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Sound and Fury

Like most parishes, mine has been preparing for the introduction of the new Roman Missal. We'vehad a series of homilies on different parts of the liturgy, with the new words being introduced and explained when appropriate. The choir has also been using new musical arrangements for theGloria and theSanctus and these seem to have gone over reasonably well.Its almost (but not quite) enough to make you think that this may not be a complete pastoral disaster after all. Over the last few months, various parishioners have pulled me aside and aired their frustrations. I had one retired military officer of a generally conservative temperament tell me that he has no intention of saying and with your Spirit when the time comes.While I am very frustrated about the process by which we received the new translation, my feelings about the text itself are more mixed. Im actually fine with most of the changes to the peoples parts. I suspect, though, that I will always wince when I hearcalix translated as chalice during the Institution Narrative. Bread and Cup make a nice monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon pair and chalice doesnt really work at all. As for the collects, well lets just say that after 40 years of experiencing the problems that result when dynamic equivalence is taken to an extreme well probably spend the next 40 years learning the same lessons with respect to formal equivalence.In the end, though, one question we will probably be asking in a few years is was it worth it? In truth, I expect that both opponents and supporters of the new Missal are going to be surprised at how little impact it actually has on the celebration of liturgy at the typical parish.My own experience is a case in point. I first learned a musical arrangement of the new Gloria at a Life Teen mass. The teen choir did a good job with the arrangement which was, of course, accompanied by electric guitar and pounding drums. I suspect this is not quite the sense of reverence and awe that advocates of the new translation had hoped it would inspire. The aspects of contemporary liturgy that are the most problematicpoor preaching, low quality hymns, and an almost oppressive informalityare unlikely to be affected by the new translation.Watching the translation wars play out over the last few years has been so dispiriting that it has led me to question some central assumptions that underlie both the old and new liturgical movements. Since Pius X, it has been argued that active participation in the mysteries of the liturgy has a power to draw us more closely to Christ. Lately, though, I have begun to wonder whether the direction of causality actually runs the other way. Perhaps we need a deep, personal commitment to Christ before we are capable of participating in the way the liturgy demands.I first began to wonder about this during the time when I was a lay student at a Jesuit seminary. The Tuesday celebration of the Eucharist was resolutely contemporary, often including precisely the kind of hymns and accompaniment that usually grate on my nerves. Yet I almost never failed to be moved by these services. Virtually everyone present brought a deep intentionality to their role. There was no question that this community took the liturgy very seriously.I had a similar experience the first time I attended a traditional Latin Mass. Although the homily was simply awful, I was moved by the vigor with which the entire congregation intoned the various responses and chants. Here, too, was a group that understood the seriousness of what they were undertaking.Parish life provides other examples, as those who have attended the Triduum services during Holy Week can attest. Nevertheless, it is also in the parishes where the liturgies of Advent and Lent often come across as heavy-handed efforts to engage a passive congregation. The efforts of parish liturgy committees to select themes for Advent and Lent and install temporary artwork are, of course, well intentioned. All too often, though, these efforts convey the impression that the liturgical texts and rites themselves are insufficiently interesting to command attention.The irony is that the process of developing and implementing the new translation comes across as yet another effort to try something new and different to engage Catholics in the pews. Itdoesn'thelp that the catechesis that has accompanied the translation has had all the forced cheerfulness and optimism of a Soviet Five Year Plan.Maybewe'vehad it backwards all along. If there is a problem with contemporary liturgy, perhaps it is not, to mangle a phrase, in our words but in ourselves. We may look back ten or twenty years from now and realize that the time and energy put into getting the words of the liturgy precisely right would have been better spent supporting movements and institutions that can help Catholics develop a more passionate and personal faith in Jesus Christ. Future generations may well come to regard the liturgy wars as full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.



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The new translations may not produce a dramatic reaction, but they will certainly contribute to an insidious further sapping of our liturgical conviction. The sawdust preces of 1973 are being replaced with preces and also prefaces that are in general grotesque. The Eucharistic Prayers have lost naturalness and rhythm.The real problem is that we have frozen the liturgy, refusing to countenance linguistic creativity or any attempt to reimagine the contemporary sense of the ritual. The routinization of the Mass is not helping either. The Mass should be encased in a wider context of prayer and devotions, and celebrated less often so as to allow this wider context to grow and breathe.

