More on Liturgical Shaming

Pray Tell has posted before on liturgical shaming – see the good comments of William Bornhoft on why it is inappropriate.

Now David Gibson has taken up the story for RNS: “‘Liturgy shaming’ is a growing internet phenomenon. But is it a vice or a virtue?

On the one side is William Bornhoft:

When we feel the urge to make a nasty comment or post a scandalous photo of liturgical abuse online, we should ask ourselves whether it’s love of the Church that is guiding our hearts, or a sense of entitled judgement.

But there is the other side. As Gibson writes,

[F]or many old-school Catholics, the liturgical innovations unleashed by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s are to blame for every measurable decline and perceived ill in Catholicism since that time.

Moreover, since the Mass is the center of Catholic worship and the Eucharist is the holy core of that celebration, anything that appears to diminish the sobriety or seriousness of the liturgy is tantamount to sacrilege and therefore merits strong action.

And this attitude is exemplified by Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society:

[L]iturgy shaming works by pressuring church authorities to take action so the perpetrators “will never again gloat over their implied heresy or their liturgical abuses.”

I think liturgical shaming is bad – really, really bad. In fact, I think we Catholics, perhaps more than any other major religious tradition, need to do a lot of repentance for our online behavior. When Catholic talk about liturgy – or any other religious question – we are famous for our hateful nastiness.

If I were a seeker looking for a church to join and got all my knowledge from internet, I’d see the Facebook and blog discussions carried out by Catholics… and run as far as possible in the opposite direction. If religion makes me like that, why would I want to have anything to do with it? If that’s how they treat one another, why would I want to be a part of them??

This is about reverence – the very term used by the conservative shamers as they attack the ‘abuses’ they perceive in the liturgy. We Catholics need to have more reverence – not just for the ritual and its proper execution, but for one another. We need to have a stronger sense that we are the Mystical Body of Christ. Before any Catholic posts an online comment to another Catholic, he or she should have a strong sense of sharing in the same Bread of Life as the other person, being bound together by the same liturgy and the same sacraments.

“See how they love one another” – wouldn’t it be nice if people said that about Catholics online? What if we Catholic were known for our liturgical spirituality, for our strong sense of being connected to one another by our rites? What if others thought that our rites must be pretty powerful, since they have such a noticeable effect on our treatment of one another online?

I’m certainly not soft on liturgical silliness – I’m very much a by-the-book celebrant. But the liturgy (and the teachings of Our Lord in the Gospels!) tells me not to take the externals of the rite too seriously. I strive not to worry much about what other people are doing wrong. When the most egregious liturgical stupidity comes across my screen, I think to myself that it probably doesn’t anger or offend Jesus, and nor should it me. Perhaps he’s a bit saddened, but surely in a very loving way. I don’t need to be put out on his behalf. Nobody appointed me his guardian or protector.

I don’t buy the argument that online protests are necessary because the bishops are lax and have to be bullied into doing their job of policing the rites. This is self-aggrandizement. If I have to report a liturgical abuse to the bishop (I’ve never done so in my life), I would do so and then leave it at that. He’s the bishop, not I. Whether he acts or not is his decision, and after doing my part I should let go of it. I should strive to be at peace in a church where I’m celebrating the rites as I think best, but others are doing other crazy things that are mostly none of my business. This is the spiritual virtue of detachment.

So, what do you say? Here’s to more reverence. Let’s all be the online Body of Christ.







  1. I doubt this line of objection will have any chance of *effective success* unless it is made in a context where it cuts against the polemical interests of the side of which the objector is likely associated. Otherwise, it’s very likely going to be discounted as self-serving tone policing (since I’ve engaged in more than my share of the latter, understand where I am coming from…) Consequentialism frequently appears in rhetorical overkill in online liturgical discussions across the Catholic spectrum (insert here objection about false equivalence; duly noted). That’s what needs to be named and owned – and first by any objectors who’ve done it themselves.

    Liturgy is a public act. In the day of smart phones, always assume any act or omission can and will be broadcast. The reason I say what should be obvious is that I am regularly struck at how American Catholic parish staffs are often *far* behind the technology culture curve in day to day parish life.

  2. When Crux re-published Gibson’s essay it included a color photo of a clown walking down the center aisle in what could have been a church, and greeting those present. It reminded me of Rolf Forsberg’s short film Parable that first came out at the time of Vatican II and that allowed many viewers including myself to appreciate the shame of the cross as well as the pain so often depicted. Considered in isolation it would seem blasphemous to many (sound familiar?), but as a one-time event inspired by that film it might help those present to make a connection between the Messiah’s shame and glory.

  3. I agree with KLS here. There is much shaming in the world, and on issues far more personal and damaging than liturgy, even for those of us well-invested in ars celebrandi.

    Like the religious freedom meme, I think Christians would do better to focus on the shaming not of themselves, but of others. Are our parishes, schools, universities, web sites, and other media organs free of shaming people who look and act differently from the perspective of the bullies? Are these bullies given more or less free reign because of a pastor’s or administration’s open door policy? Do we make an effort to correct an ideological peer, thus endangering our own cred with the flock in which we fly?

  4. I would imagine that the founder\foundress of basically every religious order in history would have hard time with this article. Basically all of them mandated the “Chapter of Faults” in which monks\nuns\etc were corrected by their confreres. When there is a right and a wrong – it’s not shaming to correct someone in error. When they refuse to listen, the Gospel tells us to try harder. When they still don’t listen, “even to the Church” they are to be cast into the wilderness. I just don’t find anything in the teaching of Jesus that says hurt feelings should triumph over the truth. After all, should we call it “shaming” when Jesus called His onlookers a “brood of vipers?” That said, I’m all for doing any and everything it takes to correct someone – whether that’s simple instruction or hurting someone’s feelings. If we’re talking about heaven and hell, then anything less isn’t love – it’s pride.

    1. @Fr. Ryan Humphries:
      You’re making a category error. Serious moral fault is one thing; not following the rituals is quite another. The rubrics are not of divine institution, for heaven’s sake. What the religious founders set up around culpa chapter, what the Scriptures say about correcting one another – this is not about something as secondary as liturgical and ritual propriety.

      The Gospels are quite clear that what is important is a pure heart, not simply an outward disposition that looks more reverent and behaves a certain way. I am convinced that liturgical shaming does not express a pure heart, but an unhealthy obsession with the wrong things.

      There is a case to be made for liturgical propriety, though I won’t make it here. There is a place for encouraging fellow Christians to better liturgical practice. But liturgical shaming is wildly out of proportion to the problem and wholly unsuited to its goal.


  5. Thank you for this article. I agree with it. I have stopped participating in many online conversations (including the “professional” ones) regarding Catholic Liturgy because I find it so distressing to my spirit. I’ve been doing this work for more than 40 years and I will be the first to acknowledge choices that I have made from my own sinful pride over the years. Fortunately, God is good. I have learned that if we do this work open to God’s grace, then we can’t do this work and not be changed. Instead of participating in the negative conversation, I go to prayer and will continue to ask Our Blessed Mother to intercede on our behalf for healing within the Liturgical Life of the Church. We need to take a hard look at our own behavior if we expect there to be any reverence in the Liturgy. God has placed a desire in my spirit to work towards returning Sunday Worship to the heart of Parish life. I am convinced that for that to happen, those of us who are in leadership must live our Faith as we proclaim to believe. We are taught that Christ is truly present in Word and Sacrament. How do we proclaim this and then treat each other in such a sinful manner? This question should make each of us feel some healthy shame and make amends in our respective ministries.

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