Monday, September 28, 2015

On the Consequences for Standing Up Against Liturgical Abuse

It is an interesting experience to be obliquely  attacked from the pulpit during a homily for questioning persistent liturgical abuses. During the last Mass of our departing Pastor, he made some parting swipes at people sowing scandal creating scandal through e-mail and the internet. This seemed like an odd tact  on to Mark 9:43-47, but that is how he chose to address a conscientious Catholic who cares about quality liturgy.

 Three and a half years ago, in a missive directed to the then Director of Liturgy, I questioned why some presiders persisted in calling the Chalice a Cup after the implementation of the Third Translation to the Roman Missal.  I referred to a piece written as the Church was transitioning into the new translation. I asked for catechesis on what was the difference and to respect the rubric.  Those issues were never addressed to me, and certain prelates, particularly the Pastor, kept to their favored phrasing. But apparently this was not forgotten.

Close to two years ago, I wrote the Pastor along with several involved staff to inquire about some sui gerneris liturgical practices.  The immediate concern was re-orienting the contemporary choir to partially face the altar. This involved reducing the number of musicians and angling the ensemble at a 45 degree angle so that the acoustics projected into a side wall rather than the congregation.  The musicians were upset about it, but could say nothing because their position depended upon the favor of the Pastor.

When I asked the liturgical director about it, I was told that it was “more reverential”, which sounded like a well intentioned initiative that was drawn from liturgical conferences but was not counterbalanced by the particulars of the parish church layout.  While the musicians were upset about the changes, they  could say nothing because their position depended upon the continued favor of the Pastor.  This choir repositioning may have been a prelude to installing a more prominent baptismal font, which was a pet project of the Pastor.

Appreciating the choir members’ dilemma and being put off by the bromide of being more reverential, I used my Ignatian audacity to question the policy.  If the same “reverential” logic was applied, lectors would need to have their backs to the Congregation, so that they were facing the altar.  Left unsaid was the priestly ad orientalis practice which had long been abandoned in the Spirit of Vatican II.

My earnest questioning also extended into some persistent liturgical abuses.  Of course, the chalice controversy continued without abatement or explanation, but it seemed confined to a certain cleric.  I wondered if we should constantly be reverting to the Apostles Creed.  It’s sad when can mouth the words,  “Please turn to page 175 of your hymnal”.  But it had gotten to the point where the Creed was no longer said at Sunday Mass.  I wondered why General Instructions on the Roman Missal (GIRM 67-68) were  not followed.

What truly concerned me about the validity of the Mass was the practice that the Pastor had for the Confiteor substitute to not even mention sin but have the congregation think of something to be grateful privately then praying together. I questioned during liturgy (public worship) whether we should be saying private prayers but it was scandalous that we were not asking for mercy for our sins.

In his swan song homily, the cleric closed by instructions of the Ignatian practice of the “Presupposition”– basically that you are to always give the other person the benefit of a doubt. Hmm, challenging deviating liturgical and requesting catechesis to better discern the right way seems fair, I suppose (sic).

Presumably, including others on the memo irked the Pastor as it did not allow the challenge to be swept under a rug. But there was no reply at all to the letter.  I followed the scriptural precepts of correcting a brother as well as the principle of subsidiarity.  The liturgical abuses were initially brought up in private conversation then to the liturgical point person. When those approaches failed, it was brought to the pastoral level with several cc’ed of those affected. The next step would have been to take it up with the Archdiocese Office of Worship. In reflection,  the specificity of the Confiteor challenge may have been particularly embarrassing to the Pastor.

After writing those missives and saying my piece, I harbored little animus towards the “bad actors” but bristled at experiencing  poor liturgical practices.  Because of living in the city which give me many choices to worship, so I scrupulously tried to avoid  liturgies which be irritating or possibly invalid.  This seemed like a divine detente.  However, these words seemed to haunt the Pastor.

He chose to close his final homily not by addressing underlying issues but by pressuring a “presuppostion” interpretation which was the equivalent of expecting the laity to “Pray, pay and obey”.  Effectively, he could act as he willed under the pretext of charity. Recently, I questioned a Deacon by email at a parish which I often attend while traveling why he wears a chasible rather than an alb and a deacon’s sash.  I may not have agreed with his answer but at least he had the courtesy to respond and explain himself.

Perhaps the “Presupposition” polemic was intended to inculcate Ignatian values, but if that were the case then why “encounter” the inquisitive fellow directly or in a timely manner? Wouldn’t want a Pastor to smell like sheep now, would we?   I suspect the snipes were intended to shame, but to little avail.  It reminds me of the origins of the term jesuitical Standing up for what I believe while being open to be better educated is a badge of pride.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in his Nobel Lecture “One word of truth outweighs the world.”   I believe my experience shows how one person who cares can effect change.  Soon after I formally raised the issue, the choir was repositioned back to singing to the congregation and their numbers were not forcibly scaled back.  In addition, the baptismal font change was temporarily tabled awaiting more input from the parish.  And aside from the departing Pastor, nearly all of the priests offering Mass now use the current rubric, though some still prefer to use the Apostles Creed all year long.

Some Catholics only darken the doors of a Church for Christmas, Easter, Funerals and the occasional baptism and seem not to pay attention to what goes on.  Others attend Mass but it is a rote ritual.  For me, Mass nourishes the soul with the Word of God along with His Body, Blood, soul and divinity. While there can be many styles to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word but the Liturgy of the Eucharist is a sacred form of our Roman patrimony and the Era of Improvisation is over. The challenge is rectifying loosey goosey Spirit of Vatican II adherents with those more mindful of the Magisterium

In the sacristy prior to the Pastors’ final Mass, I could not help but overhear someone kvetching about a visiting Priest celebrating a funeral who warned those assembled that Communion was reserved for Catholics in Good Moral Standing.  She complained to the current Director of Liturgy: “Why would he say this when the Pope was right down the street preaching about inclusiveness?”.   I interjected : “To save their souls from damnation for unworthily receiving the sacrament”. Let’s just say that ended the colloquy.  Remember– one word of truth outweighs the world.

As a practical Catholic, I am glad that I can not suffer from disfellowship like the 103 year old Georgian woman was banned by her Baptist church that she founded.. I am hopeful that by taking a stand against liturgical abuse can change things for the future at my church.  If not dialoguing why things are done in an extraordinary manner or doing things right proper in the future.

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