Traditionalist Tragedy in Saginaw

The National Catholic Register reports the tragic, heartbreaking story of a young priest and pastor, Fr. Edwin Dwyer, being removed by Bishop Hurley because his promotion of more traditional worship had divided the parish. According to NCReg, Fr. Dwyer introduced liturgical elements such as “incense and bells, the traditional black cassock and white surplice for altar boys, and Latin and Gregorian chant.”

You can read the sad details at the NCReg – but of course you know that NCReg puts a particular (right-leaning) spin to its reporting. Take that into account.

A Pastoral Challenge That Won’t Go Away

Stories like this are on the increase, folks. Some younger priests are pushing this kind of thing. Some seminaries are setting loose such clergy on the church.

How do we respond to such pastoral tragedies? How should we think about them? What is the most constructive way forward when this problem arises? What will build up the Church?

It’s important we deal with such questions, since they will keep arising in the future. We might as well start now at learning all that we can from our experiences, and refining our response.

How Not to Respond

From a Christian standpoint, the worst possible response is to pick sides, defend one’s own side, and attack the other side. That just pushes the other side to harden its position, and increases the polarization.

Worst-case scenario: the ‘liberals’ are hardened in their opposition to incense, Latin chant, and traditional ceremonial; the ‘traditionalists’ are more convinced than ever that the official documents and canon laws that they (selectively) cite are the voice of God.

Hermeneutical hell: ‘liberals’ support Vatican II, which was, you know, really about vernacular, inculturation, active participation, and generally lighting things up; but ‘traditionalists’ are convinced that Vatican II preserved Latin, gave pride of place to Gregorian Chant, and mostly affirmed the Council of Trent (until liberals hijacked it).

My Bias

We all bring our biases to such situations. Here are some of mine.

I have a deep love for the liturgical and musical tradition of the Catholic Church, especially Gregorian chant. In the abbey I succeeded in getting incense added to the opening procession of Mass every Sunday, argued successfully against changing the acolytes’ vestures from cassock and surplice to alb, increased the Latin chant Masses in the daily Mass binder from one to four when the new Missal translation came in, and began having even the Sunday Mass congregation (with more guests) singing Mass parts in Latin chant some times during the year.

I’m also 100% committed to the Second Vatican Council. I’m more convinced than ever that the Council intended a salutary rupture – indeed, a paradigm shift – in Catholic worship. There’s no other way to make sense of a shift from a liturgy done essentially by clergy while laity prayerfully follow along (or pray privately) to a liturgy at which the entire congregation, of course under the leadership of the ordained priest, is the liturgical agent. I’ve become increasingly skeptical of the “hermeneutic of continuity” and the Reform of the Reform agenda, to the extent that it misses the deep structure of the Council texts which really does call for a sort of rupture and paradigm shift.

So What about Saginaw?

I have deliberately avoided commenting on the situation in Saginaw. I’m too far away. I don’t know the people or the history well enough to do so responsibly. I assume good will and good intentions on all sides. I assume everyone is doing what they think is best for the church. My comments must remain more general.

What about the Future?

This may sound overly optimistic to some, but I have to hope that the Saginaw skirmish, and all such situations, are the growing pains of a church moving toward a better understanding and implementation of Vatican II. I have to trust in the good pastoral sense of our bishops. If the disasters keep piling up and getting more unbearable, a reaction will set in, and the bishops will eventually intervene (individually and collectively) appropriately. If the Reform of the Reform / Hermeneutic of Continuity agenda does enough pastoral damage, in time the Spirit will raise up a better ‘agenda’ to supersede it.

Allow me to offer some initial thoughts on what this might look like.

There are tensions and seeming contradictions between the pastoral shift of the Second Vatican Council and the seemingly traditionalist tone of its statements on the preservation of chant and the Latin language and the pipe organ and traditional music and the like. This is the tension between my own biases, identified above, that are traditionalist but also admit that the pastoral shift is a real paradigm shift.

Here’s the key: the pastoral shift of the Second Vatican Council has priority over its traditionalist statements. Your starting point cannot be the traditionalist statements. You can’t turn them into an agenda. Your starting point has to be reformed vision of liturgy which puts people’s participation first, takes seriously people’s cultural context, respects their history and experiences of worship, and values their convictions as fellow members of the priestly People of God. And however much you esteem tradition, you have to acknowledge that the Council saw the preconciliar liturgy as inadequate and in need of reform.

