Penitential Rite Praxis

OK, I’m really not trying to engage in “liturgy shaming,” but I do think that the video from the LA Religious Education Congress linked by Deacon Greg Kandra does raise some questions concerning proper liturgical praxis (that’s the term that people with PhDs use when they mean “practice”).

First off, however, let me stipulate that I have no problem with either the music or the gestures used. My questions, rather, are this:

  • Does the length of the penitential rite unbalance the liturgy, making the opening too weighty, such that it overshadows the liturgy of the word?
  • Should tropes of the penitential rite identify specific sins that we have perhaps committed, or should they be in praise of God’s past, current, and future acts of mercy?
  • Should the invocations of penitential rite C be addressed to Christ, since the Kyrie/Christe response is addressed to him (the penitential rite in the video seems to treat the prayer as Trinitarian)?

In the interest of full disclosure I will state that my answers to my own questions are: yes, the latter, and yes. I thought that these things were quite clear to everyone these days. (Plus, why is the deacon standing around while the presider leads this? It is traditionally the role of the deacon to lead litanies.)


  1. That would mean I would have to watch it in order to comment. I tend to treat religious education congress liturgies as sui generis like mega-Masses – as situationally unique and therefore bereft of normative value for any other situation, and certainly not to serve as a model.

    Regarding your second question: specificity begs the question and an argument for congregants *in the moment* – that is, these are in essence affirmations that have to be considered and embraced without prior thought. (This also occurs when celebrants of baptism decide to get “creative” with the profession of faith in the moment. The most common ritual place where this issue arises is the General Intercessions, and I think most practitioners of that ritual moment have over the decades learned the dangers lurking in it.) To my mind/heart, that’s too much weight to put on that ritual moment, even if it comes from a place of good intentions.

  2. Deacon – concur with your choices. Always taught the point of this was to remember the mercy of Christ – not make it a mini-sacrament of reconciliation, etc.

  3. I agree with Deacon Fritz x3.

    I found it very difficult to watch. Even in Lent, the start of Mass surely isn’t the place to do an extensive examination of conscience; even less so on one particular theme. They weren’t tropes/invocations; they were speeches. Carefully written and all that, but in the wrong place.

    I wasn’t a fan of the costumed dancers either, but that’s a different discussion….

  4. I don’t want to watch the video, either, but speaking to the questions:

    1. A lengthy penitential rite (potentially) belongs in three places in the Roman Rite: at the scrutinies, on Ash Wednesday, and at a communal liturgy of reconciliation (sacramental or otherwise). Not the Mass. Something longer than the Gloria isn’t likely to be appropriate. But for a Jubilee year and at a large gathering, I’m not sure it would be a serious offense. Not like it’s going to get repeated tomorrow back home.

    2. I tend to lean to the praise of Christ. If sins are mentioned, then mention also his agency of healing for those particular sins.

    3. Christological always.

    Let’s keep in mind this is a self-defined religious education congress. Not liturgy. I would expect liturgy at the LAREC to be competent and the portions professionally done, given the reach. Maybe a bit too talky–catechists tend to want to teach. But I wouldn’t be looking for stuff to take back to my parish.

    1. @Todd Flowerday:

      Let’s keep in mind this is a self-defined religious education congress. Not liturgy. I would expect liturgy at the LAREC to be competent and the portions professionally done, given the reach.

      Todd, were the folks at LAREC touting “Be all that you can be,” otherwise presumed to be COUNTER-CULTURAL, how can accretion, in any circumstance (mega…convention….papal etc.) advance the Christological imperative of such a notion of that antithesis to invention?

      1. @Charles Culbreth:
        No idea. Being counter-cultural is relative, to coin a term. Compared to the culture at large, yes, LAREC, the Colloquium, and just about any church thing is counter-cultural. Within the context of the Church, perhaps not so much.

  5. The various Anglican worship books of recent pedigree seem to alternate between both Christocentric and Trinitarian forms of groping the Kyrie.

    As for no penitential rite on Ash Wednesday, he Anglicans, again, have a litany of confession as a part of most of the Eucharistic rites in contemporary use. But the Litanies remain to the point, and are not terribly verbose from invocation to invocation.

  6. I got to be there! As a worshipper, this is what I thought: A) endless. B) why arm gestures? C) is anyone noticing I refuse to do the arm gestures?

    I am so not a friend of those arena masses, but friends wanted to meet up there.

    Another friend presided at another arena mass. There was dancing and stuff at his, but he has a more subdued liturgical presence and that stood out in a good way

    In general, what’s with the dancing? I just want it to stop. Even more distracting when they are out of step with each other.

  7. Ad 3) There are venerable precedents for the trinitarian version, v. gr. some medieval tropoi, Kyrie Fons Bonitatis, or Rex inmense pater pie, from Codex Calixtinus. Moreover, if the modern Kyries come from the Letania Gelasii, this was not only christological, but trinitarian. The old number 9 of kyrie had also trinitarian sense.

