More Young People on Liturgical Reform

Continuing the series:
Judy Schwager, 25
Kate Weber, 27
Jeffrey Regan, 32
Eric Styles SJ, 32

Young people look at liturgy quite differently than their elders – in what significant ways, and why?


  1. In my opinion there is one conclusion to draw from these quite various insights: we just cannot continue with what we have done and accomplished the past years and decades after 1970.

    There is a need for a new look at things liturgical, and indeed a more qualified and professional, a deeper look at texts, translations, music and gestures, and all the theology behind . And this already is good news.

  2. I’m troubled by the notion of defining reverence. Two days ago, people from throughout our Diocese gathered to celebrate the installation of our new Bishop. It was quite an exciting experience as we greeted people, some of whom we haven’t seen in quite some time, others who were strangers. We shared our excitement for the future of our Diocese and our church and commented on how it was such a wonderful feeling of being part of the universal church, knowing that there were Cardinals and Bishops there to celebrate with us, and that most of the priests of the Diocese were going to be there, as well. Then it happened. Our Diocesan Director of Liturgy (a very recent graduate of Notre Dame) made this announcement.: Let us adopt an attitude of reverence and silence and please silence any noise making devices.

    Were we not being reverent, telling the stories of our journeys? Is this the “chit-chat” that people are talking about? What about showing a little reverence for the presence of Christ in one another? Is genuflecting to the tabernacle or bowing before communion reverence, even if it is pro-forma? I find the liturgy that the more traditionalist side of the spectrum prefer to be uninspiring and counter to what I’ve come to believe to be the purpose of our worship, but that’s me. I totally respect those who feel otherwise. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about perspective. We’re all called to the same mission, different people respond in different ways.

    I do think, though, that we need to be very careful to avoid anything that would indicate that we somehow control God or ascribe human terms to things which are not understood, like how God can somehow be “more present” in one thing over the other.

    1. Were we not being reverent, telling the stories of our journeys? Is this the “chit-chat” that people are talking about? When I read this, a line from the Rule popped into my head: “The oratory ought to be what it is called, and nothing else is to be done or stored there” (RB 52.1). Your conversations *definitely* needed to happen! But then and there? Christ is present in each of the baptized. No one should disagree with this. But when a group gathers for worship–especially Eucharistic worship–then it seems that the group as a whole even further expresses the mystery of the gathered Body of Christ in a way deeper and more profound than when some of the baptized are having a discussion. Do our individual discussions in this context do reverence to this fuller expression of the Body of Christ?

      Furthermore, does this presence of Christ in the individual baptized, or in the gathered community, somehow nullify or set at naught the presence of Christ in the sacrament?

      I’d like to honor the presence of Christ in all three loci and it seems that this can be done best by attending to context, rather than flattening it.

      1. I’m still growing in my understanding of all of this, but Christ is present for US. So, while Christ’s presence can not be quantified, it bears remembering that presence of Christ in the faithful lives inside human beings, with emotions and needs and feelings. The Word can’t be offended, the reserved presence in the Tabernacle has no need to be in community. I just wonder if in our need to manipulate and control, we miss out on the opportunities to let God be God.

  3. So, while Christ’s presence can not be quantified, it bears remembering that presence of Christ in the faithful lives inside human beings, with emotions and needs and feelings.

    I agree with you entirely! I am concerned, though, with the ways that you seem to be parsing the presence of Christ–as if all of these different modes of presence are somehow fundamentally unconnected…

    Christ is present within us preeminently by virtue of our baptism. That’s what draws us into the gathered community that, among humanity, most perfectly expresses our identity of the Body of Christ. But we come into that community through the sacraments, our place in that community is nourished by the sacraments and that community most fully expresses both its destiny and its purpose while celebrating the sacraments. To then disregard the sacraments to emphasis the presence of Christ within us seems not only counter-intuitive but contradictory.

    Again, why not–honor both–and catch up with our friends somewhere other than in the sanctuary right before Mass?

