Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Mystery of the Liturgy...and Liturgical Misery!

At the weekend I drove up and picked up my Polish ladyfriend from West London. With her family we attended Mass at a nearby parish. We arrived late and I was visibly irritated that we had arrived after the Gospel, insisting (apparently incorrectly) that we had in fact missed Mass. I can be known to exaggerate when I am pissed off. When we arrived, the Priest was giving the homily. I believe that at the time when we walked in, the Priest was talking about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. An important theme, one that Priests need to proclaim 'in season and out of season'.

I was surprised, therefore, that having heard from the pulpit, the Priest's correct assertion that God is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, that the liturgy seemed to reflect this so poorly. The liturgy reminded me of old Baptist services which I attended prior to my conversion to the One True Faith. Baptists do their thing, I guess, because they don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Yet we are still doing their thing even though we do...or at least profess that we do.

I know that often I take it for granted that we are lucky at St Mary Magdalen's to have a Priest who really makes an effort to ensure that the liturgy reflects the great Mystery of the Mass. The Latin which we sing at Mass, the reverence which he treats the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the effort he goes to in order to preach that the Mass is the holiest thing this side of Heaven, are all about directing his parishioners to a deeper understanding of Who is present every time Mass is offered. It is meant to be Heavenly. Literally!

Yet at the parish Church I attended on Sunday in London, even though the Priest had reflected on the Real Presence, the liturgy seemed to undermine the entire Mass. From the guitar strumming, mic'd up man singing 'Give Me Joy in My Heart', to the two lay Eucharistic Ministers, one man, one a young lady who distributed Communion (not just the Chalice, but the Host also), to the end of the Mass when the Priest thanked the congregation for 'joining in during our Mass', appeared to demystify the entire Mass. "There are three of us giving Communion," said the Priest, "it doesn't matter which one of us you receive it from". This was an unfortunate turn of phrase because again it cheapens and demystifies Who is truly present in Holy Communion. In other words, "It doesn't matter who you receive Communion from because..." The inference is that Communion is not what he had in his homily said it was. If he truly believed that Holy Communion was the Body and Blood, Soul, Divinity and Humanity of Christ then he would know that the Priest has been ordained to consecrate and administer Holy Communion and apart, perhaps, from exceptional circumstances it is the Priest who does it. The other inference is that either the dignity of the Priesthood has been cheapened or there are in fact three Priests on the Sanctuary.

Not only did it demystify the Mass, but looking around wearily at the parishioners singing 'Give Me Joy in My Heart', it infantilised the Mass, forcing grown adults to sing what essentially is a children's song. I don't know. I know that this is a story across the country and that many people are in fact happy with the trends, which we all know started long ago, but which continue. Later, over the course of the weekend, I heard on Radio 4 a wonderful programme called Soul Music on the composition, 'Miserere Mei' by Allegri, about how the Vatican tried desperately to keep the piece within the walls of the Holy See, because it is almost miraculous in its beauty and transendence. It was their gem. It was only because a 12-year-old Mozart memorised it and wrote it down later on a piece of paper that it ever got out of the walls of the Eternal City.

Music that reflects the liturgy. That is what Popes down the ages have yearned for and when they have discovered it, they themselves have championed it. Beauty and transcendence are what those Priests faithful to the Benedictine 'reform of the reform' project wish to see in the Mass. They seek to ensure that the Mass is all about Him, rather than all about us. Again, it would appear that various clergy, for the Laity can hardly be blamed for this trend, are more interested in 'our Mass' than the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Believe me, it was woeful and I hope and pray you never have to sit through it. Thank God for the Priests who truly believe in the Real Presence!


Unknown said...

Excellent post. I'm sorry you had to endure what sounds like a poor excuse for Liturgy. While my parish here isn't quite that bad it's not far. We have lost the sense of the sacred in general in many if not most parishes. You are truly blessed at St. Mary Magdalen's(at least it sounds that way from what I read about it.)
I pray our Holy Father does something to return all parishes back to the Church's beautiful basics.
God Bless!

Fr Patrick said...

Gosh imagine if you had got there at the beginning...just think of the abuses you could have listed.

Was it a homily?
Was it preached from a pulpit?
Lay eucharistic ministers..are you sure?

