‘Liturgical abuse’ is a linguistic misuse

Search Google for ‘liturgical abuse’ and you will find hundreds of blogposts, tracts and pamphlets decrying ‘rampant liturgical abuse’. The following, from Fr Zuhlsdorf’s blog, is not unusual. Another blogger reports a Mass celebrated by an elderly priest:

His liturgical abuse was not accidental and merely an expression of a kind of misplaced enthusiasm, but it was, like the sexual abuse scandal in the Church, very deliberate, specific and precise.

And Fr Z adds, in boldfaced red letters:

Get that? It is, in some – many? – cases calculated. It is predatory. It preys on innocence and trust. It twists what is good and true and beautiful. It is psychologically unstable and immature. It is probably not curable. It must be extirpated.

On this blog, Andrew Cameron-Mowat commented on the Synod of Bishops’ recent Circular Letter on the Ritual Exchange of the Gift of Peace at Mass. He said, very sensibly: “I would never use the word ‘abuse’ unless it referred to some notorious act of disrepect.”

In a comment on the same post, Dominic McManus OP noted that ‘abuses’ is “a word … freighted with lots of baggage in the contemporary mileu.”

Indeed it is. It is a very strong statement to put ‘liturgical abuse’ on a par with ‘sexual abuse’ or ‘child abuse’. I started to wonder whether this was not a result of another mistranslation from the Latin, rather as gestus profani was misrendered as ‘profane gestures’ in the English translation of the Circular Letter.

What follows is based mostly on reference sources (e.g. Lewis and Short, the Oxford English Dictionary, Whitaker, etc) and some common sense. I welcome counterexamples and corrections.

Abusus is from the verb abutor. In classical Latin this had several possible senses. A neutral-to-positive one was ‘using up’ or ‘spending’, as when Cicero wrote sumus enim multi … parati … abuti tecum hoc otio, “here are several of us … all ready to spend our vacation with you” (De Republica 1).

A more negative sense was ‘wasting’, or ‘misuse’. But it was usually applied to things like time or the attention of a court or patience, as when Cicero shouted at Catiline, Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra, “how much longer will you abuse our patience?” (In Catilinam, 1).

It could also be used to refer to misuse of a word; in fact Cicero criticises an orator who “calls a mind ‘minute’ instead of ‘little’ and misuses words that are near to others in sense”: ut cum minutum dicimus animum pro parvo; et abutimur verbis propinquis (Orator, 27). Precisely, Mr Cicero.

But abutor and abusus don’t seem to refer to murders, sexual abuses or other horrible crimes. An abusus wasn’t a mere peccadillo, but neither was it a vitium (crime), a scelus (wickedness, evil deed) or a facinus (outrage).

The English use started out closer to the Latin, but quickly developed a more negative sense. Hence Thomas Cromwell, in 1536, sounded very much like Fr Z when he called for “Th extirpacion abolicion and extinguishment of suche abuses errours and enormyties.”

In 1843 J.S. Mill wrote of the “abuse of language” and in 1787 John Wesley noted that “Distilled liquors have their use, but are infinitely overbalanced by the abuse of them.” Examples of ‘abuse’ referring to sexual violation appear in the mid-16th century.

Today, of course, ‘abuse’ typically has a deeply negative connotation: we speak of the abuse of animals, or of children, or of drugs or alcohol. In non-churchy English, an ‘abuse’ is far stronger than a Latin abusus.

As further evidence for this last claim, look at the Bishops’ Circular letter itself. It uses an expression that reappears in Latin ecclesiastical documents: necesse erit … ut quidam abusus vitent, translating this as “It will be necessary to avoid such abuses as …”.

A far better translation would be ‘misuses’ or ‘errors’. In 1706 the Sacred Congregation of Rites ruled on the whether laypeople could the passion in Holy Week: tamquam abusus reprobatur, “such erroneous practices are forbidden”.

Here is Redemptionis Sacramentum, section 55:

In some places there has existed an abuse by which the Priest breaks the host at the time of the consecration in the Holy Mass. This abuse is contrary to the tradition of the Church. It is reprobated and is to be corrected with haste. (Alicubi invaluit abusus, quo tempore consecrationis in sanctae Missae celebratione Sacerdos hostiam frangit. Qui abusus contra Ecclesiae traditionem fit. Reprobandus est urgentiusque corrigendus.)

My point is simple: a speaker of contemporary English would not ‘reprobate’ first-degree murder or child abuse, or demand that it be ‘corrected’. If the liturgical errors were serious enough to be labelled ‘abuses’, they wouldn’t have to be avoided, reprobated or corrected.

