Scapegoating Liturgical Reform

Editor’s note: The following post first appeared on Church Life Journal, a publication of the University of Notre Dame Institute for Church Life. It is reprinted with permission.

by Timothy O’Malley

Over the last several months, there have been a series of blogs, all seeking to establish that the treatment of liturgy following the Second Vatican Council is responsible for the decline in both religious vocations and Catholic practice in late modern society. Some have taken the approach that liturgy after the Council has been “feminized,” often leading to a reduction of men entering the priesthoodFr. Dwight Longenecker, for one, has written:

This is why the feminization of the liturgy is so unattractive to men. When well-meaning liturgists and priests feel they have to make everything in the liturgy emotionally relevant and “meaningful” to everyone, many men switch off. When Father Fabulous insists on being emotionally entertaining in the liturgy he is likely to please the women while the fellas roll their eyes. When Sister Sandals develops new age liturgies that attempt to connect with our emotions, or when Pastor Hipster tries to push the emotional hot buttons with his sermon, most men are not only ready to switch off, they’re ready to head for the door.

Dr. Pia de Solenni has properly responded to Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s derogatory use of the word feminine, noting that all liturgical action is both masculine and feminine:

Even the liturgy is not masculine strictly speaking. Yes, it’s about the sacrifice of Christ made real again in every Mass. But that sacrifice would not have been possible without a woman – at least in so far as God ordained it. And the liturgy is also the Church’s response to and participation in the sacrifice, a particularly unique feminine response to which both women and men are called insofar are they make up the Church.

Yet, there is a deeper problem underlying these recent arguments. Namely, the presumption is that if everything had stayed the same within Catholicism, if there had not been liturgical reform, then, well, we’d have plenty of priests, full churches, and a flourishing Catholic life. That if we adopt an ad orientem posture for Eucharistic celebration, if we give only the Body to lay people rather than the Blood, if returned to Masses entirely in Latin, if we rid our churches of altar girls, if we put altar rails back up, if we could only return to the golden age, then we’d have liturgical flourishing. The Church would again be on solid ground.

I’m the first person to acknowledge that I wish there were opportunities for ad orientem prayer for eschatological reasons (of course, versus populum Masses should still be celebrated, also for eschatological reasons). A robust liturgical spirituality of self-offering was forgotten after the Council, often confusing lay liturgical participation with the kind of participation undertaken by clergy–leading to the still unimplemented vision of the Eucharistic vocation of the lay person in the world. Latin texts should be learned as our common heritage so that every child can chant the Pater Noster, the Ave Regina Caeolorum, and the parts of the Mass (in Latin). Liturgical architecture needs renewed so that it reflects the sanctified imagination of Catholicism incarnate in various cultures (and not suburban shopping malls). Liturgical renewal too often became a problem of liturgical forgetfulness, of erasing Tradition.

Yet, the problem of secularization cannot be fixed by returning to an earlier age. Culturally, the world is a very different place than before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps, it is best to see Vatican II as a late response to modernity, one that only partially recognized the historical trends underway. The rejection of authority that began in the 60s has blossoming in our own era in which every institution, whether political or ecclesial, is under a cloud of suspicion. As Daniele Hervieu-Leger writes:

…rather than attribute the fall in conventional religious observance to the loss of belief, and loss of belief tot he growth of rationalism instilled by science and technology, one should look at the complex redistribution taking place in the sphere of believing and try to throw light on the social changes that have helped bring this about…the advent at the close of the twentieth century of what Jean Baudrillard calls psychological modernity seals the collapse of the world of tradition by calling into question any authority that claims to direct conscience and behaviour, in the name of individual autonomy and the inalienable rights of subjectivity. The crisis in the authority of the priesthood…is clearly linked with the general deregulation of belief and observation which is the consequence of psychological modernity (Religion as a Chain of Memory, 132).

Although this is a thesis (since historical conjecture must always be), it may very well be the case that no matter what the Church did with her liturgy after the Council, we would be in precisely the same situation as today (or far worse). In fact, it could be the case, that with the crisis in authority, a non-reformed liturgical rite would have led to more people leaving the Church. It is even possible that lay participation in the rites as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, and as acolytes (male and female) has perhaps led to more involvement in the Church than less. Without a time machine, we’ll never know.

Therefore, it is important that those involved in the work of evangelization through media cease scapegoating liturgical reform (in whatever mode) as the source of secularization in later modern life. It’s not the fault of altar girls that men don’t want to be priests (and if it was, I’m not sure that I would want said men to be priests to begin with). It’s not the fault of communion under both species. It’s not the fault of the orientation of liturgical prayer.

This does not mean that the Church should avoid returning to the sources of liturgical renewal including the great mystics, our traditions of music and architecture, a sense of reverence in divine worship, a formation of the domestic church in sacramental and liturgical prayer, promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life as alternative ways of human flourishing in a secular age, renewing the sacramental imagination through poetry and art. But, it does mean that liturgical scapegoating, while perhaps cathartic, will not fix the problems that we have today.

After all, isn’t the sacrifice of the Mass that put an end to scapegoating to begin with?

Timothy P. O’Malley is director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy and a Concurrent Associate Professional Specialist, Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Practicing the Art of Self-Giving Love.


    1. @Peter Kwasniewski:
      I think this is just wrong:
      “…returning to Tradition, which is not the exclusive property of any age, but the common property of us all.”

      The idea that we have to return to Tradition can only mean that we left it. But this is not what the Catholic Church believes. The Catholic Church believes that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including the reformed liturgy, are the tradition of the church. Paul VI was very strong on this point. But then he and I both accept the Second Vatican Council!

