mark:
The so-called “John Paul II priests” would very likely be happy with such a reversal of practice and would ostentatiously deny giving Communion to those with outstretched hands. However, many other priests, whether old enough to have been shaped by Vatican II or not, would ignore the mandate and continue to distribute Communion in the hand to those who requested it.
What would happen as a result of this tug of war at Communion time? Would some bishops threaten priests with suspension? If so, how many priests would expose themselves to such a penalty? If the numbers were large, how would the church be able to compensate for the additional decline in the number of available priests?
Fr McBrien, as a priest, naturally thinks of the potential situation in the way a priest would: suspensions, shortages, discipline … what happens Monday morning when the weekend Masses are done and the voice and e-mails need replies. And maybe there’s some exalted sense of outrage over an imagined ecclesiastical suspension. (“I can’t say Mass so I might as well play a round of golf or surf the internet.”)
What he doesn’t hear is the chatter that takes place after Mass on the front steps, in the narthex, or parish hall … the neighbors and co-workers talking. There is certainly a lot of talk about the recent Vatican gaffes on the SSPX, or the ongoing embarrassment of misbehaving clergy or troubled bishops. I think there’s a sense–I agree with it somewhat–that the current administration in Rome has lost something of a grip on competence. I’d say there’s holiness, earnestness, a degree of tenacity. But maybe something also of cluelessness.
Fr McBrien doesn’t think much will come of a top-down reform2 movement, but he doesn’t have the whole grasp of it. Some people are thinking ecclesiastical law-n-order on this, but another concept comes to my mind: non-cooperation.
An example. My parish has five Mass settings in the rotation. Some are stronger than others. The latest one they learned was introduced about a year before I arrived. They used it last summer, and I programmed it again for the Fall. The people just aren’t singing it as well. “Not intuitive,” one musician reports from the pew. I would agree. Good alleluia and decent Agnus Dei, but otherwise, unremarkable. I suspect that after consulting with the music directors, this setting will get retired after its current run.
There was no hue and cry from the pews, just a natural reaction. I suspect that upcoming changes in the Mass texts will get a similar chilly reception. Fr McBrien isn’t quite right to say that most churches don’t have altars facing the rear wall. In my parish, however, nothing about orientation of the priest will or can change. Communion in the hand? Well, incoming students will do as they’ve been catechized. And others will continue.
Personally, I think some sense will eventually settle in all this. If we ever see them, I think we will have widespread rejection of new liturgical words, and possibly some actions. I suspect the rejection won’t entirely die out, at least for several years. I don’t think the fracture in unity will accomplish a “benedictine” liturgical renewal. A far better path, though a much harder one, would be to nurture the preaching and musical ministries in the Church. Rome certainly has the resources to kick-start this. There are countless parish musicians who would be ready to bring our skills and experiences to parishes that need them.
Rome thinks a lot like Fr McBrien on this. Priest-centered problems and priest-centered solutions. More effective would be to encourage lay vocations–vocations to music, to the arts, and maybe eventually things get shaken down to ordained service. If not other good and fruitful things.