George Weigel on breaking bad liturgical habits

In his column “The Catholic Difference,” George Weigel is harping on bad liturgical habits that need breaking. Such as:

  • Priests, cut the chatter before the Sign of the Cross. Your first words are “In the name…”
  • Lectors, just recite the Psalm. Cut the intro “Today’s Responsorial Psalm is…”
  • It’s the exchange of the peace of Christ, not of pleasant chatter.
  • Communion antiphon, if not sung, should be recited at the beginning of communion, not the end. (This is regular practice in Austria, BTW.)
  • Bring in silence.

I couldn’t agree more. I support every one of Weigel’s reforms.

Now if only the column were rewritten minus Weigel’s scolding, irritated, condescending tone. Let’s support the beauty and riches of the liturgy – with beautiful, rich, inviting language.

Oh – that reminds me. The clunky Missal translation we’re getting is hardly rich or beautiful or inviting. Strike the first paragraph, I’d say. Why do the same people who pan the “butchered” NAB Bible translation think the new Missal is good English?? I just don’t get it.



  1. The first paragraph struck me as boilerplate, a genuflection before the new, butchered translation that diocesan publications somehow can’t avoid making. So I think Weigel can be forgiven on that score.

    Yes, the tone of the piece was harsh and it contained some unnecessary digs — for example, the gratuitous comment on ‘narthex’ vs ‘gathering space’. By comparison to the tone of a lot of conservative liturgy pieces, on the other hand, this one oozed gentleness and sweet reason.

    All of us drift into this negative tone — witness my ‘butchered’ above (though I truly believe that) or AWR’s “harping”. Do you remember Robertson Davies’ novel, The Lyre of Orpheus? Its theme comes from E.T.A. Hoffmann: ‘The lyre of Orpheus opens the doors to the underworld.’ The task of producing an opera brings out all manner of emotional baggage in a group of well-meaning people.

    Something like that seems to happen with liturgy.

  2. “Harps”?

    Fr. Ruff, I think you are getting a bit thin-skinned. I have read Weigel’s piece twice this morning, and really do not hear a “scolding, irritated, angry tone” as you do. Although I couldn’t blame him if he had exercised a more irritable tone. I certainly admit to feeling angry and irritated when confronted with these particular liturgical “unlovely barnacles”.

    Now, maybe we should have Bill Donohue address these issues. I bet THEN we would hear an angry tone!?

  3. I don’t think anybody is reading George Weigel who is not already of the same mind as he. I suspect what he is about is merely validating small-minded people who think the same way he does.

    1. So if I think the same way as Geore Weigel, I am small-minded. How very broad-minded of you to think so!

      And, er, one person who would have appeared to have read George is Fr Ruff and it would seem that he doesn’t just think the same way he does.

  4. I endorse everything that George Weigel says! Especially his final paragraph:
    “The re-sacralization of the English used in the liturgy affords all of us an opportunity to ponder just what it is we are doing at Holy Mass: we are participating, here and now, in the liturgy of angels and saints that goes on constantly around the Throne of Grace where the Holy Trinity lives in a communion of radical self-gift and receptivity. This is, in short, serious business, even as it is joyful business. We should do it well, as the grace of God has empowered us to do it well.”
    I have become increasingly fed up with criticisms of the revised translation by people who, on the whole, have not yet prayed it (I use that word deliberately)
    Here in England we have been using the new order of Mass since September & it has given me a new enthusiasm for celebrating Mass after 35 years of ordination!
    I am delighted with it – just a pity we didn’t have it 40 years ago!

  5. Much ado, Father?
    Have you considered that your simultaneous endorsement of Weigel’s basically stated dictums (pretty much matter of fact ala George Will) and your perceived opinion decrying Weigel’s tone amounts to a crowning of style over substance?
    In point of fact, isn’t that dynamic tension the real grist for the mill in most of our “Liturgy War” webfronts?

  6. By the standards of the genre, it’s pretty mild. But there is an issue with the last paragraph. How do Weigel, or Fr Wilson, know what it is like to be ‘participating, here and now, in the liturgy of angels and saints that goes on constantly around the Throne of Grace where the Holy Trinity lives in a communion of radical self-gift and receptivity.’? There’s a case for seriousness and solemnity in the liturgy, certainly–but it cannot be based on an argument that seriousness is more like heaven. We have no idea what heaven is like.