      Furthermore, the idea that Tradition at a fixed point in the past belongs to all people in all ages is a-historical thinking. It is the illusion that there is some objective Catholic “thing” out there (or up in the Platonic ideal forms) that floats above all cultures and times and places. But tradition is always incarnate. It always exists in a time and place. Tradition of the past is great – for that time. It always has new expressions in new cultures. When one grasps this, one is better to appreciate past forms for what they are – time-bound expressions, and not eternal, unchanging emanations from the Godhead.

      This last point is a basic, fundamental, extremely important point for all of theology. There are perhaps comforts in the illusions of a-historical thinking. But it doesn’t hold up upon examination.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Let’s take an example. Can anyone seriously doubt that “ad orientem” worship has been a constant in East and West for close to 2,000 years? This is not just a matter of taste or cultural hegemony, it’s a matter of profound biblical symbolism that was adapted by the early Christians and became a defining phenomenological feature of our worship (and therefore a catechetical agent as well). The abolition of this can never be and will never be “traditional.” Sorry, folks, THAT’s what doesn’t hold up to examination.

        In any case, Dr. O’Malley is sufficiently gracious to deign to allow (oops, I’m using language like the new translation of the Roman Missal!) that sometimes Mass should be celebrated facing eastwards. How I wish it were the case that Catholics could experience a form of worship that is not an inwardly turned clericalist circle but an outwardly turned pilgrimage to Christ and the heavenly Jerusalem!

        For me, the biggest weakness in the O’Malley-type argument is his confident claim that reverently celebrated and traditionally symbolic liturgy would not solve our problems. How can we know this, when the powers-that-be grant so little liberty and opportunity to those who would recover our Catholic traditions? It’s like saying: “You’re not allowed to take that medicine, but we know anyway that it’s not going to be effective before you even try it.”

        The proof is in the pudding: where the experiment of tradition has been tried, it bears abundant, indeed superabundant fruits.

      2. @Peter Kwasniewski:
        “Can anyone seriously doubt that “ad orientem” worship has been a constant in East and West for close to 2,000 years?”

        Yes – based on the actual history. It’s quite dominant, but it’s not 100% constant.

        I’m very wary of the tendency to ignore the messy details of history and make everything fit into some “timeless, changeless” tradition that floats above all history and all culture. It isn’t true, not matter how appealing or consoling it appears to be.


      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Yes, not 100% constant, but ad populum was never offered in the manner its offered today. That was the lie perpetuated after the Council. And some still feel content with perpetuating that lie today. (Please not, I am NOT including you in this.)

      4. @Todd Orbitz:
        I can’t recall a time when that lie was propagated in my hearing. What I do recall is that altars were “turned around” for a very traditional reason: people want to see.

        I have always found it curious that in two initiatives closely connected, one wants tabernacles visible back and center in a sanctuary and one wants the Eucharistic elements hidden by a body in chasuble, except for two peeks.

      5. @Peter Kwasniewski:
        I did not say that reverently celebrated liturgies wouldn’t help–I think they would. In fact, I find the best formed students (liturgically and sacramentally on our campuses) participate in both our Liturgical Choir, together with the Folk Choir (both Novus Ordo, the latter singing music that is more contemporary). They’re my best students. They’re the ones who are most likely to practice their faith after college.

        I thus see liturgical renewal as beneficial for essential to the New Evangelization. And I think attempting a ressourcement of some practices of celebration and formation is necessary. A ressourcement of architecture, music, of liturgical spirituality. You have a true believer with me.

        But I do work on a college campus where such reverent liturgies are celebrated. And it has not led to a renaissance of spiritual life univocally among the students. The problems are myriad ranging from Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, to limited conceptions of human flourishing, to general apathy about meaning in general.

        What I object to is the argument that liturgical reform is the source of every one of these cultural effects of late modernity. Schleiermacher is responsible. Hegel is responsible. Certain ways that the liturgy has been celebrated has contributed to it. But my claim was more limited: that liturgical reform unto itself is not responsible. And that simply by returning to an earlier era, there will not be a universal fix to our present malaise. The nones are already nones; they won’t be there to notice that anything has changed to begin with.

        That’s the more limited thesis I articulated.

        I also one day hope to meet with you in person to talk about this. For, I enjoy such conversations, and I believe we might be working on the same side in the end.

      6. @Tim O’Malley:
        I agree with very much that you are saying here. Indeed, the causes of our present malaise and many and varied. I suppose what I would add is that I think that the liturgy should never be re-made in order to catch up with a supposed Zeitgeist or to be “relevant” in the somewhat superficial way this is often understood (as, indeed, inculturation is also superficially understood). There are elements of our tradition that were lost or given up for bad reasons, and we need their sanctifying power; we need their otherness. We have too much of the same horizontal late modern tired assumptions, and we need to be provoked by signs of the transcendent (as Fr. Uwe Michael Lang would say). Will this fix everyone’s problem? No. But then again, it has never seemed that the liturgy is meant to be the point of departure or the catechizing agent; it is a point of arrival and presupposes other initiatives of conversion.

      7. @Peter Kwasniewski:
        Like Tim, I also resonate with much of your commentary, especially the last sentence you offered.

        I would also encourage the searching out of renewed liturgy that avoids the worst of “relevance” and embodies a more true version of the Roman Rite than poorly celebrated liturgies. Sometimes it seems the comparison is made between the best of one version and the worst of another. It doesn’t seem quite right, for example, to hold up Bayern Munich to an American high school basketball team that we can criticize for having lost all its games. Athletics with supporters both, yes. But different sports, continents, culture, and levels of professionalism. I don’t recognize many traditional criticisms of the modern Roman Rite. But if I did, I wouldn’t be doing my job.

        That said, I suspect there is one reason why notable communities celebrate the TLM well: intentionality. When people are invested in belief, discipleship, and by extension, good liturgy, the form of worship seems more peripheral to this fruitfulness. When the TLM was mainstream, I suspect a much lower percentage of Catholics had an experience beyond malaise.

