Whither Goes Our Liturgy?

Author: Duane L.C.M. Galles


Duane L.C.M. Galles

With the coming of Advent and a new liturgical year and the approach not far off of a new calendar year, we get closer to the year 2000 and, with its close, the arrival of the third Christian millennium. The Pope has called for a <Missal 2000> to greet the new age and only weeks ago Archbishop Medina, the new pro-prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, arrived at the helm. Fresh from Valpariso, Chile, "Paradise Valley" at least in name, where he was bishop, Archbishop Medina's new job requires him now to wade hip-deep into the liturgical morass and, one hopes, begin a "reform of the reform." Hercules surely had it easy.

There is no denying the need. Fr. Brian W. Harrison perchance summed up as well as anyone the sad state of the liturgy in an address to the St. Thomas Aquinas Society Eucharistic Conference in Colorado Springs on March 26, 1995.

"The post-conciliar era has scarcely been a period of undisturbed harmony and tranquillity in regard to the way Catholics worship. On the contrary, it seems probable that the last thirty years have been the most liturgically troubled period since at least the era of the Reformation; now nearly half a millennium ago. Indeed, the recent discord could well be judged more serious than that of the sixteenth century, because at that time the controversial liturgical changes were introduced by those outside the Catholic Church; Protestants who openly rejected any kind of allegiance to the Pope. Now we find similar disturbances within the heart of the Catholic Church herself.

"We are not talking here about mere differences of opinion or points of academic debate, but about deep divisions, and at times a sense of profound alienation, within the mystical Body of Christ, whether the dissatisfied Catholics concerned see themselves as 'progressive,' 'traditionalist,' 'liberal,' 'middle-of-the-road,' 'conservative,' or whatever. Not only does every Catholic seem to have his or her definite preference for one or the other style of worship in the pluralistic liturgical supermarket represented by the dozens (or hundreds) of very diversified parish Masses now offered in each of our cities; we go further than mere preferences and quickly reach the point of either hating or loving this or that style of eucharistic celebration. We now have feminist women who feel themselves insulted and outraged at being excluded by virtue of their sex from being able to preside at the Eucharist; we also have non-feminist women—and plenty of men!—who feel outraged at the Vatican's decision last year to allow female altar-servers (never mind female priests!). For some Catholics any liturgy seems cold, mechanical and dreary unless the priest ad fibs and jokes his way through the Mass, insisting on mutual introductions in the pews at the beginning, everyone holding hands at the Our Father, and about five minutes of hugging and kissing at the Sign of Peace. But many other Catholics find the artificial intimacy of such aberrations so annoying and out-of-place as to make Mass attendance unbearable—or at least, enough to turn it into a severe weekly penance instead of the hour of spiritual joy and refreshment which it should be.

"At a still deeper level, we have seen liturgical dissension become a major factor in formal ruptures in the Church: the Popes have been openly defied; anathemas have been hurled from Rome; grave mutual recriminations of heresy and schism have been exchanged; several Antipopes have arisen among fringe groups who claim that the new Mass is invalid, and that there has not been any true Pope living in Rome since before Vatican II. All in all, an estimated million 'traditionalist' believers round the world (sometimes just as opposed to each other as they are to Pope John Paul II) now worship regularly in a state of total or virtual separation from the Catholic Church under Peter's Successor.

"At the opposite extreme, we have an 'establishment' of liturgical experts among whom the very mention of the traditional (Tridentine) Latin Mass can be guaranteed infallibly to produce the same effect as that of the proverbial red flag waved in front of a wounded bull. I was studying in Rome in 1984 when the Holy Father issued the Indult permitting the renewed (although very limited) use of the 1962 Latin Missal, and will never forget the anger and frustration this decision provoked among 'progressives' in and around the Vatican. For instance, an international liturgical conference was under way in Rome at the time, and one enraged Irish liturgist was reported to me by an eye-witness as branding the Pope's Indult 'the worst betrayal since Judas.'

