This Week’s Discussion Question: Stability and Flexibility

When the great liturgical scholar Fr. Robert Taft, SJ, received the Berekah Award from the North American Academy of Liturgy in 1985, he said this in his acceptance speech about spontaneity:

[L]et me enunciate a liturgical principle: ritual…, a certain stability in the déroulement of worship, far from precluding spontaneity and congregational participation, is its conditio sine qua non, as is indeed true of any social event. Italian crowds spontaneously shout “brava” to divas at the opera – but not in the middle of a an aria, because the conventions of civility dictate that there is a time and place for everything.

When liturgy professionals talk about spontaneity, they mean their spontaneity, not the community’s. The only way to secure the congregation’s appropriation of worship is to celebrate the order of worship that is theirs, and not lay on their already weary shoulders a spontaneity trip in which they have had no part. So variety must be limited, and the spontaneity of the congregation, not that of the celebrant, given pride of place.

This sounds rather like a call to order – which was no doubt needed back in the 1980s, when creativity and downright silliness were the done thing in many quarters. Taft appeals, an anthropological grounds, to the necessity that rituals be stable so that congregations can make the rituals their own.

But in yesterday’s Gospel reading, Jesus is critical of the Pharisees who “keep the tradition of the elders” and carefully follow the rules of ritual purification. Jesus quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.” Jesus says of the legalistic Pharisees: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

I think Fr. Taft gets it right about stability and spontaneity. He rightly criticizes celebrants and others who disregard the ltiurgical books and impose their spontaneity upon congregations. This doesn’t preclude spontaneity, but makes it possible. (It’d be interesting to hear more about how this spontaneity evolves and what it looks like, but Taft didn’t go into that in his speech.)

Let me ask: what is the greater danger today, over 25 years later, to the Church’s liturgical life? Is it disregard of the books, imposition of private agendas, and loss of a common ritual vocabulary? Or is it Pharasaic legalism, idolatrous divinizing of merely human social constructions?

On anthropological grounds, stability is necessary. On evangelical grounds, human aspects of organized religion must not be absolutized.

What needs reassertion today? Stability or flexibility? Do we need to respect the nature of the rite? Or take a deep breath and relax?



  1. Given the chaos (both ecclesial and cultural) of the last half-century and beyond, stability, without a doubt. (Plus lots and lots of evangelisation and catechesis rooted in the Scriptures and the Catechism.)

  2. Even since reading Amy-Jill Levine’s The misunderstood Jew: the Church and the scandal of the Jewish Jesus [LC record], I have begun to consciously move away from referring to the pharisees as such. Yes, the evangelists use this term to demarcate a particular group of Jesus’ opponents; this cannot be denied. However, it’s also important to remember that the pharisees of the Gospels were teachers and scholars who were trying to reconstruct and recast Judean Judaism in the midst of great societal upheaval. The Roman occupation, the cataclysm of 70 CE, and the civil wars all called for the creation of a new Jewish worship in exile. I have often wondered if Jesus’ admonitions to the “pharisees” are not direct criticism of their practices but rather a criticism of the direction of ritual change in some segments of Judean life. For this reason I have taken the personal liberty of referring to “the pharisees” as “Jesus’s opponents” or even “Jesus’ interlocutors”. The colloquial meaning of ‘”pharisee” as “hypocrite” does not strike me as the intentional meaning of the evangelists.

    The fall of the second temple in 70 and the end of its liturgy is a liturgical and theological event which belongs foremost to the interpretation of Jews and Judaism. Even so, the introduction of the ‘new’ missal in 1970 is for not a few perhaps a milestone faintly reflective of 70 which has brought about not a small amount of intra-Catholic conflict over the reform of Roman Catholic worship in the past half-century. Where some view chaos and disunity, others view liturgical opportunity and the advancement of new directions in liturgical theology. “Spontaneity”, especially when accompanied by clerical innovation, might be viewed as one response of many to ritual turbulence. As with Jesus’ discussions with the “pharisees” in the Gospels, the liturgical questions posed in Catholicism today reflect the struggle to worship beyond a Trent now-destroyed, and not choices between discrete and sharply defined liturgical ideologies.

