How Pope Francis Made Liturgy Boring Again (And Why That’s a Good Thing)

Our friends over at Rorate Cæli are mildly exercised over the Mass Pope Francis celebrated last week at a Roman Parish. The particular object of their concern is that those receiving communion from him (in this case, the parish’s first communicants) stood to receive communion, rather than kneeling, which had become the norm under Pope Benedict.

I am not myself very exercised over this, either positively or negatively. But it did prompt the thought that, after the initial whiplash effect of the change in liturgical style from Benedict to Francis, what is interesting about Francis’s liturgical choices is how thoroughly uninteresting they are. If you look at the video of his Trinity Sunday Mass it is, well, about as dull as my parish’s Trinity Sunday Mass. With Benedict, one always had that frisson of anticipation, wondering what bit of past Papal finery might make an appearance: will it be the fanon this time? a sky-high miter? the pontifical dalmatic? or maybe some bit of ceremonial that had fallen into disuse? It almost became a distinctive feature of papal liturgy per se; it’s what made them different from what we do in our parishes. But Francis’s liturgies are pretty much like what most of us have done over the past 40 years or so. One sign of the change: the NLM used to cover just about every one of Benedict’s liturgies with a lavish photo display; they pretty much ignore Francis. With Francis, liturgy is not particularly exciting, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing.

People across the ideological spectrum have wondered why Benedict would sometimes use bits from the past, like the fanon, and sometimes not. They also wondered why some past customs, such as kneeling for communion, were reserved for the Pope and not universally imposed. I take it that Benedict’s point was to show that such things could still be used or done, but didn’t have to be used or done. Which is a fair enough point, but one that I think got somewhat lost in the anticipation of what the Pope would wear this time. I found myself thinking, “Just wear the dang fanon all the time and get on with it!” Frankly, while entertaining, the constant shifting of papal vesture and ceremonial was a bit of a distraction from what the liturgy is really about: the sanctification of God’s people through Word and Sacrament. Which is not always — indeed, not often — exciting. Or, no more exciting than water slowly dripping on a rock, shaping it minute-by-minute over the course of years.

I know from his liturgical writings that Benedict understood the point of the liturgy. But it now seems to me that much of his liturgical practice worked against the liturgy by making it exotic. With Francis, you get the same old boring mitre (or one that looks almost exactly like it) all the time. A papal Mass, for good or for ill, looks pretty much like Mass in a typical parish (adjusting for scale, of course). And that, at least for the moment, strikes me as a good thing.

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53 comments

  1. Deacon Fritz: A papal Mass, for good or for ill, looks pretty much like Mass in a typical parish (adjusting for scale, of course). And that, at least for the moment, strikes me as a good thing.

    Pope Francis’s reiteration of the orthodox teaching that Jesus Christ died for the salvation of all persons might provide a keystone concept for his pontificate. The media often pin certain catchphrases to popes. John Paul II’s “be not afraid” and “open wide the doors to Christ” spoke to the renovation of the faith in the Eastern Bloc. Benedict XVI’s “dictatorship of relativism”, though more cryptic and less catchy than JP II’s phrases, spoke of the possibility that Christians in “western” developed countries have lost their moral compass.

    Pope Francis is right to celebrate Mass according to the reformed rite and in a setting similar to many parishes. What the Rorate Caeli combox crew can’t understand is that those who are learning that Christ’s sacrifice is for all persons ought to encounter this sacrifice not in a blast of Baroque overload but rather in a setting similar to the parish down the block from their place. I’m convinced that Pope Francis’s affinity for parish-style celebrations is an attempt to meet the lapsed and curious at a less intimidating, more personal level. If a person returns to the Church and desires to attend EF solemn Mass every Sunday, I’m sure Pope Francis wouldn’t mind. He’s out to gather up those who haven’t shadowed a church vestibule in decades, if ever.

  2. Benedict XVI was far from the only pope whose liturgical praxis was overinterpreted by his fans. Way, in his case, though.

  3. I doubt the use of a paten during the Communion procession (with intinction, no less) is going to upset anyone. I mean, he’s already got the purificator, what harm would the extra step of a paten do? If intinction isn’t intimidating enough to drive people away, I doubt the paten would be.

  4. Jordan Zarembo : I’m convinced that Pope Francis’s affinity for parish-style celebrations is an attempt to meet the lapsed and curious at a less intimidating, more personal level. If a person returns to the Church and desires to attend EF solemn Mass every Sunday, I’m sure Pope Francis wouldn’t mind. He’s out to gather up those who haven’t shadowed a church vestibule in decades, if ever.

