Monday 1 August 2011

500 (e)

Right, back to the fray.
In earlier posts I have tried not to defend Irish illiturgicality, but to explain it. Like many of you, I believe that sorting this question out is part of the answer to the Irish Question. It just isn't the whole answer, and it has to take account of the Irish point of view.

I am now going to give an account of a celebration I attended a few weeks ago: it will highlight many of the things I have been writing about. It will horrify many of you, but I would ask you to contain your reaction and try to understand it.

There is a monastery in the Irish midlands where monthly Sunday afternoon religious gatherings (I don't really know what I ought to call them) have taken place for many decades; these have been very popular, but are now being wound down for external reasons. I attended one of these, but sat in the congregation (and yes, I was in uniform) as I was feeling unwell.

It all began in a chapel entirely devoted to the Divine Mercy devotion. There is a large picture—you know the one, with rays coming from our Lord's heart—behind the altar, and confessionals all around (unused on this day, though I understand that confession was a usual part of these afternoons in the past). Two elderly priests entered. One of them had a smoking thurible, and this was waved at the picture. Then we all sat down and recited the Divine Mercy Chaplet, five decades. This being done, we all decamped to the main chapel. Here Mass was celebrated at breakneck speed—not irreverently, I mean, but very very quickly. I suspect that the celebrant was simply saying the English Mass in the same way he used to say the Latin Mass. When Communion time came, the concelebrant stood at the microphone and sang a traditional hymn, while the main celebrant gave out communion at the head of a side aisle. Meanwhile a woman grabbed a ciborium and headed off to us at the back of the chapel. There was no queue; she came to each person in his or her seat. When she came to my aunt and me, she demanded 'do yez want the bread?' and, I am not exaggerating, flung the Blessed Sacrament at us. When she had finished, she stumped back off to the altar, tabernacled the ciborium, bobbed a half-genuflection and went back to her place. Mass over, the concelebrant again crooned a hymn to the Blessed Sacrament into the microphone and the main celebrant proceeded to expose the Lord in a monstrance. There was no pause for prayer, but he took a humeral veil and proceeded down one side aisle of the chapel stopping every few feet to bless the people kneeling there as he passed. He went out of the chapel door, and blessed the (no doubt confused) visitors and tourists in the bookshop outside. Then he returned inside and proceeded up the other aisle, blessing as before, and back to the altar. The Lord was reposed, and the service was over.

That's it. You'll probably agree with me that it was pretty awful and the distribution of Communion even sacrilegious. But what you must understand is that in some bizarre way the whole thing (except Communion) was both genuine and nourishing. What I mean is that, well, I have sometimes said that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. Nobody was indifferent there; there was a lot of love, and a lot of real piety. It was full of prayer, almost tangibly. It was just very untidy and very unliturgical. And they should not have allowed that woman to distribute the Blessed Sacrament.

It is ideorhythmic religion again.

I would certainly like to see liturgy in Ireland tidied up and made reverent and far more focussed. I really think it would help. However it won't be easy to achieve, because the current style is so widespread, at least in the Republic. There is little experience, no tradition, of solemn liturgy in the parishes. Things like the recent FOTA conference are very encouraging, and as people get some experience of better liturgy, I should think that other things will improve too.

But one mistake must not be made, which is to despise or remove the devotional aspect altogether. The liturgical movement from the nineteenth century did make this mistake, and to some extent we are reaping the whirlwind. Prayer needs to be affective as well as effective; if it does not engage the heart, then it will not awaken the soul. The encounter with God, whether in the Sacred Liturgy or in other devotions has to be a real encounter with Another; it is not an intellectual or an æsthetic exercise.

What I mean is that even the liturgy is not an end in itself, not a form of entertainment whether a splendid Extraordinary Form Solemn Mass or a happy-clappy feel-good let-it-all-hang-out celebration. The liturgy is not for looking at, it is for looking through, to God, to heaven, to Calvary and even (properly understood) to each other.


GOR said...

”The liturgy is not for looking at, it is for looking through, to God…

Well said, Father! Your final paragraph expresses something I have felt for some time. While decrying what the Novus Ordo became, at the same time I had some similar criticism for what some people felt the Usus Antiquior should be. As people waxed eloquent about various High Masses – the Schola, the music, the vestments and the participants – I had the distinct feeling of a performance.

And wasn’t that what much of the criticism of the NO was about…? So have we just substituted one ‘performance’ for another – albeit one with more solemnity and decorum – but a performance nevertheless…? I don’t say that was the impression, or even less so, the intention, of the participants but I was left with an uneasy feeling about it.

I can understand people – priests, even - being enthralled by a Solemn High Mass with all the trimmings, when all they have experienced in their lives has been banality in the celebration of the NO. But one gets the sense that from now on only such Solemn High Masses will satisfy them going forward. Anything less will somehow be ‘lacking’…

To those of us of a certain age (i.e. old…) our remembrances of pre-Vatican II worship are quite different. The ‘accidents’ of Mass were unimportant. It didn’t matter who the celebrant was, whether there was music classical or otherwise, whether there was a ‘quorum’ of acolytes, ministers, MCs etc. It was THE MASS we were attending. It was the SACRIFICE we were present at – as if at the foot of the Cross. And like those at the foot of the Cross, we may have been silent witnesses – but witnesses nevertheless and our concern was for the main Actor not the accoutrements. Yes a priest was needed, but he could have been any priest and he was a ‘means to an end’ not an end in himself – just as the ‘accidents’ should be.

