For the Love of God

If we believe that God created the world and us in it, if we believe that He did so out of an overflowing of divine love, if we believe that we were created that we might return that love to God and to His creation, then these facts should inform everything we do.

Most especially, it should permeate how we converse with and adore our Creator in our private prayer and in our community prayer.

We are called to full and active participation in the liturgy by Popes and Councils, and as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “active” participation does not necessarily equal “external activity”.1

However, for those who prepare and celebrate and minister in the liturgy, it’s a slightly different story. Since they lead us in prayer, they must cultivate a certain ars celebrandi in the liturgy. They perhaps echo the words of Saint James when he says, “I by my works will show you my faith”.2

During this past summer, I ruminated a bit on a post by the Anchoress, focusing on the question Does the Church Ask Too Little of Us?

Detail from a Portrait of Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne
When I was in RCIA ten years ago and more, we were taught the minimum requirements. This seems to be a disease in the Church; there are an awful lot of people who are only interested in doing the minimum required.

But if we are truly in love with Christ and His Church, won’t we want to do more than the minimum? Won’t we want to do everything we can to draw closer to the beloved?

How would your spouse feel if you were doing the absolute minimum for him or her? And what would that say about your relationship?

Today, I’d like to explore that a bit more in the context preparing for and celebrating the liturgy.

Against Liturgical Shenanigans

Yes, the liturgy becomes personal, true, and new, not through tomfoolery and banal experiments with the words, but through a courageous entry into the great reality that through the rite is always ahead of us and can never quite be overtaken.

(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy)

Although I’ve only been Catholic for a little over a decade, I’ve seen my fair share of liturgical shenanigans (or “tomfoolery” if you prefer).

I’ve seen the use of glass vessels,3 the skipping of the Confiteor or other rites, and Masses where the celebrant insisted on changing the words to every prayer.

I’ve even seen priests who have changed the order of the rites during the Mass. In some cases, they have left the congregation so confused, that they didn’t know what they should answer and when. So much for active participation!

I’ve seen Priests who vest for Mass in what appear to be bedsheets. Or who only vest in an alb and stole.

I once attended Mass where the Gospel wasn’t proclaimed so much as paraphrased.

Bluegrass Mass? Bob Dylan and Billy Joel sound-alike Masses? Been there. When we were out camping in south-central Washington one year, a low-church Protestant friend of mine went with me to the local Sunday Mass, and he described it as “the Country Bears’ Hootenanny Mass”.

Compare this to what the Church asks of us.

Only those Eucharistic Prayers are to be used which are found in the Roman Missal or are legitimately approved by the Apostolic See, and according to the manner and the terms set forth by it. It is not to be tolerated that some Priests take upon themselves the right to compose their own Eucharistic Prayers or to change the same texts approved by the Church, or to introduce others composed by private individuals.

(Redemptionis Sacramentum 51)

It is the right of the community of Christ’s faithful that especially in the Sunday celebration there should customarily be true and suitable sacred music, and that there should always be an altar, vestments and sacred linens that are dignified, proper, and clean, in accordance with the norms.

(Redemptionis Sacramentum 57)

Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided.

(Sacramentum Caritatis 42)

Or, to sum up:

The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease.

(Redemptionis Sacramentum 59, emphasis mine)

These are not some ancient or obsolete documents. Redemptionis Sacramentum was issued in 2004 and Sacramentum Caritatis in 2007.

Over the course of this past year, what with its meetings, conferences, trips out of state, and weekend camping trips, Francine and I attended Mass at a number of different parishes in different states.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed a gradual move away from the worst of the once-endemic liturgical abuses and shenanigans of the past. I think much of this is due to the presence of young, orthodox priests who have clearly developed a strong, traditional ars celebrandi during their formation.

These priests follow the rubrics. They chant. They pray the Roman Canon with some frequency. And they’re not putting on a show; they’re praying as the Church asks them to pray.

Nevertheless, there were many times when the priest was an island of the sacred in an ocean of the banal.

In more than one place, I witnessed sacristans, servers, and various ministers wandering through the sanctuary, engaged in small tasks and seemingly oblivious to their own comportment or even the presence of God Himself in the tabernacle. They might as well have been working in a shop.