    Amen to that!

  5. I am reminded that the potential for idolatry of the particulars of worship are no longer present. What is present is the Bishop of Rome is shepherding his flock in a most uneventful way. And that is very remarkable and good.

  6. I think Benedict’s sense of style and sense of the Liturgy, especially the continuity issue, captured the imagination of many people and made the Liturgy interesting and helped to lead to blogs like Praytell and NLM and others. Pope Francis is capturing the imagination in another way by his down-to-earth demeanor and his extemporaneous remarks, his common touch. He is a populist and does not in any way come across as an aloof academic speaking from an ivory tower. Yet his theology and personal piety seems even more conservative or traditional that Pope Benedict’s yet Francis as a populist is able to get away with it, but one wonders for how long especially amongst academics and blogs like this. In fact it is interesting that very little if nothing is posted about Pope Francis’ rather consistent emphasis on the devil, his minor exorcism, as well as his insistence on being obedient to the legitimate Magisterium of the Church especially to groups of religious and to Catholics in China, not to mention the Biblical scholars of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. These things, not liturgy, makes Pope Francis extremely interesting and more interestingly so many on the more progressive side of things act as if these things aren’t being said or he doesn’t mean it. In other words, he is ignored.

  7. One sign of the change: the NLM used to cover just about every one of Benedict’s liturgies with a lavish photo display; they pretty much ignore Francis. With Francis, liturgy is not particularly exciting, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing.

    Shawn Tribe, who used to write those posts, is in the process of retiring from blogging for reasons that have not been made public, but probably extend back many months. I think this has more to do with it.

    Both RC and Pray Tell have continued to cover papal liturgies exhaustively.

  8. A very good thing.

    “Benedictan” liturgy, even if it didn’t intend, was more about the peripherals you mention. Does a fanon have any purpose than to appeal to the imagination of fanboys and girls? Does it draw attention to the wearer?

    I counsel my new liturgical ministers of any stripe–musician, communion minister, lector, greeter, etc., that their aim is transparency, so as to allow Christ to be more easily found. The pre-conciliar indulgence for clutter doesn’t do that so much.

  9. Todd Flowerday : A very good thing. Does a fanon have any purpose than to appeal to the imagination of fanboys and girls?

    You could argue this either way, but it’s pretty demeaning to reduce those who prefer this or that vestment to “fanboys and girls.” I’d gather proponents of older vestments are capable of thought deeper than “Oooo that’s a pretty piece of clothing.”

    1. @Michael Skaggs – comment #9:
      Can they give me a theological justification for the fanon and other curiosities that further the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an intelligible and fruitful way? I used to browse the NLM site fairly often. It seemed rather indulgent, arbitrary, and touchy-feely to me.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #11:
        I’m not particularly concerned about the fanon either way – if it’s there, fine, if not, that’s fine, too – so I can’t claim to represent partisans of the fanon etc. But I suspect they, just as opponents of rarely-seen vestments, could offer a theological justification. Think of every blog across the Catholic spectrum – they all justify their stance as _the_ authentic Catholic viewpoint. NLM may seem “indulgent, arbitrary, and touchy-feely” to you, but anyone’s experience in the comment box of any blog proves that the same reaction occurs in any number of readers to every site out there.

        All of which is to say – we all tend to think, whether we’d acknowledge it or not, that our perspective is the right one. Where we can engage in real dialogue (which is sometimes fun, sometimes contentious) is in respect for our opponents (e.g. not calling folks “fanboys and girls”). To use an artificial (but credible) example, nobody at RC appreciates when someone at PTB denigrates them as backward bigots, and nobody at PTB appreciates when folks at RC call them leftist loonies who don’t care about the Church.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #11:
        Since Shawn Tribe left it’s become a forum for a lot of SSPX/Sedevacantist types and other super traditionalist wackos.

  10. The focus on peripherals cuts both ways – there is a certain demographic on either side of the liturgical spectrum that picks apart papal liturgies and analyzes them ad nauseam. Then one side says “great! the fanon is back” and the other says “the Church is going down the tubes! the fanon is back.” These two sides could pretty easily be typified as PTB and NLM (I leave aside the more extreme views at, say, Rorate Caeli). Fr. McDonald’s comment is very perceptive – the culture of papal analysis has provided fuel for numerous different blog constituencies across the spectrum. Maybe that culture of minding the pope’s business is what Deacon Fritz is referring to as a fading phenomenon. And I would agree with him that that would be a good thing.