By the way, ‘reprobate’, as a verb, shows up in several dictionaries as obsolete or archaic, and is given meanings like ‘express or feel disapproval of’: “His neighbours reprobated his method of proceeding” (1787).

The liturgical ‘abuses’ are to be corrected precisely because they are errors, misuses, not gross crimes.

In the context of liturgy, ‘abuse’ is a poor translation of Latin abusus. It is a linguistic misuse.

Pondering these translation errors leads me to state a maxim about liturgical writing and translation. I know I have broken it myself, but am nonetheless happy to proclaim it:

If someone writing about liturgy regularly slips into Latin (“the priest is alter Christus”) or Latinate words (“prescind”, “advert”, “reprobate”, “diriment”, “liceity”), then beware! He or she probably hasn’t taken the time to work out what the words really mean, or at least what they originally meant.

It cannot be said too often: Liturgiam Authenticam, and the mentality that created it, have served the Church very poorly.


  1. “Reprobated” has a technical meaning in canon law. See canon 24 §2: “A custom which is contrary to or apart from Canon law, cannot acquire the force of law unless it is reasonable; a custom which is expressly reprobated in the law is not reasonable.”

    1. @Martin Wallace OP – comment #3:
      Thanks, Martin, this is helpful. And I think it underscores a point in the post: it would extremely unlikely for an “abuse”, as we tend to use the word these days, to be found reasonable. Canon law doesn’t have to “reprobate” murder or child molestation.

      Re-reading the Bishops’ Circular Letter in this light makes some of it seem utterly absurd. Yes, the bishop could tell the assembly at an ordination “At the peace, please don’t offer congratulations to the newly ordained or their families.” To me such a prohibition would seem bizarre and curmudgeonly.

      But to describe offering congratulations as an “abuse”? No.

  2. “He or she probably hasn’t taken the time to work out what the words really mean, or at least what they originally meant.”

    What does it matter what a word originally meant?

    The original meaning of a word is of no consequence to its use today. It shapes neither the intention of the speaker/writer nor the manner in which the word is heard/read. Nice comes from the Latin word nescius (ignorant) and meant ignorant or foolish in the 13th century. This is interesting but of no import for the meaning of the word today,

    What does it mean to say that a word “really means” something?

    Surely no word “really means” anything. The meaning of a word is in part social contract and in part dependent on its place in a phrase or even a larger sense unit.

    One of the maxims which I teach is: if you hear someone say in a lecture or a homily that such-and-such-a-word “really means” something, then utter a silent “rubbish” in your head.

    All of that, of course, is quite beside the point as to whether the English word “abuse” is adequate as a term for translating the Latin word “abusus.”

    1. @Damian McGrath – comment #4:
      I had somehow missed this interesting comment the first time round — apologies for a slow reply.

      I broadly agree with your point. English words shift in meaning with time, context and setting. Prevent meant something like “anticipate” or “go before” to the translators of the King James Bible; today it mostly connotes stopping something from happening or being done. If you table a motion in Britain, you are putting it forward or advocating it; in America, you are withdrawing it from debate. Dinner can be served at midday, in the afternoon or in the evening, depending on where you are. I had forgotten about nice — that is a nice example!

      Latin words have also changed in meaning over time, from Classical to later Latin uses.

      So I should revise my maxim!

      I continue to see lazy assumptions about how a Latin word like profanum, can easily be translated with an English one that has a similar sound; or that a Latinate word like “reprobate” (as a verb) is precise, because it sounds like Latin, and is therefore self-interpreting. Or that you can jump from English into Latin and expect readers to understand the Latin words in the same setting and context with which they were once written.

      A long-winded way to say: I agree. We can’t say what such-and-such a word “really means”, on its own and out of context. I think we can say that a given translation falls on modern ears with a very different sense than the writers of the source text had in mind.

  3. Who is this Fr. Z and why does he spew such venom? Why don’t his brother priests/bishop call him out on it? Truly an uncharitable attitude.

  4. We are living in an age of weapons being called peace keepers…the Church is asking us to curtail the sign of peace expression and action…does any one else see a disconnect?

  5. I don’t have any sympathy for Fr. Z but this article is not entirely correct. A quick look at my Oxford dictionary reveals that the first meaning of abuse is precisely that which is employed by these conservative liturgical commentators: ‘use (something) to bad effect or for a bad purpose; misuse: the judge abused his power by imposing the fines.’ ‘abuse’ does not always carry violent connotations in contemporary English and does not necessarily imply malicious intent: it is enough that the action be carried out to ‘bad effect’.