Only when the commitment to that pastoral vision is in place can one begin to think about the traditionalist statements of the Council. At most, within a communal and participative mindset, there can be a sort of “preferential option” for Latin chant and traditional music and the rest. But those things are never ends in themselves. They are introduced only to the extent that they fit into the larger pastoral vision.

This is the only approach that works, in my experience. There is something kenotic and paschal about all this. Only when one has real detachment from one’s cherished things, only when one has let go of them, only when one has been purified of idolatrous attachment to them, does one develop a sense for how best to make use of them – lovingly, respectfully, humbly.


Let us hope that there doesn’t have to be too many more Saginaw disasters before we get to a better place. Let us hope that many voices will rise up and make their contribute to a better understanding of the Second Vatican Council.

Oh, and let us hope that our good bishops deal soon with the seminary problem. If our seminaries are not fit for purpose, if they are turning out too many “little monsters” (to quote the pope), then fix them. If seminary leadership is not up to the task, then get rid of it. Now.



  1. The reason people promote Latin, or chant, or other traditional practices isn’t because they see them as ends in themselves. Nobody looks at the documents, sees that chant should have pride of place, and then works/sacrifices to implement it just because Vatican II said so. They do it because they believe it will lead the people to an even deeper participation in the liturgy. For people born after the reform, they likely had a transformative experience coming into contact with it and other traditional practices followed by disbelief that those practices were “kept” from them their whole lives and shock once they read the council documents themselves.

    As for the situation in Saginaw – it’s hard to assess what really happened based on the article. One would have to better know what the parish’s liturgy was like before since bells, incense, and cassocks aren’t exactly shocking to see in the Midwest and don’t denote a priest/church as being “traditionalist” per se. Chant is more unusual, but has become increasingly common even in “middle of the road” churches for Advent and Lent. I suspect a lot of anguish was caused if there was a shift to male-only altar servers, which the article sort of mentions. One would also need to know the priest’s disposition both during Mass and among the people outside of Mass, as that can really affect how people perceive any changes implemented and can really make or break the success of a traditional practice being introduced. Maybe the priest has a cold or off-putting personality or is uncooperative. I’ve met one priest who has implemented a whole bunch of traditional practices in a church that was known for not having them, yet everyone seems to love him to pieces (and people in traditionalist circles are very likely to hear other people’s often tactless and unsolicited complaints about these sorts of thing). He’s a warm person who implemented some traditional changes to the church with an eye towards also accommodating the elderly and disabled.

    1. You mention a larger pastoral vision…a communal, participative mindset which must first be present and I wonder if that’s what was missing in the case of this parish?
      Or, could it be that what the pastor was attempting was perceived as working against such a pastoral vision? Did anyone ask the people why they opposed what he was trying to do?

      The reason I ask is because in a place like San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral there is a service in which you might encounter the smells and bells and music from various periods of the church’s rich musical tradition like Gregorian or Anglican Chant, polyphony, and much more and even parts of the ordinary by composers like Langlais and Durufle and modern composers in the Anglican tradition etc and it’s beautifully presented.

      But it’s all part of a larger pastoral vision which involves outreach and mission and programs which are informative and transformative and seek to make our world a better place. And there are a variety of worship experiences etc

      There are webcasts on their website

      Did the parish in question have a larger pastoral vision? What was it? Why were the people not in favor of what the priest was attempting?

  2. Every unhappy parish is unhappy in its own way: the difficult-to-describe human elements almost always get lost by the easier-to-describe elements.

    Having left a beloved parish seven years ago after three years of trying to endure and work with a ham-fisted new leadership intent on bringing its peculiar form of liturgical orthodoxy to bear on a parish that didn’t ask for it, as it were, I am sensitive to this. I am also currently in a parish whose leadership may be on the threshold of bringing about an opposite shift to bear that could lead to an exodus of a significant number of regular parishioners without much care about that. And I’ve lived through iterations of this thrice before these most recent examples. So, yes, this kind of experience touches a long-addled nerve for me, which long addling has caused me to step back and observe from different angles and at different levels than is perhaps “typical” (not better, just different; the only thing that’s better about the shift is that it *may* help me resist the temptation of nurturing the poison of resentment).