Now imagine a celebrant at the altar, reverently praying with the mind of the Church, surrounded by this same cloud of ministers who aimlessly shuffle around, to all appearances indifferent to the celebration around them or the presence of God Himself on the altar.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident.

Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God Himself and His revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendour.

(Sacramentum Caritatis 35)

These Masses were not only not beautiful, but by their actions the ministers very clearly sent the message that there was nothing serious going on here. Nothing noble. Nothing sacred.

No, it was not beautiful. It was heartbreaking. Just people going through the motions.

We seem to have moved from deliberate shenanigans to indifference and liturgical minimalism.

Against Liturgical Minimalism

Both of my long-time readers know that liturgical minimalism is not a new subject for me. Some of the earliest posts on this blog are on the subject. Here, for example is a post from 2006:

I admit I’m a little peeved. It seems like every time there’s a corner can be cut, we cut it. Every time there’s a choice of doing or not doing, we choose to not do.

Why, oh why do we do this? The message seems to be that this is a heavy obligation and we’ve just got to get through it as quickly as possible.

I read a book by Scott Hahn about the mass called The Lamb’s Supper. The subtitle, and one of the major themes in the book, is “the Mass as Heaven on Earth”. It presents a picture of the liturgy as our most intimate time with God, a reflection of the eternity which we’ve been promised.

Who would want to rush through that?

The Evangelists and Apostles speak of the Church’s relationship with Christ in very intimate terms. Saint Paul compares the love and relationship between husband and wife to that of Christ and His Church. The Church is the bride of Christ.4

And we are the Church. We are the bride.

Icon of Christ the Bridegroom
Icon of Christ the Bridegroom

In the liturgy, we are the bride celebrating the bridegroom, who is Christ Himself. It is our most intimate encounter with the Divine, at least until the four last things.

How we celebrate the liturgy says a lot about our relationship with God.

Are we celebrating the Mass? Or are we just going to Mass?

Are we truly and actively and interiorly participating in the greatest of all possible prayers to God? Or are we just reciting and singing by rote and taking our Communion like it was some sort of participation trophy?

And if it’s the latter, shouldn’t we aspire to more? How can we possibly treat the Beloved like that? We who lavish love and the gifts of the world on our earthly beloveds – whether they be dates, spouses, families, or friends – how can we then deny the same and more to our eternal Beloved?

Relationships transform us. We become more and more like what our beloved sees in us. We try to live up to that impossible ideal we see reflected in their eyes across a candlelit dinner table or a colouring book.

When we are in that first flush of romance – or parenthood – we do everything we can to become worthy of their love. Now what would the liturgy look like if everybody who was participating, everyone who was present, was doing everything they could to become worthy of the love of God?

Wouldn’t we try to give God what He desires? What He deserves? That we will inevitably fall short of that is no possible excuse for not trying.

And in conforming ourselves to the love of God, won’t we then come out of that encounter ready to take on the world?

This is why the Church calls the Eucharist “the source and summit of the whole Christian life”.5

And not just the Mass. The Church encourages every parish to publicly and regularly celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours.6 How many parishes do this, or at least try to do this, and how many just don’t bother?

The liturgy – as the Church hands it down to us in Her splendid multitude of rites and forms – contains riches beyond compare. It is up to us to make use of this treasure and so present ourselves by means of it to God at the altar, at the altar where we join with the greatest offering of all, that of Christ Himself at Golgotha.

Our Liturgical Celebration should be for the Love of God

Francine and I are very fortunate indeed to have found a parish where priest and people eschew liturgical minimalism. In fact, our parish liturgical commission Google site has the following on its first page:

Liturgical Principles

Orthodoxy – fidelity to Catholic teaching
Faithfulness – to Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium
Reverence – for God and the sacred
Obedience – to the rubrics and words of the Missal and the other ritual books
Beauty – that we may touch hearts
Transcendence – that we may lift those hearts to God

Those are our marching orders. Without them, or something very like them, we risk making the liturgy for ourselves rather than for God. Do we always achieve what we aim for? Of course not. Nothing is perfect this side of heaven.

But in love and in obedience, we do our level best.

Without the proper ars celebrandi and the proper interior disposition we risk dumbing down the liturgy for our own convenience, rather than celebrating the liturgy for the glory of God out of our grateful love for Him and His infinite goodness and mercy.