    1. There’s a case for seriousness and solemnity in the liturgy, certainly–but it cannot be based on an argument that seriousness is more like heaven.

      “Serious” here is not talking about the external affect of the participants, but rather the value of the earthly liturgy, that it’s important and earnest, because of how it stands in relation to the heavenly liturgy and we do know that the heavenly liturgy is important.

    2. Actually, we can infer something about what goes in heaven. Since only the child-like are qualified, there must be lots of playing going on. Where do these trads get the idea that everything is serious and solemn there? But they are running things these days, so serious and somber it will be.

      1. Somber is one meaning of “serious” and it’s not the one used in the article. It’s also not the only meaning of “solemn.” Somber contrasts with “joyful,” which is explicitly not excluded.

    1. LOL.

      Also entertaining is his abiding passion to distort, discount and marginalize anything that a pope utters that the Acton Institute might disapprove of.

      1. Have always thought that he and Sirico are joined at the hip.

        “Every one of these writers would consider himself both conservative and orthodox, yet there is an ideologically fueled disdain that ripples through almost all of these comments, meant to telegraph in bold letters that Catholics need not waste any time reading this document because it is wrong.

        Catholic progressives are enjoying the sight: “Conservatives regularly condemn liberal ‘Cafeteria Catholics,’ E. J. Dionne wrote, “who pick and choose among the Church’s teachings. But the conservatives often skip the parts of the moral buffet involving peace, social justice and what Pope John Paul II called the ‘idolatry of the market.’”

  7. But I wonder just who Mr. Weigel is that he knows what sort of language the angels and saints are using? Somehow, I doubt that it’s fractured, ungrammatical, and clunky. And it’s probably not Latin, either. Or, not exclusively Latin. And, to the extent that it is Latin, whose Latin, from when?

      1. SJH- I inferred from the overall tenor of the column that he believes the new texts reflect the language of the angels and saints. And, to echo Fr. Endean’s comment, how does he know? For all we know, the angels and saints are having a raucous party up there – loud and anything BUT solemn. I don’t say that such is the case, only that we don’t know one way or the other.

      2. You and Fr. Endean are creating a strawman Weigel that doesn’t reflect what he’s actually written. There’s nothing about being somber.

        If arguendo the liturgy of heaven is like a raucous party, it will certainly be a serious party, that is, an important party, which is his point.

      3. Since I started this, let me deny that I am creating a strawman. I am making a serious theological point. All talk of the heavenly liturgy is metaphorical–a transposition of language humans have developed in connection with realities that go on in the world of space and time. Such imaginative projection is necessary for any sensible talk about God, and it is no part of my purpose to denigrate it. But is is important that we recognise its limitations. In particular, a logical fallacy is committed when we claim to infer, on the basis of what is a projection to start with, normative and contentious conclusions about how things should be done here and now.

      4. We can quibble about some details of your theological point, but it doesn’t have any bearing on Weigel’s column, because he doesn’t make “an argument that seriousness is more like heaven” nor does he “infer, on the basis of what is a projection to start with, normative and contentious conclusions about how things should be done here and now.”

        He merely says that the liturgy of heaven is a serious matter, that is, important, and unless you dispute its importance, you’re not disputing the point of the last paragraph.

  8. Didn’t Weigel’s wife scold Pope John Paul II?

    To which he replied (paraphrasing) Aren’t I Catholic too?

    1. David – of course not. I just about commented on that, then I decided that perhaps he’s talking about daily Mass. But even there, I prefer it sung, as we do at the abbey.

  9. I wish someone would tell RCIA directors that “All talk of the heavenly liturgy is metaphorical–a transposition of language humans have developed in connection with realities that go on in the world of space and time.”

    They get more than a bit carried away on this theme.

  10. In answer to the questions posed at the end of your original post: (1) because it is; and (2) because it’s better than that which it is replacing.

  11. Pace awr, I would take issue with Weigel’s request that the Communion antiphon be recited at the beginning of Communion.