    The “key” of “the pastoral shift of the Second Vatican Council has priority over its traditionalist statements” is a limited key (one that I agree with, but have come to understand as part of a longer Providential rupture unfolding over the course of the 20th century and still unfolding), not a universal solvent/widget.

    Over the decades, I’ve witnessed many assumptions – some spoken, many unspoken – in service of that key AND other hermeneutical “keys”. Accompanied by much cherry-picking all around, and much reverse-engineered rationalization posing as various forms of argument (the portion serving as prolepsis has grown over time….) Ministries are attracted (or repelled) and a human structure forms around the assumptions and then praxis comes to serve that local structure rather than the ostensible ultimate ends. Over time, people become loathe to step back and identify the assumptions and seek solid evidence what choices truly serve the ostensible goals (liturgy is often an evidence-free zone of discussion; rich in anecdotes, but evidence turns out to be quicksilver).

    What are our assumptions?
    What evidence have we gathered over a long period of time that our actions and omissions guided by those assumptions truly serve best (as compared to other actions and omissions that my be guided by different assumptions) that/whom we say we’re hoping to serve?
    How often do we engage in liturgical acts/omissions that go deeply against our own grain/preference, and what’s with that?
    Whom are we repelling or not serving well?
    How do we know?
    How are we perhaps moving away from a mistake/error/evil and in the process embracing another with a nifty set of reasons/rationalizations?

    TL:DR version: there are more human issues in play that are relatively orthogonal to faithful discipleship than we may prefer to imagine or realize.

  3. I think pastors of any stripe can appreciate two concerns:

    1) Pulling the rug out from under people, regardless of the direction it is being pulled, causes turmoil.

    2) Relatedly, secondary and tertiary effects must be considered and anticipated. Making a change without teeing it up properly will have longlasting effects.

    A parish traumatized by a priest who changed everything (again, regardless of the direction) will probably take years to recover. On base, I hear about the silly deeds of pastors from a decade ago.

    1. So, as in the 1960’s? When the proverbial “rug” was pulled out from under all Catholics when their liturgy was all but abolished and their churches destroyed? Who were not “teed up” properly before the sweeping reforms that ended the faiths and hopes of many who couldn’t keep up?

      I suppose it doesn’t feel so great on the other side of things, as we’re coming full circle, now, does it? :/

      1. So, payback time, eh?
        I hope the revenge is satisfying to you – but in my experience, it never is.
        (Been there, done that.)

  4. First, THANK YOU – excellent statement and personal analysis based upon your experience.
    Second, my lived parish experience echoes Liam Saur – best that can be said when going through an authoritarian change is SAD!
    Third, Mr. Casey’s first principle – sums it up completely.
    If the liturgical change is done secretly, without input, with no explanation or education, without the VII documents context, etc. then, you know something has gone off the rails.

  5. I appreciate Anthony’s always thoughtful comments about the liturgy, the reform, and the conflicts that are coming up in today’s church.

    Permit me one aside: I do not think this situation in Saginaw qualifies as a tragedy. As I read the news, there are a lot of red herrings and distractions mixed into the telling of this tale. But what has really happened here? A pastor whose actions are polarizing the parish and causing dismay among the parishioners is asked by the diocesan administrator to stand aside for a cool-down period and evaluation. He refuses. The administrator says, OK, then I am taking you out.

    First rule of long life in a hierarchical system: Don’t buck your superior and don’t refuse to compromise. Give in graciously, even if it pains you. The admin. gave him a chance to negotiate a peaceful way through this conflict. Instead, the guy dug in his heels and claimed he was saving the parish from dwindling Mass attendance. Thereby escalating the conflict.

    What the administrator did was in the service of the long life of the parish. Dial down the temperature, then address the real issues. The pastor won’t play. So, out he goes, still proclaiming his innocence, and becomes a martyr to the cause of traditionalist liturgy in the National Catholic Register. Nobody wins.

    The “tragedy,” if there is one here, is that the megaphone of national attention is being applied to a case that ought to be handled at the lowest possible level.