If we make the liturgy for ourselves, it moves away from the divine; it becomes a ridiculous, vulgar, boring theatrical game. We end up with liturgies that resemble variety shows, an amusing Sunday party at which to relax together after a week of work and cares of all sorts.

Once that happens, the faithful go back home, after the celebration of the Eucharist, without having encountered God personally or having heard Him in the inmost depths of their heart.

(Robert Cardinal Sarah, God or Nothing)

God created the world and us in it. He did so out of an overflowing of divine love. We were created that we might return that love to God and to His creation.

So let’s get out there and celebrate!

Corpus Christi Mass, Holy Rosary, Tacoma, 2015
Corpus Christi Mass, Holy Rosary, Tacoma, 2015

The Church becomes visible in many ways: in charitable action, in mission projects, in the personal apostolate that every Christian must carry out in his own walk of life. However the place in which she is fully experienced as Church is in the liturgy; it is the act in which we believe that God enters our reality and we can encounter Him, we can touch Him. It is the act in which we come into contact with God: He comes to us and we are illuminated by Him.

(Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience of October 3, 2012)


Footnotes:

  1. cf. Message for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress,
    The Spirit of the Liturgy ch. 2.
  2. Epistle of Saint James 2:18.
  3. The use of glass vessels was specifically reprobated in Redemptionis Sacramentum 117.
  4. cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 796.
  5. This phrase is also sometimes translated as “fount and apex”;
    Lumen Gentium 11,
    Sacramentum Caritatis subtitle.
  6. cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1175,
    Verbum Domini 62,
    Redemptionis Sacramentum 41.

6 Replies to “For the Love of God”

  1. WOW! You have painted, traced and depicted the Meaning, the Beauty, the Fullness of The Mass with all the moods, strokes of a brush, tones, shades, with all the radiance and hues of love and beauty , creating a Harmonious and Glorious Vision of the Color of God’s Love for His Beloved…Truly beautiful, a Masterpiece!

    I envision a Castle, with a King, Queen, Prince, and their royal courts and subjects…I imagine a ball, a banquet, and the Prince awaits His beautiful beloved…He has searched for her, becoming a commoner Himself…He finds her, He takes the initiative to court her, He Has made know His love and affection for her, He wants to nourish her and lavish her the desires of her heart, shared with her His Kingdom, He gives Himself completely to her, emptied Himself completely for her…and He goes to His Father the King, declared to His Father His Love for His Beloved, the King out of His great love for His Son, announces a ball, invites everyone to His Castle, provided everyone with a beautiful wedding attire fit for a royalty, fit to be worn in the presence of His Royal Son…will the beloved accept the invitation to encounter her Prince Charming, the love of her life? Will she cooperate? Will she accept the gift of His love? Will she return His love? Will she let Him in in the Tabernacle of her heart?

    There in the Word made Flesh, in The Liturgy, in The Tabernacle of the Altar, in The Mass… in The Eucharist awaits a Prince for His Beloved!

    Thank you Thom!

  2. [Per Thom’s request]: Thom, as rants go, this one is pretty good, obviously heartfelt, and clearly resting on authority. That said, you may surmise my take on this. Yes. That there is something in the DNA of the Novus Ordo which resonates with the liturgical minimalism which you so rightly castigate. I am not a sedevacantist. Neither am I someone who will never be found at the Novus Ordo. I am a loyal son of the Church who is Catholic by choice after a lifelong (50 years!) search for the Truth. The Novus Ordo is a valid Mass and can be celebrated with reverence, but something in it lends itself to loosey-gooseyness. And when those who value the liturgy seek to make the NO reverent, they almost always resort (Fortescue, anyone?) to what was the norm in the EF. So why not just re-embrace the EF? If the Earth still endures and the Lord tarries another 100 years, I predict the NO will be either a relic or indistinguishable from the OF due to mutual enrichment.