"In short, what we have witnessed in these thirty years has been a tragic polarization and fragmentation among Catholics in regard to the liturgy. But while so many have been drawing swords either to defend or attack the post-conciliar changes in the rite of Mass, not many seem to have noticed that the very existence of such tension, bitterness and division is about the most eloquent possible evidence that the liturgical reform introduced in the name of Vatican Council II has been seriously defective. What both liberals and conservatives often forget is the fact that, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, 'The Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church's unity.' When St. Thomas said that, he was commenting on the words of an authority far higher even than his: those of the Holy Spirit who inspired St. Paul to write, 'We, being many, form one bread and one body, because we partake of the one Bread and the one Chalice.'

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this revealed mystery as follows: 'The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being.' A little further on, in treating of 'The fruits of Holy Communion,' the Catechism first sets out this Sacrament's effects of grace in the individual believer, and then sums up its communal effect—'The unity of the mystical Body'—with the strikingly bold and sweeping affirmation that the Eucharist makes the Church. Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body in the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved in Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body.

"The implications of this profound truth for the post-Vatican II liturgical reform seem to me very serious. If one of the main purposes of the Eucharistic liturgy is to 'renew, strengthen and deepen' the unity of all Catholics in the one Mystical Body, then what are we to think of a reform which, whatever its positive results may have been, has also managed to provoke more discord, mutual alienation, and disunity than any officially-introduced liturgical innovation in the entire history of the Church?"

In homilies given at St. Rene Goupil and St. John Cantius churches in Chicago on February 10-11, 1996, Fr. Thomas J. Paprocki, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, declared the obvious in observing that when the City of Chicago spent 17 million dollars in 1979 to transform State Street into a downtown shopping mall and had to correct the costly but foolish mistake seventeen years later by spending an additional $24.5 million to return State Street to its original configuration, city officials at least learned from it and changed course. In another example, Fr. Paprocki noted that when the Dayton-Hudson Company, owner of Marshall Field's Department Stores, "down-scaled" their image and drove away many of their old customers, corporate management admitted the mistake and promised to return Marshall Field's to its previous standard of offering high quality merchandise. The point of this was, as Fr. Paprocki bravely said: If politicians and corporate executives can admit mistakes and try to correct them, could not leaders of the Church be willing to do as much?"

Not so the liturgists. They continue to offer their broken-down liturgical nostrums and intrude their 60's liturgical prescriptions of "less is more." They follow Mies van der Rohe, the great exponent of the Bauhaus school of architecture (sometimes called the "international style"), in all things liturgical and give us Bauhaus rites, Bauhaus translations' Bauhaus burlap vestments. But survivors of the liturgical revolution of the last thirty years know, much like careful students of English grammar, that less is, indeed, less.

The pruning of excrescences, the more copious use of scripture, the greater use of the vernacular in the liturgy was the kind of liturgical reform Vatican II had in mind—at least to judge by what it said in print. At bottom was the touchstone of all true liturgical development. The constitution on the liturgy, <Sacrosanctum concilium>, article 23, gives it as a general norm of the reform: "care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing."

This general norm laid down by the council was not always followed. Sometimes old rites long dead and gone were resuscitated in what Louis Bouyer would probably call fits of "archeologism." Often the result was as risible as an old soldier trying to put on the uniform of his youth—but alas he had "grown." The <berakah> or Jewish domestic prayer inserted in lieu of the offertory prayers of the Mass seems an apt example of this unfortunate trend.

There were also new creations cut from whole cloth like the new Eucharistic prayers. Meanwhile, the venerable Roman Canon which in recent years for genuine liturgical scholars has gained new respect, remains largely ignored and unuttered today.

Three Approaches To The Problem

What, then, as Lenin said, is to be done? Actually there are several approaches, three of which have attracted significant support.

