Monday, January 11, 2010

The #Catholic Liturgy: "A Standard of Measure"

The liturgy has been an ongoing passion of mine ever since returning to the Catholic Church. When I was a young girl, the liturgy was not as exciting. In fact, I was often bored and inactive during much of it. As I learn more about the liturgy, I think my boredom was the result of a few developments. Vatican II and the "personalization" of the liturgy was one. Another was what I suspect was a deviation from "a standard of measure." I take that quote from one of Fr. Zuhlsdorf's blog posts today, Feedback: "I am 59 years old and like the current liturgy."

In this post, Fr. Zuhlsdorf relates the feedback of a person who likes the modern liturgy and has no desire to attend a more traditional Mass. Fr. Z says (emphasis mine):

First, I note that this has more to do with what his preferences and likes are concerned than perhaps about what the Church’s liturgy requires. It is perfectly okay to like some things more than others. But out liturgical choices are not to be grounded solely in our likes, which are not only subjective, but shifting. Thus, it is nice that he is "okay" with chants. The Church says that Gregorian chant has pride of place.

It is great that the writer "likes" the current liturgy. His liking it, however, is not our standard of measure. There are those who don’t like it, to one degree or another.

The "standard of measure" caught my eye. Just earlier, I had read an entry from Larry D. at his blog, "Acts of the Apostasy" about an unfortunate Mass he attended that seemed more like a talk show than a Mass. He was concerned and wrote to the pastor about it. Today he posted the response, which both shocked and saddened me, yet not a surprise. (It is worth reading his account of the Mass that concerned him and his letter, which is linked in this entry.)

If anyone knows about the "personalization" and "personal expression" of church, it is a non-denominational church member. I both witnessed and participated in some wild stuff. Although I now look back on those days with a certain sense of embarrassment - it was where I was spiritually. The upside is that it has given me an even greater appreciation for the liturgy now that I've returned.

It has been no small source of astonishment to me that many Catholic Churches have tried to emulate the crazy-quilt approach to church by non-denominational churches. A little piece of "liturgical dance" here, a bit of clapping there - all to somehow communicate a sense of ownership to what is occurring. Clapping is a response to what? It is a response to entertainment - a performance, the recognition of man's accomplishment, or an agreement with what just transpired. In either case, it is a pause to allow a congregation to leave the interior room of intimacy with God and instead, retreat to the outer courts of noise and shallow thought.

So why a standard? Why is it so important to have the rubrics of the Catholic liturgy followed? I don't have a clear answer but do have some thoughts at this point. I may appreciate standards more because I was raised by two parents who disciplined me. Any child will initially resist discipline because it is in their nature to be selfish. Selfishness needs to be routed out; but with love and consistent correction. If left to their own childish desires, a young girl or boy would grow up thinking the whole world revolved around them. Believe me, working with adults that have this worldview is no picnic. (Out of a warped sense of justification, I've led the conversation with such adults toward their upbringing. All of them came from permissive parenting.)

I have brought this viewpoint to the liturgy, and looked at the rubrics as spiritual discipline. If this is true, then the rubrics are meant to correct my more selfish desires (which wants to be the center of attention) and discipline me toward thinking of something outside of self - which is God. This leads me to wonder if there is any place within Catholicism for the need for self-expression. Music comes to mind, although most of that which was written in the 60's and 70's smacks too much of "me-me-me" and too little of "Him-Him-Him." Art, of course, is my favorite. There is some glorious Catholic art that is still being created as well as the historical pieces. But is the role of the Church to satisfy some deep-desire of ours to be recognized and awarded? I think not.

In fact, the more I attend the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, the more I am convinced of its perfection. Everything is included to connect me to God, to remind me of my responsibilities as a Christian, and to exhort me to go forward into the world and be a channel of God's love. All of this happens within a Mass according to the rubrics without one iota of "personalization" or self-expression involved. If one is aware of the liturgy and prayerfully enters into it - much awaits them on the other side.

But every time a deviation from the rubrics occurs, a person or persons become disconnected from the mystery of what is occurring and are reminded more of self than God. In Larry D's post today, there were some interesting comments. One was from Adrienne who wisely pointed out:

I have finally discovered that becoming involved in these matters becomes a real danger to a person's spiritual life.

When we realized that all we did on the drive home after Mass was to b*tch, it was time to move on.

How true. I still have a difficult time knowing when it's the right time to confront and when to simply lay the sword down and walk away. I believe we're to fight for what's right, but there is also a time when the fight only makes it worse, not better. Loving one another and reconciling our differences is what God calls us to do. And nothing can tear apart a church faster than people thinking they're doing "the right thing."

So. I'm left with hoping that Pope Benedict XVI and his Papal Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini will put the liturgy back on track toward what it intended to do. Not as an instrument of self-expression but a vehicle to transport us all beyond ourselves and into the mysteries of heaven.


Larry Denninger said...

Thanks for the link, Mary Rose.

Your post is excellent (as usual!). Tying the standards of the Mass, in how it is to be celebrated, to spiritual discipline makes an excellent point: it's ridiculous to adhere to rigorous discipline in every area of our spiritual lives, only to throw it out the window with a free-for-all celebration of the Mass.

Except the Mass isn't where we are to let it all hang out.

I liked Adrienne's comment, too. She has a knack for sayin' it like it is!

Anonymous said...

I am so fortunate to call "home parish" one that makes the eye of the soul go "wow". I try not to take for granted that fact that the Novus Ordo we attend is solemn, quiet, beautiful, with sung prayers, some Latin, an outstanding homilist, a beautiful choir, daily all most perpetual, Adoration and so on. I'm spoilt, I guess.
The number of young people coming is not small and many, like our eldest DD are seriously considering a religious vocation.

I've tried to hate the Novus Ordo but failed, perhaps because I've been uniquely fortunate in where we make our home parish. I respect Fr.Z very much. I love our Pope. The Church has changed my life. Sadly, I remain a failure.

Mary Rose said...

Saintos, indeed, you are blessed! I truly have nothing against the Novus Ordo, if it follows the rubrics and is reverent. There is one parish in town that has a beautiful NO on Sunday and I've attended there several times when I wasn't able to attend my own parish's TLM. They have everything your parish has. So I know a NO can be like this. However, too often I have seen what Larry described.

I will add one caveat: I am at the place in my life where I really need reverence. But when I was younger, I liked the more modern approaches to church. (I experienced this mostly within the non-denominational church.) What is important is that a person attends church and is getting spiritual instruction - and, now that I'm back with the Catholic Church, yes - the sacraments.

God bless you and your family. How exciting that your DD is considering a religious vocation! It brought a smile to my face. :-)

Anonymous said...

I am in a place where I need quiet and reverence as well, in truth, that's how I was wired even as a protestant but seldom found it, OK, never found it in the circles I was in. I find it in the N.O. Mass I attend.

What I'm tired of is people failing to make the distinction that while few and far between, I understand, none the less there are good N.O. Masses and it is not somehow intrinsically flawed or evil etc.

DD has been discerning for more than a year. You and I have been out of each others loop but DD has been to a Come and See with a very devout group of Dominican Sisters and will be returning again in Feb.

God bless you, Mary Rose.