  3. Amen. No to liturgical minimalism! Greg, I don’t think there is anything intrinsic to the conciliar restoration of the Rites that would lead to minimalism. In fact it was for precisely for the opposite reason that the Rites were restored. The simplification of the Rites, clearing accretions, was about many things not the least of which was reducing the number of those elements often experienced as ‘one darn thing after another’ in some of the preconciliar rites so that the bigness of the primary symbol might stand forth. When the council fathers said that something more than mere validity was required they didn’t mean that validity wasn’t required and it is sad that folks will pull shenanigans. But the something more, the ars celebrandi, is an invitation to realize that validity is not coextensive with fruitfulness. The monastic, especially Benedictine, sense of liturgy, ‘noble simplicity,’ informed much of the Liturgical Movement. But we should be thinking plainchant for the sake of noble beauty and the primacy of the text not a minimalism born of trivial or shoddy celebration. This same principal is in all of the revised Rites and does not, in my estimation, require a return to the EF for sacrality. Fr James Mallon has a great and Thomistic-grounded case against sacramental minimalism in his Divine Renovation.

    • Andrew, I am not trying to be argumentative when I say that you have a vested interest in the success of the OF. Arguing EF vs OF can lead to all sorts of unfruitfulness. I have chosen to mainly assist at the EF. As for deeper thinkers than I I mention two: Kwasniewski and Mosbach. I agree in many ways with you and I have combed through the conciliar and post-conciliar documents without finding anything to confirm the critics of the Pope Paul VI reforms of the liturgy. That said, in PRACTICE one never knows what one will experience at a Mass, and that says something right there. Whatever our rite (and I wish we had Ordinariate nearby), we ought to strive to be counter-cultural in that we cultivate a sense of reverence, dignity, and awe, all of course directed to God. Down with liturgicaal minimalism indeed!

    • Andrew, I would argue that the Liturgical Movement ultimately failed in its goals. Had it succeeded, Blessed Pope Paul VI would not have had to send a desperate plea to the monastic houses to keep their sense of the liturgy!

      In any case, the Benedictine sense of the liturgy is only one thread in the tapestry of the Roman Rite – and I say this as a Benedictine.

      The Roman Rite has to be broad enough to cover both the monastery and the basilica, the country chapel and the cathedral.

      I think sometimes people hear the “simple” part and somehow skip over the “noble” part!

  4. Greg, as you might suspect, I have a couple of thoughts on this.

    First off, I agree that setting the Extraordinary Form against the Ordinary Form (and vice versa!) is ultimately a fruitless enterprise. In my original post, I made mention of our “splendid multitude of rites and forms”. I am all for a multitude of forms and rites, provided they are all celebrated with reverence and according to their own liturgical books and traditions. I’m very medieval that way, I’m afraid.

    Pope Benedict XVI hoped for a “mutual enrichment” between the two forms – and then added an Anglican Ordinariate Form for good measure! I will not gainsay him.

    As for the “loosey-gooseyness” of the Ordinary Form… well, obviously that’s something we see in practice all the time, though I do think the worst of this is slowly dying off. I don’t actually think that the problem is with the liturgical form per se, as it is with the collapse of the proper ars celebrandi that occurred in the early days of the reform, particularly during the ad experimentum period.

    That collapse was a product of its time, and it had been ramping up for a long time before Blessed Pope Paul VI published the Novus Ordo. Had the celebration of the Mass been everywhere reverent and well celebrated, the Liturgical Movement would not have existed, and the Council Fathers would not have called for reform.

    (And I’m not going to engage in the question of whether the reform that ultimately happened is what the Fathers foresaw. I’ve tackled that in other posts.)

    And of course, the Novus Ordo Missae is new in many respects – it says so right on the box! While we have our Elliott, it certainly doesn’t have the depth and breadth of Fortescue or O’Connell. But then, Fortescue didn’t publish until the Roman Rite was 1700 years old, and 300 years after the reforms of Trent. I suspect we have a long way to go before the Novus Ordo has the functional equivalent of a Fortescue!

    Pope Benedict XVI saw Ordinary Form as a legitimate development of the venerable Roman Rite, so of course we will go back to the older resources and use what is practical.

    The Ordinary Form Roman Missal will no doubt see its fair share of change over the next century, as indeed the Roman Missal saw in the century after Trent. My hope is that some of the things you find in the 1962 Roman Missal might find their way over – principally De Defectibus, more precise rubrics, and perhaps the older offertory – but those sorts of decisions are way above my pay grade.

    In fact, I think it might be a good start just to print Redemptionis Sacramentum and Sacramentum Caritatis in the front of every Missal!