    1. @Daniel Canaris – comment #7:
      By this definition, an undiscerned, general, and casual use of the term “liturgical abuse” would itself be an abuse.

      What was that childhood taunt … ? “It takes one to know one.”

      In all seriousness, this phenomenon is suggestive of what my pastor calls the mentality of servicing. That the Church and its ministers exist to service people. (Something distinct from serving them.) People carefully note aberrations from their liturgical norms and complain, report, or otherwise demand that the experience align with their expectations. The CDWDS listens to some of these complaints, thus are sucked in to what used to be a simple parish soap opera.

  6. My post was not about Fr Z. He simply provided a useful example of a commentator equating “liturgical abuse” with much more serious abuses. Let’s leave him out of this.

    Daniel, I agree that the English use of “abuse” does not always carry violent connotations. My claims are as follows:

    1) The English range of senses for ‘abuse’ is fairly wide. Examples:

    – “He gave the bicycle a lot of abuse, riding it off-road, never maintaining the gears or the chain, leaving it out in the rain. After 5 years of this, it was a rusty wreck.”

    – “The judge abused his power by imposing the fines.”

    – “In the parliamentary expenses scandal, the public discovered that many members of parliament had abused the public trust and the stated expense policies.”

    – “Multiple injuries or fractures at different stages of healing can raise suspicion of child abuse.”

    2) In general — perhaps because of recent scandals — we tend to give ‘abuse’ a fairly serious sense in English. Dominic McManus OP put it well: the word is “freighted with lots of baggage in the contemporary milieu”. Italics added to emphasise that the point here is relative, not absolute.

    3) The Latin range of senses for the words translated ‘abuse’ (abutor, abuti, abusus, etc.) is narrower than the English and is biased toward the “less serious” end of the range. I not the first to notice this. A. J. Woodman criticised a French scholar for rendering abutentem in a passage of Velleius Paterculus as “abusing”, where it should have been translated “using to the full” as with Cicero’s offer to “spend” (abuti) a vacation together (Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries 19, 1977 p 140).

    So my point is simply that ‘abuse’ is a shoddy translation for the Latin abusus. What would render my claim wrong would be examples from Latin where abusus has a sense closer to the last few examples in English that I cited above. I’m interested in seeing examples and would be fine being proven wrong.

  7. Thanks Jonathan for your reply. I still think there is a little logical fallacy being employed here: it is true that the word “abuse” in English has a greater variety of meanings than “abusus” in Latin. However, the semantic field of the English word still embraces the more limited semantic field of the Latin. The fact that in Latin the word does not have the more serious connotations it has in English does not delegitimise the use of its more restricted, Latinate sense in English. You might argue that “abuse” is to be avoided because of possible connotations of more serious violence but I think in the context (liturgical abuse) it is quite clear that we are talking about a misuse of liturgical rites and not anything of a physical (or even necessarily malicious nature). In any case, the alternative (liturgical misuse) is a rather curious expression in English.

  8. Let me try another angle on this.

    Would we speak of “grammatical abuse” or “language abuse”? Perhaps.

    But to my ears, this moves close to “abusive language” — rather like the “profane gestures” that we are supposed to avoid at the exchange of the peace.

    It seems to me more reasonable to speak of a grammatical misuse, a grammatical error, a misuse of language.

    The liturgy is also a language. There are parallels between “grammatical” and “liturgical”. We have had “liturgical abuse” shouted from certain circles for some years now. Some ears may have grown accustomed to the term. It still doesn’t sound right to me.

    “Liturgical abuse” evokes highly malevolent, violent action for some listeners — see the quote at the very top of the post.

    We may have reached a point of diminishing return in the debate. I think we agree that it is the limited, non-malevolent sense that we are looking for. In pursuit of that, the term “liturgical misuse” works well for me. It may not for others!

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #11:

      Would we speak of “grammatical abuse” or “language abuse”? Perhaps.

      A quick google would suggest we absolutely do speak of abusing grammar and language. The abuse of apostrophes seem to particularly bother the internet grammar police.

      As a quick data check, “grammatical abuse” gets about 1,620,000 google results, whereas “grammatical misuse” gets about 320,000 results.

      So as a matter of actual contemporary English usage, it does not appear your view can be sustained.

      1. @Scott Smith – comment #22:
        Would your split infinitive qualify as a grammatical or syntactical abuse? If so, are you therefore grammatically or syntactically abusive?


