Messenger of St Anthony, an internationally published magazine to which devotees of St Anthony can subscribe, is written, compiled and published by the Franciscans at Basilica of St Anthony in Padua, Italy. I receive a copy each month because a kind and saintly parishioner of St Mary Magdalen's subscribed me to it, having obtained for me a St Anthony medallion with a third class relic inside, that touched St Anthony's sacred tongue.
Liturgy is one thing that is rarely discussed in the magazine. Contributors to the magazine include Josephine Siedlecka of Independent Catholic News and Peter Kavanagh, a contributor for The Catholic Register and The Tablet. I have to say that usually, however, the magazine is doctrinally on the ball. There is an article on the potential growth of euthanasia in Canada and North America, for example, written by Kavanagh, which quite rightly describes it as more evidence of the 'Culture of Death', a phrase coined by the Venerable Pope John Paul II of soon to be Blessed fame. I particularly enjoy reading stories from the lives of St Anthony and St Francis and this month the Messenger highlights the three differing habits of the three separate Orders that emerged in the years following the death of St Francis. I enjoy the magazine and it is usually orthodox in its portrayal of the Holy Faith.
Then, this month..."Bang!" That was the sound of a Franciscan shooting an Irish lady's faith in the heart. Clearly, all is not well within the Franciscans of Padua and it really does tell you something when a man who is following in the footsteps of the Poverello of Padua hits us with this. I'll reproduce for you a letter written by an, understandably, very concerned Irish lady, in a section entitled, 'Pastoral Counselling', who is troubled by what is going on at Mass in her parish. Here we go...
'Dear Friar Rick. We are deeply disturbed at what is taking place in our churches here in Ireland. Firstly, Our Lord is taken from the tabernacle and placed in the monstrance. He is placed on the altar and the congregation is told to say their sins quietly into themselves in front of our Lord. Then, when they are ready, to make their way up to one of the priests on duty in the church for absolution. They do not tell the priest their sins at all.
Drama and dancing is now being introduced at the Mass. It is not only distracting, Friar, but downright disresepectful. These little girls, in their short Irish costumes, hop and skip right in front of the tabernacle and altar. Some people even organised a 'concert' to be held in the church at the sanctuary. Following all the scandals and abuse we have had to suffer, this surely is not the behaviour we should be allowing.
When we approached the priest to ask what part of the Last Supper and Calvary had the dancers he slammed the door in our faces. The questions we have are: Who is responsible for introducing all this into our church ceremonies? Why, what is behind it all? Why can the bishops not ban it and ask the priests to stop it? Why do the priests promote it? Who do we contact to have this stopped?'
So, quite naturally and without affectation, full of devotion to St Anthony, who, as a Priest was an exemplary custodian of the Blessed Sacrament, managing to convince Padua of the Real Presence by fasting a mule for a few days before getting it to miraculously double genuflect before the Blessed Host, Friar 'Rick' (Richard Riccioli, OFM Conv.) denounced the Irish priests for defiling the Blessed Sacrament, for causing yet more scandal to the faith of those heroic Irish faithful still loyal to our Holy Mother the Church, despite the horrifying Murphy Report and replied, in the most urgent manner, "Write to the CDW...now! We have to stop these sacrileges from taking place! How long, O Lord?! How long will You hold back Your just arm from the wicked, who with malice oppress and persecute those who revere You in Your Sanctuary!? In the meantime, I'm coming to Ireland on the next flight and all I'm bringing with me is my habit and a crow bar..."
If only! What Friar 'Rick' did say in reply, was this...
'This is certainly not an easy time for the Church in Ireland. Many people are rightly angry, saddened and hurt by the scandals that have shaken their trust. In this context it is extremely painful to see our beloved church practises, traditions and devotions cast aside. It is understandable that we would reject any deviation from the norm and resist innovation. In times like these it would seem logical to hold on to the past; a time of stability and solace.
Before we look at the specifics of your letter, let me begin with a caution. You may have heard, or seen for yourself, priests and parishes who are doing things in a manner you don't appreciate or that you do not think is appropriate. Before passing any judgement on anyone, it is important to remember something. The majority of priests and religious in Ireland are good, caring and holy persons...much like the faithful of our parishes. The clergy, too, are devastated by the scandals. They may be further depressed to see a decline in the attendance at Mass. Some priests may be trying to reach out to people in new ways. They are probably doing so in good faith. As we say in North America, "Cut them some slack."