  3. I really like both the above comments.

    We absolutely require stability in liturgy and education as to the reasons why it should be so.

    If things are ever to be truly spontaneous (and I am not sure what that implies beyond some of the liturgical ridiculousness I have witnessed, and at times been a part of) we must be fully aware of what we are changing.

    I also wrote a blog entry on the Pharisees, although not nearly as concise and solid as Jordan’s. A comment made by one of our priests to the effect that he would LOVE to have a parish of Pharisees, if it meant people who knew their faith and wanted to promote it.

    I think that before we start lobbing the “Pharisee” nickname at people who like to present liturgy as the Church (“human social constructions”??) has written it, we need to understand just what was being symbolized by the Pharisees in Jesus speech. I don’t think people do understand.

  4. So the new Mass of 1970 brought a whole new set of rubrics, or very little of them compared to the Mass prior to VII, with much leeway for multiple options at multiple points in the Mass, at the discretion of the celebrant. And yet there is still disregard for any rubrics left, remaking texts of every conceivable prayer in the Mass, at the whim of the celebrant. Let’s face it, based on who is celebrating, you never know what you are “going to get.”

    What then is the point of having an ordered ritual, with rubrics, if they are not followed? How much more “flexbility” is required? And after all this time, when does stability start?

    1. @John Kohanski – comment #4:
      When I read comments like Mr. Kohanski’s, I wish that there was a way to calibrate it. I’ve traveled widely both nationally and internationally and I always try to get to at least one Mass where ever I am. I’ve never been at a liturgy that I would describe as having no regard for the rubrics or one where the priest remakes the text substantially. Since I think I pay attention more than most to such details I wonder what level of departure from red/black trigger such a response since I have not experienced any of significance.
      As a scientist in my professional life, I can tell you that to have a stable system (biological, chemical or mechanical) requires the capacity to adapt and be flexible. Too rigid systems become unstable when environmental conditions change.
      That parallel suggests itself when I consider the variety of environments in which I’ve experienced liturgy. (I’ve lived in major metropolitan dioceses and rural mission dioceses.) Stability requires some degree of flexibility to deal with the differing resources and make up of the local church. I suspect that my limits would be broader than folks like Mr. Kohanski, but flexibility there must be.

  5. The problem remains clericalism (for the purpose of this comment, “clergy” substantively includes the clerisy of lay ministers), either in service of flexibility or stability. Typically, flexibility is turns into temporary stability when the clergy align praxis with their habitual preferences. Then the clergy change, and the cycle is renewed. The needs of the PIPs are typically assumed or used pretextually, and deep and broad assessment of actual needs over a period of years is avoided like the plague. Pastoral councils and liturgical commissions are deeply vulnerable to selection bias (the pool of people volunteering being highly contingent on who is attracted or repelled by the clergy in charge). I’ve seen so much done or not done based on relatively shallow assessment of needs that I believe this flexibility vs stability argument is mostly away to avoid harder work.

  6. When liturgy professionals talk about spontaneity, they mean their spontaneity, not the community’s.

    Spontaneity really isn’t spontaneous; all social communication comes within a context. What Taft is pointing out is that the flexibility that liturgy professionals do is something they are far more likely to understand than the community. Taft in his course talked about the right of the community not to be surprised or confused.

    Each of us experiences liturgy in the context of all the past liturgies that we have experienced some excellent, some mediocre.

    When liturgy professionals are flexible they are flexible in terms of their repertory of experiences. These are very unlikely to be repertory of experiences of the congregation in front of them unless they have been the pastor of a very stable congregation for a very long time (an increasing rare thing these days). When a liturgy professional picks something spontaneously from their repertory it is very likely not going to be in the repertory of the congregation, or if it is in their repertory they will likely not know the reason for the choice, or may even misinterpret the reason for the choice.

    In order to be flexible one has to build a common repertory of experiences for the congregation from which to choose. When that repertory has been build and well understood, then a particular choice may readily appear to be spontaneously correct, the perfect choice for this occasion in the context of all the other occasions the community has experienced.

    With the great turnover of pastors, musicians and parish membership building a common repertory is not easy.

    Unfortunately liturgy professionals have this great illusion that they can teach the congregation what is in their own experience so that the congregation will experience the liturgy as the professional experiences it.