      8. @Todd Flowerday:

        Todd: “When the TLM was mainstream, I suspect a much lower percentage of Catholics had an experience beyond malaise.

        I don’t doubt your statement, but it must be said that some percentage have persisted in their love for Tridentine liturgy. Many elderly persons attend the EF today. My father missed the EF to some degree, and sometimes comes to hear Mass with me.

        I suspect that the “malaise” you speak of was in part due to the poor celebration of preconciliar liturgy. I once attended a few low Masses said by a very elderly priest, and I couldn’t make out a word even though I was sitting up close to the sanctuary. It was rather sacrilegious to hear him slur the words of the Mass. I have heard that this inattentive celebration was often found before the Council. If this is the case, then your characterization of “malaise” is certainly fair.

        For others, dissatisfaction with preconciliar Tridentine liturgy stemmed from it being perceived of as “cold” or “unemotional”. The very emotionalism and sentimentality I abhor is for some an essential part of liturgy. They seek some personal connection with the celebration. The Ordinary Form in many cases fosters a greater level of emotional interaction and reasoning. Perhaps the characterization of the now EF as severe is not malaise but a difficulty of another sort.

      9. @Jordan Zarembo:
        Regarding slurring…one aspect of sotto voce recitation is that one can recite not only on the exhalation but on the inhalation.

  1. If men, as the good Father suggests, have a problem with a feminization of the liturgy do you suppose it may have something to do with a disproportionate number of effeminate and same sex oriented priests? There are a lot of younger or more recently ordained priests who seem more concerned with the number of candles, the varieties of incense, and brocaded vestments than knowing how to effectively lead men, women, and children into the offering of the church’s sacrifice of praise. We all should know that the shortage of men responding to the call to priestly ministry is that we attract mostly men either not interested in marriage or ill suited to it. This has led to a mytholigization of priestly celibacy which asserts its superiority over the marital state. I’m among the priests ill suited for matrimony who have done their best to live as servant leaders in the single state, but I would welcome the assistance of married men who would discern a call to serve as priests. I agree with Fr. O’Malley that imagining a triumphant return to older understanding and practices that would restore the church of old is nothing but fantasy. Time only moves in one direction. Come, Lord Jesus!

  2. I find it unhelpful to put things in terms of ‘feminization’ because it makes a gender-political and divisive issue out of what I do see as a legitimate critique of much modern liturgy. I have always been turned off, not by ‘effeminate’ liturgy (whatever that means), but by overly-emotional liturgy, or what seems to me to be emotionally manipulative liturgy. Liturgy where the central theme seems to be how we are supposed to feel at any given moment. I don’t really see this as a clear deterrent to vocations, though. After all, being at the center of emotional manipulation of crowds doesn’t keep men away from careers in film-making, advertising, live music, composition, public speaking, politics, or theater! FWIW, my wife also dislikes over-emotional liturgies and retreats.

    From a liturgical standpoint, a more likely culprit seems to me to be banality. If the liturgy you grow up with (source and summit of the Christian life, and the highest unique job of priests) is dull, uninspired, rote, hum-drum, clearly not the most important thing a parish gathers to do, maybe ugly, etc., then why wouldn’t that fact affect vocations? And the critique of banality is one that could apply to liturgies from every part of the spectrum.

  3. ” … we attract mostly men either not interested in marriage or ill suited to it.”

    I would sure hope not. The personal qualities of self-sacrifice, of listening, of diplomacy and of living with and for others is the commonality of the vocations. Otherwise some of our best priests would have had a far easier time discerning their calling.

    Otherwise, Fr L is spouting nonsense. One could just as easily promote the notion that because HV emptied the churches that the whole thing on contraception was nonsense and since we need the numbers, we should deep-six that sorry document. In the US we’ve known from 1974 that liturgical changes helped us plug the hemorrhage of believers.

    We’ve also had the guidance of another event of 1974, the seminal, but misunderstood document Evangelii Nuntiandi. We’ve been unwilling to blow up old methods of religious education and to begin to work with people on the horizon of making disciples, as the Lord mandated in Mt 28:19-20.

    Jared’s assessment of banal? Absolutely yes. But we’re also timid.

  4. I find it sad that the “trads” have managed to arrogate the terms “tradition” and “traditional” – terms which they use in a profoundly modern way – and, even worse, “Traditional Latin Mass” or “TLM”, to refer to the various forms of Mass that preceded the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

    But it is rarely clear which form any individual considers really “Traditional”: Masses of the first few hundred years of the Church? Those in the centuries immediately following the Council of Trent? After 1920? As revised by Pope Pius XII? As reformed by Pope St John XXIII? As further reformed by Pope Benedict XVI?

    As I have noted before on these pages, on most Sundays of the year I attend a Mass celebrated entirely in Latin, except for the readings, homily and bidding prayers. It is firmly in the line of Catholic tradition, as developed and reformed by all of the popes listed above, together with Pope Paul VI, Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. It is sung, with some solemnity, incense and bells, etc. The priest faces the people; the readers and altar servers usually include women. We often have extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion who help the priest bring the body and blood of Christ to the (very large) congregation, offering it in both kinds and, at the congregant’s choice, in the hand or on the tongue. There is a dignified but energetic exchange of the peace. There is no closed altar rail.

    As a result of these things, most of our congregants say that they see our solemn Latin Mass as fundamentally no different from the “family Mass” that precedes it, or the quieter “said” Mass that follows it.

    So it is a traditional Latin Mass, but traditional in the sense of a living tradition.

    1. @Jonathan Day:
      Fine. Start with what you experience and mandate one of those in every single parish. It would be a vast improvement over what the average Catholic is able to experience.