The first, and oldest, is the movement to promote the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass (often called the Tridentine Mass) according to the 1962 typical edition of the <Missale Romanum> and to make it available to those members of the faithful who so wish. The Coalition in Support of <Ecclesia Dei>, founded and ably led by Mary Kraychy is, the most visible organization in the United States. The International Federation <Una voce>, which has branches in the United States and Canada, has had significant impact as well. Besides these two organizations composed primarily of laity, we have the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, both communities of clergy which use exclusively the traditional liturgical books. The one barrier in front of the spread of the celebration of the Traditional Mass is the refusal of some diocesan bishops to grant the necessary permission. The St. Joseph Foundation has been involved for some time, and will continue to be involved, in finding canonical remedies to these denials.

More recently, there has been a growing awareness that the present Roman Missal is not consistent with what the Fathers of Vatican II had in mind and represents a liturgical revolution rather than the reform envisioned in <Sacrosanctum concilium.> This awareness has been accompanied by a growing willingness of those who share it, such as Fr. Harrison, to say so publicly. In October, 1995, a new organization called <Adoremus> was formed "to promote authentic reform of the liturgy of the Roman Rite and has championed, in addition to more immediate and practical measures, a reform of the missal of Paul VI rather than a simple return to that of St. Pius V or John XXIII. This would ultimately require the sanction of the Holy See and, while ardently to be wished and prayed for, is a long-term solution.

But what can be done now? There is one approach which does not require express permission from the diocesan bishop or his liturgical <gauleiters> and can be implemented at once. Any pastor who does so, however, ought to be prepared to face harsh criticism and intimidation, including the threat of ecclesiastical penalties. If the latter should ensue, the Foundation is prepared to come to the priest's defense at once. What I am suggesting is the use the Missal of Paul VI but with "decency and order," as our Anglican brethren would say. Classic liturgy is already at hand and can be had if the missal of Paul VI is but celebrated using the Roman Canon and most of the ceremonies of the Missal of St. Pius V.

In fact, the Church of Saint Agnes in Saint Paul, Minnesota, has been doing precisely this since 1970. One of its five weekend Masses is always a solemn sung Latin Mass and, although the missal of Paul VI is used, the liturgy has most of the ceremonies of the Roman rite that Fortescue described so lovingly and so well. Never in its history since 1887 has a Sunday passed at St. Agnes without a Latin Mass and it is organic liturgy just as Vatican II wished.

But even in its more numerous English Masses, Saint Agnes can say with the noted liturgist, E. C. Ratcliffe, "My business is liturgy, not circus." What Saint Agnes offers is classic liturgy, the Missal of Paul VI with classic Catholic ceremonies, vestments and vessels celebrated on its original <ad orientem> neoclassical Carrara marble altar with communicants devoutly kneeling at the (still intact) rail.

There is moreover the treasury of sacred music which Vatican II demanded be fostered and cultivated with the greatest ease. Gregorian chant is heard every Sunday at Mass and vespers and sacred polyphony on some thirty Sundays as well. While most Catholic churches may not have the musical budget that Saint Agnes has developed, with careful personnel selection and a tradition-minded implementation of the rubrics, a classic Catholic liturgy can be obtained. Saint Agnes has done it. Saint Martin in Louisville has done it. Saint John Cantius in Chicago has done. Your parish can do it.

The upshot has been a happy one. Hundreds who saw through the shallow allurements and pomps of the new liturgy as espoused by trendy 60's liturgists cut loose from organic growth and traditional moorings have found a refuge at Saint Agnes. In the bosom of the church dedicated to the Roman teenage girl who gave her life to protect her purity they have been succored and have not had their liturgical piety bludgeoned nor their aesthetic sensibilities brutalized or trivialized. May Jesus Christ and Saint Agnes be praised.

[Duane Galles is the Vice President for Canonical Affairs of the St. Joseph Foundation and a member of St. Agnes parish. There are several other parishes in the United States and Canada where the liturgy is celebrated in a manner similar to that described above by Mr. Galles. The Foundation continues to strive for the vindication of the right of all Catholics to lawful, proper and reverent liturgy. CMW.]

Taken from the December 25, 1996 issue of "Christifidelis", published by the Saint Joseph Foundation, 11107 Wurzbach, #601B, San Antonio, TX 78230-2553, (210) 697-0717.