    Personally, I never bought into that culture. And I have to admit, even with years of liturgical study (but more history, rubrics, music, and theology of liturgy), I would have no idea what piece of finery pope Benedict was wearing, or Pope Francis was not wearing, unless the various blogs dissected and explained. It really doesn’t bother me either way – what I’m interested in is the authenticity and quality of the liturgy in my local church, and my contribution as music director.

    I wonder how authentic to the spirit of the liturgy it is to tape liturgies, then disseminate them worldwide and pick them apart for the purpose of political axe-grinding and analysis. How much political significance would the papal liturgies have, if we did not read that significance into them and engage in public jubilation or hand-wringing? What if people on both liturgical sides could look at the above video and see a beautiful encounter of young people with God through their first communion, rather than a political narrative playing out? I think that would be a step in the right direction…

  11. I realize that many here at PTB regard traditionalist concerns about these liturgies as neuralgic or even fetishistic. And perhaps, here and there, that is a live phenomenon.

    But as for me, I would sacrifice the fanon, mozetta, the “Benedictine” candle arrangement, the lace albs, the elaborate formale and cope, or the ancient mitres in storage, if I could simply see a return, Church-wide, to requiring reception of communion on the tongue, kneeling in the Roman Rite. With respect, I think it takes a willful blindness to ignore the vast disbelief, de facto or formally held, of many Catholics in the Real Presence, and likewise to simply assume that that the de facto normative post-conciliar posture of reception has nothing to do with this collapse. Nota bene: I am not claiming this to be the only cause, or that the posture alone will guarantee such belief (we would otherwise have to explain how Catholics brought up in this posture, in the Old Mass, fell into such beliefs post-1965, after all).

    While I was encouraged by Pope Benedict’s restoration of the practice in his own liturgies, I wasn’t blind to how rarely it was copied, since he went no further than to offer it quietly as an example. Likewise, while I am disappointed that Pope Francis abandoned it here, I wonder how much difference it makes. It’s obvious that too many clerics and laity have adopted, knowingly or not, doctrines of transfinalization or transignification, and place the presence of Christ in the gathered assembly as equal or even superior to that in the Eucharist, and will resist more reverent postures of reception for precisely that reason. That, my friends, is a rupture with Church teaching. And that is anything but boring.

    I do think that Dcn. Bauerschmidt makes a good point: All the fuss about vestment changes could be a distraction from what truly matters. But I also don’t think that was the Pope’s intention.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #13:
      Would suggest that your focus (willful blindness to ignore the vast disbelief) on kneeling is misplaced; if not a bias with no foundation. (really, transfinalization or transignification)

      Is belief in the Real Presence now a test one needs to pass before reception? And how, pray tell, will that be accomplished and who will make these judgments? (didn’t we at one time construct an *ex opere operato* concept; what happens to long traditions that see eucharist as a sign of forgiveness; medicine for the soul; etc. realizing that folks can be found on a continuum in terms of belief in the real presence)

      You also reveal your limited cultural understanding – kneeling has a symbolism and meaning that are very different in various cultures and might actually be the antithesis of what you intend.

      BTW – Vatican II reformed the eucharistic understanding so that the presence of Christ is found and is as important in the assembly, word, and eucharist. (talk about a rupture)

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #14:

        Is belief in the Real Presence now a test one needs to pass before reception?

        Bill, I am not suggesting a priest do a “20 questions” exam before each communicant. I am saying it’s a quite foundational Catholic belief.

        The whole point of my little plea was to affirm a great deal of what Dcn. Fritz says, but with a qualification. All these vestment and sanctuary details can risk obscuring what matters, and I won’t die on those hills (or obssess in liturgy comboxes). But I do think mode of reception is worth fighting for. I think we made a horrific, terrible mistake in abandoning our traditional posture of reception on the tongue (which we share with the East, I might add).

        BTW – Vatican II reformed the eucharistic understanding so that the presence of Christ is found and is as important in the assembly, word, and eucharist. (talk about a rupture)

        With respect Bill, it did no such thing.

        I recommend Paul VI’s Mysterium Fidei 38-39 on this point.

      2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #19:
        Richard – doubt we will ever come to any compromise on your last statement about Vatican II. Paul VI’s MF is not Vatican II and you are citing one paragraph out of context.

        Here you go – from Vatican II and already posted by Fr. Joncas in his SC series:

        “The Church is never more authentically and visibly “Church” than at Eucharist because the eucharist “is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” (Constitution on the Liturgy, 2)

        “To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in its liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,” but especially under the eucharistic elements. By his power he is present in the sacraments, so that when anybody baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for he promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).” (Constitution on the Liturgy, #7)

        Again, and contrary to Fr. Ruff’s suggestion to stop posting this:

        http://www.tomrichstatter.org/eEucharist/e41theol.htm#Ten Things I Learned About The Mass

        Read all Ten Points – it is based upon the documents of Vatican II and sets out a reformed, resourced understanding of the theology of sacraments especially the eucharist.