A Low Mass celebrated on the back of a Jeep on a battlefield is no less efficacious than a High Mass celebrated with all the pomp and circumstance of a Papal Mass in St. Peter’s. In some places there is the danger of not seeing the forest for the trees.

Toby said...


This is a fascinating series of articles and really thought-provoking. It's one of the benefits of blogs that you can stay with a theme and ponder it over a period of time. I do sincerely hope that there is an (f) to come.

I read a couple of books a while ago by John Waters, an Irish journalist, which you may find of interest. He left the Church, but seems to be on a journey back in large part due to his involvement with Communio e Liberationze. The first book is called Lapsed Agnostic and the second Beyond Consoloation (How we got too clever for God and ourselves).

In Domino,


Philly said...

I don't want to be misunderstood. I don't believe in the Liturgical Movement. I don't believe in as-nose-bleedin-High-as-we-can. I guess I'm a member of the Low Mass Society at heart but I don't think the Liturgical Movement is entirely to blame for this. Did we even have a Liturgical Movement in Ireland?

For as long as I can remember I've been hearing that we can't do [insert any traditional devotion] because it's UNliturgical. It's certainly true that Irish Catholicism has gone UBERliturgical in the sense that nothing religious happens without or outside the Mass. Confessions in Mass, lay apostolate in Mass, preaching in Mass, commemorations with Mass, house parties with Mass, birthdays with Mass, Legion of Mary dinners with Mass (I kid you not!!!) and when it's not a group thing it's the Blessed Sacrament 'exposed' by a lay woman opening up a door in a little box on a shelf and leaving Him there for us to amuse ourselves.

However, the problem isn't really the Liturgical Movement, it's chaos. The clergy are paranoid about the dignity of the Priesthood so they get the laity to do liturgical things. The clergy paradoxically are so obsessed with the power of the Priesthood that they don't support lay associations and pressure the laity into clerical roles (liturgical and pastoral). The laity are forced into 'quasi simplex Priest' roles and have no benefit of neither lay nor clerical states.

On the other hand, the FOTA movement isn't going to help. It is too exclusive/excluding. Pontifical-everything is fine for such occasions but it looks ridiculous and feels ridiculous outside a small circle. Perhaps it's meant to.

The whole thing is a thorough mess of epic proportions. I'm hoping that the scandals will keep upping the ante to a pitch where the whole edifice comes tumbling down and we can start from scratch. The trouble is that, by the time the last pre-VII generation is dead, there will be nothing to build with. Three generations are innoculated against the Faith and "the swish of the soutane and the swing of the thurible" is not going to change that.

However, there's the one hope. 18th and early 19th century Ireland was almost equally chaotic and far worse in terms of Mass attendance. The secret was discipline, order and hard work. Unfortunately, hard work and the Irish clergy are contradictions in terms.

Aquinitatis said...


But is that what Father is saying?

It is one thing to say the liturgy is for not looking at, but I don't think for a minute that Father is intending to say that beauty within the liturgy is not important.

Certainly the Pope doesn't believe that is so and neither has our tradition which has given place for beauty to surround the liturgy.

It seems to me the point is, that it is a means to an end, not the end in itself, but that doesn't mean we should get rid of the means, it just means we have to keep focused.

GOR said...

Aquinitatis: my comment was merely on Father’s final paragraph, not the whole article. The following speaks (I think) to the rest of what Father was saying.

I have noted before that my home parish in Ireland is an active one, both in terms of the liturgy and evangelization. Masses are well attended – by modern standards. The parish is replete with volunteer organizations – some 40 of them! - tending to the various needs of the people. Outside of Mass, devotions are plentiful: Perpetual Adoration, processions, retreats, novenas, pilgrimages, etc. Ample opportunities for confession are provided. The First Fridays are observed. The parish is well served by a PP and two Curates as well as some retired native-son priests from various missionary societies who live in the parish.

That said, a rubrical rigorist would find fault with some of the practices of the parish. While the number of clergy is down from what it was in my youth, one could hardly say there was a shortage of priests in the parish. EMHCs (my sister among them...) figure prominently at all Masses – whether needed or not. ‘Participatio actuosa’ is taken to mean getting as many lay people as possible involved in as many ways as possible at every Mass. Holy Communion to the homebound is routinely done by the EMHCs, not by the priests. Unsurprisingly, the Usus Antiquior has no traction there and doesn’t even get a mention.

The Sacrament of the Sick is provided – communally, on occasion - to anyone wishing it for whatever reason. Masses in the home are common – also for a variety of reasons. While some of the excesses at funerals, which had become common in Ireland – as elsewhere – have been reined in, there is room for improvement. Latin does make an appearance on occasion, thanks to some of the younger clergy the parish has had.

One could nitpick many things and everything is not necessarily ‘according to Hoyle’ or even according to the GIRM. The PP’s response to a recently ordained curate, who had studied in Rome and commented upon something not being quite liturgically kosher, that “This is not Rome!” - was revealing.

So while the rubrical rigorist is me, I tend to hold my tongue. What or who am I to criticize? The needs of the people are being met – both in spiritual and material terms – and sometimes in the way the people want them met, rather than ‘by the book’. There IS more than one way of skinning a cat…

Jack O'Malley said...

You'll find Christ at such an Atellan farce as I once found love in a Naples brothel.

Deus Hiberniam servet et Sanctam Ecclesiam Romanam.