      2. @Gerard Flynn – comment #27:

        I am a Star Trek fan, so split infinitives (i.e. to boldly go) don’t bother me overmuch.

        But as my Google machine tells me, yes, people do describe split infinitives as an abuse of language. Rowan Atkinson even made a joke of it in his TV series The Thin Blue Line.

  9. I think you should consider carefully those two examples you just cited: “language abuse” and “grammatical abuse”. It is true that these both sound inappropriate but also “grammatical misuse” and “language misuse” sound very strange to my Australian ears. You definitely can’t say “grammatical misuse” because a sentence is either grammatical or it isn’t. “Liturgical abuse” may constitute a misuse of liturgical formulae but the rites being executed are still liturgical (even if in a less than optimal fashion). So while logically one can only speak of a “grammatical error” I think we would agree that it would be incorrect to speak of a “liturgical error” insofar as a liturgical action, however badly performed, never ceases to be liturgical. As for “language misuse”, I concede it is possible to “misuse language” but the noun phrase “language misuse” is very awkward.

    Please excuse me for the pedantry. I hope that it is clear why I think “language” and “liturgy” are not analogous terms in this particular context.

    1. @Daniel Canaris – comment #12:
      Daniel, we seem to be down to issues of what sounds good to speakers coming from different parts of the world.

      I had intended “grammatical” not as a digital qualifier — loosely, grammatical(x) = {0, 1} where x is an arbitrary sentence — but more as a category, where we could speak of grammatical knowledge, grammatical proficiency, etc.

      Can we agree that — for the vast majority of cases — breaking the rules of liturgy (liturgical rules!) is problematic but not, going back to the original posting, calculated, predatory, evil, etc.?

      Then the question becomes: in liturgy, is “abuse” a good term to use for this less-than-depraved rule breaking? I remain of the view that it is not and that “misuse” or something like that is far better and closer to the sense of the Latin. I can see that you disagree!

      I have enjoyed the debate in any event!

  10. If there is any one thing I have learned from the comments the past years in Pray Tell it is that Latin is by no means a secure way to establish a universally accepted meaning. I am very surprised at all the different ways to translate or challenge translations, even official Vatican ones, by charging the translator with poor Latin grammar…sometimes a huge amount of meaning hinges on the ablative absolute. I say put it all in French and let the Academy decide!

  11. Traditionalists seem to regard any deviation from liturgical norms as an abuse. If the priest wears a stole over the chasuble, it’s an abuse. If before Mass even begins the priest says “good morning” to the people from the back of the church, it’s an abuse. These people are locked into an “ex opere operato” understanding of the Mass. It’s all in the book, just go to the altar to read the prayers and observe the proscribed gestures. The priest doesn’t have to fully understand the texts. The people don’t have to do anything other than be in the building….it’s The Mass and it works. Period. No abuses!

  12. #17: “If the priest wears a stole over the chasuble, it’s an abuse.”

    Of course it is. The missal explicitly forbids it. There’s nothing novel about this. Just because you say it doesn’t matter doesn’t make it so.

    “The priest doesn’t have to fully understand the texts.”

    What are you talking about? Of course he should. Also, what is so hard to understand about the corrected translation? Every collect I’ve ever listened to I’ve been able to make sense out of quite easily, as long as I’m, well, you know, actually paying attention.

    Name a collect that is supposedly confusing. I’ll read it once and tell you what it said.

    1. @Ben Yanke – comment #19:
      You are confusing the wood and the trees.

      The question is not whether wearing a stole over a chasuble accords with what is in GIRM. It is whether doing something slightly differently from what’s in the GIRM is abusive. (And on the scale of world catastrophies such as Syria or Iraq, stole over chasuble or vice versa is far down the list.) It may be something which doesn’t appeal to your sensibilities. If you equate that with an abuse, then Todd’s comment that abuse = what I don’t like, is affirmed and reinforced.

      Given the low level of education in the classics today, it’s highly likely that many priests who say Mass using the unreformed form do not know what they are reading much of the time.

  13. As one who actually worked in the language in noh written as nd oral form exclusively for six years, I truly believe that the language use much more stable than that of a living one like English. I AM NO traditionalist. Although I do attend both rites of the Mass.

    In my years of working in this language,I never had as single misunderstanding with any priest from China.