Peter,your reflection reminded me of words of Pope Benedict in the "Foreword" to the first volume of his meditation on the mysteries of Jesus Christ:"Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air."This is not to dismiss legitimate concerns about all sorts of matters liturgical and pastoral; but to raise up the Measure that should govern our attitudes and actions: "Simon, son of john, do you love me?"

There is a strain within Catholicism that if only our knowledge was heftier, our procedures more correct, our faith more ... faithful, everything would be great. Or at least a lot better off.I see this strain in MR3, an attempt to fix the liturgy by rational, human, and pseudo-orthodox standards. At worst, it will fail utterly. At best, it will provide a climate for real reform.People decry polka Masses, clown Masses, and priests riding into Palm Sunday on donkeys. I confess I have yet to see any of that spectacle. But I have known and seen fine musicians fired by insolent pastors. One priest I knew had music controls built into the altar. He could press a button when he smooched the mensa, and "begin the real Mass" by the time he got to the chair.I note a widespread magicalism in Catholic liturgy--mainly but not exclusively conservative--the notion that there is a "right" way to do something which is essentially artistic, inspirational, and beautiful.The image that comes to mind is that MR3 attempts to recreate Michelangelo by giving Catholics the line drawing outline of the Sistine ceiling, and assigning particular colors to the spaces. Buy your own paints, but get the picture right.There are many bad things about MR3, not the least of which is the paralysis in liturgical formation for the past year or more. Oh, I'll continue to implement come Saturday night. But I don't have to labor under the illusion it will improve liturgy. The elder sons will get angrier and more sullen. The procession of magnae cappae will bump a few other marginal believers and prodigals off the fence. And if a glad-handing priest can't communicate the friendship of Jesus adequately, I'm not sure bad English with a college vocabulary is going to do much more than hang in the thin air.Another fine day for the antigospel. Baptists, get ready for another wave.

"Since Pius X, it has been argued that active participation in the mysteries of the liturgy has a power to draw us more closely to Christ. Lately, though, I have begun to wonder whether the direction of causality actually runs the other way. Perhaps we need a deep, personal commitment to Christ before we are capable of participating in the way the liturgy demands."Hi, Peter, your reflection here reminded me of a passage from Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that dwells on this relationship between our worship and our faith life. That document famously describes the liturgy as both the "summit" and the "font" of our faith, but it takes care to note that is is not the *entirety* of that faith.The Council Fathers seem to see it as a dynamic, rather than a static thing: we gather at the "summit" to offer thanks and praise, we are set on fire by the "source", we are sent forth, and we live our lives as the light of the world. Then we gather again and the cycle repeats itself. The understanding is that our faith touches all aspects of this cycle. The Council Fathers identify a number of elements that allow us to enter wholeheartedly into worship: our faith, our prayer life (both private and devotional), penance and our interior disposition, the catechesis we have have received, and so on. And then, the Fathers observe that the liturgy, in turn, sets us on fire with love,and sends us forth to be the light of the world, and all that entails: proclaiming the Good News, loving, serving, giving, forgiving, etc.Here is the passage:9. The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. Before men can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion: "How then are they to call upon him in whom they have not yet believed? But how are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one preaches? And how are men to preach unless they be sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15).Therefore the Church announces the good tidings of salvation to those who do not believe, so that all men may know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and may be converted from their ways, doing penance [24]. To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance, she must prepare them for the sacraments, teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded [25], and invite them to all the works of charity, piety, and the apostolate. For all these works make it clear that Christ's faithful, though not of this world, are to be the light of the world and to glorify the Father before men.10. Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with "the paschal sacraments," to be "one in holiness" [26]; it prays that "they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith" [27]; the renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way.11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain [28] . Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.12. The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father, in secret [29]; yet more, according to the teaching of the Apostle, he should pray without ceasing [30]. We learn from the same Apostle that we must always bear about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodily frame [31]. This is why we ask the Lord in the sacrifice of the Mass that, "receiving the offering of the spiritual victim," he may fashion us for himself "as an eternal gift" [32].