  7. “With the great turnover of pastors, musicians and parish membership building a common repertory is not easy.
    Unfortunately liturgy professionals have this great illusion that they can teach the congregation what is in their own experience so that the congregation will experience the liturgy as the professional experiences it.”

    Yes. It's also harder in the Catholic church in the US because urban and suburban Catholics don't worship at one Sunday mass in one location, but have choices, and use that power of choice given to them since 1983.

  8. Before 1970, liturgy was thought by most as what we call rubrics. But even though the mass looked the same everywhere because the rubrics were uniform, the understanding and fervor of the individual priest made for perceptible differences. There were lazy priests (and not a few with drinking problems) who appeared to stumble through the mass. There were the efficient priests who prided themselves on “finishing” the mass in less than 30 minutes. Then there were the rare reformers struggling to introduce the longer dialogue mass or missa cantata. To name but a few. So why the feigned shock with variances on the part of the priest with the Novus Ordo? Putting the mass into the vernacular required all kinds of shifts on the part of clergy and laity alike. Some priests are more fervent or enthusiastic. Some are shy and reticent. Some are more or less articulate. Some seem to have the clock uppermost I’m mind. Others see the elapsed time as of secondary importance. If people wanting more stability means wanting a more uniform celebration I’m afraid theyll likely be disappointed. Unless, of course, the folks with all the power issue new directives from on high. I’m often complimented for the lively way with which I lead the celebration. No doubt others are complimented by the pious or reverent way they celebrate. Vive le difference.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #8:
      Father Feehily–I don’t feign shock over the variances, they are a week in and week out occurrence, and obviously the Church thought it solicitous to put lots of options in her revised liturgies. Where the problem lies, is that from priest to priest and parish to parish, the rubrics that are remaining are ignored, or in some cases, supplemented. I think that all would agree that there are enough ways to “personalize” the Mass without ignoring the directions or making new ones up as the celebrant or “liturgy committee” see fit. But I think that you have touched on the issue quite well. “Putting the mass into the vernacular required all kinds of shifts on the part of clergy and laity alike. ” Major shifts, as the priest and altar are turned around and everything is vocalized and seen. He now needs to not only be the priest, offering the sacrifice and collecting the prayers of the people to God, but also emcee, star, and toastmaster. I believe that someone in a comment on a recent post here, referred to the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic prayer as “the toast.” And like it or not, the congregation is still his audience, in an albeit different way from prior to before the Council.

      Fervent and enthusiastic, shy or reticent, or more or less articulate really don’t matter if the celebrant just did the liturgy as the Church laid it out and left the extemporizing to the homily or at the door greeting people on the way out.

  9. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #2:
    @Jaye Procure – comment #3:

    My understanding of the Pharisees is that they were a lay religious renewal movement within Judaism that heightened the differences between Jews and non-Jews by observing many of the purity rules that were intended mainly for the priests.

    Since Jesus himself asked many difficult things of his hearers, it should not be surprising that the issue of how Jesus demands differed from those of the Pharisees would occur to many people both during the ministry of Jesus and later on.

    Scripture scholars have noted that the later Gospels (e.g. John) have many more references to the Pharisees than the earlier Gospels and attribute this to the greater confrontation that took place between the Pharisees and the early Church after the destruction of Temple. Many scholars think the Pharisees were much less influential before the destruction of the Temple.

    Therefore we always have to ask ourselves in reading the Gospels how much of this later experience is being placed back into the life of Jesus.

    Since Jesus, John the Baptist and the Pharisees all represented religious reform movements that were sectarian, i.e. demanded greater not lesser things of their adherents, they may have seemed very similar to people at that time. Remember they also asked Jesus why his disciples did not fast like the disciples of John the Baptist.

    The disputes of Jesus with his religious contemporaries are preserved in the Gospels because the basic issue remains for Christians today. It is very easy to make religion into an external issue, e.g. going to church on Sunday, gay marriage, abortion, nuclear weapons, global climate change, gay and lesbian rights, women’s rights.

    The answer of Jesus would remain “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.