    1. Rita,

      You have articulated precisely my own thoughts on this unfortunate episode!

      When I first read about this at Whispers, my initial conclusions were the same as yours. As a priest, don’t refuse to obey your Ordinary or Administrator.

      But on more mature reflection, it is clear, as Shaughn Casey stated, that anyone who doesn’t merely introduce or propose but in fact imposes changes without some form of consultation is asking for trouble. In doing so, the priest created turmoil. If the reportage can be believed, it was only a small coterie of parishioners who protested the changes, but once again, proper consultation ahead of time would have helped to avoid this.

      Again, if the reportage can be believed, there was nothing particularly dramatic about the changes the priest introduced. In that sense, I think to focus on the “traditional—progressive” divide may cause us to lose sight of the bigger issue, which is one of power v. authority.

      If there is one lesson that can be learned, it is that we no longer live in a Church where clerics can ride roughshod over the people they are supposed to be serving in the interests of furthering an agenda, whether progressive or retrogressive. We need to work collaboratively, talking through proposals and positions, debating practices and methods, so that, even when total consensus is impossible, as it most often is, at least the parties involved will know that they have been heard, and how the point was reached at which the decision was taken, and why.

      Power is all very well, but if you can’t command respect you have no authority. Collaborative working seems to me to be the optimum way of showing and gaining respect.

  6. I know a couple pastors who fill (actually, overflow) their rural Midwestern pews each weekend, yet have implemented versus Deum orientation on a rotation, use incense, bells, sometimes chant a Latin ordinary, and have even been spotted (tho not always) in Roman vestments. One of them has started a regular Mass in the EF. And yes, I do mean “overflow”. On my last visit, the choir loft of one of these churches (still used by musicians, too) had about 60 overflow seats installed — they were quite at capacity. Just a few short years before, that parish was dying, and slated for closure.

    Here’s the thing, tho. Neither of them expects their liturgical changes to preach the Gospel for them. Neither of them expects their liturgical changes to fill the pews. They work their tails off, going above and beyond, to meet the faithful and to cultivate a relationship with them of trust and love. One rides a circuit each weekend, rather than close hometown churches, as he knows this will devastate his flock, and that they must be reached with the Gospel before that’s even possible. They invest personally of their own time in the youth of the parish (actually, if you asked, they probably don’t believe their time is their own — it belongs to God’s people), and they don’t delegate catechetics or personal evangelization in order to devote themselves to running the fiscal or educational side of their parishes. Those, they are comfortable largely delegating to competent professionals, so that they can be fathers, teachers, and shepherds, not mid-level managers.

    With the liturgy reforms themselves, they are gentle and passionate. One is a former parish DoM himself, and very much knows the ropes. It’s not ad orientem all the time. It is, however, using occasionally, for instance, the historic and beautiful altar that great-grandparents donated, and feeling that communion across time, that healing communion in which these beautiful things, gestures, orientations, sounds, smells, garments, ancient words still belong to the Church, even now, and can be used, not with fear and reactionism, but with love and joy, in the context of a personal, fervent encounter with the Gospel and the person of Jesus.

    I wish I could communicate to you the joy of these young priests as they serve their people, and the love their people so obviously have towards them. Being pastoral is not a set of liturgical choices. It is a relationship cultivated with the faithful that disposes them to hear the Gospel from _you_, and to encounter the Lord Jesus through _your_ ministry.

    With that relationship, many things are possible. The people trust you, love you, and will follow you. Without it, almost nothing is possible.

    That relationship can be sabotaged by the priest himself, but also by those within the community who sow the seeds of discord and practice the politics of resistance. I’ve sadly seen both.

    1. Spot on. I have encountered priests who promoted “progressive” agendas of various sorts and found themselves with swelling ranks. The usual commonality is population growth in a community. But the intentional aspect that will grow a parish is evangelization, making disciples, and cultivating spiritual gifts. How the liturgy gets done outside the realm of simple quality is pretty much irrelevant. Fr Dwyer is an innocent if he thinks his liturgical m.o. will stuff the pews. If his movement really did result in new or more committed parishioners, he did well with a target group. Thing is, a pastor can’t pick and choose which sheep stay in the flock.

