Thought for the Day

No, I won’t tell you where I was for this parish daily Mass. After the opening collect the celebrant shouted to my friend, the other concelebrant, “Do you guys wanna go have coffee uptown after this?” (We weren’t going anywhere before the final blessing, couldn’t it wait until we unvested in the sacristy?!) During the first reading (I was being difficult by trying to listen to it) he asked if I’d read the Gospel and then make up a few reflections, “just anything.” (I accepted the first and declined the second.)

Liturgical renewal suddenly looked very different. I was no longer in the abbey where, even if a few little things are a bit loose and the theology is a bit progressive, everything is reverent, the music is traditional, things are well planned, nobody chatters in the sanctuary, and it looks like everyone is trying to pray.

Forgive me, but all I could think was, This never would have happened in the Tridentine Mass (which may not be true, BTW). The dangers suddenly looked very different, and unthinkable solutions started coming to mind. TLM looked a bit more appealing, and the reformed liturgy seemed much more in need of critique.

What are we really striving for? How much of our thinking is informed instead by what we’re against? When you have good liturgy day in and day out, it’s easier to critique the throwback stuff and the unsound criticisms of the reformed liturgy.

Despite my brief flirt with unthinkable thoughts, I still stand firmly behind the reformed liturgy. But I hope I’m a bit more understanding of its critics.

What are you against? Better yet, what are you for??

P.S. The coffee uptown was good, as was the full breakfast, all on the pastor. His generosity and the engaging conversation said much about his pastoral zeal and evident love of the Faith. Once again, someone with liturgical tastes other than mine showed me up in Christian virtue. I wish that would stop happening.


  1. “But all I could think was, This never would have happened in the Tridentine Mass….”

    Perhaps not, but I remember a now-senior priest friend telling a rather unflattering story of the monsignor/pastor of his first cure. At High Mass, it seems that when the good monsignor had finished reciting the Gloria at the altar and returned to the sedilia, he’d pull out his nail-clipper and start his weekly trim while the choir went to work. “He’d get the left hand done before the Collect, and then finish up the right hand during the Credo.”

    Don’t ask what you’re thinking: my friend never said.

  2. I’m starting to realize the same thing- that what I understand as the Liturgical Reform- what I experienced (even in my liberal, folk-mass home parish) was a rare anomaly.
    As I have visited more parishes, read more, and have come to a more complete understanding of what has been going on in many parishes over the last 40 years, I keep wondering:
    What were you people thinking!?!?
    Game show banter? Clown Mass? Tie-dye vestments? Children’s homilies? Dancing?

    I am child of the Reform; a theological liberal; and a lover of Haas, Haugen, and the St. Louis Jesuits. But sometimes I wonder- is this an unavoidable consequence? The global collateral damage?

    And if it is avoidable- how?
    And if it isn’t avoidable…
    Is it too high a price to pay for music I like and a priest who faces me?

  3. Quite Father,
    If the new (1969) Mass was celebrated properly I am sure that there would be less of a demand for the EF form.
    I suspect that there was as much abuse of the Mass before but in a different form. Priest could probably not ad lib in Latin. But they might mumble. Can a mass be properly offered in 15 minutes? I doubt it.
    EF masses today are probably offered only by those who choose to o so and so are likely to be “above average” in care.
    We should be careful to compare apples to apples rather than oranges.
    Good on you Father

    1. I have heard many an interesting anecdote about abuses in the EF. I have often thought that due to its extraordinary status, the EF has never been celebrated so well.

      1. I’ve had this thought as well. At the occasional high mass I attend, everyone sings everything in the proper that they are allowed to, and at low masses, everyone responds to everything they can. Almost everyone receives communion.

    2. Funny, I’ve often thought that had the EF been celebrated properly more often back in the old days, there wouldn’t have been a demand for the reforms.