      If the Bishops after the Council had adopted the practice you described, there never would have been the adherence to the older tradition.

      With that said, I attended the same type of Mass for 10 years at the Basilica in Washington DC in the Crypt at 1 PM. It was well attended, by a full Crypt Church every weekend. I used to serve it, in fact.

      One day, it was simply cancelled and replaced with a Spanish Mass. No explanation. Typical.

      It was then that I abandoned that fight. It’s easier to find an EF than one of what you describe.

  5. It seems to me that Fr. L seeks celebrity, much like Bishop Baron, and has something to say about everything, lobing insults and generalities as he goes along. He’ll fall out of fashion as we as Church mature.

    I wonder about the frequent references to ‘banal’ liturgy and the expectations surrounding worship. Much of life is banal, hum-drum, ordinary, less than, etc., caring for a toddler or a spouse with dementia, carrying on in a thankless job or a challenging community. Extending love and remaining present without visible reward is exactly what transforms us. No, liturgy should not be purposefully ‘boring’ but constant complaint can stunt the spirit even more. Maybe worshipping God in “ordinary” liturgy prepares us to better serve God in ordinary life.

  6. It seems to me that Fr. L seeks celebrity, much like Bishop Baron, and has something to say about everything, lobing insults and generalities as he goes along. He’ll fall out of fashion as we as Church mature.

    I wonder about the frequent references to ‘banal’ liturgy and the expectations surrounding worship. Much of life is banal, hum-drum, ordinary, less than, etc., caring for a toddler or a spouse with dementia, carrying on in a thankless job or a challenging community. Extending love and remaining present without visible reward is exactly what transforms us. No, liturgy should not be purposefully ‘boring’ but constant complaint can stunt the spirit even more. Maybe worshipping God in “ordinary” liturgy prepares us to better serve God in ordinary life.

    1. @Linda Daily:
      “Banal” can cover a lot of ground, but in this context, I have good reason to understand that it’s not so much meant to mean “ordinary or commplace” as it is to mean ” trite, hackneyed, clichéd, platitudinous, vapid” et cet.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:
        Sometimes. In the culture of complaint, terms are often redefined to mean different things. Heresy, for example, meaning religious stuff I don’t like. There’s a tendency to exaggerate one’s argument–it happens perhaps across all ideological lines.

      2. @Karl Liam Saur:
        Your comment confirms that the argument is subjective. Perhaps the term ‘banal liturgy’ should be replaced by ‘liturgy that doesn’t inspire me.’

  7. Given that the Church is often referred to as “Mother,” and since, the Church is often referred to with the pronouns “she” and “her” in the current missal translation, I find the complaints about “feminization” of the liturgy unconvincing.

    Beyond that, though, I think that the argument “The Changes That Began At Vatican Two Caused Many To Leave The Church” are nothing more than scapegoating.

    First, many of the changes, liturgical and otherwise, were underway long before the early 1960’s. These did not just pop into the minds of the Council Fathers or the members of the preparatory commissions as they journeyed to Rome. The Council was, in many ways, the distillation of the theological thinking, reasoning, arguing that had been on-going for, in many cases, more than a century.

    Second, the “Blame Vatican Two” argument ignores the massive cultural/societal changes that had begun in the West following the end of World War Two. From the middle 1960’s on, many other groups or organizations began to lose membership – Lions Clubs, Jaycees, Rotary Clubs, etc. Like the Church, these organizations are dedicated to service, but I doubt that the declines in membership can be attributed to the use of the vernacular, the presence of girl altar servers, or celebration facing the people.

    When as easy answer is what you are bound and determined to find, as easy answer will be discovered. When discovered, the easy solution is proposed: “If We But Return To Tradition.” But, like almost all easy answers, it results from a misdiagnosis of the malady.

  8. Fr. O’Malley writes,

    “After all, isn’t the sacrifice of the Mass that put an end to scapegoating to begin with?”

    Absolutely true. If, however, people primarily experience the Mass through, say, Eucharistic Prayer II, how would they ever know the Mass was a sacrifice? The word never appears in it, and the rite hints at it only obliquely with “we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” Lex orandi, lex credendi, as they say. I don’t consider a return to Latin to be a magical cure all, but the text of the Canon, regardless of the language in which it is presented, ought to make the sacrificial nature of the Mass abundantly clear.

    Donne was wrote, “Batter my heart, three person’d God.” For a certainty, the Mass should batter our hearts and minds with the knowledge that it is a sacrifice, where time and eternity collide, where infinite grace pours out for us. The Mass should convey its importance, and that requires a fine blend of accessibility and otherness. Accessibility can be handled a number of ways; I realize I’m an exception, being a Latin teacher, but I would be perfectly content with my St Joseph’s Missal, which has the added benefit of working no matter what country I’m in.

    1. @Shaughn Casey:
      This is a non-issue. Completely and totally a non-issue. A Mass at which EP II is used always – always – has language at other places referring to the Mass as a sacrifice.

      But even tho that solves the issue and answers the objection which has nothing to it, it still risks missing the point by the manner in which the question is framed.

      The sacrificial nature of the Mass is not merely a doctrine which we should affirm – as if affirming it three times at Mass is stronger than affirming it only one time or two times. Shouting “It IS a sacrifice, it IS a sacrifice” really accomplishes very little.

      I sometimes think that a good synonym for “sacrifice” in this context would be “love.” To say that the Mass is a sacrifice is to say that it shows a different kind of love than we thought – one which is self-emptying. And that kind of self-emptying love, by its nature, creates relational bonds between people and builds up community.

      Ergo – the sacrificial nature of the Mass is emphasized not just by having the magic word said enough times, not just by getting everyone to accept the doctrine in their minds. It is emphasized by a strong sense of community (of the right kind, not just chummy, but union in Christ); it is emphasized by communion under both forms (blood poured out FOR YOU), it is emphasized by reverent exchange of peace, and so forth, it is emphasized by strong social justice commitment of worships who empty themselves and give their lives for the world (the needy, etc.).