  10. Since I’m in my own parish for most Sundays, I don’t really know what is happening elsewhere in terms of spontaneity. I would hope things are much better now than in the 80’s. But with the OF Mass, there are three areas where spontaneity can take place, after the greeting, during the homily and after the prayer after Holy Communion, during the announcements. I personally despise lengthy introductory statements after the greeting of Mass, but I’ve seen them go on and on at papal masses and Cathedral Liturgies. To me it is a jarring disruption from the Entrance Chant to the greeting to have lengthy banal introductions.
    At the homily, the creativity of the homilist can elicit spontaneity from the congregation, but do we really want the homily to be a stand up comedy routine? But certainly there is some flexibility there.
    And finally at the announcement time, there can be a great deal of flexibility.

  11. Giving the Mass a great deal of stability and greatly reducing the influence of the personality of the priest is very simple.

    Sing the Mass including the EP. In fact, I think it could be accomplished just by singing the EP without singing the rest of the Mass. At my favorite parish with the sung EP, there is very little difference between the pastor and the weekend priest. The liturgy there always seems the same. Since it is a high quality liturgy I always look forward to it.

    People are looking for ritual stability and they find it in the voice and character of the priest which tends to swamp out other variables. So each priest’s Mass actually seems a lot different from each other when they are really saying very much the same thing, only with their customary voice inflections, mannerisms etc.

    The EP has to be sung. Unfortunately, priest’s often “preach” the EP in the same style as they preach the homily rather than praying it.

    Actually I think this is the only way in which the problem of the influence of the priest’s personality over the Mass will be solved. I don’t think mere precision about words and rubrics will suffice.

  12. “What needs reassertion today?”

    Neither stability nor flexibility. Time to move on from that argument.

    Quality. Quality of texts (MR4, please), music, preaching, and especially the intersection between evangelization and liturgy. Namely genuine hospitality. Mostly local stuff. Rome is mostly oblivious, so it’s got to happen locally.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #14:
      I was going to vote for ‘take a deep breath and relax’, but I like what you said better. The scriptural text used above isn’t the only such reference. In other places, Jesus tells his disciples to do what their leaders tell them to do but also warns them not to act like them. It’s pretty clear to me that jesus is telling us to value rite, but not to worship the rite.

      So, quality is definitely a good place to start in order to value rite and worship God as opposed to the rite. And it has to be really local: it has to start with you. Or, as any number of teachers have told us all: you get out of something according to what you put into it.

    2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #14:
      Todd, you’ve hit the nail on the head. As I have been involved with several styles/paradigms of worship, sometimes someone asks me what “kind” of liturgy I really prefer. My answer: any liturgy in which all the people, ministers and congregants, bring their very best to worship.

      Musically, Latin, vernacular, chant, neo-classic, folk, ethnic… all can be wonderful prayer experiences if done well, or the opposite. To quote the old MCW, “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken and destroy it.”

    3. @Todd Flowerday – comment #14:
      I am replying after having attended Mass at S. Susanna’s in Rome! First let me say that I agree heartily with Todd Flowerday about quality. I would also advocate a balance of stability AND flexibility! The liturgy at S. Susanna’s followed the RM3 (text and rubrics) and the text was thoughtfully prepared and prayed by the celebrant, who was also an excellent homilist. All of the music was familiar to me and wonderfully presented and prayed. It was all composed after Vatican II! The 2 lectors proclaimed the word with understanding and clarity and the assembly responded and sang! The Eucharist was given under both species.
      This liturgy was prepared and prayed with quality in mind and balanced both stability and flexibility

      1. @Linda Reid – comment #24:
        I regret not being able to attend Mass at Santa Susanna’s while I was in Rome. There was construction work on the front facade and it was closed when my wife and I got there. Another time, I hope!

  13. @Juliana Boerio-Goates – comment #11:

    As a scientist in my professional life, I can tell you that to have a stable system (biological, chemical or mechanical) requires the capacity to adapt and be flexible. Too rigid systems become unstable when environmental conditions change… That parallel suggests itself when I consider the variety of environments in which I’ve experienced liturgy… Stability requires some degree of flexibility to deal with the differing resources and make up of the local church.

    Organic Development at the Species Level

    The above elegant statement might help elucidate the nebulous term “organic development” that often comes into play in our discussions of continuity, stability and change.