  4. I think the Ordinary Form of the Mass done by the book (doing the red and reading the black) is fine and I have tried throughout my priesthood to make it what it should be except perhaps for a short period when I was first ordained, but that’s another story. It is the various interpretations of it that have caused so much disillusionment for so many. Issues of poor music, improvisation, horrible renovations and architecture, vesture, casualness, etc have hijacked the liturgical reform and have cause so many to become cynical about it. I really don’t think Sacrosanctum Concilium envisioned any of that–it simply wanted a Mass that was participative and somewhat more simple to celebrate. The 1965 missal in English and the new lectionary would have been great if it had just stopped there. But somewhere along the line liturgical theologians kept pushing their own agenda, much of which cannot be found anywhere in the actual reformed Mass, its General Instruction or subsequent decrees. I really don’t think that facing ad orientem, adding a few more genuflections here and there and making sure the music and vesture for the Mass is top notch is being unfaithful to Vatican II. In fact I think it would fulfill it.

  5. My wife tells me not to come on here as I get too frustrated sometimes with the downplay of the upheaval of the shift from the John XIII Mass to the Paul Vi Mass and the assertion that the forhcoming revised translation is somehow much more traumatic. But I stick with it – I am not sure why – and I am amazed sometimes at how little truly separates most of us here. We prefer to attend the EF not because we think it superior to the OF but as a guard against all the abuses being discussed here. If the OF were celebrated according to the rubrics, without the idea that there isn’t active lay participation unless it’s amateur hour for a range (in many senses) of talents, I think there would be much less interest in the EF- we would most likely attend it over an EF – but good luck finding an OF without all the issues we are discussing here. In most parishes, the liturgical abuse/creativity bandwagon seems unstoppable (I know BXVI is doing his best – he really prefers a reverent OF to the EF in my opinion) so many of us simply give up on the OF and just migrate to the EF leaving the OF innovation crowd to do what they will with it. Perhaps we shouldn’t give up on the OF so easily but it seems easier just to attend the EF rather than tell people how might actually like the abuses/creativity that often accompany the OF that we think the OF should not be celebrated they way they like it. Nobody likes conflict but sometimes it should not be avoided. Maybe this debate is part of the potential contribution of this site.
    We are political liberals, we’re not “tradationalist” Catholics yet, given a choice we now attend the EF only. My old boss remembers the EF and had no particular wish to go “back” to it but he told me that the constant innovation (always in the direction of self expression) in the OF where he lives (Los Angeles) make him too sad to want to go to Mass any more – he goes to fulfil his obligation and nothing else. How sad.

  6. I think this post and the comments really hit the nail on the head. If the OF were celebrated as intended I don’t think there would be the demand for the EF. The problem is the lack of middle ground. For some, even a word of Latin in the OF is a mortal sin against “the spirit of Vatican II.” For others, certain hymns are equally as sinful.

  7. I agree with what others have said about the abuses in the OF but would also add that they also are almost always accompanied by either very watered down or out right dissenting homilies. Over the course of the last decade as my knowledge of our Catholic faith has grown the abuse and dissent became more difficult to sit through and we finally left the parish that was only 6 blocks away for one that is 20 miles away. Now we experience the OF as it was meant, with reverence, excellent homilies and beautiful music, no innovations at all. We love it. This I believe, is what the Holy Father is aiming for.

  8. Yes — I hope EF advocates on here realize that most of the posters and readers here are professionals in some kind of liturgical study or work. We’ve devoted ourselves to it, and at least in my case that’s motivated both by really beautiful vernacular liturgy experiences and by having seen things that can be improved. If every liturgy was done well, I guess I’d just be a historian!

  9. As I hear your story of the parish daily mass, and an attempt at perspective regarding poorly done liturgy, I recall a story that the pastor of my first assignment 25 years ago shared with me. He recalled serving the Latin mass at the time as a young boy, some 50 years previously, when his pastor at that time was able to recite the Latin, do all of the rubrics, AND hit the snuff spitoon some 10 feet away, right next to where he knelt by the high altar. Let us be careful about romanticizing the past because of the turmoil of the present, since it leads us to escape facing that messy present. I believe there have been horrid as well as heavenly celebrants of the sacred mysteries as far back as the eyes of faith can see.

