Liturgical Confusion

Controversy need not be a symptom of institutional weakness, decay, or even disunity; it is often a sign of intellectual vitality and passionate attachment. Much depends on how the parties involved in any dispute conduct themselves. Are they willing to listen to one another? Or do they condemn first and ask questions later? Do they presume the best about each other’s motives? Or the worst? Even rarer, are they open to the possibility of learning something, even from their critics?

A textbook example of how not to engage others is currently being provided by Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), and by Adoremus, the Society for the Renewal of Catholic Liturgy. On television last November, Mother Angelica accused Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles of denying the doctrine of the Real Presence. Mother Angelica, a kind of Rush Limbaugh in a wimple, even went on to urge Mahony’s flock to deny their bishop “obedience.”

The source of Mother Angelica’s “I will not serve” was her evidently hasty and uncomprehending reading of “Gather Faithfully Together: A Guide to Sunday Mass,” a pastoral letter in which Mahony offered a “vision of a parish Sunday Eucharist” as he hoped it would be celebrated in the jubilee year 2000. The burden of the letter was Mahony’s recognition, in the words of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, that “something...

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