Eamonn Clark, STL
There is so much to learn about liturgy from Moses and Aaron. What to do, and what not to do. For example, when Moses goes rogue and disobeys God in striking the rock, he makes the whole “liturgy” about him and Aaron, and their power and importance before the people – allegedly to appease them. And it comes about by his effort, his creativity, rather than the power of the word, as God had wanted. Instead of “crucifying himself” with the “rubrics,” Moses “struck Christ,” the bearer of living water, who only needs to be so stricken once, on the Cross… in the liturgy, He provides power in virtue of this singular act. (This symbolic act occurred previously, in Exodus 17:6.) Moses pays for this incident by being forbidden from entering into the Promised Land.
Earlier on, Aaron shirks his priestly responsibility when Moses goes up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 32) He blames the people for the golden calf which he created, after taking their gold to give them a religious experience which was “comprehensible” to them, which would allegedly get them not to abandon the camp. The people do love it, and they feel great. In Aaron’s zeal for numbers, his tribe, Levi, righteously put to death three thousand idolaters, and those who remained were stricken with plague and made to drink the ground up golden powder of the idol with water from the brook nearby.
These are just a few abstract observations of what NOT to do. It is good for reflection. Liturgical abuse, mind you, is a species of the vice of superstition, on St. Thomas’ account. “[F]alsehood in outward worship occurs on the part of the worshiper, and especially in common worship which is offered by ministers impersonating the whole Church. For even as he would be guilty of falsehood who would, in the name of another person, proffer things that are not committed to him, so too does a man incur the guilt of falsehood who, on the part of the Church, gives worship to God contrary to the manner established by the Church or divine authority, and according to ecclesiastical custom. Hence Ambrose [Comment. in 1 ad Cor. 11:27, quoted in the gloss of Peter Lombard] says: “He is unworthy who celebrates the mystery otherwise than Christ delivered it.” For this reason, too, a gloss on Colossians 2:23 says that superstition is “the use of human observances under the name of religion.” He continues, “On the other hand if that which is done be, in itself, not conducive to God’s glory, nor raise man’s mind to God, nor curb inordinate concupiscence, or again if it be not in accordance with the commandments of God and of the Church, or if it be contrary to the general custom—which, according to Augustine [Ad Casulan. Ep. xxxvi], ‘has the force of law’—all this must be reckoned excessive and superstitious, because consisting, as it does, of mere externals, it has no connection with the internal worship of God. Hence Augustine (De Vera Relig. iii) quotes the words of Luke 17:21, ‘The kingdom of God is within you,’ against the ‘superstitious,’ those, to wit, who pay more attention to externals.” How interesting that it is that St. Thomas accuses liturgical abusers of excessive attention to externals, when usually the accusation is just the opposite.
A video of a mass from a parish “cluster” has been making the rounds on the Catholic blogosphere. I usually don’t like watching such things, let alone commenting on them, but this one is singularly bad. It’s like the morbid curiosity of slowing down to look at a bad car crash. Usually, it might be better to just move along. But if you want to know just how bad the liturgy can be while still being valid (a point I will contest with another commentator), it can be informative to watch such things. Then picking it apart can be its own instructive exercise.
Here’s David Gray’s video commentary. He thinks the consecration was invalid. I do not. It feels like it’s almost worse that it was valid.
I don’t doubt there are many sincere souls who are “along for the ride” in this parish community. I don’t mean to be harsh with them. I also don’t doubt the sincerity of the pastor. He probably really does care for his people and wants their spiritual good, and he has probably been helpful for many people in difficult moments of their lives. But… this is the liturgy of Christ and His Church. It is not the personal property of any particular cleric (even of the pope, by the way…), so there is plenty of criticism warranted, despite any good intentions, which I am sure abound. Clergy don’t have plausibly have the option of pleading ignorance of the law of Christ’s Church, even though some of them should be cut a bit of slack due to terrible formation in seminary. Anyway, let’s get into it, with charity.
I don’t want to make this a big list of “things that I notice are wrong,” as it would be too repetitive, but immediately, at the 0:00 mark, one notices certain oddities which will serve as a kind of overture for the liturgy. First of all, the level of sound – it is LOUD and jarring, drawing attention to Father. He wants to talk to people and have a personal connection. It is about him, and it is about “us.” And the whole thing is not particularly serious, so, we’ll talk about the weather. Meanwhile, he is carrying a crozier (or something like one) – he is not a bishop, but he evidently thinks this symbol of authority looks nice on him. Cue the music….