  10. Because I am a convert (1982) I really have no memories of the pre-VII mass because I wasn’t there. The few times I attend an EF now (5-6 times a year) have nothing to do with “escapism” but rather because I think somehow (perhaps erronously, I don’t know) that connecting to the wisdom of the past this way provides a better answer for the “messy present” than the prevailing solutions that don’t seem to be working.

    As an American Indian I was always taught to respect the elders and hand on traditions in an exacting way as the best way to preserve culture and maintain society. Never did we accept the white man’s solution of trashing all our traditions and starting anew, but rather we kept our traditions while quickly adopting innovations like guns and horses and now cars and trucks when they suited us. So I have never seen looking to the past as “nostalgia” or escapism, but rather as a lifeline, and perhaps a corrective to solve problems we have now.

  11. I have been blessed to participate in a wide WIDE variety of liturgies over the years: OF, EF, organ/choirs/hymns, chant/polyphony, praise & worship, folk, gospel, et cetera, and each of those done well and done poorly. I’d rather see any one of those paradigms done with devotion than any another done like an assembly line.

    As a pastoral musician, I put more emphasis on conforming myself to the character/needs of the community than conforming them to me or some high ideal. My current parish was very progressive in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Having inherited that collective experience, I have been slow and careful to introduce chant, hymns, and polyphony because those forms of music have generally not been well received. I suppose I could force the propers, missa de angelis, and Latin hymns in abundance, but I don’t believe that will help these people to pray. In the decades long story of life in this parish, I am perhaps just a footnote, or a subsection of one chapter at most.

  12. You reflections remind me of this line from a fine article by Gabe Huck from several years ago:

    “An interesting thing is this: Most people I know who worked for liturgical renewal these last 40 years are extremely sensitive to the same abuses that have been denounced by those who wish the Second Vatican Council had never happened. We all know the litany: chatty presiders, bad songs, poor preaching, sloppy ritual, living-room-like churches, on and on. We have worked not for but against all that, yet over and over we are blamed for it.”

    Find the whole article here:

    1. YES!

      I don’t know a single progressive liturgist who thinks clown mass or gameshow banter is a good idea. I grew up around progressive liturgists (professional and volunteer), and ALL of them were of a “Stick to the Script” mentality. They brought copies of the GIRM to staff meetings.

      So, then…
      Who SHOULD we blame?

      1. We probably should blame some workshop that a priest or a nun went to and saw it there and then brought it to the parish. Then it spread from parish to parish until the whole world was contaminated. But I know from my 1970’s seminary experience that being as CREATIVE as possible and funny as possible and interesting as possible and ad libbing as possible was taught to us and yes modeled for us in the seminary. It came from the 1960’s and 70’s and still hangs around like bad incense.

      2. I grew up with a family friend who was a progressive Roman Catholic liturgist, and was exposed to more than one professional and volunteer of this sort. . . I suppose it’s on account of them that liturgy is my professional field today.

        They weren’t particularly of the “say the black, do the red” mentality, but they weren’t funny, sloppy, custie or obnoxious either. Looking back, I can say that they were genuinely seeking to take the appointed liturgy as given, and enact in their space and time in a way that was both faithful to the common inheritance, and faithful to their communities as best as they could understand them — that’s always a mixed bag, but they were neither superior nor flip about it.

        I think of one Easter Vigil I attended: stanzas of a hymn sung between the “Light of Christ” acclamations as the procession moved; the psalm refrain “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” sung between the days of creation in the first reading… and an additional reading added to the others — the Flood Story (with psalm and collect from the BCP, no less!); the gospel was chanted by multiple cantors; the blessing of water had interjected refrains; the baptismal vows were an expanded text — BCP again, I think… the altar wasn’t vested until the Offertory, and then slowly and deliberately… the invitation to communion was expanded (which is actually expected in the RCIA)… and yes, every option for “or similar words” was taken, but not left to the discretion of the celebrant “on-the-fly” — everything was scripted.