    If adopted, this will inevitably lead to the pernicious practice of one or more ardent but ignorant enthusiasts in the congregation reciting the antiphon in an earnest monotone as soon as Communion begins, regardless of whether there is any singing or not (and even if it has already started!). You will find this in many English parishes. These people have not read GIRM, and are simply preoccupied with pronouncing words in order to ensure what they appear to think is some kind of validity. One of my pet crusades is informing them that they cannot know, at the beginning of Communion, whether there will be any singing or not. If there is singing, or if there will be singing, then their recited antiphon is completely redundant and should not occur. So best to remain quiet, and wait and see what happens!

    The other problem, of course, is that more often than not the Communion Antiphon has nothing to do with the scriptures of the Mass or indeed anything else. What is the point of churning through “The sparrow herself finds a home, and the swallow a nest for her brood, near to your altars, my King and my God. They are happy, those who dwell in your house. Forever they are praising you” when it is totally unrelated to the remainder of the celebration and was only included in the 1970 Missal so that the glorious Gregorian chant Passer invenit would be preserved. I realize that the 1974 Graduale Romanum attempted (with only partial success) to address this issue of relevance to the three-year Lectionary cycle; but no one in the congregation will be using the Graduale. The Missal antiphons are what people will use, and in my humble opinion we should be persuading them not to recite them except in case of emergency!

    1. Thanks, Paul and agreed. We have been “punished” since Easter with a music director and pastor who have implemented sung antiphons at entrance and communion (and at times preparation) without one word of explanation and initially without the antiphon being printed in our worship guides each week-end. The music director has written the music/composition for most of these antiphons.

      They are immediately sung by a cantor or choir with some expectation that the congregation will join in. They feel rushed – folks barely try to respond. Instead, it becomes an added hymn/song – folks begin to sing when it is finished and the hymns are played.

      Like you, we barely have homilies that use the current three year cycle of readings – extremely rare that a preacher ever includes or supports the readings by refering to the prayers or liturgical actions/eucharistic prayer. It is even more rare to ever have a preacher connect the music/hynm choices to the day’s readings, liturgy prayers, etc.

      Now we throw in antiphons – why?

    2. Paul – I see your point. I honestly haven’t thought about this as much as you have, since it’s not done in the places I worship in the US.

      In Austria it was common for the priest to recite the antiphon at the beginning of Communion. It didn’t feel to me like legalism or rubrical perfunctory performance, but as a striking proclamation of a striking scriptural verse. This was mostly (but not only, I admit) at daily Mass when no communion antiphon was sung (probably a strophic hymn began when 1/3 were in the pews and ready to sing).

      Whether the antiphon text is related to the readings or not, it struck me by being short and pithy. I liked that.

      I certainly prefer the Psallite antiphons which DO tie into the readings. But if all you have is the text in the missal, I don’t think I mind hearing it. But as I say, I haven’t thought about the issue for a dozen years. Now I will think about it, and maybe try it a few times at abbey daily Mass and see how it works.


  12. When thinking of angels and heavenly liturgy and what actually goes on, even considering the examples in the Book of Revelation, I rather like the ‘Church musicians dictum’ — “the angels sing Bach for the Holy Trinity, and Mozart for their own pleasure”. [Maybe one should add in a bit of Handel for variety also!]

    1. I think of the heavenly hosts as like the children in Luke 7, singing in the marketplace while being ignored by the pious. They sing songs and play their pipes while others hold out for sacral language.

      Wisdom is proved right in all her children.

  13. And to think I knew George in the early ’70’s when he regularly played guitar and sang at the folk masses at ST. Mary’s Seminary College in Catonsville, MD. I thought many of these liturgies were heavenly!

  14. Can somebody explain to me why “The first words the congregation hears from the celebrant should be the liturgical words of greeting prescribed in the Sacramentary”? It seems to me perfectly normal for the celebrant to welcome the congregation before the Mass begins. In real life, this is the way we form a community. (And, btw, this is also the reason why I do not mind at all when the celebrant asks people to greet their neighbors – which I know is a big no no at Praytell.)