Blech. Okay, we’ve reached the collect and kyrie, which are by the book. And then, homily #1 begins. Father wants you to know that he is really concerned that you understand what you are about to hear, so he is willing to interrupt the whole mass. Okay… not the worst, but it would be better to write a blog post ahead of time for people to read, or hand out something in the bulletin on Sunday, no? Notice too how “gender conscious” Father is, being sure to mention our “Jewish sisters” before our “Jewish brothers,” and then going out of his way not to imply that God is a “He,” lest some chick feel underrepresented in the Godhead. What ultimately animates such thinking is the refusal to accept both nature and revelation about the sexes. God is “He” because He says so, and because the male sex is archetypally related to act or force, and the female sex is archetypally related to passivity or reception. God is not passive or receptive in any real sense, except in Christ in His human nature – with sanctified humanity, by the way, being the Lord’s mystical bride, the Church.
First reading and Psalm. Fine.
11:42 – here comes homily #2. Father wants everyone to know he is being merciful by not using the long version of the difficult letter to the Hebrews. It’s too haaaaaard for you, you sheep of mine.
14:37 – homily #3. Instructions to be spiritual. Okay, not the worst advice, but without the foregoing interruptions and with better music and more reverent silence, that should be easy enough without the reminder.
Gospel, with some weird ad-libbing before and after. The deacon is vested with whatever strange garment Father is wearing it seems, and has a similarly low opinion of the intelligence of the congregation based on the way he proclaims the readings – like it’s story time in 3rd grade.
Homily #4, the main one. It actually starts out okay, a little too 70’s, but some decent points. And then, unfortunately, comes the whopper, at 24:58 – “Pro-life, pro-choice, whatever our values are, we want to involve others in that process…” Hmm. Seems evil. The homily is a moment to instill values, like warning that those who kill the unborn or support doing such do not inherit the Kingdom of God, which he seems to be really interested in promoting, which is good. Then we hear about a plane ride that Cardinal Cupich had and how people being concerned about a mom carrying her baby means the Kingdom of God is here. Weird. Then something about a birth by a swimming pool. Weirder. Then some navel gazing about the parishes in the cluster and asking for money for the capital campaign. Then some rambling. A story to end, which is actually a charming anecdote, but maybe not anonymous enough. Such homilies are almost like conversations, because the homilist struggles to understand that he is not merely a facilitator of reflection but actually a teacher. If such men were to stop inserting well-intentioned but ultimately condescending mini-homilies everywhere in an attempt to instruct people about what is happening and put all that energy into teaching during the homily instead, it would be better.
37:12 – petitions. A little fluffy but not terrible. I do like that they prayed for police. One kudo earned. Then the stupid sheep are reminded that they need to sit now while the gifts are prepared. Kudo lost.
I don’t think I need to address the impropriety of how the altar linens are… arranged.
Presentation and preparation of the gifts. Extremely casual, since, I think, the attitude deep down is that the main part of the liturgy is over. No fewer than EIGHT chalices, as if that is not excessive… but at least they are using precious metals. One kudo.
41:38 – offertory. Major ad-libbing, again with the needless didactism, to remind people of a point which could have simply been made once in a while in a decent homily on what the Eucharist is. Kudo lost. Oh, and the response makes sure not to make women feel excluded from the Trinity, again.
Homily #5, with a happy birthday wish in there. The point here is to make people feel that they are experiencing something spiritual, I guess. One wouldn’t have to try so hard were the liturgy which the Church demands simply executed to the letter, with more silence, better music, and reasonable accoutrements. Laying underneath of this might be some sort of vague Pelagianism – if we aren’t trying, and we aren’t feeling spiritually and socially included, then we aren’t really praying or worshiping God or “participating” enough.
Preface. Read from the book, but very dramatically, as if it is really about the “experience,” not about simply being present as a sacrifice is being offered.
Then – well, I’m not sure what to call this, it is made up. It is not the Sanctus. It is just a weird song, with WEIRD arm swinging. Back to the point about Pelagianism. Epiclesis, then into the Eucharistic Prayer…
Here, we are coming to the very heart of the Mass – usually, even the most liberal guys don’t mess around with this part. Father does, in this case, throwing in the word “friends” where it does not belong. This is egregious sin, but it does not invalidate the consecration – the Words of Consecration are what make or break the validity as to its form. Those words, “This is My Body,” and “This is the chalice of My Blood,” are said correctly. Even these could admit of some small changes without invalidating the sacrament, as long as the central meaning is clearly preserved (i.e. “This is the cup of My Blood”) – but not without committing mortal sin even worse than messing with the parts surrounding this critical moment.