        For example – “Paul reproaches the Corinthians for celebrating the eucharist without recognizing the body of Christ. They were trying to remember Christ without remembering his Body, which necessarily includes the poor and the “unacceptable.” They wanted to celebrate the “head” without the “body” a risen and glorified “sacramental” Christ separated from his actual body now. It is easy to lose sight of this relation: risen Christ – mystical body – eucharistic presence. The eucharist is a celebration not merely of Real Presence, but a celebration of Real Presence which brings about unity and reconciliation in the whole body. It seems that Christians of every age need to be reminded of the relationship between eucharist and the Easter experience of the risen Lord who is one with his followers.”

        OR

        “…find confirmation for this four fold shape (gathering, storytelling, meal sharing, commissioning e.g. Emmaus) in the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, e.g. in Justin Martyr, and in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, e.g. when speaking of the modes of the presence of Christ in the Church: presence in the assembly “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20); presence in the word “since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church;” (Constitution on the Liturgy, 7) presence at the meal under the eucharistic elements; and presence in the world.”

      3. @Bill deHaas – comment #28:
        Bill, I think you’re overstating your case. There is nothing in Vatican II’s teachings on the manifold presence of Christ in the Eucharistic celebration that is not easily found in the preceding tradition (e.g. see Aquinas on the res tantum of the Eucharist). If by “reformed” you mean that the council recalled for the Church the riches of the traditional teaching, then you could say that the Council reformed the Church’s eucharistic faith, but inasmuch as “reformed” means “changed” I don’t think it’s accurate.

      4. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #32:
        thanks, Paul….Fritz, you capture my meaning…note I inserted the clarification using *reformed* (in the way you define it) and also *ressourced* (covering the riches of the first centuries). And, Fritz, may have chosen to focus/emphasize one aspect more than another but that is a far cry from Richard’s statement that what I said was *incorrect*. (if anything, his statement is so partial in capturing Eucharistic theology; it is inaccurate. We are back to eucharist as *object*; real presence as understood in medieval times, etc.)

        Sorry, we can quibble over reformed meaning changed but I fall into the John O”Malley camp – Vatican II, Eucharistic theology, liturgy, etc. were reformed – meaning changed. Bottom line! Does that mean the *core belief* of the early church changed – by no means – but Vatican II did change how we express, live, and understand that core meaning.

        Surprised no one has commented on the fact that providing kneelers, choice, etc. also interjects notions that at the key moment of Eucharistic action (sharing), the community devolves to *individualistic* choices. Guess that is why the church in its wisdom does not allow the same celebration to use wine from the cup but also intinction….it weakens the symbol and meaning of a communal action and statement. We already allow choice of hand/tongue – so, guess some would argue to just extend that to standing/kneeling.

        Where does it stop? When does one community’s action become so diluted by overstressing individual choice? Or is this just another version of unity rather than uniformity? Wonder?

    2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #13:
      I would tend to agree with you. The vestments of the pope make for interesting observation and I like what Francis wears, I just wish he wouldn’t wear it all the time. I like Pope John Paul II’s choices. I did have a disregard and antipathy for Roman vestments and at first was put off by them when Benedict wore them, but these have grown on me to the point where I appreciate these as a part of our liturgical tradition.
      As per kneeling for Holy Communion, I think this one restoration would be the most fantastic restoration to be had above all other restorations including singing the propers, which I advocate. In my parish we have kneelers available for those who wish to kneel. Our instruction which we have available in the back of our missalette states, “standing to receive is the norm in the USA, the option is to kneel, both are allowed, the choice is yours.” It is far from divisive, and more and more people are taking to kneeling, especially our young in high school and college.

    3. @Richard Malcolm – comment #13:
      Richard states: “But as for me, I would sacrifice the fanon, mozetta, the “Benedictine” candle arrangement, the lace albs, the elaborate formale and cope, or the ancient mitres in storage, if I could simply see a return, Church-wide, to requiring reception of communion on the tongue, kneeling in the Roman Rite.”

      But Richard, you can already receive on the tongue while kneel.

      So I suppose you really mean that, despite the indult, you want communion on the tongue ** imposed** on everyone?

      1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #16:

        So I suppose you really mean that, despite the indult, you want communion on the tongue ** imposed** on everyone?