    The proper unit for measuring organic development and continuity is not a particular individual organism but a species (the stable system above). What we should be able to recognize in our travels is the same species. No matter how many Protestant hymns, etc, there are not many Catholics who would fail to recognize the Mass and question if this was a Catholic Church in communion with Rome (except as hyperbole).

    However, one could walk into Anglican churches and find a liturgy that uses Roman Catholic Missals, and question whether this was an Anglican or a Roman Catholic service. That is the question of proper classification of the species arises there rather than in Catholicism.

    While it is possible to make a Roman Catholic Mass very Byzantine by the addition or all sorts of hymns and music from that tradition, very few Roman Catholics are going to confuse the resulting Roman Catholic Mass with the Divine Liturgy, and certainly no Orthodox would think they were attending the Byzantine Divine Liturgy.

    I would say organic development and continuity occurs when there is no question of what species of liturgy is involved. Despite the great amount of the variety and adaptability in the OF, there is no question that it is really all of one species

  14. Neither stability nor spontaneity, but ownership, should be the goal – the liturgy needs to belong to the assembly (and vice versa!). That is the criterion for living, organic development. It’s my opinion that returns to the books, catechesis, adaptation, and local variation should be applied as necessary – but all in the conviction and for the end that the liturgy belong to the people.

    1. @Kimberly Hope Belcher – comment #17:
      Kimberly, from me a big thumbs-up on ownership, too. It’s a basic ministry principle. The challenge is how to accomplish this in a fairly organized manner, while giving the assembly a meaningful voice. I don’t always have a handle on that, and I’d like to explore it a bit more.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #23:
        It is incredibly difficult, and how to accomplish ownership, or how to help people become aware of their ownership, isn’t something that requires the same techniques from place to place.

  15. From Taft: “The only way to secure the congregation’s appropriation of worship is to celebrate the order of worship that is theirs, and not lay on their already weary shoulders a spontaneity trip in which they have had no part. ”

    Taft may have been speaking of spontaneity, but underneath he is talking about something much bigger.

    Worship is not a thing in a book, but an experience.
    Worship is not something the presider does, but something the community (which includes the presider) shares.
    Worship is not something individual, but something corporate that we do together.

    Worship does not belong to Vox Clara, ICEL, the USCCB, or the Congregation for Divine Worship. It does not belong to the parish presider, musicians, or altar guild. It belongs to the community as a whole.

    I know parishes that get antsy after 30 minutes, and others that are just getting warmed up. I know good preachers for whom 6 minutes is a long homily, and other good preachers for whom 30 is a nice start. Some parishes delight in singing, others are skilled with artwork and the liturgical atmosphere, and still others worship in a very bare-bones manner that fits their bare-bones community setting.

    What matters, says Taft, is not that we are either flexible OR stable in our worship, but that the worship is something of the community and not imposed on it or foreign to it. What matters is that worship be appropriated — be embraced — by the entire community. What matters is that worship engage the entire assembly.

    The image of jazz comes to mind as a metaphor. When a jazz combo plays together, improvisation is central and yet it is done within a certain framework that is understood by everyone in the combo. “Stay in this key, here’s the main melody, work with this rhythm, follow the lead of X, . . . ”

    Jazz is not jazz unless you have both flexibility and stability.

    And neither, I would contend, is worship.

    1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #18:
      “the worship is something of the community and not imposed on it or foreign to it.”
      Looks to me like a recipe for a self-selecting community that could betray the concept of liturgical rite. The local community must receive the liturgy, proper to it, from the Church.