Thank you for your words such as woeful, demystify, blame, undermine, cheapen, infantilise... I am sure they are both edyfying and help build up the Body of Christ.

The Catholic Church embraces many styles of liturgy. They may not be to a persons taste but they are sanctioned by the church. Guitars are not banned by papal decree ( maybe they should be!) I am sure we don't all agree or get on with every style of liturgy but a validly ordained Priest celebrating Mass is part of the Catholic church.

I am sure that the priest at the Mass you describe believes in the real presence as do his congregation and if they lack in reverence the blame does not always lie at the door of the priest.

It is a joy and a great grace to be a priest. I don't go in for pleasing everybody all the time. I support and applaud the Holy Father's reforms and I think with careful planning and charity they will eventually transform the church and aid her to strive to holiness.

But I do object to people who walk in once and never again to a parish Mass and slag it off. How easy and cheap is that.

Excuse me getting hot under the collar.

Why not pray for that priest and his congregation rather than thanking God for the other priests you respect and support.

The Bones said...

I'm sorry if my post offended you. I don't wish to run down the Priest concerned, but the Priest, is, as you know the 'Shepherd and Guardian of souls'. In the liturgy, to where is the Priest leading the souls? Is it into contemplation of the Divine Mystery, drawing parishioners closer to God, or is it into a kind of mushy sing-song affair in which God actually takes a back-seat?

It appears to me that good and faithful Priests who are loyal to the Holy Father have to take a 'softly, softly' approach to their reform of the liturgy which has been encouraged from the His Holiness - that is - the very top down. Meanwhile, Priests who follow a rather more loose interpretation of the liturgy, as depicted in the post, are able to do what they like unchecked and without suspicion, or derision.

You say that I have been scornful of the Priest in the post and perhaps I have been uncharitable and lacking in respect. I admit that. Yet, how much more derision and scorn do those priests who are truly faithful to the Holy Father receive from their brother clergy and yes, even Bishops? Much more, I can assure you.

My parish priest celebrates both forms of the Mass and does offer both with great reverence. I would be interested and heartened to know, do you celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form? What is the response from lay people and brother clergy who witness you fulfilling the desire of Pope Benedict XVI in his quest to bring true reverence for the Blessed Sacrament back to the Church?

You say the Catholic Church embraces many styles of liturgy and you are right...but neither Heaven, nor the Church is a democracy. Christ is King in Heaven, and, on Earth, with His Representative, Pope Benedict as Successor of St Peter. The Apostles knew that what St Peter said, went...So, what changed?

Fr Patrick said...

Nice comeback, well put! (I don't fully agree with you but cest la vie!)

The Mass is the single most important act of each day for me. I have been celebrating the Mass for 17 n a half years and it has never lost it's mystery and sacred appeal.

I have never celebrated Mass in the EF form. Pope Benedict's reform has not instructed me to do so. (despite what may be typed on the internet blog world) I have no objection to any priest who does.

In my humble opinion reverence and respect can be achieved by both ordinary and Extraordinary form of Mass.

Best of luck with the fund raising for your church.

The Bones said...

Thanks Father. God bless.

Big Fan said...

Sounds like, Laurence, we in the US are going to meet you on the path, heading in opposite directions. Since about the 1980's many of the churches here have "popular" music and no sense of holiness. They are stripped of any sign of Catholicism, (maybe an icon on one of the side walls), no crucifix, probably some "plain" or modern cross. They sing and play guitar & drums while Father starts the consecration. When you say, "it cheapens and demystifies Who is truly present in Holy Communion" I agree. So many are so nonchalant, it's very disturbing. In many cases, I don't think they know any better, they've been so poorly catechized.
The good news here is, that there is a very staunch push back toward the Traditional.
Even Latin mass in our area now, at the cathedral, we are so thrilled. I love to hear of the renovations at St. Mary Magdalen. You can't build "old" beauty, so you must protect it! Blessings!

Rachel M. Gohlman said...

I cannot agree more that so many liturgies are being banalized and weakened. People do not realize that the way we worship reflects what we believe- sometimes even more than our words do. I often compare the Mass to a romantic dinner with one's spouse. You light candles, wear fine clothes, bring flowers and play soft music. No one wants a loud guitar strumming at their romantic dinner nor do they want distraction and bustle. They want peace so that they can cherish one another more deeply.

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