    1. The Mass begins with a welcoming, a greeting. It may be a ritual and spiritual greeting, but it is a greeting nonetheless. To have a greeting before the greeting seems to me to be a repetition.

      I very much appreciate when parishes have light refreshments (donuts, coffee, etc.) after Mass for people to mill about and talk and greet one another. That’s where my former parish carried out its new parishioner registration; a clever idea, I thought.

      1. Jeffrey, I see the point, but if this is the only reason, one could, I believe, reasonably think that a more informal effusive welcome before the formal beginning of the Mass is a good thing with the ritual greeeting serving as a reminder (we do repeat lots of things at Mass in any case). Why can’t people be more relaxed and let different parishes choose different styles?

        I would add that I do not think that the coffee at the end replaces the greeting at the beginning. If your ten year old tells you that he does not say hello to guests but says good bye very nicely, you would not be too impressed.

      2. At my former parish, people tend to greet one another (and the ministers of the Mass) in the narthex before Mass. The priest and the altar servers and the lectors and the EMHCs (and in recent years, a deacon) are all there, and the resident sister would be there too, greeting people at the front doors. Ministers of hospitality would be at the doors from the narthex to the nave, opening the doors for people and saying “good morning” to them. And it was not mandated that people in the nave sit or kneel in silent prayer until the Mass begins, so there was often some reserved greeting going on.

        And if that wasn’t enough, before the cantor announced the opening hymn, she asked the people in the pews to turn to their neighbors and greet/introduce themselves.

        So there was no need for the priest to insert something in between the opening hymn and the Sign of the Cross.

        As for the ten-year-old analogy, I would expect the boy to have greeted the people before the meal (or whatever the guests came over for) began, which is what I have described above.

      3. Jeffrey, what you describe is fine, but lots of parishes do not have the physical space to do this (certainly true in French churches!). Maybe we should be sensitive when we make rules to make them flexible enough for adaptation to local conditions and needs.

  15. It seems that one of the few things that is consistent with George Weigel of the 70s is his conviction that he has the truth. In being true to the sacred and traditional language, narthex is a porch outside the church where sinners and penitents were allowed. Not necessarily a place where the eucharistic assembly would gather.

  16. My parishes have completely dropped the “interactive” Pax at every single Mass. You’ll be surprised at how many people do not particularly enjoy having to shake hands during Mass. Some find the gesture to be an awkward interruption. Others have qualms about the disease communication potential of handshaking through a crowd.

    I do not like handshaking unless necessary in a professional setting. I do not enjoy “giving the Peace”. Attendance at Mass itself is a sign that a person is willing to reconcile with his or her brother or sister before offering the sacrifice with one heart along with the priest.

    As Jeffrey Pinyan noted earlier in the thread, coffee hour after Mass is a more suitable place and time for greeting.

  17. I agree, Jordan. Many people don’t really know why they’re giving each other the handshake of peace, especially since they don’t even know each other most of the time. People generally miss any liturgical or theological ramification the handshake is supposed to have. They assume it’s just “hi,” except they still don’t get the point and they know that the real reason they’re doing it is because they’re expected to do it. So consequently, it all devolves into the kind of acknowledgement you offer somebody on the bus when you accidentally touch them while moving down the aisle.

    It would be much better to adjourn to a social area and have donuts, coffee and a nice little chat with another parishoner or two. That might actually build community between real, not idealized, people.

  18. I am no great admirer of CS Lewis, who was often anti-Catholic. But this comment of his from the essay, ‘The Weight of Glory’ is completely right:

    “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

    The exchange of the peace — as a regular practice in virtually every congregation, even though it is not a requirement in teh GIRM — is a thoroughly positive development in the postconciliar liturgy. Better that we tolerate a bit of hubbub in the nave before the Agnus Dei begins than that this good practice be suppressed.

  19. I am a choir member. We have no choice which Mass Service Music to sing the Bishop got his choice, however. Please leave the Latin where it belongs, dead and buried. I have studied the new translation and found it wanting, English. I believe silence in a parish is vastly over-rated and usually non-existant when children (God love them) are present. If I come across as a smart aleck it’s because this whole mess makes me want to scream.

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