by Msgr. M. Francis Mannion
I think that by now readers know that I am an unambiguous supporter of the liturgical reforms brought about by the Second Vatican Council. These reforms were sorely needed, and there is no going back, as some “conservatives” would wish.
The reform in the liturgy, particularly of the Mass, was undoubtedly the centerpiece of post-Vatican II developments. The liturgical changes impinged immediately on the life of worshipers. Practicing Catholic experienced the liturgical reforms first hand in their parish churches.
However, not everything is as it should be in the Church’s liturgical life. There is much unease in some quarters, and many people have a vague feeling that something is amiss with the liturgy.
What is wrong? In my opinion, the fundamental problem has to do with the manner in which the liturgy is celebrated.
Speaking generally, I do not give high marks to the way in which clergy preside at liturgy (sloppy, mechanical, soulless, artless), and the way they homilize (superficial, disorganized, prosaic, and unable to connect with people’s deepest needs).
Lay liturgical ministers are very often trained inadequately, and are unprepared to assist at Mass (this is especially true of lectors). On a regular basis, liturgical ministers simply do not show up when assigned; and they are often sloppily dressed (I continue to argue that lay ministers should wear albs, not least to cover a multitude of wardrobe sins).
Besides lay and ordained malfeasance, there are two areas in which the condition of the Church’s liturgical life is in very bad shape. These are liturgical music and church architecture.
Church music continues to have the folksiness carried over from the 1970s, and has a very outdated feeling; and there are almost no (and I mean no) good composers in the field of liturgical music today. Pastors are not willing to employ professional musicians, and musical leadership is often left in the hands of well-meaning, but poorly trained, amateurs.
The situation with church architecture is even worse, even disastrous (and I do not use that word lightly). Music programs can be improved quickly, but (modern) church buildings are apt to last for a century or more. For the first time in 2000 years, our churches are not designed to be replicas of the New Jerusalem; they do not point to heaven, and do not make present in icons, paintings, and murals the celestial hosts of angels and saints.
Modern churches are merely functional: They provide high-priced, colorless, and lifeless auditoriums for worship. (One prominent church architect who designed many Catholic churches–and renovated at least one cathedral–called his designs “non-churches”!)
The fundamental problem here is that few church architects are trained in liturgical theology, know very little about the history of church architecture, and simply ape one another. And the situation is not getting better. Church design in mired in the severe, cold, and lifeless style that began in Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Some people think that all the problems would be solved if only the Church would make further structural changes in the liturgy. “Conservatives” think that we must go back to what obtained before the Council; and “liberals” think that, if only we would move forward and adapt the liturgy to the culture, things would improve vastly.
How can the problems I identify be resolved? Largely, by a massive liturgical education of clergy, lay ministers, musicians, architects, and artists. (On the matter of liturgical education in the seminaries, I’m afraid the outlook continues to be rather bleak.)
Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.