      Mass as sacrifice is about: community, reconciliation, social justice, love, friendship, mutual respect, discipleship, etc.

      Worrying about whether the word “sacrifice” is in EP II is really misplaced. One could have the word 8 times in the EP and still miss the point and fail to be drawn into Christ’s sacrificial love and all that it entails and requires of me.

      Mass as sacrifice isn’t about affirming correct doctrine – it’s about being converted.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        Fr. Anthony,

        You may be misunderstanding me, and it may be that I did not articulate what I meant well. I would never suggest that we simply repeat ad nauseam “It is a sacrifice.” Let me explain with reference Eucharistic Prayer I. The point isn’t merely that we are sacrificing, but what we are sacrificing, and the purpose of that sacrifice.

        “…that you accept and bless + these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices…” We sacrifice the gifts of bread and wine.

        “For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise…” The very act of worship is, itself, an act of sacrifice — a sacrifice of devotion primarily to God himself, made out of love.

        “…and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim…” We make a sacrifice with clear precedent in salvation history, not least because we participate in the sacrifice of the Lamb who is also the high priest.

        It may well be that you and I have fundamental disagreements about what the sacrifice of the Mass is about. I suspect I emphasize the vertical nature of it, whereas you clearly emphasize the horizontal. I can only go by what I find in the CCC, though, and it doesn’t emphasize Mass as sacrifice in the horizontal terms or sense you’ve described to me. Mass as sacrifice isn’t about affirming correct doctrine; I quite agree. It’s about honoring God through the sacrifices made and receiving the infinite grace provided to us from that sacrifice once offered on our behalf. That is, at least, the sense of what I find over and over in the Catechism.

      2. @Shaughn Casey:
        Dear Shaughn,

        Thanks for your clarification. But note that the Catechism at 1382 links sacrifice and banquet integrally. And then 1396-1398 refer to the unity of the mystical body, commitment to the poor, and the unity of Christians. These are not just optional add-ons, they are the fruits of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

        In general I think it’s not good to contrast, or even oppose, the so-called horizontal and the vertical dimensions. They are so tied together that the more you have of one – if it is rightly understood – the more you have of the other. It’s not a zero-sum game. Heightened “vertical” dimension, if it’s the right kind of verticality, necessarily heightens the intensity of the “horizontal.” And vice versa. If emphasis on one dimension is detracting from the other, most likely it is based on a misunderstanding of that dimension.


      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        Fr. Anthony,

        We’re in agreement about the fruits and proper balance, though perhaps not in the finer details of execution. Mass energizes me to go out and do that work. I think we would both agree that folks who go to Mass to check a box and continue on with their lives unfazed by the experience have missed something.

  9. As an attempt to understand the OF parish Mass, I attended a local parish for six months. It’s difficult to untangle the many questions [problemata] I have asked while observing the parish Mass. Ultimately I returned to the Extraordinary Form, perhaps because I found the Ordinary Form in its arguably typical use as utterly desiccating to my liturgical spirituality.

    I am a very cerebral person. I do not derive knowledge from human interaction, but on the meditation on spoken word and written text, among other instances of solitary learning. I find that Tridentine liturgy, with its long silences and consistent presentation of Latin propers and hymns, as fertile ground for meditation. In the OF parish liturgy, with wall-to-wall speech and musical accompaniment, combined with the often inscrutable vernacular prayers, I found myself without footholds for meditation.

    I realize that many liturgists have desired an assembly which moves as a whole thorough the liturgy. Perhaps I am selfish for wishing to remain on a word or phrase throughout the Mass. But these spare words and phrases serve to deepen my spirituality. And yet, it appears that many liturgists do not want me to ponder alone, but half-mindedly make responses and sing with a purposefully emptied mind. I am not a person who takes well to this — the Tridentine liturgy is much more conducive to a linguistic meditation. Why does the reform wish so earnestly to stamp out individual meditation on text and linguistics?

    I do not know what to say of misogyny. Should I not attend the EF because women are not permitted any liturgical function? I often consider this, as I am torn between what is just (women as equal participants in lay ministries) and the liturgy which best fuels my faith and intellectual nourishment. Perhaps I am a misogynist for continuing to attend the EF. And yet, celebrations of the OF often provide an aridity of intellect which is alienating. Maybe justice demands the sacrifice of a joyfully meditating mind.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:

      I’m much the same way, though I confess I find the EF Low Masses I’ve attended in the US are a little /too/ quiet, even for me. In France, the congregants made the responses, and it more closely resembled an Anglican Low Mass. In any event, I always know where I am in an EF Mass; my pages are marked, and there will be no funny business. The lion’s share of people in either place were actively participating. I knew they were not because they sang loudly or made responses boldly (something I almost never see at OF masses, mind you), but because they responded physically to the liturgy throughout it, even at an American Low Mass, which demands attention. It may be because the only priests celebrating them now are the ones who want them, and the only congregants attending are the ones who actively seek it out.

      At the fundamental level, though, I go to Mass to get what I can’t get elsewhere. I shake hands, embrace people, hear their stories, mentor them as disciples, and fight for their causes every day as a matter of course for my job. Mass is where I go to recharge spiritually, to adore the Risen Christ, to receive the grace of the sacrament of His Body and Blood, to commune with the church that is, and was, and ever shall be. I literally cannot do most of those things anywhere else but in the context of Mass. That’s harder to do when I’m being herded about like cattle constantly, with no silence, no introspection, and all too often, no personal space.

      1. @Shaughn Casey:

        At the fundamental level, though, I go to Mass to get what I can’t get elsewhere.