"I had a similar experience the first time I attended a traditional Latin Mass. Although the homily was simply awful, I was moved by the vigor with which the entire congregation intoned the various responses and chants. Here, too, was a group that understood the seriousness of what they were undertaking."This has been my feeling throughout; that the spirit (and Spirit) the parish invokes by its worship is more important than language. The spirtless manner in which the local parish trudges through the Mass now is more soul killing than any language changes I have seen. Though I don't expect the new language to invigorate that parish ...

Well written, Mr. Nixon; articulate analysis. Thank you. Especially picked up your "pendelum" - the two extremes....dynamic vs. formal. My sadness is that the original ICEL worked for 15+ years to reform organically the 1973 reform - we would have implemented that in 1998. It "might" have begun a planned, organic process that we, the church, could have expected and grown with realizing that liturgy changes with culture, society, etc. and that it organically grows. We might have learned that liturgy will change ever other generation.Instead, we have committed to a polarization - either/or fight and have basically learned nothing. Only the people of God suffer from this hierarchical mess. It turns our traditional "lex orandi, lex credendi" upside down. We are the church of both/and - this new translation turns the clock back 50+ years. How unfortunate!

Summit, si; source no, eh?There may be something in that. I am one of the ancients who lament the loss of the Mass in English to the new Mass in Latlish. I knew, and served as an ace altar boy, the old, old Mass in Latin, but I didn't have any spirituality to speak of until Vat II opened my personal windows along with the Church's. So maybe it's natural and inevitable that I associate my "intimate friendship with Jesus" with the form of the Mass of those times.On the same personal level, I spent most of my career working in another area undergoing audience decline, newspapers. It was my experience there that whenever managers couldn't think of anything helpful to do, they ordered up a redesign of the paper. I wish the Church could think of something helpful instead of a liturgy makeover.

Tom Blackburn, you probably won't be encouraged by this announcement from the CDW that it is setting up a "team" "A team has been set up, to put a stop to garage style churches, boldly shaped structures that risk denaturing modern places for Catholic worship. Its task is also to promote singing that really helps the celebration of mass. The Liturgical art and sacred music commission will be established by the Congregation for Divine Worship over the coming weeks. This will not be just any office, but a true and proper team, whose task will be to collaborate with the commissions in charge of evaluating construction projects for churches of various dioceses. The team will also be responsible for the further study of music and singing that accompany the celebration of mass.... The new commissions regulations will be written up over the next few days and will give precise instructions to dioceses. It will only be responsible for liturgical art, not for sacred art in general; and this also goes for liturgical music and singing too. The judicial powers of the Congregation for Divine Worship will have the power to act....It is worth remembering, in fact, that the abuse of the liturgy that has gone on in recent decades, becoming common practice, is committed against the laws established by Paul VIs liturgical reform. It is not therefore the reform that needs to be amended; rather, further study into the sense of the liturgy and its proper celebration is needed and must be salvaged in some cases. It is for this reason that the Congregation for Divine Worship intends to promote the training of priests, clerics and catechists, starting from the bare basics. By following the example and teaching of Benedict XVI, the Congregation aims to revive a sense of the sacredness and mystery of the liturgy.

Yes, John, you have added to my depression. And on the very morning when I was singled out for having a voice that would put earmuffs on St. Cecilia.You and I both know that some of the best praying is done in some of the most unlikely settings -- foxholes and classrooms, for example. So you can imagine my delight in hearing we shall have a SWAT team to put a stop to all unauthorized praise, petition and thanksgiving. Another move that will bring them back in droves.

My premise in experience is that Catholics who love their faith wil go along because of eucharist and its impact but think the changes from on high are just another imposition.I don't see it deepening reverbce or faith on a broad scale (except maybe for traditionalists)-and I guess that's the point .