        Actually, yes, I would, Dale.

        I know: This will seem authoritarian. And I’m not so deaf to pastoral realities as to imagine it could be imposed overnight, or without a massive amount of work. But it was all so once, not long ago; I think it could be again. I would also mandate the restoration of communion rails (or prie dieus), with allowances where sanctuary architecture makes it difficult or impossible.

        At worst, I would be open to making reception kneeling merely normative, strongly encouraged, but not mandatory (the Byzantine rite is standing and on the tongue, after all)…and obviously, folks with bad knees or other infirmities are dispensed. I can relate to that…

        It is true that canonically, we all have the right to receive on the tongue, kneeling, but the reality is that it has been deeply discouraged, or even de facto forbidden in some places. (Yes, it has happened to me before.)

        I know this sets me light years away from some folks here at PTB, and I respect that we all may disagree on this. But I felt it was important to signal, in the context of Dcn. Fritz’s essay, what is important to me in the liturgy as a traditionally minded Catholic (and it’s not the vestments or number of candles). Mode of reception guarantees nothing, I realize; but it does more strongly inculcate right belief (and reverence), and I believe there’s strong evidence of it, now that we’ve had four decades of trying it, quite fervently and thoroughly, the other way.

      2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #22:

        I wonder what you would do about the many people who actually can’t kneel, or can only kneel with the greatest difficulty. As medical science improves our longevity, such folk are increasing in proportion to the whole. I suggest that tolerance and consideration for others might be included in a view on posture, rather than saying it would take a massive amount of work.

        Additionally, I’m afraid that I’m one of those who find the slow profound bow infinitely more reverent than the quick-curtsey genuflection which is often seen. In a similar area, the desire to get people onto their knees shows a one-sided view of history, both liturgical and general. Standing is a sign of respect, whereas kneeling is a sign of self-abasement. We don’t kneel down when the President or the Queen enters the room, we stand out of respect. Yes, we bow to both of those, and ladies curtsey when presented, but we don’t kneel or kiss feet. If Jesus entered the room, we’d be on our feet in an instant. I have little time for a mediaeval posture which is to a large extent a distortion of the traditional prayer postures of the Church.

      3. @Paul Inwood – comment #27:
        See #22, above – that would align both with physical reality and accommodating either communion posture.

      4. @Richard Malcolm – comment #22:
        But Richard, the traditional mode of reception was originally in the hand in most places w/ a few exceptions, evidence from St Ambrose, Tertullian, Basil, ad nauseatum…… Furthermore, kneeling was prohibited by the Council of Nicaea except in certain times during Easter I believe. So I guess this makes me the traditional Catholic and you a progressive? 🙂

        I am sure Ambrose et al and the martyrs duing the great persecution who probably received in the hands would definitely take exception to your statement that receiving on the hand inculcates “right belief and reverence”.

        In any event it won’t happen. One needs to only look at the fiasco in Phoenix when Bp Olmsted attempted to eliminate the cup except during feasts etc.

        Please, if you wish to receive on the tongue and kneeling then do so and I would not hesitate one bit to defend you but to wholesale mandate it will never ever happen.

    4. @Richard Malcolm – comment #13:
      “But I also don’t think that was the Pope’s intention.”

      I agree. But it was also a foreseeable consequence. It’s why the council bishops wisely saw that trimming away the peripherals from the Tridentine liturgy was a fruitful course to steer.

      Bishops who covered up sex abuse didn’t have the intention to ignite a greater scandal. They were good men who did bad things with the good intention or preserving the image and material resources of the public institution. But they failed. Not unlike the attempted liturgical reform of Pope Benedict.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #21:

        Surely – surely – you aren’t really comparing the massive coverup of horrific sexual crimes with liturgical changes.

      2. @Michael Skaggs – comment #24:
        No, I’m not. But I am suggesting that unintended consequences may occur that range from mildly disconcerting to deeply tragic.

        I’m with KLS. The whole standing/kneeling thingie is way overdone. In a magazine column about a decade ago I poked at Seattle’s attempt to impose standing as a posture all during the Communion procession. It was a fruitless and hamfisted effort, and deserved to be highlighted–and not in a laudatory way.

    5. @Richard Malcolm – comment #13:

      Likewise, while I am disappointed that Pope Francis abandoned it here, I wonder how much difference it makes.

      Richard, I don’t want to be the 7231st critique on your position, but I’m convinced that you’ve elevated holy communion posture to a moral and theological panic. This panic simply places a roadblock in what I perceive to be one of Pope Francis’s central goals — evangelization by everyday example.