  4. The problem with the Ordinary Form of the Mass is that it is open to creativity either from the priest himself or some ubiquitous worship committee. The Extraordinary Form of the Mass has everything spelled out and in detail. There is no need to make anything up. There is the Low Mass, the Sung Mass (High Mass) and the Solemn Sung Mass. Each has its own prescribed rubrics and choreography. Yes, it is easy to become robotic in this form of the Mass just as it is way too easy to be sloppy, banal, informal in the Ordinary Form. I celebrate both, the Ordinary Form most of the time. We strive to celebrate both forms beautifully. The current English translation of the Ordinary Form is abysmal, but the new translation will add majesty, accuracy, and doctrinal correctness. If I could wave my magic wand, I would like to see the changing parts of the Extraordinary form in English or the vernacular.

    We have to keep in mind that well into the early 1960’s before the Ordinary Form of the Mass came about, Mass attendance in this country was nearly 90% of Catholics. This is an amazing statistic. Today, we count ourselves blessed if we have 30%. Some places have much fewer. This in no way can be called renewal, yet those hippie types, like myself, seem to think it is renewal. They need to come out of any drug induced delusions.

    In changing the Mass so quickly and so poorly, we shook the faith of the most faithful of the early 1960’s, pushed many of them away to the point they became very wishy-washy since nothing in the Church seem to have any stability including the Mass. Their children, which is my generation, ceased to be catechized properly, take Mass seriously or any of our Catholic obligations to heart. The Church became a marshmallow rather than a rock. I’m 56 and 30 years a priest.

    We can’t continue on the path we are on or no one will take the Church seriously. The ones who do are the ones in the more conservative branches of our Church, the young who want mystery, dignity and intelligent celebrations of the Mass and straight talk from the Church.

    1. This is a logical fallacy, and a quite common one: X came before Y, therefore X caused Y. I know some people want very badly to believe this, because it just plain feels like the liturgical reforms (badly done) drove people away after Vatican II. But in the 20th century, church attendance plummeted alike in London, Vienna, and Athens, i.e. in the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church. The first reformed the liturgy moderately, the second drastically, the third hardly at all. Obviously the plummeting church attendance, then, was caused by something else.

      I think there are lots of reasons to fix our liturgy so we’d have more reverence, more seriousness, better understanding of the rubrics, better music… but that it would bring everyone into (or back to) the church isn’t one of them.

      There are lots of reasons to criticize the implementation of the reforms – the silliness, the misunderstanding, the throwing away of treasures… but that this caused people to leave isn’t one of them.

      Let’s go ahead and criticize (with charity) all the mistakes of the last forty years, and let’s do everything we can constructively to make it better. But let’s stop claiming that we know it’s the reforms that drove them away, or that they wouldn’t have left if we had done the reforms right.

      1. I’ve looked at the polling (, and on the surface of it, you’re right. In addition to the changes in the mass, so many other things were going on outside the church. But how many other crucial things happened INSIDE the church? Condoms had been condemned for decades, the church didn’t become hierarchical in during Vatican II, women were not suddenly forbidden from being priests. How do we explain page 2 of this? ( Sure the post hoc/propter hoc logical mistake is real and frequently made (as is the cause-correlation mistake), but in lieu of better material, you have to use what you have. Most of our day-to-day common sense appraisals of situations not subjectable to scientific experiment with its isolation of variables are based on both of these fallacies because they often work. You have to be an ostrich not to use them. We will never know the truth.

        However, we can note that much of what the critics of the new Ordo Missae said has come to pass. Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci wrote prophetically, “The innovations in the Novus Ordo and the fact that all that is of perennial value finds only a minor place–if it subsists at all–could well turn into a certainty the suspicion, already prevalent, alas in many circles, that truths which have always been believed by the Christian people can be changed or ignored without infidelity to that sacred deposit of doctrine to which the Catholic faith is bound forever.”

  5. But let’s stop claiming that we know it’s the reforms that drove them away

    But Dom Anthony, it is a fact that this did indeed happen in some cases. I have heard testimonies from people who say they stopped going to Church at least partly because of the nonsense going on in the wake of the liturgical ‘reforms’ and drifted far away from the Church – and some of them came back because they discovered, to their unending joy, an ‘indult’ Mass – the Mass of their youth.

    Even if this was not the most common reason for people to leave the Church, there is no denying that there were people for whom this was a factor. Some of these were perhaps not people of the strongest faith, capable of staying through anything for love of Our Lord, yet without the reforms they would still have stayed because of e.g. love of sacred music or even just force of habit. There was no reason to drive them away – indeed they should have been the object of special concern.