      1. The demographic dimension may be said to have external and internal subparts. Much depends on what is and is not on offer elsewhere within a reasonable ambit of time and space. This can both encourage a shift or discourage it: I’ve witnessed both in practice (some pastors and associated leaders may see it as an opportunity to explore, others dreading the same). But it’s a consideration that is often neglected, and in the meanwhile faithful move on (and sometimes out).

      2. Thanks for the response! Community is key. I’ve seen priests achieve it across the board, only with half, or, saddest of all, fail to do so with either the naturally conservative or the naturally liberal. In the latter case, they are caricatured as reactionaries and “modernists” simultaneously. Ironic and pathetic to watch.

      3. Interesting that he styles himself as Pater Eddie Dwyer but then talks about Angus Dei not once but twice.

      4. I hadn’t noticed that, but when American Catholic priests do that, it comes across as LARPing as a character in certain kinds of English novels of the mid-20th century. Then again, LARPing exists at the other end of things, too.

      5. The “Pater” thing is something more than a few priests do to work around a change in Facebook policy that saw their accounts automatically suspended or banned for use of Father or Padre.

      6. But I do a search at Facebook for “Padre” or “Father” and dozens of such account names that haven’t been suspended come up.

    2. Uh, versus Deum?? I thought God was everywhere.

      As one wag said, we think of God as up in heaven more than at the back wall… so shouldn’t priests celebrate lying on their back facing the skies? 🙂

      1. Using a great circle route for direction can lead to unexpected orientation…. (fortune cookie says)

      2. Hi, Father!

        Wasn’t sure which terminology was preferred here, so I shotgunned and used it all, to see what would draw a response!

        Now I know!

      3. Father, contrary to what one wag said those of us who do celebrate facing east don’t do so to face a wall; I know this is a joke.

        For the last four years our community has celebrated the Liturgy facing east. We have received two complaints in four years both from visitors. We made the change from facing the people to facing in the same direction as the people after six weeks of catechesis.

        We don’t offer Mass facing east to turn the presider’s back to the people, we do it so we are all facing in one direction, all praying in one direction. We do it so that priest does not become the center of attention. We do it so priest and people are on the “same side” of the altar. We also face east because we “await in blessed hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” East is the direction from where the Lord will return.

        When the priest addresses the people he turns toward them.

        We do not do it against the reforms of VCII (which as we know along with the current Missal and the Sacramentary before it) never stated that Mass must be offered facing the people.

        Our altar is freestanding, there is no reredos behind it, the candles stand on the floor on the sides of the altar, a large handwritten ikon crucifix hangs in the triumphal arch. We do not withhold the chalice from the assembly in any situation. A forty eight piece “host” is used and broken during the fraction so that at least some of the people can receive from one Bread. The fount is a true immersion pool. So it is hard to stereotype those who offer the Liturgy facing east.

      4. Thank you for this report, Father.
        I’m not opposed to the celebrant facing liturgical east. I am skeptical of those who do so irresponsibly, without catechesis of the people, and in a divisive way. I think it is to address those problems that Pope Francis expressed reserve about the reintroduction of it.

      5. While celebrating with everyone facing the same direction may be one theological ideal, it carries with it an anthropological problem, which is that the priest has his back to everyone else. The signal that this gives is a clericalist one. If the arrangement where everyone is facing the same way is to work well, you need at the least to have a semicircular arrangement, with the priest in the centre of the arc, so that everyone is on the same plane as, or even in front of, the presiding priest.

        I’d also like to give a reminder of what Gordon Truitt said a number of years ago on this blog. I don’t have the exact quote, but it was something like If everyone is facing the altar, the primary symbol of Christ in our midst, from whatever direction, they are all de facto facing in the same direction.

      6. “If everyone is facing the altar, the primary symbol of Christ in our midst, from whatever direction, they are all de facto facing in the same direction.”

        YES very much to the above.

        “The signal that [the ‘traditional’ orientation] gives is a clericalist one.”