  16. Juliana Boerio-Goates raises a very important point when she notes “I’ve traveled widely both nationally and internationally and I always try to get to at least one Mass where ever I am. I’ve never been at a liturgy that I would describe as having no regard for the rubrics or one where the priest remakes the text substantially.” My experience has been the same. I question an over-arching narrative that claims that “chaos” in the liturgy occurred as a result of Vatican II. Because we began to take the liturgy very seriously in the late 60s, conferences, colloquia, and informal conversations about liturgy proliferated. The development of communications technologies aided this in unique ways unavailable to earlier generations. Some bad habits were thus able to be widely spread, but so too were critiques and remedies for those bad habits–and lots of good habit, too. In 1998, a sociologist published a book that investigated the claim that Vietnam veterans were spat upon by anti-war protestors when the vets returned home. The book found no evidence that this ever happened, and concluded that it was an urban legend. (Jerry Lembcke, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, ISBN 0814751474) One of the uses of this unsubstantiated urban legend was to conflate “supporting our troops” with “supporting this war.” I wonder if the claims of utter chaos and dissolution of the liturgy are also not largely urban legend, asserting “Chaos is bad. Vatican II caused chaos. Therefore Vatican II is bad.” Was there really chaos? Is there chaos now? Not in my parish, not in my experience of other parishes. And yes, the number of people entering the church, and the number of Catholics at Mass each Sunday show recent decline. But is that decline a result of Vatican II and/or other forces? Perhaps without Vatican II the decline would be much worse. Is there any one who can honestly say that he or she was at that Mass where the Jesuit attempted to consecrate pizza and beer?

  17. Peter – excellent analysis; spot on and supported by Kimberly’s *ownership*. And love the example from biology – evolutionary biology, science, math, etc. seems to have chaos as an essential part of their structures. (Faith is living with the *gray*; not a black & white system).

    Eucharist is a *VERB* – not Thomistic objects; set in stone rituals; etc. And the verbs are communal actions.

    Agree – the scriptural allusions go deeper than naming a group, Pharisees. It is about an attitude and orientation. If anything SC was based upon conveying and supporting the heart of sacraments rather than *accidents*. (As Charles says well – “It’s pretty clear to me that Jesus is telling us to value rite, but not to worship the rite.”)

    SC tried to move liturgy from an over-emphasis on rigid *read the black/do the red*; it allowed options, encouraged enculturation, supported ownership by the community – *It is our liturgy; not a nameless, institutional ritual*.

    That being said, would suggest that the original post does raise *concerns* when you take ritual and begin to modify, change, etc. as some appear to be doing currently. It raises questions about the whole *mutual enrighment*, EF, TLM, etc. experiments – as if this hypthesis is just another version of the 1970’s *spontaneity*

  18. Excellent discussion. What do we mean by “flexibility”? In the Byzantine tradition, some fine-tuning is possible and desirable (e.g., “we’re going to bless grapes and fruits on Sunday instead of the feast because more people will be in attendance”). But I am also grateful for the stability of the rite. I’m a first-generation American, and I’m convinced that liturgical stability provided much-needed spiritual energy to communities that were trying to navigate the tough waters of emigre life. I appreciate this stability now when, following a week of intense academic dissection of liturgy, the stable Sunday liturgical ordo, whatever its flaws, proves to be more than adequate. Perhaps the stability occasionally prevents an organic liturgical development, so the discussion must continue. I think that most Byzantine-rite communities would wholeheartedly agree with the notion of ownership (their actual ritual participation, the way they sing and conduct themselves in church demonstrates this ownership), or alternatively the notion that the liturgy is a beautiful gift originating from and freely given by God to the assembly, so their ownership is perhaps more akin to stewardship.

    1. @Nicholas Denysenko – comment #27:
      “their ownership is perhaps more akin to stewardship” This is a cogent comment and these words have an echo in the teaching of V2 and the Holy Father. This is also the area to which some here would disagree. Those who try to take away this stability from the faithful actually retard their full participation in the sacred liturgy. It could even be called “the heresy of formlessness.”

  19. I am not certain what is encompassed by this term “spontaneity”. I have been at masses where an assembly burst into applause after a bull’s-eye homily. I have been at masses where the assembly spontaneously started singing a communion song during what was intended to be a lengthy instrumental introduction. In these instances, the gathered community “owned” the spontaneity. I suspect that these sorts of things are not what Taft had in mind.

    I have been at masses in which a dancer has performed in the center aisle and on the steps of the sanctuary. She and the accompanist clearly were well-prepared, and the ministers clearly were aware that it was going to happen. So, in a sense, it was not spontaneous – it was carefully planned. But the people didn’t expect it (at least, I and the people I was with didn’t expect it), so to us it was a sort of unexpected and extra-ritual imposition – it felt spontaneous, perhaps not in a good way. Is this the sort of thing that Taft had in mind?