    1. @Juan Enrique de la Rica Barriga:
      My understanding is that this later medieval development of Trinitarian understanding of the Kyrie is a misunderstanding, and the reformed rite does not foresee it. None of the Kyrie tropes in the missal are Trinitarian.

  8. Regarding congregational gestures: anyone promoting learning on the spot of gestures by the congregation for a one-time liturgy has probably undermined credible ground to object to propers based on their lack of ritual repetition. One of those double-edged sword thingies….

  9. Not so fast, Liam, that’s apples to onions.
    In context, propers became propers in monastic situos because of tenacious repetition and indoctrination as integral to the office. Nevermind Gregorian Propers, by your logic no one should be obliged or even able to render any responsorial, whether by Alstott, Haas or Hughes etc. Deiss proved that in the early post-conciliar days.

  10. Related story: a priest friend, newly ordained, brought back his Alleluia gesture to the parish. At a concelebrated Mass, the pastor got up to preach. Afterward he asked me why the young turk was flipping him off during the Gospel Acclamation.

    My sense: religious educators try too hard to “produce” good liturgy. I would no more pay attention to the LAREC worship than I would poke my head into faith formation classrooms to see how catechists are leading prayer. If I want to be formed by good liturgy, I’ll head for a Benedictine monastery. Still not watching the link. It’s also become too fashionable to criticize this sort of liturgy.

    1. @Todd Flowerday:
      My intent was not simply to shake my head and say “bad, bad, bad” but to try and figure out what was going wrong. I don’t buy the idea that catechists are hopelessly benighted regarding liturgy and we should just ignore them. I tend to think rather that since they are concerned with forming people in faith that it is worth figuring out how to explain how certain liturgical practices might malform people.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        Fair enough. I suppose my internet experience of reading criticisms of gestures and puppets and all grows wearisome over the years.

        What is going wrong is a large-scale of what goes wrong in many places: a failure to trust the liturgy–Scriptures, music, and sacraments–to do the work. How many clergy and music ministers are “nervous” with significant silence? How often do we think the people aren’t getting it, and we rush in with additional explanation, or filler, or walking/mood music?

        I suspect there’s some nostalgia at work here, too–how LAREC has done it for years. The people who attend aren’t being malformed. It’s an expression of a church sub-culture, and it has a particular meaning for those attending. That’s all. It’s a useful reflection to ponder why things like this don’t translate to ordinary liturgy in a parish.

        As for how to explain, you and I don’t seem to get invited to do liturgy topics at LAREC. They don’t seem interested in our viewpoint. I find parish work to be far more meaningful in the long haul.

  11. Methinks the celebrant is hoping that this kind of environmental focus will catch the attention of Francis. Too long, too much propaganda, too much period. Yet one more justification for not celebrating penance.

  12. Peter Jeffery’s article “The Meanings and Functions of Kyrie Eleison” in _The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer_, edited by Bryan Spinks (Liturgical Press 2008) is relevant to this discussion.

    Jeffery views Jungmann’s understanding of the Kyrie as originally addressed to Christ alone, as well as the idea that the Kyrie was ever historically a “penitential rite,” as mistaken, and regards the specific reform this mistake inspired in the 20th century as unfortunate.

  13. I readily grant the second point without even having read Jeffery’s article (and simply based on his scholarly chops I’m inclined to grant the first point as well).

    If we’re in the realm of what should be, my own preference would be to go back to Introit/Kyrie/(Gloria/)/greeting/collect for the entrance rite and drop the penitential rite (and all the “welcome to St. Swithun’s by the Bay” chit chat) entirely.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
      I think Fritz is right. The whole entrance rite is top heavy, snips of compromises that were never resolved and this LA thing is the result. The verbalization fetish is a killer. I know of one prof who ostensibly loves the Taize’ prayer around the cross and TALKS everyone through it even in the silence. But compare monastic vespers with the Baroque 5 cope vespers in London. Same tendency to doll things up.

  14. I guess I don’t understand the top-heaviness perception of the usual OF introductory rite (not talking about the LAREC video, just to be clear). It helps to refrain from (1) refrain-based Glorias that are overly busy, and (2) chatter by the celebrant, a time of interpersonal greetings or calls to worship that lead right into the liturgy. If the rite as given gives you hives, don’t scratch them – it’s like sandflea bites that way, scratching will only intensify the itchiness

    1. @Karl Liam Saur:
      I used to fret about too much intro, but over the years, I’ve come to mostly discard the sentiment. The key for my conversion has been to find straight-forward and suitable settings of the Gloria. I still struggle with the pragmatic meme of singing the Gloria during the Sprinkling Rite, but that’s another topic.

      I think if more presiders, musicians, and liturgy prep people were to give more attention to the introductory rites, top-heavy concerns might drift away. The problem is when these rituals are poorly or thoughtlessly done. Cases in point: using the Confiteor to allow someone time to bookmark the Missal or find the opening prayer, a choral setting of the Gloria.

      My own sense is that if one can’t do the rites well, just leave them out.