With respect to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I can understand, at an emotional level, how a priest might think that using the Blessed Sacrament as a focal point might help some parishioners to focus and experience God's mercy. However, the way you describe sounds rather misguided, especially the lack of any type of confession of sins.
I have much less of a problem with drama or dance being used in the liturgy. Look at how music is used in the liturgy. We do not sing at Mass, but rather, we sing the Mass. The singing is not imposed on the liturgy, but rather, parts of the Mass are brought to life through song. There are times and circumstances where drama and dance could also be used to express the liturgy. This would need to be done well and prayerfully and not be seen as something dropped into the Mass. An example I witnessed was when a couple of young people 'danced' the procession of gifts for Mass when Pope John Paul II was in Montreal in 1984. It was done very gracefully, it was an expression of the Mass and the Holy Father commented how much he liked it. As far as concerns go, churches have often hosted performances of sacred music. I often attended the Mozart Festival at Notre-Dame's Basilica in Montreal. It was beautiful and prayerful.
So what should you do? First of all, keep an open mind. Presume that the priests and parishioners involved are acting in good faith and doing their best. Next, get involved; and I don't mean involved in complaining. Get involved in your parishes liturgy committee. Work with your priest and fellow parishioners as they struggle to make the sacraments more meaningful. Share your ideas about how to welcome people back to the Church. Put your ideas into action and become part of the solution!'
In other words, "Hey, weird Irish lady, chill out! Dance and drama in Mass are great! You can't say its not great because the Ven. Pope John Paul II loved it in 1984! Whatever you do, don't complain to either your own Bishop or the Congregation for Divine Worship or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, because this stuff is 'the craic' and its going to bring the Irish back the Faith because, even if the hearts of the Irish have grown cold for Our Lord, partly because His priests molested and beat up on Ireland's children and His bishops covered it all up along with the Government, they are going to just love Irish girls in short skirts dancing in front of the Sanctuary! Don't worry about the old, those trustworthy days of trustworthy priests and even more trustworthy liturgy! Embrace the new! Join the 'Committee for the Riverdance Putsch of the Mass' and get involved! Why not consider buying yourself a mini-skirt and jivin' on down in front of the Sanctuary yourself!?"
|St Anthony and the Miracle of the Mule|
So, and yes I am sending this onto Friar Rick, I have a few questions for him, since it is obvious to me that his 'sympathy' for this Irish lady runs only skin deep:
Friar Rick. If you read Sacramentum Caritatis, His Holiness says, quite explicitly...
'Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.'
It appears that dance and drama, miniskirts and 'concerts', are not included in the Holy Father's view, a view which is credible and trustworthy by nature of his Office, of what constitutes suitable liturgy at the service of Almighty God. So...
- Where is your loyalty to the Holy Father, who has taken pains to stress that this kind of activity taking place before the Blessed Sacrament is not at all befitting, or worthy of place in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?
- Moreover, where is your devotion to our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, for it sounds rather like the Irish lady thinks more of Him than you?
- Does it not dismay you and make you even a little angry that the Faith, trampled upon once by unworthy in priests in Ireland is now being trampled upon again by priests who have no care for the faith of their flock, or for the Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament? That they dare, when challenged of their infidelity to Christ, to slam the door in the faces of the just?
- How is it going, over there in Padua, with implementing the Holy Father's expressed will, in Summorum Pontificum, for the Traditional Latin Mass to be celebrated where it is wanted by even a small group of the Laity? The 2007 Motu Proprio does, after all, stress that the '1962 Missal as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass...was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.' That'll be the Mass that was celebrated by, among others, St Anthony of Padua.
- Therefore, why, in your reply to the loyal Irish devotee of St Anthony of Padua, did you not remind her that under the instructions given by His Holiness, with his Petrine authority, she is entitled, if she wishes, along with other parishioners, to ask for the Traditional Latin Mass to be celebrated and to complain, to Rome if necessary, if the desires of their loosely-formed 'liturgical committee' are ignored by parish priests?
- Finally, why on God's green Earth should she not complain that Irish priests are not respecting or revering or moreover adoring the Blessed Sacrament and that by their outward actions they are damaging the still very fragile faith of the Catholic community in Ireland?
May God continue to bless your ministry and your vocation. Thanks for the relic! Here is the body of St Anthony being exposed for the Faithful to venerate last year.