Hi Peter,I can certainly agree with you. I strongly believe that when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper he was surrounded by friends (in spite of what happened in the next few hours in the Garden and on Good Friday). This was the power of the new Christian movement---the people were ON FIRE with love of Christ----and a people on a MISSION----because they had known Christ---and more---they had a deep, deep spiritual relationship with him.Today, in spite of anything that is legislated----the people of the parish are all over the board in their relationship with Christ. Some have a deep spiritual life---and can 'get over' even those changes that grate on their nerves. A good many of the people will just go along with anything because they believe that they don't know enough about anything religious---to state an opinion or to voice an objection. And then, we have those who if they are there could care less as to what is said---they are looking at their watches and getting out of church right after Communion. Finally, there are those folks who will tell you, "When it comes to religion, I can take it or I can leave it." And they are not part of anything in church.The whole matter comes down to personal relationship with Christ. And I also agree with the views expressed by the other bloggers as well.

team guidelines priorities human development managerese self-referential marketcontextsnew expressions"A new team" -- Why does this phrase strike an odd bell? I've noticed that since the advent of Fr. Lombardi, the new press secretary, the Vatican vocabulary has started to incorporate some surprising terms from what I think of as "managerese", including such business school words as "guidelines", "priorities" and "human development". The recent financial "note" from the Vatican even talked of a "self-referential market".Has somebody on high at the Vatican caught on that the Vatican needs not just a press secretary but a new sort of self-organization? If so, let's hope that they catch on that communication in teams has to flow not just downward but upward, and, if Occupy Wall Street has anything to teach us, horizontally. But what a palace revolution that would be!Will the liturgists catch on? Nah. Too much to hope.

Thanks, Peter. You're helping me to understand why I feel so energized by my guilty liturgical pleasure, playing guitar and singing at the Spanish Mass. I've always liked praying in Spanish, partly because it's a beautiful sounding language (I think Merton said somewhere that speaking Spanish sounds like singing) and partly because I don't know it very well. Singing redoubles the beauty and the strangeness.I like the unabashed contact with the Bible that comes across in the simplest Spanish hymns. The first line of the first verse of "Alabare," which is certainly a "pop" liturgical song, goes something like, "John beheld the number of the redeemed." When do we ever get to sing things like that in English, except maybe at Easter, the feast that brings out the best in Charles Wesley?But mostly it's because of the devotion of the people, the dedication of the lay leaders, etc. It's a wonderful Mass.

The valid doctrine of the ex opere operato efficacy of the sacraments--Who would want the validity of a sacrament to depend on the personal holiness of its minister?--has often had the unfortunate consequence of leading people--ministers and recipients alike--to conceive of a kind of automatic, mechanically effective operation of grace in other areas, too. But so much of the Church's effectiveness, in worship and in almost all other areas, depends on the holiness of its members, on their humanly active participation and commitment, on their joy, their peace, their compassion, their generosity, their faithfulness, their hopefulness, their love. St. Augustine attributed the fruitfulness of the Church--"Your wife like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home" (Ps 128:3)--not to the Church as a mixed body (the communio sacramentorum) but to the societas sanctorum, to the holy ones within the Church. This is an aspect of ecclesiology that has often been neglected, not only by the theologians but in the common consciousness of Christians, in favor of external elements. However necessary these latter may be, they are insufficient for identifying where the Church genuinely is.

"The Liturgical art and sacred music commission will be established by the Congregation for Divine Worship over the coming weeks."Dare we hope that they can crack down on the incompetent "musicians" who seem to prevail in so many parishes?

A very sober and sensible analysis.

I believe most people will stumble through the new translation, drawing not closer to God in the process, but further away. And in regards to micromanginging worship music; what songs are correct, etc. I have this experience to point to: Every year I attend the LA Religious Education Congress held in Anaheim, CA. There are in excess of a thousand Catholics there from every Catholic point of view imaginable. When we gather for liturgy, whether in the smaller liturgies held throughout the weekend, or the massive opening and closing liturgies, where evrybody attends, there is such a powerful feeling of the Holy Spirit being present, that I always end up with tears running down my face uncontrollably, and the feeling that this why I became Catholic. It is the uniting of Catholics with all differnt kinds of belefs into one community of believers, ending in the sharing together of Eucharist. The music is usually lively with much clapping, raising of hands in praise, along with liturgical dance. I, and everyone I have spoken to, leaves energized, closer to God, and feeling alive and on fire for the faith. This is in sharp contrast to lots of Masses I have been to where the people appear to only be going through the motions, the choir sometimes is more interested in showcasing their talents or a special hard to sing piece that their director has written rather then encourage a sense of community, or the organ drones on in a funeral dirge. When, videos of the big LA Congress Opening and closing Masses and the Youth Day Masses appear on YouTube, there are always those who have nothing better to do than find as many perceived faults, esp. with the music as they can; even going so far as to state that organ music is the only acceptable insturment for the Catholic Mass. They never even stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, people are closer to God at the LA Congress Masses then in parishes where organ alone is used. And, if we are going to keep our young people coming to Mass, since they are the next generation, we must encourage them to fully participate in ways that attract their attention. I believe there is room in the Catholic church for all kinds or music, that is what is wonderful about it. I also believe, that when we get to Heaven, God is going to pull many of us aside and ask in all seriousness, "Why were you so concerned with having the words a certain way, only using the organ at Mass, or whether the mass was in English or Latin when you should have been out doing the work of the kingdom?"