    And then we have said nothing about the tens (hundreds?) of thousands who defected to Sedevacantist groupings or went ‘underground’ to the FSSPX, for whom the liturgical reforms undoubtedly played a large role.

    1. Gideon – yes, you make a good point. Some indeed did leave because of the reform. (And some entered because of it, and some say that couldn’t have stayed without it.) I should rather say that some (maybe a lot) were driven out by the reform but we don’t know how many, and that we shouldn’t think that attendance numbers would be like in 1950 in only the liturgy were like in 1950. Thanks for helping me clarify my thinking a bit more.

      1. We do know how many. 8% for former Catholics, according to the Pew poll, listed “Religion drifted too far from traditional practices such as Latin Mass.” Now that might not have been the only reason, but it was a listed reason.

  6. Judy,
    Congratulations on your wedding! My wife and I had very different ideas for the wedding. Almost 8 years later, I can say it was an excellent early lesson on compromise.

    Thank you also for your contribution.

  7. I do not remember the TLM from my childhood (I am 45) but, despite being a former altar boy, I drifted away *because* of the instability in the NO Mass I knew. Little by little, out went traditional vestments, altar rails, kneeling for communion, communion on the tongue, genuflection, even a visible Tabernacle. Eventually, almost everything that I knew as distinctively Catholic was gone so it made little difference to me to attend Protestant churches or no churches at all instead. The incessant changes shook my faith – I rediscovered the TLM in recent years and it brought me back after a 25 year gap.

    Perhaps the hope of incessant change kept many others – those who want women priests etc. – but John Paul II has made it clear the Church has no power to ordain women as priests. As the realisation that women priests will, and can, never come, I suspect others will begin to leave. That is their right, and i respect it.

  8. To Fr. Anthony, the point of my comment above focuses on what we did to the very staunch, dedicated and yes “rigid” Catholics of the 1950’s early 60’s. They are the one who were obedient to the Church, sometimes blindly. They are the ones who embraced the first reforms, which in 1965 meant the Tridentine Mass with the people’s parts in the vernacular and yes, “And with your Spirit,” a more accurate translation of the Gloria and Creed, and Mass facing the people. These people still trusted the Church to hand on the faith to their children. But we all know about the silliness of catechisis once the Baltimore Catechism was ditched. We’re only now recovering from that, but not totally. We have not handed on the faith of the Church to about two generations and the celebration of the Mass in many places continues to weaken that faith. The way you pray is the way you believe.
    I suspect in the 90% that were attending Mass regularly in the 1950’s early ’60’s that a good percentage were on the fence Catholics or only cultural Catholics for most of the week apart from Mass. But at least they knew or wanted to believe that the Mass was sacred, necessary and an obligation they had to take seriously. It’s this crowd that has abandoned any formal practice of the faith, meaning the Mass except for Christmas and Easter.
    Now, when we look at the children of those of my generation, their catechisis is abysmal, their sense of obligation to the Church totally lacking except for a small minority.

    We should not underestimate what happened to the staunchest of Catholics of the 1950’s and early 60’s who were confused and disillusioned by the pace of changes, the poor celebrations of Mass and the chaos in the Church especially in the ranks of priests and religious (so many of them leaving to marry). This has had a trickle down effect that continues. The priestly scandals revealed in the last 20 years will have another detrimental effect on the Church and already is having it.

    As one who remembers some elements of the Church of the late ’50’s and early 60’s and what happened in the late 60’s and early 70’s, it would be a betrayal of history not to think that the silliness of the season symbolized by poor celebrations of the reformed Mass did not play a significant part in the very dramatic decline in Mass attendance. I suspect if the Church had remained a rock rather than a marshmallow in the cultural upheaval of this period and the gross secularization that has occurred, we would not have seen as many departing the practice of the faith as we did. Keep in mind that the rebellion against Humane Vitae originally started with the clergy who then lit a fire under the laity that they could rebel rather then strive to be obedient to the teachings of the Church. I think this rebellion against the faith, morals and worship of the Church is called pride, which really is the original sin of Adam and Eve.