    I never had

  14. Re: “The Priest doesn’t have to understand the texts” is correct if you are only concerned with validity, as three author was suggesting.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #23:
      Do you actually have any evidence of a correlation between so-called liturgical abuse and sexual abuse?
      Let’s see:
      1. Legionnaires of Christ, known for training its priests to strictly follow rubrics in celebrating Mass. Both its founder and leadership very abusive, sexually and otherwise.
      2. Miles Jesu, also trains priests to follow rubrics strictly. Founder dismissed for psychological abuse, but also accused of sexual abuse.
      3. Institute of Christ the King: superior of north american region suspended for sexual abuse.
      4. St. Gregory Academy – priest(Carlos Urrutigoity) devoted to the extraordinary form abused boys. Subsequently he fled to Paraguay where he found a sympathetic bishop, but now the Pope has caught up with him.
      5. Urrutigoity and several priests with whom he lived all devoted to the EF were disbanded because of accusations of sexual abuse.
      6. Father Thomas Euteneuer guilty of sex abuse also wailed against so-called liturgical abuse.

      BTW, I think it’s rich that you teach at Wyoming Catholic College which has recently dismissed a priest devoted to the EF for inappropriate behavior. What’s that saying about people who live in glass houses?

    2. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #24:
      I think it’s a sad commentary that some would want that to be true. Evangelii Gaudium comes to mind, section 271, after a raft of Scripture passages about humility and self-regard:

      Clearly Jesus does not want us to be grandees who look down upon others, but men and women of the people. This is not an idea of the Pope, or one pastoral option among others; they are injunctions contained in the word of God which are so clear, direct and convincing that they need no interpretations which might diminish their power to challenge us.

      It would seem that I should want traditionalist Catholics to be more virtuous than I am. Or at the very least, I shouldn’t be rejoicing that they are not.

  15. Peter, I went to that page expecting either some facts about “liturgical abuse and other kinds of abuse” or some coherent theory about why this association should hold.

    Instead, there was a sketchy reference to one polemicist (Martin Mosebach); another quote from Fr Zuhlsdorf — we already know his views; and a blast at the end decrying the reformed liturgy, among many other things.


    Do you believe that the reformed liturgy, the Mass of Paul VI, is in it itself a “liturgical abuse”? And therefore a gateway to “other kinds of abuse”?

    If so, we have nothing further to discuss.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #25:
      ‘Do you believe that the reformed liturgy, the Mass of Paul VI, is in it itself a “liturgical abuse”? ‘
      Blimey, I can’t help reacting to that one. Red flag to a bull.
      Even if Paul VI’s ‘reformed’ liturgy were an improvement (it wasn’t), NO POPE has the right or authority to mess with the liturgy! What Montini did was an unexcusable exercise of an ugly, aggressive papalism. It was not only liturgical abuse, but a gross abuse of his office. (And how many bishops had the integrity to stand up against him? Only two, that I can think of.)
      Honestly, it was better when we had the Papal States. Popes were too busy waging petty wars and oppressing the Roman proletariat to muck about defining dogmas or dreaming up liturgical innovations.

      1. @Tony Phillips – comment #31:

        And all along I’ve thought the reform was a result of the Second Vatican Council. Good example of why the old Mass needs to be totally abrogated once and for all, or create a different Rite Church. How can we carry on the mission of the church when some want to take us backwards?

      2. @Sean Whelan – comment #32:
        ‘And all along I’ve thought the reform was a result of the Second Vatican Council.’
        No, the ‘reform’ was the result of Bugnini and Montini. The Second Vatican Council recommended a few minor changes to the Mass. That’s all.
        ‘old Mass needs to be totally abrogated once and for all’
        And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it–one group of people telling another how they must worship, whether they like it or not.
        Can you imagine the Patriarch of Constantinople suddenly announcing that he’s going to make all sorts of unasked-for changes to the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom? Can you imagine Orthodox bishops complying if he did? The pope has got to start acting like a dictator–that’s an abuse of his office. The problem isn’t Vatican 2, it’s Vatican 1.

        (PS–thanks for the welcome–I’ve actually made quite a few comments, but most don’t get past the SOV2 censors! Don’t know how that one did.)

      3. @Tony Phillips – comment #37:

        No, the ‘reform’ was the result of Bugnini and Montini. The Second Vatican Council recommended a few minor changes to the Mass. That’s all.

        Strictly speaking, the reform had already been prepared for by several centuries of scholarly research, which had begun even before the Council of Trent (e.g. Jean Mabillon, Edmond Martène, Nicolas-Hugues Ménard, Louis Duchesne, Edmund Bishop, Adrian Fortescue, to name but a few). Hand in hand with this went a huge body of post-Trent liturgical legislation from the Vatican, most of which remains unknown today. The modern Liturgical Movement had additionally provided a good half-century of scholarship and reflection (Josef Jungmann, Bernard Botte, Romano Guardini, Pius Parsch, Pierre Jounel, Adrien Nocent and many others).

