Liturgy according to the world: a dead end

Archbishop Chaput of Denver delivered an address on the liturgy at the Mundelein Liturgical Institute, which is now 10 years old. Archbishop Chaput agreed with Fr. Barron that in recent decades the “professional liturgical establishment” chose to shape the liturgy according to the world, which has proven to be “a dead end.” Seeking relevance through “a kind of relentless cult of novelty” has only resulted in confusion and division between the faithful and the true spirit of the liturgy, continued the archbishop. Read the address here.


  1. Just finished reading it. What a marvelous talk. I wonder if he took questions. He, Fr. Barron and Guardini hit the nail on the head and sink it into the wood of the liturgy. It appears that the Archbishop is trying to lead our Catholic people away from the dictatorship of personal preferences and innovations into the collectivity of true worship and liturgy of our heritage and thus transform a culture based upon individuality and personal choices and preferences. How novel and how liturgical!

  2. Our brother Charles has offered some honest reflections with which I agree. As Guardini warned, we need to meet the challenge of praying together in today’s world. Guardini was not an antiquarian but rather a visionary who opened the possibilities of public prayer by engaging people as participants rather than spectators. He urged his listeners to work hard to witness to God’s kingdom, because prayer is a lifelong practice as well as a series of discrete acts.
    I share our brother’s repulsion at the ways we celebrate that are poorly thought out and executed. Of course we should not adopt uncritically the ways of the world. Of course we should not turn the mass into an amateur hour or a media spectacle. We seek not spontaneity for its own sake but rather a greater commitment to Christ. We differ in our views as to the way to get to that commitment. He advocates closer approximation of the style and expression of the Roman practice from which we have sprung, imposed if necessary. I don’t believe we save the world in which we live by retrenchment, and certainly not by central impositions.
    We glorify God by engaging people of our time, not by keeping our distance. It takes work and can get us in trouble, but that has always been true. Offering incense once had capital consequences for Christians. So did vernacular translations of scripture. And always, everywhere, let us remind each other and the world what a wonderful work God achieves in…

  3. Either this address is absolutely riddled with straw-man arguments, or I don’t know who this “professional Catholic liturgical establishment” is. It would be helpful if he would identify actual people who have uttered actual opinions like those he critiques.

  4. Chaput maintains that in the post-conciliar era, the professional Catholic liturgical establishment opted for … trying to adapt the liturgy to the demands of modern culture and cites Robert Barron in support of this.

    I don’t believe this slur to be true. Liturgists did not try to adapt the liturgy, they simply noted that all liturgy exists in a culture, which has an impact on celebration and so needs to be taken into account. Rather than adapting liturgy to a culture, I believe the prevailing mood was one of attempting to synthesize liturgy with the ambient culture to produce something which would actually speak to the people it wanted to engage in worship. In other words, by combining the two ingredients, something new and wholesome would result. This is a very different scenario from maintaining that all humankind needs to submit to a Roman liturgy which evolved in the Mediterranean basin and cannot possibly have the same meaning for all cultures, and different again from those who wanted to rewrite and reinvent liturgy according to their own perceptions of culture. Chaput’s caricature is inaccurate, and I don’t believe Barron (for whom I have considerable respect) espouses it either.

    I agree with Chris about straw man arguments, and note that the martyr Emeritus has somehow become Felix in Chaput’s account, to mention but one of many instances where quotations are used in a dubious way to bolster his arguments.

  5. I am happy, though, that Chaput has reminded us about Guardini’s seminal question: are we no longer capable of the liturgical act?

    I think the answer to this challenging question has to be No. I see many manifestations in our world both of a desire for a meaningful spirituality and a desire for communal activity (or belonging, if you prefer). In fact, I think that the materialistic age that Guardini cites is actually pushing people towards seeking a liturgical experience. The danger is that they may look for this in an individualistic fulfilment, rather than in something that is part of a worshipping body.

    I think Guardini was still to a certain extent living in the 1930s, when society and the world were changing very fast, and the new materialism which would be associated with the cataclysmic Second World War were already very much on the horizon. Perhaps he could already see the seeds of the revolutions of the late 60s too — which frightened Joseph Ratzinger so much.

    However, today, we have moved beyond those eras to a different kind of more advanced consumerism, and I believe that many perceive more clearly that an antidote to this is badly needed in a way that was not so necessary in former times.

  6. The passage highlighted in the post is more about novelty rather than the relationship of liturgy and culture. And, having personally witnessed the appetite for novelty at work in liturgical preparation, I don’t think it’s entirely without merit.

    Insofar as it goes.