        Perhaps, and I can understand how people felt that was so. But over time I’ve come to the sense that it’s not necessarily so. I don’t think liturgical orientation is a hill to die on, and certainly if there were ever to be a Westphalian peace in the Liturgy Wars, I would not rank holding the line against the ‘traditional’ orientation high on the list of must-haves. I got other conciliar reforms way ahead of it. The experiential salience of the initial shift in the mid-1960s (which is precisely when I started to participate in Mass as a younger child – I am part of that small demographic cohort of Catholics who, while baptized in the run-up to or during the Council, might be called the Children of the so-called Interim Missal) is a dimension of the issue that will, um, fade with time.

  7. Supposedly he had told the parish at weekend Masses a few weeks before he began the changes what he was planning to do. That homily was described on FB as “the homily every pastor needs to preach!” (! included) I wonder if there were some non-liturgical issues involved as well.

  8. Lee – here is one online homily that was cited – Its subject is clerical sexual abuse and reporting – not liturgy.
    BTW – doubt many of us would agree with his *reporting* recommendations when it comes to clerical sexual abuse.
    If this is an example of a powerful homily – one wonders!!!!

    Here is the December homily that FB probably references –

    Sorry – the whole focus is on numbers – not mission; building up the body of Christ; etc. 36 yr. old pastor – does raise questions.

    Agree with Rita – leave this to the local bishop. Lots of questions around creating divisions; no mention of the use of parish council; etc. with one parish town hall meeting called. He was also removed from his role of chaplain at a local state college. There is more to the story than just traditional liturgy.

  9. Why are cassocks and surplices (not mentioned at all in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal) ‘traditional’ and albs not?

  10. Mr. Addington – an earlier PTB post –
    Quote – The protocol for this is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which states: “In the Dioceses of the United States, acolytes, altar servers, readers, and other lay ministers may wear the alb or other appropriate and dignified clothing” (No.339).
    …….the alb is not primarily a clerical robe; it is a baptismal garment. As the basic baptismal garment, the alb is the normative vesture for all liturgies. Thus wearing robes at Mass are manifesting their baptismal status.

    The alb brings a sense of dignity to the Mass, which is meant to be glorious, splendid, and beautiful. While this aim will never be fully expressed this side of heaven, we are nevertheless called to prepare and celebrate the liturgy in a way that already points to heaven. As we reach toward the heavenly, all ministers should appear to have a great sense of reverence for their ministry. Wearing an alb will assist with this.

  11. The collapse in Mass attendance throughout the West since Vatican II is a disaster. This collapse has many causes, but there is no doubt that the ugly churches, insipid music, and mindless iconoclasm ushered in after the Council have not brought people back to Mass.

    This priest took the decline in Mass attendance seriously, and was trying to do something about it. And what he was trying has worked elsewhere. I was recently in Texas on a visit, and went to the nearest church for Mass. What I found was a new church with traditional architecture, traditional hymns, traditional attire for the altar boys, plenty of Latin and incense, a well-attended rosary before Mass, and a Mass that was standing room only.

    1. Your analysis of causality is (still) not convincing. Your negativity probably does not help move the broad “center,” with all its inadequacies, in the right direction.

      1. Father,

        I am not arguing that Vatican II caused the precipitous decline in Mass attendance. That is highly debatable. What is not debatable is that the liturgical reforms of Vatican II have not succeeded in arresting, much less reversing that decline. The priest in Saginaw was at least trying to do something to arrest that decline.

        As for the rest of my comments, they are buttressed what many non-Catholics have concluded when looking in. Here is a comment on post-Vatican II music from the Mystery Worshipper website: “The music consisted of the usual artless, tuneless ditties that line the bottom of the pit into which the rich musical heritage of the Church of Rome has fallen.” Popular opinion of contemporary church architecture is, if anything, even more negative.

        And “iconoclasm” is an apt term for the mass tearing up of altar rails and high altars, the mass tearing down of statues, and the mass suppression of processions and devotions that followed Vatican II.. And this all come from the top down, not the bottom up, as even Andrew Greeley noted. If the priest in Saginaw is to be chided for his supposed authoritarianism, what to make of the men who presided over the process described above?

    2. There is much tunnel vision from conservative American Catholics on reasons why church attendance is slipping off a cliff. But it started in Europe and the decline was in place decades prior to Vatican II: two world wars following upheaval and retrenchment of the 1% in the 19th century. The Church is perceived to have failed believers who had to endure the whims of those in power. And indeed, they were impotent against the secular onslaught. The US was rather insulated from destruction, but it was only a matter of time.