        Excuse me for seizing on this sentence, but it seems to me to sum up some of the difficulties that OF and EF mass attenders experience when trying to understand each other’s point of view. I mean: going to Mass to “get” something, vs. going to Mass to “give” something. The contrast between the passive reception of an EF liturgy and the active participation in an OF liturgy could be encapsulated in those two verbs. I think the true desideratum lies somewhere in the middle: the best of both those worlds, both giving and receiving. People say that you will only get out of the Mass what you put into it.

        Happy feast, everyone, and welcome to Holy Week!

      2. @Paul Inwood:


        I can see how you might interpret what I said in such a manner, but, respectfully, that requires ignoring essentially everything else I wrote about my life outside of Mass. I might have just as easily written “experience” instead of “get.” To suggest that I am a passive participant at an EF Mass is a bit absurd. I pray the prayers silently along with the priest, sing the responses at sung Mass, meditate on the words of Propers, even the minor propers, and on and on. If someone is sitting passively at an EF mass these days, it is by choice only. Often people are equally passive at OF Masses, in my experience, except that they really are just sitting there, because most people have forgotten all of the local customs that will keep people engaged all through an EF Mass.

      3. @Paul Inwood:

        Paul: […] “but it seems to me to sum up some of the difficulties that OF and EF mass attenders experience when trying to understand each other’s point of view. I mean: going to Mass to “get” something, vs. going to Mass to “give” something.

        Paul, in what way is it not to give when one surrenders himself or herself before the blessed sacrament at the holy communion? In receiving the sacrament, a person completely submits the self to what is not just a personal creator but an ex nihilo creator which enters the temporal for our salvation. At this point there is no individuality, no personality, only complete negation of the will and desire before that which cannot be explained but will be intimately encountered.

        Surely this attitude is possible in both forms. But the EF is, in some respects, more suited to a meditative preparation for the unconditional giving of the self at the communion. The horizontal nature of the OF often impedes a reflective preparation, instead enveloping a person in an assembly directed mentality. Do I surrender myself to the eucharistic Christ as an assembly one in response, or a person who has honed the giving of the will, even though the steps of the rosary? The question of assembly in the personal preparation for communion is an important question of the reform. I suspect that indeed the assembly understanding of the preparation for the eucharist is central to reform, even an exclusive aspect of reform.

      4. @Paul Inwood:
        I would caution against trying to find a “gotcha” word from one person’s post and trying to apply it universally.

        How do you explain the many people at the EF who feel it better facilitates active participation and a giving of self? In my interactions with fellow EF attendees, I would say that is a major theme. For myself, I often find that the OF promotes the exact opposite of what the liturgical reform seemed to want to do while the EF often does a better job fulfilling it. I of course know not everyone thinks that way, but I’m certainly not finding myself preferring the EF because it is passive, less communal, or more clericalist than the typical OF Mass – quite the opposite.

      5. @Jack Wayne:
        No, Jack – if you think that “the OF promotes the exact opposite of what the liturgical reform seemed to want to do while the EF often does a better job fulfilling it,” then you’re simply misreading the purpose of the liturgical reform and the decrees of Vatican II.

        Remember, the Second Vatican Council was explicit in its intent that the 1962 rite (what is now called the EF) could not continue as it was. So it is simply not possible that this unreformed rite better fulfills the intent of the bishops who said it was to be done away with. We can argue about Summorum Pontificum but that is a separate issue and came much later. I’m talking about what the reforms of Vatican II intended.

        Now it may be that “I like the unreformed EF rite better” or “I like the spirituality of the unreformed EF rite better” or “I wish they hadn’t called for the EF to be done away with” or “I don’t like the OF as much” or “I wish Vatican II had never happened” – those could all be true “I-statements.” Own it as your personal preference, and stop claiming it’s the teaching of Vatican II or the intent of the liturgical reform.

        Pray Tell has a mission, and it includes supporting the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. I’d rather you didn’t keep coming back arguing against it, or in favor of the pre-Vatican II rite. We’ve already had that conversation, and every time I say the same thing: Pray Tell supports Vatican II and the liturgical reforms done in faithfulness to it.


      6. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Well, it is certainly possible that the reforms utterly failed to achieve what the Council sought. I can think of numerous situations in which some attempted remedy actually made a situation worse than it was before.

        Mind you, I think the reforms did achieve, if not “full conscious and active participation” at least “fuller conscious and active participation,” if for no other reason than the use of the vernacular. But I could imagine that someone whose experience of the reformed liturgy consisted of listless congregations that mumble the responses, don’t sing, seem uninterested in the scripture readings and the prayers etc. might find that an EF celebration with the congregation belting out the Missa de Angelis and following all of the words and actions assiduously in their Missals to more nearly approach the Council’s ideal of full conscious and active participation. But this would only show that whatever defects the unreformed rite might have are not incapable of being mitigated by a committed and enthusiastic congregation, and that whatever virtues the reformed rite might have are not incapable of being undermined by a congregation who are bored by the Christian Gospel.

      7. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        “Mind you, I think the reforms did achieve, if not “full conscious and active participation” at least “fuller conscious and active participation,” if for no other reason than the use of the vernacular. ”

        I would add: the *audible* vernacular, realizing that there are of course some people for whom the audibility can be more of a hindrance than a help to their best mode of participation. I generalize without implying a universalization.

      8. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        “Well, it is certainly possible that the reforms utterly failed to achieve what the Council sought.”

        Possible, but in most situations, more likely that reforms ill-implemented or even sabotaged reflect the failure of specific communities. Blame the leaders? As a leader I’m conscious of the responsibility for what lies beneath the externals of participative liturgy, namely the universal call to holiness.

