There are two phrases that one sees bandied about that I rather dislike and rarely, if ever, use.
One is “liturgical abuse.” It boggles my mind that this phrase came into common use in the post-2002 Church, as if people were completely tone-deaf to the connotations of the word “abuse” in the context of the Catholic Church. To some at least, it is a term that conveys the impression that the speaker sees glass chalices and extraordinary ministers of holy communion (who are not instituted acolytes) purifying the vessels as somehow roughly equivalent to the rape of children.
The other is “organic development.” Here the difficulty is not so much the connotation of the term as its conceptual coherence. It seems that organic development is a lot like pornography: no one can define it, but they know it when they see it. The operative principle, however, seems to be that changes in the course of history that I favor are “organic,” while those I do not favor are “fabricated liturgy.”
What is particularly interesting to me, and revelatory of some of the difficulties with these phrases, is how one might distinguish “liturgical abuse” from “organic development.” Certainly for at least as long as there has been codified liturgical law every “organic development” has begun life as a “liturgical abuse.” Except in cases of “fabricated liturgy,” such as the Consilium’s reform of the Ordo Missae after Vatican II, all liturgical change involves someone breaking a rubric at some point. When this rubric-breaking becomes widespread — presto! change-o! — you have “organic development.”
One of the arguments one sometimes hears against such things as communion in the hand or female altar servers is that they began as “liturgical abuses” that were later approved by the Church. But isn’t that how it always goes? Didn’t some priest one day decide that he’d just recite John’s prologue at the altar, rather than on the way back to the sacristy? Didn’t an impatient priest, who perhaps had a cow to milk or sick folks to visit, one day decide to plunge ahead with reciting the canon in a low voice, without waiting for the choir to finish the Sanctus? Why are such things “organic developments” to be lauded rather than simply very old “liturgical abuses” to be decried?
Two current examples come to my mind of practices that might be described as either “liturgical abuse” or “organic development.”
1) In my parish, and a number of others I have attended, we sing the Easter dismissal with its double alleluia for the whole 50 days of Easter, not just for the octave as the rubric directs. This seems to fit with a number of other features of the current liturgy, such as the burning of the Easter candle for the entire Easter season, and not just until Ascension. Is this a liturgical abuse that should be stamped out, or an organic development that should be allowed — or even encouraged — to grow?
2) At some parishes, and some episcopal liturgies — and even, if my memory serves me well, at a Papal Mass I attended — the “alleluia” is sung after the Gospel as well as before it. This serves the practical purpose of covering the movement of the deacon from the ambo back to his place, and at an episcopal or papal liturgy it gives the celebrant time to kiss the Gospel book and bless the people with it. While some (not me) might argue that the Pope as the supreme legislator can do whatever the hell he wants at Mass, would they say the same for the bishop of Outer Slabovia or the pastor of St. Botolph’s by the Bay? Is this a liturgical abuse that should be stamped out, or an organic development that should be allowed — or even encouraged — to grow?
Perhaps we need to develop a new category: “organic abuse,” or maybe “abusive development.” These would be at least as useful as the phrases that are tossed around today.