    1. In the US, the plurality blame rests with Humanae Vitae, at least according to the U Chicago sociology study. One-fourth left Catholicism because of contraception, but it would have been more had it not been for liturgical reform.

      It is also a logical fallacy that the pre-conciliar liturgy was generally a work of art. The reality is that pastors then (as now) didn’t hire qualified music directors, and probably didn’t attempt more than one High Mass per week.

      I also think little of the notion of the poor, stupid laity: it’s the clergy’s fault they rebelled from HV, the catechists’ fault they didn’t educate their children, and so on.

      Curious that if preconciliar Church practices were such the bees’ knees, that faith fell apart so spectacularly, something that decades of European wars, the Black Death, the fall of Rome couldn’t undo.

      1. Do you have any sort of URL to that study. Would be very interested. I did a Google search and had nine trazillion hits. Was the leaving of the Church because of contraception in general or only chemical contraception?

      2. I’m old enough to remember the rebellion against HV.
        For the most part, Catholics who had been obedient
        to the magisterium in the 1950’s way, thought that they
        had to throw out all teachings that they personally
        could not comprehend or agree. There was no such
        thing as critically looking at a document like HV and
        gleaning from it what was worthwhile and applicable and
        what could be discerned through conscience and ultimately
        trusting in the mercy of God when decisions of conscience based upon human experience collided with clear, concise teachings that seem to make no room for flexibility.
        For example, all of us agree that killing is a mortal sin.
        However, we know that in a “just war” in self-defense and allowing someone who is terminal to die with dignity rather than with extended technology are permissible. If there is flexibility with a clear, concise teaching found in the Ten Commandments, how much more in a lesser teaching? Too many Catholics today want all the reasons for not following a teaching rather than the being challenged by the “maximum” expectation that Jesus lays on His followers–like just thinking ill of your brother is like killing him. YIKES! Our faith based upon Jesus’ own expectations, not some historical figure from the past, but our Risen Lord today, is doing the most rather than the least. The least you can do is not kill your brother; the least you can do is not use artificial contraception. But what is the most we can do–that’s outrageous and led many to ask, “well then who can be saved?” All things are possible with God, saving the rich and the sinner alike. That gives me hope and the Liturgy, well celebrated and according to the mind of the Church, either EF or OF points the way!

  9. What Mrs. Schwager said struck a chord with me: “Why isn’t this rich liturgical heritage being used?” Coming into the Church I was not particularly Traditionalist, but I must say I was profoundly mystified that the Church’s great musical and ritual tradition was all but extinct, at least in most of the churches I attended.

    For that reason alone I was grateful to find the Old Rite. And the more I studied the old rituals the more I was struck by their awesome spiritual depth, even if they were more lengthy and, well, demanding, than the new ones (then again, I have always held great admiration for the Orthodox who could stay in church worshipping God for hours on end).

    Gradually I realized that there is such an enormous liturgical patrimony out there, formed by 19 centuries of piety and devotion, just waiting for us to rediscover it: the intricate ceremonies of the Solemn High Mass, the Rituale with its blessings for almost any object or occasion, the special liturgies of the great sees and religious orders, the vigils and octaves of the great feasts, the tropes and sequences of Medaeival liturgy (yes I know I’m going beyond 1570 here). I cannot see that the new, post-1969 books add much of value in this regard.

  10. I agree with you Gideon; there are so many liturgical and theological treasures in our past.

    However, I think some of them fell out of use in their day for a reason–something about it was no longer proclaiming the Gospel that needed to be heard then or something else that proclaimed it better came along. That is, I don’t think that all liturgies and even theologies proclaim the gospel equally in the cultures in which they are set.

    We are undergoing a massive cultural shift right now. Some of the old ways don’t proclaim the united word of judgment and word of grace that this culture needs to hear. We have three choices:

    1. Ignore the problem, keep doing what we’re doing, and wonder why the Gospel isn’t taking root,
    2. acknowledge the problem and start making stuff up in a hit-or-miss fashion hoping that something we make up will work, or
    3. examine our liturgical treasures in the context of the cultures that produced them and investigate which treasures from the past can speak most effectively to this culture.

    I believe we serve the church–and the Gospel–best with option 3.

    And I agree that the richness and depth of our heritage is significant part of what we need to recapture.