Why were you so concerned with having the words a certain way, only using the organ at Mass, or whether the mass was in English or Latin when you should have been out doing the work of the kingdom?God bless you, Kait Skyler.

Concentrating upon the language issues per se is simply the wrong tack. This is mainly about ecclesiology. Whether the new liturgy bombs or wows is important, but not for its language. The sad fact is that, for nearly thirty years, Rome (those people who never accepted the conclusions of an ecumenical council) has been treating us much like a pedophile treats his future victims: "grooming" us for the hoped-for result -- in this case, the "repeal" of Vatican II and its messy insistence upon the Church as the People of God, along with its emphasis upon ecumenism and upon liturgy as a conscious, understandable action by the People of God. The constant theme of Roman pronouncements (on nearly any subject) has been, "This is just a 'development' of Vatican II" even when it was perfectly obvious to even the village idiot that what they were saying was exactly 180 the opposite of what the Council had said. In December 2005 this very journal published the definitive article about the process which has brought us this liturical monstrosity. John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet, laid out the entire history up till that point; since then, things have only gotten worse. The simple fact is that if this liturgical "translation" ends up being accepted, especially if so without a fight, we can kiss the ecclesiology of Vatican II good-bye. And with it, the vibrant spirit-filled Church which resulted from that Council will also be gone. And the world will be the poorer for it. It seems perfectly plain to me that, if a change is being foisted upon the Church by such means -- strong-arm tactics, intimidation, refusal to dialogue, insults to ecumenical partners, lies, secrecy, and even heresy -- then someone ought to realize that something has gone terribly wrong. And we ought to do something about it. Clearly, any order to use a liturgy which was confected in purposeful opposition to the formal documents of an Ecumenical Council, and which contains a formula which is heretical in the judgment of competent theologians, and which is being promoted by lies and subterfuge -- such an order is clearly illegal and immoral, and it ought not be obeyed. This is especially true when we take into account the larger context of the Church today: A Church mired in sexual abuse, cover-ups, financial misdealings, secrecy, and general abuse of power possibly even murder (of Pope John Paul I, possibly others). If we stand idly by, if we obey such an order without protest, then we, too, are derelict in our duty. We become like the "good Germans" who were "just obeying orders". This so-called 'translation' is simply WRONG, and SINFUL , and it needs to be opposed. It does not bear the marks of the Gospel. It is not the work of the Holy Spirit.One often hears the mantra, "The Church is not a democracy." Perhaps so, but neither is it a totalitarian dictatorship -- or ought not be. It is worth re-reading Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles. That most orthodox of theologians, Thomas Aquinas, has spelled out in the clearest terms our obligations as Catholics to correct clerics, including popes and bishops, in error. Please see his Article 33 (esp. #4) on Fraternal Correction in the Summa Theologiae, Secundae Secunda (the Second Part of the Second Part). Aquinas cites Augustine and Matthew 18:15 for support. (It is available on-line at

Mr. Cassidy, thanks for tellin' it like it is!!!!!!!!!!In recent times, I've seen two new words added to the popular lexicon:+ Orthotoxy+ SheopleYou've hit the proverbial nail on the head!!!!!!!!!!

"Dare we hope that they can crack down on the incompetent musicians who seem to prevail in so many parishes?"OK, say "they" do just that. Then what? How many parishes will spend enough money on a competent music director, organist and paid soloists where necessary to achieve the level of competency that people complain about not having but aren't willing to pony up the funds to support?The test of Catholic resolve is the checkbook. How many rise about a grade of "C-" in that respect?

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