        To say that the Council Fathers mandated only “a few minor changes to the Mass” is an egregious misreading of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

  16. Ben, those of us who have some training in theology have little or no trouble figuring out what the collects mean. Even with that training, from time to time I have to re-read some of the current collects and other prayers just to understand the relationship of the various phrases. For me, this is not theological issue, but a syntactical one.

    It is not always obvious, even to a theologically trained reader, let alone an untrained hearer, what the relationships between the various words and phrases in a given prayer are. The structure of the language in the new translation is, at times, unnecessarily complicated. And I find that that complication makes reading the prayers aloud unnecessarily clumsy at times.

    Now, my training in Latin is minimal, so I am not in a position to judge whether an English rendering of a Latin prayer is “accurate” or not. But when I come to, for example, the collect for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I say, “Isn’t there a better way to say this?”

    “O God, who show the light of your truth
    to those who go astray,
    so that they may return to the right path,
    give all who for the faith they profess
    are accounted Christians
    the grace to reject whatever is contrary
    to the name of Christ
    and to strive after all that does it honor.
    Through our Lord…”

    I think this is an improvement:

    “O God, who show the light of your truth
    to those who go astray,
    so that they may return to the right path,
    give all who profess the Christian faith
    the grace to reject whatever is contrary
    to the name of Christ
    and to strive after all that does it honor.
    Through our Lord…”

    I don’t approach the prayers with the hope and expectation that they will make sense to me, but with the desire that they will make sense to the people in my church.

    1. @Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh – comment #29:

      Or the Alternative Opening Prayer from the Sacramentary, which was just beautiful:

      Father, let the light of your truth guide us to your kingdom through a world filled with lights contrary to your own. Christian is the name and the gospel we glory in. May your love make us what you have called us to be. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

  17. Yeah, Tony, I’m also wondering how your outrageous comments made it by the moderator. You appear to have made such an idol of the TLM that you have swept the actual history of the reform aside with a flip of your…….hand. You must detest Pope Francis for his eagerness to beatify Paul VI. I’m going to send him a note urging him to initiate the cause of beatfyimg Bugnini as well.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #36:
      I don’t think I’ve made an ‘idol’ of the TLM. I’ve merely suggested that people who want to attend that liturgy be allowed to do so, with respect and without harassment. That’s called charity. Why would you want to deny that to them?

      I do think Pope Francis is wrong to beatify Paul VI, whom I regard as one of the worst popes of modern centuries–I’m speaking of his pontificate; I know nothing of his moral character. Nor do I think it was wise to canonise John XXIII and JPII–it’s very unseemly to see popes rushing to canonise their immediate predecessors. In fact, it’s downright embarassing.

      ‘Strictly speaking, the reform had already been prepared for by several centuries of scholarly research…To say that the Council Fathers mandated only “a few minor changes to the Mass” is an egregious misreading of Sacrosanctum Concilium.’

      Not at all. There were of course pre-V2 voices pushing for a Bugnini-style mass–just read the books Kung published during the council. But Sacr. Concilium deliberately took a far more moderate course and declined supporting such innovations–that’s an undeniable fact. The changes–which, to Jonathan Day’s point, I would very much equate with liturgical abuse–were brought in by papal fiat (an illegitmate fiat, I’d argue), after the council’s conclusion. Many bishops were dismayed, but few had the courage to stand up against them. It’s easy to see why–one has to think of one’s career and one’s livelihood, and perhaps I wouldn’t have done any better had I been in their shoes. Thank God for Lefebvre–the older I get, the more I admire him.

      1. @Tony Phillips – comment #41:
        My sense is that the TLM is largely off the radar of most Catholics. By and large, the venom I see is perpetrated on the rest of the Church from schismatics and some few conservative Catholics who simply disagree with how most of the Church worships these days.

        The real question concerns how much the Church can balkanize its liturgy and still hold together. Why not let MR2 be celebrated? Why not let parishes deep-six MR3–more people oppose it than support the TLM. For that matter, why should we care if a community without a priest gets one of its own ordained, a married man or even a woman? By Tony’s definition, isn’t it charity? By the definition of the Church, it’s Congregationalism. Marcel Lefebvre, patron saint of Protestant fracturing: wouldn’t that be rich?

        That a lay person would know that “many bishops were dismayed” is an interesting narrative. Child abusers and financial scam artists run free across international borders and even hide under B16’s fanon in protest. No wonder bishops are afraid of Bugnini, the arch-buggyman.