        I recognize that the combination of ethnic Catholic culture, the Latin Mass, clericalism, and all were not working 50-100 (or 400) years ago and do not work today. It is possible that elements of these match up with baptismal holiness. But the discernment 50 years ago was a break, a rupture if you will, and new territory. As much as we exalt participation, let’s be mindful that like liturgy itself, it is a means to an end. As was the Council: the start of something big, not the end itself.

      9. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        No, Fr Anthony, it is quite possible to intend to fix something and then make it worse to the point that what needed fixing in the first place still works better. You seem to wrongly believe that intending something to be better automatically translates into successfully making it better. People used to think cigar smoking was great for asthma – with such good intentions how on earth could they be wrong?

        If you wish to tell yourself that I simply misunderstand or am dishonest, then fine. I wish you luck in the mission of your blog.

      10. @Jack Wayne:
        Dear Jack,

        Where you and I agree is that the reforms have not (yet) been 100% successful. The task was so huge, the need so great, the cultural shift called for so monumental, that the implementation of the reforms could not but be checkered. There have been plenty of mistakes and misunderstandings and bad taste and all the rest.

        But there is a reason why Mother Church called for it. And as Jonathan points out, it is a reform process going on since at least Pius X (recall the massive redistribution of Office psalms he ordered in 1911 – a rupture if there ever was one). The vision put forth at Vatican II is correct. It is the Catholic understanding of liturgy now.

        The most important task of the church, going forward, is for everyone to come together, affirm the reforms of Vatican II (and of the previous 50 or so years), and work together to implement them as well as possible.

        The decision to approve the 1962 liturgy is a disaster. It is divisive. It undercuts the V2 reforms. It sows confusion and misunderstanding everywhere. It has put the wind in the sails of those who want to fight V2 and hold to an understanding of liturgy different from the Church’s (yes, that vision has evolved and changed in the last 50-100 years, so we can speak of the 1962 vision of liturgy as not the Church’s vision, as no longer the Church’s vision).

        All the problems in the world in the celebration of the liturgy of Paul VI do not give reason for abandoning the Church’s understanding of liturgy and retreating to an earlier era with it’s inadequate liturgy – no matter how appealing that now-obsolete liturgy may be emotionally.


  10. Yves Congar’s definition of Tradition in “True and False Reform in the Church” is quite appropriate here:
    “A “return to the tradition” does not necessarily mean binding today’s Catholic to the literal acceptance of a contingent expression of Christian thought or life from some moment in the past (however venerable it might be as a part of the concrete fabric of the church). Such an expression is not identified with the essential structure of the church and in fact remains (in its material expression) something outdated and belongs to the past […]
    Returning to tradition means absolute respect for ecclesial expressions that are permanent and always viable, and a critical and intelligent respect for transitional forms, in a spirit of loyal respect and affection for all the forms. It means earnestly studying the very sources of Catholicism. It means being penetrated by the spirit of the church – going beyond what the church said with respect to a particular problem in the past – penetrated by the spirit that inspired the church’s response, by what the church thinks at its deepest, by what it has said and wishes to say through us with respect to the problems of the present time. To return to principles, to “go back to the sources”, as we say now, means to rethink the situation in which we find ourselves in the light and in the spirit of everything that the integrity of the tradition teaches us about the meaning of the church.”

  11. This post made me think a bit about ‘tradition’ and its seeming polarization between those who say ‘tradition’ is old stuff and those who say that what we have post Vatican II IS ‘tradition.’

    I think both positions have merit, but both may be subject to critique.

    Our post Vat. II definition of ‘tradition’ is conditioned by the fact that increasingly from the 19th century, even earlier, the Church was becoming more centralised, and the Papal power (as opp. to its ‘authority’) more pervasive. This enabled the radical reforms of the Breviary of 1911, the Holy Week reforms of the 1950’s and finally the Vatican II reforms to be mandated for the whole Latin Rite.

    Pius V had not yet reached that point. He recognised that though his 1570 Missal was to become the norm, still there were ancient traditions (Ambrosian, Dominican, Diocesan, etc) which might take precedence. In other words, liturgical tradition was still to a limited extent the affair of what Vatican II was to call the ‘Local Church’ and remained so.

    So with this centralisation, it’s possible to maintain that the recent reforms are ‘tradition’ and that is the end of the matter.

    However, ‘tradition’ has other shades and senses to it. First of these I would number ‘connectivity’ or even ‘communion’ with the ‘tradition of the Fathers.’ Here, some people see the Vatican II reforms as discontinuous with that ‘pristina norma patruum.’ It seems to me that given the slow and ‘organic’ development of the liturgical tradition over centuries, such connectivity was maintained until our own time. This is important psychologically, surely.

    On this understanding of ‘tradition’ I can well understand how the argument about ‘rupture’ has some merit. While I can see how the EF Mass might be held to ‘connect’ with the ‘tradition,’ I can also see how radically it treated the texts and rites which preceded it. So is ‘traditional’ really right on this understanding?

    I think the issue is more complex than simply seeing what we have now as ‘tradition’…


    1. @Alan Griffiths:
      “On this understanding of ‘tradition’ I can well understand how the argument about ‘rupture’ has some merit.”

      Except for these things:

      Post-1570 found the Roman Rite in an unusual period of stasis. After three to five centuries, seeds were planted in the Roman world for saints, liturgical traditions, and the richness that was later expressed in Europe east and west. If the same flowering had been permitted in Asia, Latin America, Africa the liturgy worldwide would be far richer and more diverse today. The world’s most Catholic country, the Philippines has been in the faith for what? a bit more than four centuries? Two saints and no rite. What was the situation for pagan Rome mid-5th century? A bit more, it seems. Call it power or authority or whatever you wish; looks like infantilism.