      Patrick’s assessment of intentionality is the key. The intentionality can be anywhere on the spectrum of liturgy. A school will work for one segment of the population. Campus ministries. Social justice parishes. Pretty much anything that gets people engaged because they want to be there–not because someone tells them they have to be there.

      As an aside, it doesn’t surprise me that a traditional parish is doing well with one to a few subsets of Catholics. It would surprise me if two or more in close proximity were.

      1. Yes. And I know I keep saying this, but a MAJOR factor in the accelerating decline in attendance was the Humanae Vitae débâcle, in 1968, not the liturgical reforms or the vernacular. If anything, the latter stemmed the exit tide to a large extent.

  12. The thing that caught my attention when reading his defense of his program was that the central argument for the liturgical changes he made was the belief that they’d draw more (young) crowds. This, as I’ve argued previously in assessments of Fr. Michael White’s Rebuilt movement, is a woefully inadequate reason for intstituting liturgical change (even though I’ve personally advocated for some of Fr. Dwyer’s changes in my own parish). Mass is NEVER about getting the most people through your doors as humanly possible, it’s about building a sacramental relationship with the Lord.

    Younger Catholics who’ve stuck around seem to like a more traditional mass, sure, but I’d argue that what brings them (back) to such masses has less to do with a trendy sweet smell of incense and more to do with the contagious sense of reverence, intentionality, and identity that forms the foundation of these celebrations. If you want to introduce Gregorian chant, incense, Latin, etc. to your parish, do it because you want to honor the Lord in the most beautiful way you can, not because it tested well in focus groups.

    Maybe Fr. Dwyer really did have his heart in the right place, and simply thought appealing to the masses was the easiest way to win over the parish. I hope he’s learned the folly of this game, because the moment you frame an even remotely controversial top-down initiative around “it’s what the people want,” the people who don’t want it will make themselves known immediately, and they’ll have extra motivation to use whatever levers of power they can grasp to stop you (something we Americans are all too familiar with these days).

  13. Thank you, Mr. Freese. Would add only one other observation about his intention/homily – the suggested change came from him – top down; not from the people – bottom up. It gets at the authoritarian method which emphasized numbers rather than the principles of VII liturgy – people of God participating fully and actively; building a community by listening (not telling); etc.

  14. Just two points on this story:
    1. The elements the priest was seeking to include in the liturgy could not be described as anything but mainstream Catholic. None needs the permission or approval of the Ordinary to be acceptable.
    2. Could the bishop not have opted for the next level below asking the priest to step aside temporarily, for example, requesting him to have an independent or external review of the situation while remaining in situ?

    I make these observations from a convinced pro-Vatican II perspective.

  15. The issue is not the *elements* – it is the *how* it was implemented. Wonder also about the citation of changing some of the roles/number of EMs (that would raise emotions in some).
    Second – we don’t know the whole story…it is very possible that the bishop tried other approaches with this guy and finally had no other way forward.

  16. It can be easy to come into a new position of authority/responsibility, with the best intentions and enthusiasm, and start firing off shots at “bad” things and introducing “good” things. I know I’ve done it. I have also, more than once, had to do damage control following (my own and others’) over-hasty or poor implementation of things that I would consider “good.” That said, the facebook post of parish meeting notes that was posted above (assuming it is legitimate) is informative:

    The writer specifically states that he has no intention of offering the Extraordinary Form, nor of celebrating Mass Ad Orientem (unless there is a strong desire from the parish). While he does say he will use more Latin in the Ordinary, there is no indication that the rest of mass will include use of Latinr. And he is changing practices mainly at the Sunday late morning masses, rather than getting rid of all the old music at all masses. Specifically, chant will not be used at half of the masses.

    It is also informative to read through all the comments below the facebook post, many of which seem to be from parishioners who are happy and supportive of the changes. And one of the most telling parts of the post is that the writer has to defend use of bells during the Eucharistic prayer (which is simply standard practice in most places, not some kind of traditionalist agenda). If bells were controversial, that would indicate a very low level of liturgical practice and formation at this parish.