        It was a dignified liturgy, a beautiful liturgy, with traditional hymns, Gregorian Chant, and contemporary songs carefully chosen to work together. It all “hung together” very, very well.

        And by the standard of the books it was riddled with abuses. Nobody seemed to care, because those abuses didn’t detract from the liturgy: some might have suggested they contributed to its dignity and beauty.

        And to this day, I’m not sure what to think about it.

      3. Fr. Cody, I think you hit the nail on the head. There were many who did improvise in a way that was dignified and beautiful, although this made the liturgy “congregational” and unique to that particular priest or the community that “creatively” thought it up. They had the creative talent to do it well, but it was still a product of their creativity. In the late 1970’s and 80’s I attended and celebrated many of those types of liturgies that took liberty with the actual text. Some of these done very well, but still questionable. At Georgetown’s chapel in the 70’s the Easter Vigil was beautiful, but used a variety of visual and dramatic effects when the Scriptures were read, a large video screen that popped up from behind the altar, the voice of God booming from some unknown place when Genesis was read, etc. But then you had priests and congregations trying to maintain the creativity in other ways and before you know it, you have clowns, secular music, poems and a desacralized liturgy all in the name of meaningfulness. It spirals out of control and is self-defeating. A Holy Thursday Mass at a Jesuit retreat house had us the congregation planting seeds in pots (hope it wasn’t pot) in place of the foot washing, very meaningful!

      4. But yet somehow Giant concelebrating puppets make it into a “Mass” recently? Someone is out there doing it.

      1. This comment was in response to Tony Alonso’s comment at 1:33pm! It’s working it’s way down and I could soon be agreeing with things I don’t understand!

  13. Cody-
    I’ve been to a liturgies like that, too. Even when they are good, I can’t help thinking, “Why are they doing this?” How does it occur to someone to add a sung refrain to the middle of a reading (especially the Passion, as at my last parish). What makes one say, “I have a good idea!- Let’s read Genesis from the other room, over a loud speaker!”

    I think I also fear the “slippery slope” problem. If it’s okay to add dancers, why not puppets? If I can add texts from the BCP, why not from a reading from a gnostic Gospel?
    Those in favor of (and good at) creatively breaking the rules underestimate the depth of idiocy present in the population (remember- half the world is of below average intelligence… and at least some of those people will sign up to be on the liturgy committee).

    Finally- as a musician and (former) theatre artist, I have to say it is possible (in fact, virtuous) to be endlessly creative without varying one iota from the script.

  14. The abuses are far and between…you get one priest changing one little thing & it is talked about ad nauseam, making it seem as though everyone did it…all the “abuse” nonsense is based on a very rare occurrence, but inflated to push for relief one’s discomfort in having to be responsible for their own spirituality instead of just sitting & carried off to la-la land by baroque (broke?) hymns & run-on Latin prayer…you’re looking for the “feel good” point instead of real worship. Worship is acknowledging that the God with whom we have a relationship, personally AND communitarily, is worthy of our love…and in celebrating that love together, we are sent forth TO THE WORLD (not to withdraw from it) to particpate fully in all of God’s creation.

    1. Lynne, I don’t disagree with you but the Mass is so poorly done today in so many places. All you have to do is go to Mass in many places when you are on vacation and you’ll see what the problem is. It may not be puppets, creativity or other things of that nature, but simply casual, sloppy liturgies with poor homilies, poor art, poor architecture, altar servers who are clueless about their ministry, lectors who can’t read, Eucharistic ministers who don’t show up, choirs and cantors who provoke rather than lead and draw attention to themselves and away from the action at the altar. There’s nothing creative, nothing rehearsed, nothing solemn, just boring, casual, uninspiring liturgy that does not lead to what the Mass should lead to, good Catholic lives lived lovingly in the world with zeal and conviction. Rather, tepid comes to mind.

