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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Reforming the Reform, or Bashing One's Head Against the Wall

I recently volunteered to serve on the "liturgy committee" of my local parish and attended a meeting of same last week. The better part of the meeting I took no part in, it dealing with the various ceremonies and observances of the upcoming St. Patrick's Day in this largely Irish parish. Not being of that extraction I thought it more tactful to remain silent during rather lengthy discussions over seemingly endless minutia concerning the observances of that good Roman's feast day. It took, however, a mighty effort of will to curb my tongue as the pastor and some on the committee waxed sentimental over the Marxist-terrorist organization known as the Irish Republican Army.

The next item on the agenda was a matter of some concern for the pastor and most of the committee, i.e. those in their sixties or older: the ever decreasing number of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Various explanations for the dearth were proffered, with one committee member becoming downright indignant at the apparent lack of interest among younger parishioners to engage in this singular honor. After some back and forth a young person on the committee (the only one, in fact), a young woman, cleared her throat and tenuously suggested a possible reason younger parishioners do not volunteer to become extraordinary ministers was they, like most young Catholics who actually attend mass these days, detest the notion, for the very good reason the Holy Father strongly disapproves of them, and that their use should be severely curtailed. This caused considerable consternation among many on the committee, who expressed outraged disbelief at such an idea. The young woman thus obliged them by handing out copies of a document from the Congregation for Divine Worship that affirmed just what she had stated and proposed. There was still disbelief, with an older woman next to me asking of the document (with the year 2004 clearly indicated): "Is this new?"

Father joined in the discussion, pointing out (correctly) it was not that long ago the Archdiocese of New York was veritably hounding pastors to sign up as many Eucharistic lay ministers as possible and that he was bemused by the controversy. I pointed out at the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan one never sees extraordinary ministers (and never will as long as Fr. Rutler is pastor) to which an older woman asked, "how do they serve the precious blood?" My response, "they don't," was not favorably received and provoked a baleful chorus that that was "unacceptable." The pastor, trying in vain to explain one receives both species even when receiving just one, eventually punted, saying he needed "guidance" from the bishop. The young woman who raised the matter, looking dejected (and boy did I feel for her), stated she would indeed write the bishop. I am sure she knows enough not to hold out much hope; Archbishop Dolan, to the best of my knowledge, has little or no interest in liturgical reform.

The next matter, raised by myself, I expected to be the most controversial but it turned out to be less so--in a way. I declared my deep gratitude the parish offered a Tridentine mass once a month, celebrated by a visiting priest, but wondered if it might be moved from the middle of Sunday afternoon to one of the morning masses and, eventually, celebrated more often. The pastor (who, I should stress, is a very decent man), declared it was impossible; he had never celebrated the Tridentine mass, didn't think he could learn it, nor could the other priests on his staff. I suggested a young, newly-arrived priest who seemed to take the liturgy seriously might be prevailed upon to have a go at it and that I would gladly undergo training to be a server. Alas, no. The reaction from the pastor and liturgy committee alike was, "nice idea but it cannot be done. The meeting was then adjourned.

I am sure the above account is a familiar one to long-time Catholic traditionalists and it is not my intention to bash the pastor who is in a difficult position. He must perform a delicate balancing act between the relatively small number of young parishioners, who are much more enthused about traditional worship, and the much larger number of older folk, the parish stalwarts, who attend mass faithfully, give generously of their money and time--by serving on the liturgy committee, for example--but also, sadly, seemingly adore the horrid music and embrace liturgical practices that would have been considered heretical only forty years ago. I intend remaining on the liturgy committee and will bring up the subject of the Tridentine mass regularly, but always politely.

For I have come to the firm conclusion it is waste of time trying to reform lousy music, heretical liturgy and other abominable practices within the context of Novus Ordo, which only seems to encourage them or at least make them possible. Only the traditional Latin mass, with its ultra-strict rubrics, will make it possible to effect "reform of the reform" in Holy Church, not just theological and liturgical but, as the Holy Father himself has stated, moral as well. Traditional Catholics should make restoration of the Tridentine mass their goal above all else. 

1 comment:

Fr. J. said...

I do feel for your situation and understand your frustration. I would also like to see the liturgy celebrated in a more dignified way, though I only have sway over my own actions within it, not being a pastor.

It does help me greatly on a spiritual and emotional level to simply accept that this is the slow work of a generation, not the administrative product of a single committee meeting.

One has to begin by trying to understand rather than judge ones audience. You are light years ahead of them in your understanding of where liturgy is going.

It will take years of gentle prodding, suggesting, articles read together. It will take patient listening to the frustration of liberals as it dawns on them that their point of view is losing out. It will require you to actually have compassion for them as they suffer through what amounts for them as a lost dream or vision for their church. If one cannot be with them compassionately in their pain, anger, frustration, discouragement and simultaneously gently encourage them to see things from a different perspective, then you probably are not cut out for the work of liturgical reform, which is a kind of conversion process rather than a political argument buttressed by prooftexts.

It is no more just to shove the tradition down their throats by edict than it was when the liberal reforms were shoved down traditionalists' throats.

I believe this is why this liturgical reform is not being conducted the same way as the previous one was.

It is perhaps more important to be generous, kind and patient than it is to be right. And I do believe that you are right, my brother.

So pray hard and well between now and the next meeting. Let the Lord change you in this process at least as much as you hope he will change others.

God bless.
Fr. J.