  11. I am not at all familiar with the Mass as it was before Vatican II beyond what people have told me. However, I am aware that the Rites of the current Mass are very rich (leaving aside for the moment how they compare to the former Rites)–anyone who has studied the Rites books or read some pages from the Sacramentary knows that you do not have to make anything up when you prepare a liturgy. This is the question I would like addressed. I think the paucity of good liturgy is due to lazy liturgy: we’ve memorized Eucharistic Prayer II and “On Eagle’s Wings” so we don’t bother to look up texts and rubrics any more. This is a real shame.

    I think many people could find a home in the current liturgy of the church if the people in charge of preparing the celebrations took care to follow the rubrics and suggested texts.

    1. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the Ordinary Form of the Mass shouldn’t be the normal form. However, in the last two years of celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass one Sunday a month as a High Mass and every Tuesday as a Low Mass, I often wonder why certain things were changed or eliminated and why we can’t celebrate the EF Mass with the OF calendar and lectionary, which I do believe are vast improvements over the EF ones, although there are certain aspects of the EF calendar that could be incorporated into the OF. For example, we should sing the official Entrance Antiphon for every OF Mass that is sung as well as the Communion Antiphon. Metrical Hymns are okay, depending on its musical setting, wording, and theology, but shouldn’t replace the official antiphons which unfortunately today is all we do. I think people should have the option of kneeling for Holy Communion if they wish in the OF Mass. I don’t see a problem with double genuflections for the priest at the consecrations, after the Per Ipsum and any time the pall is removed from the consecrated Precious Blood –oh, yes, bring back the use of the pall. Choreography for altar servers as in the Old Rite could be brought to the OF Mass too. Ad Orientem is not a dirty word, but Mass facing the people but with the “traditional” altar decor is fine. Priests should never present themselves at Mass as though they are reading the prayers to the people (which is quite common and quite distracting), rather than praying to God or worse yet recreating a literalistic representation of the “Lord’s Supper” through gestures which are not rubrical, indicating that the Mass is a literal recreation of that Sacred Meal. I love the OF Mass, but it needs improvement and going back to its immediate predecessor for ideas is a good idea. Also returning to Gregorian Chant and Polyphony would go a long way in improving the impoverished state of music we have today. Our parish uses the “new” People’s Mass Book and that is it, no missalette music or hymnals that are paperback and thrown out each year with new music coming in all the time–we simply don’t need it!–the new music that is. We need a good national hymnal in English. Our retranslated English Mass while not a panacea is a vast improvement. I’ve used parts of it already and asked for feedback, all of which has be extremely positive. English in the EF MAss would be fine by me too–heresy to some I know. Just my thoughts.

  12. I also, as a young person, and as a convert to Catholicism, find a great deal of reverence in that challenging spectacle of silence. When I’m whispering to my wife or chatting with my friends, it allows me to avoid that very frightening and powerful first plunge that encountering God involves for me.

    When in silence, I touch upon a very uncomfortable realization that God is speaking to me. In silence I have to listen; I can’t drown Him out.

    When praying in a strange language like Latin (it is a very strange language, frozen in its time; dead and eternal), I am again thrust headlong out of my comfort zone and into the disturbing realization that my entire theological structure, the mysteries of my Church are not my own to determine, are not for my own language, but were given to me from Someone Other. I don’t worship by understanding; I worship by communicating; and speaking with my Father involves something far grander, very different, from understanding what all the words mean.

  13. Responding to comment #2 of Brian Garland where you say you are troubled by the notion of defining reverence, and also at the idea of assuming that God can be present in one thing more than another.

    While we must grant that God is more than we can understand there are indeed things that we can know surely about Him. That He is more present in some things than in others is given in Holy Scripture “remove your sandals for you are on holy ground.” That a certain kind of irreverence displeases Him very much is also given, remember the poor fellow who intemperately reached up his hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant and God struck him dead.

    So I think there are reasons knowable by us that indicate some kinds of behavior are proportional to reverence, and others cannot be reconciled to reverence. This is not to say that someone is wrong or bad or guilty but simply needs a loving and steadying hand encouraging a blessed listening in the presence of Almighty God — knowing when to fall silent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.