      Rupture, even going from one good to another, is part of the Christian life for those marrying, commencing parenthood, and even those entering religious life or seminary. Continuity over the course of a lifetime is actually antithetical to the Christian life, especially when one considers the need to discern God’s will, and especially in our struggles with sin. Not to mention the biological reality of aging from childhood to death. Exalting continuity at the expense of other values is a serious spiritual danger.

  12. The discussion on giving and getting as well as meditation is interesting. I wonder if it is reflective less of the form than how well or not Mass is celebrated by communities. The modern Roman Rite doesn’t *order* the priest or other ministers to provide for silence, or mandate the length of it. If such persons are waiting for it to be written in red or arranged with bells, etc., the modern rite presumes, perhaps unwisely, that the liturgy will be well-celebrated. With attention to such things as silence.

    Likewise, the truth of it is that people with various tastes in worship indeed go to Mass to “get” something. Perhaps they are aware of a sense of sacrifice, of something that is asked of them to give in return. But some people in both forms have no such sense. They go to get. Little to no sense of sacrifice, even in the TLM.

  13. Jordan Zarembo : the EF is, in some respects, more suited to a meditative preparation for the unconditional giving of the self at the communion.

    Why would the giving of oneself happen at communion? Shouldn’t it happen at the offertory, during the Eucharistic prayer? What does this say about sacrifice?

    I would say this is the major problem with the EF, that the offering is not done with and in Christ, but only to Christ.

    In the OF, Communion comes after the many have been gathered into Christ, and prepares them to be dispersed back to the hills. It is a celebration of what God has given and humans have made of it, of grain and bread, of grapes and wine, of Christ and ourselves.

    Of course, the EF can be celebrated with the same awareness. If it is, great! It just doesn’t seem like it is set up to offer ourselves while the priest can barely be heard, while his gestures are blocked from view, etc.

    1. @Jim McKay:

      Yes, holy communion is but one example from the Mass. Self-giving, the sacrifice of the self, is possible at all points in the Mass as you note. Did you not read my account of the negation of the will and pride, the acceptance of the will of Christ? How is this not a sacrifice? This emptying and emptiness is certainly with and in Christ. How else could it be understood?

      The question of ad orientem is a non-issue, a worn cliche, at this point. Most certainly it is not necessary to see the priest and the eucharistic prayer to know that the Sacrifice is being offered to the Father and for our benefit. Why would not seeing impede giving? If anything, not seeing should enhance giving, as one trusts in what he or she cannot apprehend, but still offers the humble and contrite self.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo:

        My apologies Jordan. I did not mean to post that note. Your posts often puzzle me, and so I try to look at the issues you raise to clarify them for myself. I rarely post this notes, and should not have posted this one.

        I don’t want to get into a EF vs OF discussion, but I was trying to connect your comments with the thread topic. I think you know my position, that he EF is my scapegoat for WWII, fascism, etc. those seem like much more serious consequences than low church attendance!

        I suppose I was kicking around the idea that inattention while attending is not much different from non attendance. That’s why I mentioned obstacles to paying attention in the EF. You praise many of these obstacles which is very foreign to me. I find it puzzling, so I try to find different ways of seeing it. My apologies if those attempts offend you, that is never my intent.

      2. @Jim McKay:
        No, Jim, I am not offended. I am not a good listener to you and others here at PTB either. I am often afraid that I will veer off the path into Jansenism (hence the obsession with low Mass and austerity). Jansenius’s theology is very, very attractive to me. I know, however, that the Jesuits were right in the end: no person could adhere to Jansenius’s teachings, as he created a system which demanded a perfection greater than that of our Lord and our Lady!

        Actually I often think about your theories about the liturgical reformation and the moral atrocities of the last century. This is a plausible theory that could be explored further. My research is in later Latin, not liturgy as a facilitator or combatant of moral evil. Yet, what you often write swims around in my head.

  14. I respect the old liturgy, which I still remember from my youth, for what it was and for what it meant to those who came before us, especially those who lived under persecution, but I have no desire to return to it. As another contributor points out, time moves in only one direction. Any return to the church of Pius XII — in liturgy or anything else — would be an artificial and highly selective reconstruction. The world has moved on since 1956. So has the Church.

    Who really wants to return to celebrating the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday morning, in broad daylight and an almost empty church?

  15. Part of the problem with discussing the liturgical reform is that everyone opposed to it means something different. Some believe that the Holy Week reforms of 1955 went wrong, others that the problems started much earlier. Yet others say that if we could go back to the Mass of 1962, all would be well.

    Personally – and I hope that this is consistent with the Pray Tell view – I think that “the liturgical reform” began decades before Vatican II, and that the changes made through Vatican II were the culmination of work begun around the turn of the 20th century, or even earlier. I also hold that the reforms were both necessary and good for the Church. I think Anthony is right that the Council and Pope Paul never intended the old rite to continue as it was.

    With that said, I also see that there have been mistakes along the way, less in the form of the new rites than in the way that some communities celebrate them. Mistakes happen. Sometimes great singers hit a false note. Sometimes brilliant preachers deliver dull homilies. Liturgiam Authenticam, as just one example, was a colossal mistake.

    But there’s a critical difference. As best I can see, it’s impossible to hew either to the intent or to the letter of Liturgiam Authenticam and end up with a good liturgical translation. Lit Auth is a “deep mistake”; it’s structurally flawed.

    On the other hand, it is possible to follow both the intent and the letter of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the GIRM and the text of the reformed Mass and have a liturgy that is reverent, joyful, participative, with the complementarity of the vertical and horizontal that Anthony describes above.

    One other difference: mistakes like Liturgiam Authenticam and Universae Ecclesiae were the product of one papacy and one Vatican congregation. The reforms that produced the normative rite of Mass came from multiple popes, from an ecumenical Council, and from every public celebration of Mass by every pope since Paul VI. These changes are weightier. They can’t be set aside.

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