    The facebook post, if genuine, tells me that there must be more to the story. Maybe the above changes were enacted in a heavy-handed, uncharitable way, and the conciliatory tone only came after an outcry. Maybe there were other authority issues between this priest and his bishop. It’s hard to know from the outside.

  17. Speaking of facebook, another worthy topic in connection with all this is the effect of e-community on one’s interaction with the actual geographical community one is responsible for. There is a real temptation for us as music directors or priests to implement changes that will look good online and with our self-selected blog/internet community (whether PrayTell or NLM). The endorphin rush caused by affirmation from online respondents (an observed phenomenon of online interaction) can have an effect on our perception of the “grumpy and cranky” people we are actually serving, who do not provide happy chemicals to our brain. Or our perception of our bishop. OR, we can go viral and become a renowned martyr for our cause in seconds, which obscures the whole natural process of discussion and authority structures.

  18. What’s interesting about all of this to me is that the history of pastors at this parish (where I was baptized) is not monolithic. The pastor in the late 70s was about as stereotypical “Vatican II” as you could think of…as my grandmother said “they were dancing in the aisles”.

    In the mid-80s a new pastor was assigned who took the parish on a ‘hard right’ liturgical turn. Only men could serve on the altar in any role…communion under one kind only….fire and brimstone homilies…the mass parts were recited and not sung…no handshake of peace.. Definitely what we would now call “traditional”. His replacement in the mid90s was no rabblerouser but insisted on sung mass parts, let girls be altar servers, etc. This shook up the older parishoners (sound familiar?). In fact, one of this pastor’s “things” was to memorize the gospel and recite it from memory. We used to laugh watching old ladies try to catch him missing a word or two so they could complain to the Bishop.

    Since that time there have been 3 pastors prior to Fr. Dwyer.

    My point here is that there has been substantial change for these parishoners over the years and nothing close to this level of controversy ever happened. So why now? I’ll point to a couple of hypotheses

    (1) In the town this church is situated in, there was 13 territorial parishes as little as 9 years ago. So if the pastor changed and you didn’t like him. You went elsewhere. Now there are 6 parishes–fewer places to go—so people stay and get stubborn.

    (2) Assigning Fr. Dwyer as a ‘parish administrator’ seemed to have in acting the Alexander Hamilton (why do you make changes like you’re running out of time?!?!). It left the parish with whiplash.

    I could offer some different ideas but they’d probably come across as gossip mongering. Regardless—nothing here is a tragedy. Unless poor episcopal decision making in pastoral assignments is considered as such.

  19. Paul, maybe some use the eastward position to be clericalist, but that is not an issue here. As one college student said, “The prayers are all addressed to God, not the people so why not face in the same direction as the people.” Nothing clericalist there.

  20. So, the bishop is chief liturgist of his diocese, unless you don’t like what he says – then you’re free to do as you please and create scandal? Got it.

  21. I started attending a Melkite Greek Catholic parish when my parish stopped offering the Cup — not uncommon around here. I knew Communion was given under both kinds, and I was willing to receive by intinction. Standing during the anaphora was also a draw.

    I was not prepared for the “ful(ly) conscious, and active participation.” Lots of unaccompanied singing, the singing is a component of the liturgy. Two desiderata of the liturgical reform, discovered in a Church that likes to think of its liturgy as ancient, where the priest not only has his back to/faces the same way as the assembly, but does so in a separate Holy Place (no screen, doors open). I was at first surprised to learn that the young enthusiasts of the EF were also frequent visitors to Melkite (and I presume other Eastern) Catholic liturgies.

    I plan to avoid an EF Masses, and I’m nowhere near critical of the post VII liturgical reforms. But I am appreciating the frequent dialogues, repetitions, and gestures in the Eastern Divine Liturgy, and noting how well they involve the assembly in the liturgy. For me, I first went for Communion under both kinds, but I’ve stayed for that full, conscious, and active participation.

    1. “but does so in a separate Holy Place (no screen, doors open).”

      Ann, I assume that this must be a new parish or meets in a Roman church since there is no ikonostas? I would hope that there are plans to erect one as funds are available. The Melkites have been in the forefront of ridding themselves of latinizations (the lack of a screen being one, and a spoken liturgy being another), self-imposed or imposed on them, moreso than the Ruthenians and Ukrainians.

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