      1. And even in beautiful churches, with decent choirs, respectably dressed parishioners and responsible extraordinary ministers, and a by-the-book approach, the fact remains that the priest-celebrant is often disengaged by the liturgy. Maybe his “thing” is catechesis; maybe it’s social justice… maybe he’s just tired, overworked, underappreciated, and has lost his pep. His zeal for the doing of the liturgy is gone, so he’s poorly groomed, sloppily or haphazardly vested; he prays without conviction — not that his voicing the prayer for the assembly should be so dramatic that it becomes about him, but that it lacks any evidence of interest in what he’s saying — droning on listlessly or disenchantedly, or zipping through the prayers because he’s got somewhere better to be, something better to do (or just wants to make it back to the rectory in time for the kickoff?)… he’s not a bad priest: he’s a real man of faith, possibly very good 1-on-1 in pastoral situations, but for whatever reason just checks out at Mass…

        No, it shouldn’t be this way. But I think many of us, if not all, know at least one example of this sort of priest-celebrant. And he (or, in my own Anglican case, she!) really does undercut the reverence, the dignity and the “celebrans” of the liturgy.

      2. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, in the EF Mass, the congregation knows they need to do it for themselves rather than have it all laid out for them as in the OF Mass. By this I mean, they need to bring their English missal, pay attention to what is happening, concentrate, and pray and meditate along with the priest–but the priest facing the same direction as they doesn’t have to be the end all and be all of a “good liturgy” rather it is what the person in the pew puts into it, even when the language is Latin and they need a translation of it from their St. Joseph Missal, so in a sense there is more “active” participation then in an OF Mass that depends on the priest much to much for it to be “good” and intelligible, inspiring and uplifting. The onus is too much on the priest facing the congregation and speaking their language which the congregation hopes he does well and pulls them in with his talents, energy, spirituality, conviction and vocal qualities.

  15. What I don’t like is the fact that there is a standard (the Roman Rite) which changes from town to town. Each congregation becomes isolated from the wider Latin church.

    Within this dislike is a more particular heartbreak for those (like me) who grow up or live in areas where there is only one Catholic church within a reasonable distance. Not only is there no “driving twenty miles” option if we don’t like what is going on at home, when young folks who grow up in one of these parishes moves away, it is possible, even likely, that they will feel disconnected from the Church in their new parish and stop practicing their faith as a result, because their new parish is, in its public worship, nothing like their old parish.

    Uniformity of worship is important. Perhaps not as important as some might think, but a basic baseline standard shouldn’t be ignored, especially one as simple as the one laid down in the Ordinary Form.

    1. Just to note, that variation from place to place within a geographic region is a light form of “inculturation” and bears a kinship with the older notion of the “local use.”

      Uniformity in Latin Rite worship was only achieved after the development of the printing press, and even with the hard-and-fast regulation of the Mass after Trent, local variation didn’t entirely disappear (even where the local use was less than 200 years old.)

      In a contemporary example, I think of the so-called Rite Zairois, the “Zaire Rite.” As promulgated, recognized not as its own “rite” but a variant of the post-Conciliar liturgy. But to examine the Rite — with the penitential rite following the Liturgy of the Word, its own Eucharistic Prayer drawing on tribal metaphors, etc. — it bears very, very little resemblance to the Roman Liturgy as most of us have observed it.

      Unity isn’t achieved by uniformity; indeed, the demand for uniformity often undermines it.

  16. Adam Wood said: How does it occur to someone to add a sung refrain to the middle of a reading (especially the Passion, as at my last parish).

    The anthropological answer is “in order to facilitate the people’s concentration on the scriptural text”. If you’d encountered the people prayerfully singing verses of the Passion Chorale as interludes in the Passion reading, you’d know that this is a way not only of enabling people to pause for breath and renew their concentration but the very words themselves assist them to get deeper into the moment that is being celebrated.

    People who do something analogous in the Genesis Creation reading at the Easter Vigil are trying, I suggest, to give people a chance to retain focus during a long reading.

    Rather than pooh-poohing this, we should be encouraging it. What we are witnessing here is an incipient organic development of the rite for the time and culture in which we live.

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