    The *much* more important passage of the address, at least as I see it, is this:

    “This truth should transform the way we worship. It should move us with gratitude that our God would grant us the privilege of joining the angels and saints who worship before him. It should make us strive for liturgies that are reverent and beautiful, and that point our hearts and minds to things above.
    This truth should also change the way we think about our public witness in this culture. We’re called to testify to Jesus Christ, to make his teachings known, to fight against all that violates God’s holiness and justice. And we need to understand our mission in the light of God’s larger plan, conceived before the foundation of the world. The ultimate purpose of our witness is to prepare the way for the cosmic liturgy in which all humanity will adore the Creator. …”

    This is *not* a defense of simplistic liturgical restorationism or revanchism. It is, rather, a very welcome underscoring of the eschatological dimension of liturgy, as part and parcel of the God’s new creation – which speaks not only that the liturgy is a foretaste of the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb, but also of the remaking of this creation according to the signs of God’s love and mercy. The liturgy is not merely a representation of Calvary, or the Last Supper; it is so much more, and the poles of loud debate tend to flatten it. This passage, in particular, is something liturgical progressives should applaud, as it’s often absent (or at best very attenuated) from more ideologically traditionalist bloggers and commentators.

  7. Mr. Inwood – have to agree after re-reading this address a number of times. AB Chaput has a knack for writing and speaking that comes across as edifying and scholarly. But, once you drill down, there really is not much there – it is superficial at best.

    He mentions the liturgical history and significance of leaders such as Hillenbrand – would suggest that Hillenbrand would not agree with many of his liturgical points nor would I say that the archdiocese of Chicago remains any type of liturgical leader. AB Chaput has no expertise in liturgy but does try to approach things as a “prophet”. He comes across as a law-giver who stresses “the people of God are made for the law” rather than “the law was made for the people of God” – Mr. Inwood’s point that liturgy comes from out of the community and expresses their beliefs and understanding – it is not something that is arbitrary or imposed from the outside. Whatever happened to “lex orandi; lex credendi” – no mention of this by AB Chaput.
    Read this presentation and then place it in the context of a future church in less than 5 years that will have 65% of its membership in the southern hemisphere and will have liturgies that encompass, merge with, and express hundreds of cultures; nationalities, and ethnic groups. AB Chaput’s remarks seem to live in another world.

  8. Often times when we think of novelties and innovations in the Liturgy we tend to give examples that are vestiges of the 1970’s. What have people experienced recently in terms of the “horizontal” aspect of the liturgy gone berserk, like trying to make things relevant to our culture today? I know there are some parishes that are trying to copy the more successful Protestant non-denominational mega church approaches to worship, music and fellowship, but I think that is isolated to certain regions. Many Protestant churches in my neck of the woods have copied the mega church trend for Sundays. They have cafes that provide coffee and other refreshments that people can bring into the “sanctuary” as the worship begins. This is catering to the “let me entertain you” characteristics of our culture and what we do when we go to sporting events, movies and concerts where people are not just passively watching but individually shouting, laughing and dancing. As an aside, most of our funerals and weddings here are predominantly “protestant” in terms of those attending. For funerals in particular, I’ve noticed a new casualness, short pants, tee shirts and baseball caps. At a funeral two days ago which only 10 people out of nearly 150 were Catholic, I actually saw for the first time as I was greeting those leaving the Church, people coming out with bottles of soda and Gateraide in their hands which they had brought with them to the funeral. I suspect in their church culture, if they go to church, this is acceptable.

  9. I suspect that we are trying to talk about two different definitions or views of culture, or that we are looking at it at two rather different levels.

    The culture I think Chaput is talking about is the languages and symbols used in Christian worship that are in fact borrowed from the cultures in which the Gospel is being or has been proclaimed. The point he doesn’t seem to have grasped is that liturgy and culture are always interacting. Or perhaps he would rather that his preferred form of liturgical culture existed in isolation from the ambient culture of society.

    But I think he also needs to grasp the fact that theology and ecclesiology also exist in different cultures, and that these too are constantly mutually interacting. To paraphrase John Donne, “No Church is an island”.

    Benedict XVI, with his seeming paranoia about ‘relativism’, has also not tackled the question of the interaction of the Church and culture. He appears to have preferred to withdraw from the whole area, in contrast to some of our top Asian theologians, who seem to be able to see a broader vision of what it means to be Church in the world today.

    I think our debate risks degenerating into a superficial discussion of liturgy as nothing more than a locus for personal choice. Instead, we should be deepening our reflection on the underlying values that are active when Church, worship, and cultures both past and present intersect.

  10. Well said, Mr. Inwood. Let me add that the term “incultration” is not used at all in this presentation. Yet, the history of liturgy from the Jerusalem Council until today is about inculturation.

    I can think of two key examples of the tension between maintaining a past liturgical expression and a decision to blend, if not, expropriate the local cultural liturgy:
    – during the European missionary exploits in the central/south American area, Bartholomew de Las Casas agrued and defended the rights of the native peoples vs. the missionary and European/Roman approach linked to the conquerors replacing or imposing a European liturgy on these people. de Las Casas was ignored; isolated – the natives were treated as slaves for hundreds of years. One reason for the Mexican devotion to Juan Diego is a cultural rebellion against this European viewpoint
    – the Mateo Ricci experience in China. First, approved and supported by Rome but then undone and outlawed via the political influence of the Dominicans and Francisans. The church continues to deal with the shortsighted results of that decision.