      I strongly doubt that the mid 20th century North American Roman rite’s relative uniformity on communion posture has held everywhere, even after the Council of Trent. I’d be interested in reading more on this subject. The basilicas of Rome and greater Italy often do not have altar rails. It’s not improbable that communicants stood to receive communion in these churches, just as our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters have consistently practiced for centuries.

      Also, it’s a huge jump to link communion posture and Catholic theological thought. So many of the theologians who contemplated the alternate doctrinal constructions you criticize celebrated Tridentine Mass every day. Praxis and orthodoxy are often galaxies apart.

      One glaring flaw of Catholic traditionalism, and especially traditionalism in the Roman rite, is a mistaken view that periods of ecclesial, ecclesiastical, liturgical, and theological development can be isolated and examined much like a entomologist creates display cases of dragonflies. Liturgy rolls on and on, despite the idealism of our current day. The last two centuries of Roman liturgical practice are not the absolute locus of “correct liturgical practice”.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #38:

        Jordan, I’d argue that, in some cases, issues like communion posture (and I say “issues like” because you could put all sorts of things there – styles of liturgical music, the dreaded issue of translation, and so on) and Catholic theological thought aren’t quite as far as your comment suggests. Indeed you may be correct in terms of the plenty of Catholics who don’t give too much thought to how they receive; when we get down to brass tacks, though, they ways we express ourselves physically at prayer and the liturgy has a lot to do with Catholic theological thought. I’d agree that “praxis and orthodoxy are often galaxies apart” – but not always, and it’s those times that they aren’t that are very important to elucidate.

        Finally, you’re correct to say that “the last two centuries of Roman liturgical practice are not the absolute locus of ‘correct liturgical practice'”; by the same token, though, neither is any other period. What we desperately need is a move away from some temporal ideal – “this era” or “that era” were better – to recover what simultaneously works best for us humans and most appropriately honors God.

      2. @Michael Skaggs – comment #41:

        What we desperately need is a move away from some temporal ideal – “this era” or “that era” were better – to recover what simultaneously works best for us humans and most appropriately honors God.

        Human beings and Christians in particular cannot know for certain what liturgical actions honor God. I have attended nuclear collider fast Tridentine low Masses, with priests who distributed communion by irreverently pronouncing the communion blessing as “Corpus (mumble, mumble)” while making a vague cross-like flick of the wrist.

        I have also attended charismatic Masses for persons in twelve step recovery, said by a late but saintly Jesuit. So, a good portion of the ordinary prayers were improv. I do not know what the face of Christ looks like, as I am in the vale of tears. Even so, the grateful smiles of the persons who created a massive human chain during the Our Father (around the altar!) are seared into my mind as a faint foretaste of the appearance of the Lord’s face.

        I attend the EF frequently, but not exclusively. Still, I have grown weary over the years of those who cannot distinguish liturgical accident from substance. Let Pope Francis show us moderation. “Even atheists!” Do we not fail to believe often?

      3. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #38:

        Richard, I don’t want to be the 7231st critique on your position, but I’m convinced that you’ve elevated holy communion posture to a moral and theological panic. This panic simply places a roadblock in what I perceive to be one of Pope Francis’s central goals — evangelization by everyday example.

        With respect, Jordan, this isn’t an argument, it’s a polemic. “Panic?” Really? What good will it do to lead people back into church by example (which I favor, by the way, I really do) when they see such casual disrespect for our Lord, and homilies that suggest universal salvation?

        I know what I see. I know the causes are varied. Secular society around us is a spiritual acid rinse. But when I see communicant after communicant simply take the host and treat it like a cracker, casually – I can’t read what’s in someone’s heart, but actions speak loudly.

        If nothing else, reception on the tongue is a far better means of preventing sacrilege to the host. There is a reason why it is an ancient custom (East AND West), going back to the early days of the Church (and not just the past two centuries). And please spare me the obligatory references to Cyril of Jerusalem.

        A radical change was made to how we receive communion over four decades ago, something not mentioned at all in SC. It hasn’t worked. It’s time to face the reality around us. And that reality is grim, sir. Grim. Restoring communion on the tongue won’t fix it all by itself, but it’s a start.

        So many of the theologians who contemplated the alternate doctrinal constructions you criticize celebrated Tridentine Mass every day.

        A point I expressly noted in my initial post, actually. As I said, it’s no guarantee of orthodoxy or orthopraxy. But reverent rubrics are of only so much avail when our brightest lights do too little of their theology on their knees.