    For years in our area, there was a pastor (I’m told; I never experienced it) who prayed his own versions of Eucharistic Prayers – whether they were prepared beforehand or given extempore, I am not sure. I strongly suspect that this is the sort of thing, detrimental to ritual stability, that Taft had in mind.

    Finally, I would note that one of the great sources of variability in our place is the calendar – not the liturgical calendar per se, but the calendar of things that need to happen or be recognized in the course of our Sunday worship. A couple’s 40th anniversary, or Mission Sunday, or Liturgy of the Word for Children, or a special announcement at the end promoting the upcoming parish mission, or the Catholic Appeal – it would be a rare weekend that escapes some sort of insertion/intrusion/imposition of this sort.

  20. Two comments:

    (1) We have become text-fixated (it’s a form of control, folks!)

    In the early Church, as we know, everyone was aware of the basic structure of a Eucharistic Prayer, and the presider was expected to improvise on that structure. (The texts that have come down to us are merely models from that period.) The better he improvised, the better a presider he was considered to be. If he didn’t improvise well, or ignored the basic structure, he was considered to be lousy.

    The Tridentine period changed that for good with its quest for uniformity (of course the position had already changed long before, but Pius V concretized it), and we are now in a position 180 degrees different from the earlier times. We have codified the models, and de-skilled our presiders.

    So when I hear a skilled presider doing “unspeakable things” during the EP, if he is truly skilled I am not uncomfortable. Only if he is unskilled does it bother me, and I wonder whether he would have been ordained in the early Church.


    SC was very clear that rubrics are not enough.

    11: “Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required [my emphasis] than the mere observation [an ignorant translator: should be “observance”, of course] of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #29:
      When I read SC 11 I get something quite different than Mr. Inwood. The mere observance of the laws governing valid/licit celebration are exactly what the highly “creative” celebrant relies upon when he imposes his improvisations upon the people. If the laity complain the celebrant will respond that his Mass was valid because the words of consecration were used. SC 11 is also directed against the kind of liturgical minimalism, widespread in some quarters, that decries everything from the sacring bell to incense and a sung proper.

      1. @Shane Maher – comment #30:

        I agree with you about SC 11 and minimalism, one of the liturgical sins that rubricists often commit. “What’s the least we can get away with?” they seem to say.

        But I also believe that SC11 is pointing us, as do other paragraphs in the Constitution, to an increased use of variation, options, even spontaneity. Without SC, rubrics such as “in these or similar words” and “where pastoral reasons dictate”, which are enabling and not restrictive rubrics, would never have come to pass.

      2. @Paul Inwood – comment #32:
        Spontaneity in the form of improvisation is explicitly forbidden in SC and would, therefore, seem out-of-place. Other forms of spontaneity, compatible with the liturgical constitution, would seem to be limited to a celebrant’s sudden inspiration to chant parts of the EP, the other orations, or even to use incense at the 6am Sunday Mass. My point being that legitimate spontaneity in keeping with the peoples’ right to a properly carried out liturgy is far different than what some others might mean when using the term.

      3. @Shane Maher – comment #34:

        I think the philosophical point that divides us is probably that you talk about people’s right to a properly carried out liturgy (by which I presume you mean keeping to the rules and regulations) whereas I talk about people’s right to a properly carried out liturgy meaning something quite different: something human which respects anthropology as well as rubrics, which indeed falls into the category of sacramenta propter homines rather than vice versa.

        SC 14 talks about people’s right to the liturgy — a liturgy which is by its very nature is participatory. It does not specify that rules and regulations or even forms are the be-all and end-all of everything. In fact the whole tenor of that document points somewhere quite different. We haven’t really listened yet.

      4. @Paul Inwood – comment #35:
        Paul, SC 14 does not need to specify the items you mention because it addresses those issues a bit later in #22 (as does the current Code of Canon Law in #846). Much of what you’ve written appears to presume that no. 22 is not a binding part of SC. Your seeming reduction of tradition to mere “rules” and “regulations” belies the nature of a liturgical rite and our Roman tradition so celebrated in SC.

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