    One other point, if my history is correct, every council that made liturgical changes, replaced and suppressed a prior missal with a new missal. Yet, subsequent to Vatican II, we have had a completely different experience – gradual EF decisions, etc. On another post, the prediction that ICEL is over – more dramatic overturning of council. Not sure this has ever occurred in the…

  11. If Chaput had developed just the vertical dimension of liturgy this could have become a great article.

    His model is close to Spirituality: Eastern Christian by Alexander Golitzin, published in the Encyclopedia of Monasticism, Fitzroy Dearborn publishers (Chicago: 2000) vol. II once on Jewish Roots of Eastern Mysticism website namely “The first conscious coördination between the liturgies of heaven, earth, and the heart can be found in the ascetic literature of fourth century Christian Syria and Mesopotamia.”

    Chaput talks about the coordination of the liturgies of heaven and earth, and toward the end of the article “We are to become the sacrifice we celebrate” relates the earthly liturgy to the liturgy of the heart. But there is a lot more that could have been done. It would have been nice to have a Western counterpart to the Eastern model, especially from a bishop.

    Unfortunately the “reform of the reform” tends to make the same mistake as the “reformers” did. The reformers assumed that if we cleared away the debris of the past, the future would develop just fine. In many cases a bunch of weeds grew up: innovation gone rampant. Now the new reformers say just clear away all the novelties and the future will develop just fine, or the past will come back. That is about as likely as steel mills of the rust belt rising and the 50’s returning. Less criticism, more constructive visions are needed. They take more effort.

    1. Yes, many mistakes are being repeated, in inversion, and the lack of self-awareness on this score is telling.

      1. Which ever way you “cut” the Liturgy and I do prefer the eschatological that leads to an inspired laity who then participate in God’s transforming grace to change the world in an inspired way, God’s action in the act of Divine Worship should enable our people to be immersed in Catholic spirituality and to be an inspired people of action in the world. Both forms of the Mass have the potential if celebrated well with attention to detail which then will enable people to experience the transcendent God in an imminent way.

  12. A couple of comments.

    The Archbishop said: “Guardini’s remark caused quite a stir. But there’s no evidence that theologians or liturgists ever took his concerns seriously.”

    Really, I’m flummoxed by this claim. I’ve heard this statement quoted, referred to, discussed, and used by liturgists and theologians for years. Anybody who has ever studied liturgy has taken this concern seriously. If what he means is whether they abandoned the effort because they thought it was impossible for modern people to recapture the liturgical act, then of course no, nobody took it that way.

    He went on to say: “We live in a society where the organizing principle is technological progress, conceived in narrow, scientific and materialistic terms. Our culture is dominated by the assumptions of this scientific and materialistic worldview. We judge what is “true” and what is “real” by what we can see, touch and verify through research and experimentation.”

    I’m sorry, but the Archbishop is fighting the last war here. The postmodern era is no longer dominated by “the scientific and materialistic worldview.” Would that the main issues were the rather hard-headed and rigorous approaches of science and materialism which he decries! At least these appeal to a rationality that is considered universal and reliable. We have other problems. Consult the rise of new age religions, the rejection of metanarratives, the…

  13. Continued
    …sense of the infinite malleability of the self, the rise of fundamentalisms of all sorts, and the violence of imposed ideologies which are themselves irrational. People will believe anything—and nothing—today. To seek for truth which you can “verify through research and experimentation” is just not the problem anymore.

    1. I’m sorry, but I have to agree with Abp. Chaupt on this. I see this favoritism of technology and empirical verifiability constantly in my academic setting. If it’s not “the” problem, it is still a sizeable one.

  14. Rita, I think you give us the rest of the story while AB Chaput gives us the other part. But therein lies the need for true liturgical renewal, one that is rational and engages the scientific, technological mind and one that captures mystery and moves people to an encounter with the Sacred that goes beyond the rational or explainable. Those who simply want mystery and the encounter with the Sacred are perfectly pleased to attend an EF Mass they don’t fully comprehend and go home believing they experienced and received the real presence of Jesus Christ. Others want to know how this presence came about, want to understand every word and structure of the Liturgy and its historical roots and gradual evolution and will critique the priest, his style, homily and looks and will not be satisfied if anything is lacking in logic and rationality. Others will want very clear and precise moral teachings and how to live their life in a world hostile to what they believe is the truth. It is hard to have liturgical renewal in our multi-faceted culture and with people who think their conscience, way of looking at things and ultimate decisions are always right and on an equal footing with what traditionally was known as “revealed truth” that called for conversion and a move away from the dictatorship of pride.

  15. Mother of God, I hope it is not a sign of the “End Times” but I find myself more and more in (at least partial) agreement with Rita lately! I agree with the last paragraph of #14 at 5.11pm and her #15 at 5.15pm.

    1. Well, we have been having some extreme weather lately.
      But I’m pleased to have you agree with me at least once in a while, Ceile!

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