        Clearly, the Church is in no position today to assemble any sort of unity on the liturgical front. The Petrine ministry of unity is impotent. The farm animals run rampant. Bad is good. Good is bad. And “abuse” happens whenever the most sensitive among us are bothered by a toenail … that fell on a floor thousands of miles away.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #42:
        Todd, I agree the TLM is ‘off the radar’ for most Catholics. Keep in mind, though, that (a) most Catholics have given up going to Mass entirely and (b) the TLM was banned by Paul VI and for years was unaccessible. It’s a bit like saying the TLM was ‘off the radar’ to Englishmen in 1683. The planes were grounded.
        (Just to be clear, it’s not ‘Latin’ that’s the issue, but the unwarranted changes to the substance of the Mass.)

        Once you get off this blog and into a real parish, I doubt you’ll find any interest or support for MR2–down here in east Kent no one really cares a monkey’s–but I agree it should be allowed for those few who are attached to it. Out of charity. What I’d worry about is whether MR2 advocates are the type of people who want to force others to worship their way and their way alone. And I have no problem with married priests, by the way.

        To return to Jonathan Day’s main point–is ‘abuse’ an unhelpful word when applied to the liturgy?–I’d be happy to use another, if he likes. More important, perhaps, is the question: why do such abuses/errors/ mistakes/faux pas keep happening? Here’s something to consider, though I hesitate to raise it because immediately people will start circling the wagons: could we minimise liturgical abuse/errors/mistakes/faux pas by opting for an ad orientem celebration? It seems to me that whenever the priest is looking at the people—and let’s face it, this usually means looking down at the people—he invariably feels the need to start personalising the liturgy, putting his own stamp on it. (Maybe it has something to do with seeing those teenagers with their glazed-over eyes: a celibate–perhaps I should say ‘unmarried’–man may not realise they look that way all the time.) Couldn’t even a Pauline MR2 mass escape this danger if the priest faced the altar like the rest of us? I’m serious here, not trying to provoke, so try to be objective.

      3. @Tony Phillips – comment #43:
        Thanks for responding, Tony. A few things:

        I recognize you and I have differing opinions on the substance of liturgy. That would be a discussion worth exploring in an arena not attempting to score points against either Archbishops Lefebvre or Bugnini.

        I also think that a closer examination of liturgical “mishaps” would be very illustrative and possibly illuminating. But again, outside of an environment of competitive point-scoring.

        From your first comment here talking about the Papal States, I didn’t get the impression you were interested in a real discussion about liturgy or psychology. But you were just coming to attempt to make your point. My hunch is that you wouldn’t mind if other people’s Masses kept up the “abuses” because it gives you ammunition for argument and fodder for laughter. But if you want to prove me wrong, that you’re a really serious thinker on liturgy and Catholicism, e-mail me and we’ll start a discussion on my web site. Or privately, as you prefer.

        But let me drop another bon mot on you: I think ad orientem flirts too much with gnosticism and moves against the Catholic desire to see, observe, and adore. Who gives a darn about the back of clerical vestments? Why are those TLM priests hiding the Lord? Another liturgical abuse, as it were.

  18. I agree with Paul, Gerard, Jack and Sean.

    But Tony’s rants are (1) largely self-roasting; (2) mostly irrelevant to the topic: what do we mean by “liturgical abuse”?

    I suggest we leave them in peace — and leave the broad topic of the liturgical reform for other debates.

    Scott Smith, I take your point about abuse of language. Thanks for the research.

  19. It is wishful thinking to imagine that “abuses” only started after Vat II, as any of us old enough to remember will testify.

  20. Jonathan, thanks for this very helpful post: got me thinking a lot. You could add “substantial” to your list of words whose wandering meanings have theological consequences (e.g., as in ARCIC I).

  21. Michael O’Connor : Jonathan, thanks for this very helpful post: got me thinking a lot. You could add “substantial” to your list of words whose wandering meanings have theological consequences (e.g., as in ARCIC I).

    “Substance” is a fine example of wandering meaning. How did the Greek saying “three Hypostases in one Ousia” become the Latin “three persons of one substance”? Greek hypo- means below as does the Latin sub- while the roots -stas and -stans both mean to stand, so it’s baffling that hypostasis is not synonymous with substance.

    It is hard to imagine any further drift in meaning could be more consequential for theology than that shift!