A lot is going on here. There is again the weird didactism (“Let us bow before our God,”) which admittedly is half-necessary, given that the posture of the congregation and assisting ministers is totally inappropriate. There is the distracting – not engaging – looking around the room by Father. There is the – understandable – nonchalance of the one altar server who is visible (who bears minimal blame).
Then, again, the same stupid made up song with the weird arm movements, with some more minor ad-libbing. Then after an overly dramatic Per Ipsum, we get the same song and arm swinging AGAIN. Really painful. Tell me that this parish has produced a single priestly vocation in the past 20 years, and I would be shocked. Who on earth who grows up in such an environment would say, “I want to give up marriage, a career, and self-direction, to do THIS all day”? Maybe there are a few such people, but they are unlikely to be well-balanced emotionally – or psycho-sexually.
Our Father. At least they didn’t say “Our Parent.” One kudo. Then the “Sign of Peace,” which is supposed to be brief and, well, peaceful, lasts over a minute. Kudo lost.
52:54 – Agnus Dei. You will notice that Father is putting Our Lord into wicker baskets with fabric inside. How thoughtful to put the fabric in, so Christ is nice and comfy, and particles won’t fall out all over the floor. Remember, the main part of the liturgy is long over. And while we want money given away to the parish cluster to fix the floor or whatever, we will carry Christ around in what would be just barely fit to use at a picnic. Okay. The worst part is that they have real ciboria visibly available, made from a precious metal – it is out-and-out intentional use of an unworthy vessel. It’s one thing if you’re celebrating a secret mass in Auschwitz and need to pass around Holy Communion discretely. This is something else. And it shows, as the Gospel reading ironically mentioned, where the heart is, and where the treasure is… Not in the Eucharistic Lord.
Then homily #5, which consists of a bunch of ridiculous COVID stuff, including the insane request to carry the Eucharist back to your seat (because that is safer I guess). I won’t bother going through it. But it fits the bill – the temperament and ideological leanings of those panicked by COVID tend to be of the sort which inform the liturgy we are witnessing. Liberals tend to be stronger in the concupiscible part of their appetite, while conservatives tend to be stronger in the irascible part. Each tendency leads to its own challenges. A post for another time.
54:47 – Ecce Agnus Dei. Made up. Moving on.
Distribution of Communion. Here we find out what all those chalices were for, which was foreshadowed in homily #5. They are just there to look at from far away, with Extraordinary Ministers of – adoration? – picking them up so they can be reverenced. At least the thought of reverencing the Lord’s Most Precious Blood is a good thought, but… it is just a made up ritual and confuses people about what the Eucharist is. “Am I really receiving all of Christ?” (This is a very good argument, among several, not to distribute from chalices to the congregation at all, ever.) At 1:06:59, we get a rather brazen announcement that anyone who wants to waltz up to take Our Lord to someone can come on ahead. I guess as long as you have a wicker basket on hand, you are qualified… I don’t know, maybe the people who come up are legitimately deputed. We should give the benefit of the doubt, but… it is a bad look.
1:08:12 – homily #6. Short, but unnecessary.
Concluding prayer. Then homily #7, which is some kind of announcement about writing on a card that you will love, or something, and then more talk about money. Then a “living eulogy” of some woman in the parish who is not there but has worked there for a while.
Final blessing, made up. With the crozier. Dismissal, made up. Recessional. With a quasi-blessing, from the “crozier,” being put on people’s heads. Yes, you read that correctly. (I, for one, would encourage a return of the virgula poenitentiaria, or penitential wands, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.)
Well, that’s it. We made it.
I won’t do another post like this for a long time, maybe ever. The thing is, the more “creative” a liturgy is externally, the less creative it is internally. All that focus, as St. Thomas implies, on externals, distracts one from truly entering into the authentic prayer of the Church. Sin moves away from the infinite horizon of God and His love and moves toward finite creation, so sin is boring. So is bad liturgy, because it is sinful. Even if valid, such liturgy deadens the movement of the Holy Spirit, despite its normal intention to the contrary. Thus ends, then, my liturgical autopsy.
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