  15. I think it’s worth pointing out

    (a) that this Eucharist was not one of the principal Congress Eucharists (they take place with bishops as presiders on the last day of Congress). Therefore it did not fall under the direct scrutiny of the liturgy committee. The only reason it was video’d at all is because it happened to be taking place in the arena (as opposed to the several other Eucharists which were taking place simultaneously in other rooms and were not video’d and were not vetted by the Congress liturgy committee either). The Penitential Act at the final Eucharist on the Sunday afternoon with Archbishop Gomez, for example, was much shorter and simpler and not nearly as self-indulgent as this example.

    (b) that the presider fell into the same trap as 99% of all priests, who mistakenly think that the Third Form of the Penitential Act is cast in the form “For the times when we have [failed]…” instead of “Lord Jesus, you [not us] are/have…” The latter is why the 1998 Sacramentary described this form as a Litany of Praise, rather than a Penitential Rite. The former is entirely appropriate at a service of reconciliation, but not at Mass. It seems almost impossible to re-educate presiding priests — and bishops, deacons and cantors, come to that — on this point, and seminaries have a lot to answer for in this regard, too.

    (c) that at the final Eucharist with Archbishop Gomez, the cantor intoned “Kyrie eleison” at the end of all three invocations, even though “Kyrie… Christe… Kyrie…” was printed in the worship aid. I’m sure many people thought that a mistake, as they responded “Christe…” to the second one!

  16. Paul, respectfully…. your effort to contextualize the obvious discomfort of this example can be appreciated. However for the first part, walking back the politics (pardon the pun with the rhetoric of the tropes) of this particular liturgical moment by comparison to the closing liturgy is no salve. The closing liturgy, as already pilloried in certain quarters, contains its own controversies under Abp. Gomez’ presidency. In the second part, since when is it a necessity to apply revisionism to the Divine Liturgy? Ought the ritual language and choreography speak for themselves without explanation? Has no one in the City of Angels ever heard of the KISS rule?

  17. Dominus vobiscum, fratres agnoscamus, Confiteor, Kyrie. Why must simplicity be elaborated upon, save for a celebrant’s self-aggrandizement?

    What galls me about the LA RE closing Mass was the focus on soloists and the ministers as game-showey presiders. What about the averted eyes of true humility? Where were ministers whose actions betrayed a profound but restrained regard for their ritual duties? If ad orientem is not possible, block the congregation’s sight of the celebrant’s face, so that the Eucharist is paramount and the celebrant’s emotions are irrelevant.

    Sobriety must be at the forefront of assembly and ministers both. The closing Mass discarded modesty and sobriety at its peril.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:

      Jordan: “What galls me about the LA RE closing Mass was the focus on soloists and the ministers as game-showey presiders.

      This statement is gratuitous, and in particular the last three words. I apologize for it, with a sincerity unseen.

      His Eminence and his ministers ipso facto celebrated a worthy and not ostentatious Mass. What I was trying to convey, but ended with a derogatory statement instead, was the perspectival distortion of the Mass, including the soloists, choirs, and musicians.

      When viewing the video, I remarked to myself the way the camera angles were set. Throughout Mass, the camera angles purposefully placed a spotlight on the various musicians, with the altar as focus only when the celebrant and ministers performed a liturgical act. Were not the worshipers there at every moment to place themselves on the altar where the inestimable sacrifice of the Son to the Father would and did take place?

      Without a doubt, I write from a very biased and not-culture-fair position. As known, I was reared in a very high church Catholicism. Certainly other cultures and communities approach worship with different traditions and perspectives. This must be respected. I am gravely lacking in charity and understanding. And yet, I will persist that the altar, and its actions and fruits, are the center of Mass. I did not perceive this was a paramount goal of the “producers” of this Mass.

      One wonders if this again represents another turn of the kaleidoscopic wheel. Were not the 17th and 18th accompaniments for the Masses of noble-ecclesiastics also focused on performance and not sacrament? Perhaps this is why Pistoia did not succeed.

  18. My view as a lay pew Catholic:

    I respect everyone’s opinions and well educated responses, but as a nature lover, I wish my parish liturgy team would think up something like that once in a while. The trouble with the Mass is that it’s the same old predictable ritual, prayers, responses, hymns, latin chants that I don’t understand, and actions (sit, kneel, stand) every weekend – yawn.

    What’s wrong with trying something outside the square box once in a while? With regard to some comments that the presider was game-shower, I don’t he was any more game-showy than the Cardinals who celebrate the old Latin Mass with the bells, incense, long flashy vestments, etc.

  19. The trouble with the Mass is that it’s the same old predictable ritual, prayers, responses, hymns, latin chants that I don’t understand, and actions (sit, kneel, stand) every weekend – yawn.

    Hmm. I was tempted towards correcting the above statement, but the following quote suffices.
    From Sister Monica Joan’s perspective:
    “The Liturgy is comfort for the disarrayed mind. We need not choose our thoughts; the words for us are aligned, like a rope for us to cling to.”
    I know of what Todd dubs “liturgy prep people,” but I don’t know what is meant by a “parish liturgy team.” What do they do?

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