  22. Jonathan, while I appreciate your use of Cicero to establish the basal meaning of abutor, deponents were irrevocably “nouned” because of the calcification of Christian statea. “Used up” in an ecclesiastical context cannot mean anything else than the extension of a heterodox practice until its orthodoxy is fully expressed, like the pomace of olives or wine grapes. This is why the later reduction of the principle parts of words such as abutor to the fourth principle part abusus is crucial: no longer is misuse a dynamic active verbal process but a static juridicial pronouncement.

    When traditionalists cry “the New Mass is an abuse!” (which of course I will deny publicly but affirm in my deepest heart of hearts), their “abuse” is abusus, the static pronouncement-language of medieval Latin. Traditionalism in general cannot understand abutor because many in the camp view the newer liturgies as an inextricably jejune humanistic must used up of “tradition”. A recognition that Tridentine liturgy was also misused (the “Father speaks-it-in, speaks-it-out as fast as he can” twenty minute Low Mass), might help traditionalists to understand that some of the more egregriously secular practices in the Ordinary Form are processes, and not heterodox manifestations. The great stumbling block of the traditionalists is Trent itself: a council which understood all practices within the anathema–non anathema binary maybe just cannot latch onto shades of liturgical grey.

  23. Jordan, thanks for the interesting comment. Can you give some other examples of mediaeval static-pronouncement language with participles of other deponent verbs?

    Your reading of abusus seems somewhat metonymic (indirect) and static – rather as a runner, finishing a 10K, might say, “I am spent”. As you say, that makes sense for broad abstract claims, e.g. that “the Novus Ordo is a liturgical abuse”. Following your thread: the ‘juice’ has been squeezed out of it, so it sits there like the lees of grapes, “used up”, “exhausted”, abusus.

    (You won’t be surprised that I believe exactly the opposite: that traditionalism, internet-driven “liturgical eye candy” and fussy rubricism have sufficiently dessicated the old rite that it, in fact, has become the dried-out “lees” of the liturgical harvest. But that is for another debate – not here!)

    I follow you so far, I think. But here’s my problem: the liturgical “abuses” that most people speak of are active and very specific. A parishioner shows up for communion wearing dirty jeans. Or the priest leaves the sanctuary, at the peace, to greet someone who has returned to the faith after a long apostasy. Or people hold hands during the Our Father. Dreadful “abuses”! But they are acts, not states, and therefore don’t match the “used up” sense of abusus. That’s why I would speak of liturgical errors – though I wouldn’t class any of the above three as such.

    On Trent: I have been reading O’Malley’s engaging history of the council. Even if its conclusions emerged in the black-and-white language of anathemas, Trent’s process was far more dynamic than I, at least, had thought. The bishops actively considered giving the cup to the laity, and they had a vigorous debate about use of the vernacular in the liturgy. Their conclusion was not that Latin was to be used exclusively – that unfortunate result came later – but that Latin could not be forbidden entirely!

    It is good to see you commenting here.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #50:

      I apologize that I can’t produce examples of participialism without providing footnotes. The [very mathematical] derivation of Latin nominals is not my concept. Perhaps I can condense the information from the thesis should I ever finish it! (doubtful, worth the cost?)

      “(You won’t be surprised that I believe exactly the opposite: that traditionalism, internet-driven “liturgical eye candy” and fussy rubricism have sufficiently dessicated the old rite that it, in fact, has become the dried-out “lees” of the liturgical harvest. But that is for another debate – not here!)”

      No, your thought is very relevant. Certainly, detractors and enthusiasts in both forms turn the press of misuse to the dessication of liturgy. In the case of “abuses” of the ordinary form, detractors progressively turn the press a quarter-turn until the stone bites the fruit and the “juice” of liturgical dissatisfaction runs. I would also agree with you that this process of expression also occurs among not a few adherents of the extraordinary form. However here, extraordinary form partisans turn the press not as a retaliation for perceived juridical violation, but rather a wringing-out of the plain meaning of theurgy until the Mass resembles a reduced opera company. Then, liturgy can be seized as an aesthetic process which satisfies a sense of ritualism.

      Western liturgical Christianity and “secular governments” (i.e. progressively informed by Enlightenment derivations) have grown so distant that Western Christianity must wear [τά] πρόσωπα (prosōpa, Attic theatrical masks) of liturgical deceit in a
      juridicial or “disordered” 😉 attempt to protect the deposit of faith. The proclaimed texts of liturgy betray concepts which cannot easily or at all accommodate postmodern concepts and the lives which today’s citizens wish to live. The bitter vintage of Roman rubrical dissatisfaction or liturgical play-acting is not due to the wine, but the current distaste for wine itself.

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