      4. @Richard Malcolm – comment #44:

        With respect, Jordan, this isn’t an argument, it’s a polemic. “Panic?” Really? What good will it do to lead people back into church by example (which I favor, by the way, I really do) when they see such casual disrespect for our Lord, and homilies that suggest universal salvation?

        If you don’t believe me, believe a certain famous traditionalist blogger who did not read “universal salvation” into Pope Francis’s statement. Pope Francis wants the world to know that Christ is waiting eagerly to offer salvation to anybody and everybody who accepts the sacraments and a Christian way of life.

        Pope Francis does not at all presume that the postmodern world knows the very basics of Christianity. He knows well, perhaps more than most of the faithful know, that evangelization begins with the most basic, painfully elementary teachings. Arguments about “communion in the hand” are so remote from the desperate lives of persons of the global south who live on less than one US dollar a day, and also persons in prosperous postchristian societies who were never baptized and never brought to church.

        Pope Benedict was the pope of theological profundity. Pope Francis is the “Catechism For Dummies” pope. Even the so-called educated faithful need this catechism more than they think they do.

      5. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #45:
        Arguments about “communion in the hand” are so remote from the desperate lives of persons of the global south who live on less than one US dollar a day,

        Which, I suppose is why Mother Teresa, noted for her indifference to the poor in the global south, made a point to complain about Communion in the hand.

      6. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #46:

        I respect and agree with Mother Teresa’s viewpoint. I always receive on the tongue, and have grave personal reservations about communion in the hand.

        The point I attempted to make, however imperfectly, is this: what binds Catholics are the common doctrines and dogma of the faith. These teachings do not change across time, culture, or income. I sense, though I am not entirely certain, that Pope Francis wishes to reach the unbelieving and wavering regardless of any exigency of human existence. I consider the pontiff’s choice to emphasize the very basic teachings of Christianity as both an emphasis on the bedrock of evangelization and also as an implicit command to the faithful to look past pointless roundabouts of liturgical angst towards the face of Christ in charity and simple invitation.

        An elaboration of what I am fond of saying: no mantilla, rosary, or hand-missal will get anyone more Jesus. Leading others to the faith with humility and an open heart will subsequently deepen our own faith and strengthen our life in Christ.

      7. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #47:
        “…no mantilla, rosary, or hand-missal will get anyone more Jesus. Leading others to the faith with humility and an open heart will subsequently deepen our own faith and strengthen our life in Christ.”

        I think you’ve expressed yourself very well, Jordan. The fact that the Church treasures outward forms and the sacramental signs does not dispense us from the challenging yet essential task of distinguishing between what is primary and what is secondary or tertiary or even of no importance at all in the greater scheme of things. To make such distinctions is not hubristic, it’s part of the essence of humility in imitation of Jesus. The ability of our Lord to distinguish, indeed his constant example of making distinctions in favor of mercy and responsive to human need, provides us with a model we cannot ignore. He broke the Law when it was a case of human need. He had his priorities straight.

        The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.

        I would also underline something you said earlier, which I think bears repeating:
        “evangelization begins with the most basic, painfully elementary teachings.” I would agree. Charity and humility are two of them. They are teachings we too, who think of ourselves as already-evangelized, must return to, to learn and relearn repeatedly. Without them, efforts at evangelization easily slip into salesmanship and manipulation.

        Thank you for pointing to essential matters.

      8. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #46:
        Which means what?

        Her personal opinion – she also had some strange opinions in terms of her community rules; how she thought about the role of/and treated women, etc. So, this makes her opinion our new norm?

        She also had a spiritual director who is finally serving time in prison for sexual abuse after being allowed to travel the world and continue his abuse for more than 20 years after the first complaints.

  12. And to think we Lutherans have been kneeling to receive the Eucharist for, oh, 500 years or so. Who’d have thought that we would be the traditionalists….oh, and the fact that I vest in a chasuble each celebration is exotic enough for my folks.

  13. Padre Dave Poedel, STS : And to think we Lutherans have been kneeling to receive the Eucharist for, oh, 500 years or so. Who’d have thought that we would be the traditionalists….oh, and the fact that I vest in a chasuble each celebration is exotic enough for my folks.

    Crazy times, Padre Dave. Crazy times.

  14. Todd Flowerday : @Richard Malcolm – comment #13: “But I also don’t think that was the Pope’s intention.” I agree. But it was also a foreseeable consequence. It’s why the council bishops wisely saw that trimming away the peripherals from the Tridentine liturgy was a fruitful course to steer.

    Hello Todd,

    I think it’s an open question just how much the Council Fathers meant to trim away – clearly they meant to trim something away (see SC 34, 50, 66, etc.), but they left many details unaddressed.

    But I don’t think you’ve mischaracterized some of the motivations behind these provisions of SC. Fair enough.

  15. It is true that canonically, we all have the right to receive on the tongue, kneeling, but the reality is that it has been deeply discouraged, or even de facto forbidden in some places. (Yes, it has happened to me before.)

    I think a position somewhere in the middle is more feasible – at least making sure communicants feel entirely comfortable with either posture of reception. I’m thinking of the awful video of +Brown refusing communion to a women until she would stand. No communicant should have to experience that for either posture.

    1. @Michael Skaggs – comment #25:

      Hello Michael,

      I think a position somewhere in the middle is more feasible – at least making sure communicants feel entirely comfortable with either posture of reception.

      Within the current regime – that would certainly be an improvement, and I would not oppose it.

  16. Speaking of right belief and reverence, I believe we should immediately return to the requirement that women wear hats and that men and women sit on opposite sides of the church, as required by canon law as recently as 1982. There is nothing more irreverent than women and men mingling during the liturgy, and the ladies with uncovered heads. The liturgy simply cannot have enough reverence!

    1. @Paul F. Ford – comment #33:
      Well, you can find almost all of it in Augustine (e.g. the whole “Say ‘amen’ to what you are” thing in Sermon 272, along with much of his exegesis of John 6, or pretty much any premodern exegesis). Probably the hardest thing to find in the tradition is the idea of Christ present in the priest celebrant, though Aquinas certainly talks about the priest speaking in persona Christi.

  17. My personal ideal would be to restore the communion rail and simply have people gathering at it to receive either standing or kneeling. Receiving while gathered with other people is more communal in nature than the hurry-up single file communion lines we have now.

    While the notion of the communion rail as an extension of the altar we can gather around was likely grafted onto the practice long after it took hold, it is a very good description of why the rail is a worthy thing to restore. It’s only a barrier between the priest and people if we treat it like one.

  18. Unfortunately, kneeling and standing have taken on shibboleth value in the liturgy wars. I am not attached to either: I grew up with kneeling, and have very strong memories that it was no less an assembly line prone to nominal reverence as standing communion lines. When standing was introduced, there was a period of deliberate reverence, but, as once it became ritualized, it became as automated as the communion rail. I couldn’t kneel now, and I merely advise those who are still able not to take that ability for granted.

    I will strongly disagree that kneeling necessarily means self-abasement. Too much is made of the connection of kneeling to feudalism and too little is made of the nearly contemporaneous (in historical development) connection of kneeling as a sing of love and service in the culture of courtly love. In fact, kneeling’s residual meaning in our contemporary culture has long lost its feudal connection (even of begging) but retained its connection to the culture of courtly love.

    Let’s stop overargued attempts to pathologize kneeling, attempts that say more about the arguer than anything else, as attempts to pathologize standing likewise do.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #36:

      Karl, I do agree with your warning against a “pathology of kneeling”. I am but one man [vir], one person in the Body, and I do not wish to speak for others. A communicant’s decision to kneel or stand, where both are available, is absolute. At daily ordinary form Masses in the parishes i usually attend, the priest distributes communion to a line of standing communicants first, and then to communicants kneeling at the rail. I always receive standing even though I can physically kneel, simply because a standing communion line usually moves faster. Those who kneel at the rail have no time for personal reflection by the time they return to the rail.

      I would hope that priests follow a similar practice even at the EF. The Tridentine missals do not explicitly instruct communicants to kneel. However, given that a kneeling communion is a strong badge of traditionalist identity, I would not be surprised if not a few parishioners not only glare disapprovingly at a line of standing communicants, but also leave because “the Mass is Novus Ordo” or similar. Lord, save us from the willfully ignorant.

  19. Fritz,I would rather have people paying attention to the pope and papal Masses when they are boring rather than paying attention because of what the Vatican “fashionistas” might use to vest the pope.
    Pope Francis has distanced himself from the’ fashionistas’ and it is exactly this reason that he is getting so much positive attention from both the press and laity. They aren’t looking to see if he has shunned this or that vestment but rather are paying attention because he is boringly genuine. That’s why they are apopletic over at Rorate C.

    I haven’t seen so much positive church news as I have since March 13th.
    Keep up the good work, albeit boring work, Pope Francis!

  20. John Allen today offers a delicious soundbite from Abp Chaput in Allen’s coverage of the two American Capuchin “heavyweights”:

    “The only form of religious life worth its salt is prophecy against oneself.”

    I only hasten to caution that this piece of wisdom is not so complete that it should be read as a diminution of witness by the powerless against the powerful.

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