The Pope’s Liturgical Example – and our response to it

PrayTell blog has a short post covering different views about the relative importance of the the liturgical example set by the Bishop of Rome.

The (somewhat cynical) thrust of the post is stated at the end:

It appears that we have a new principle of liturgical renewal: our theology of the importance of the pope depends on whether or not we like the pope in office.

This might be a bit unfair, as the pro- and anti- quotes don’t just come from different papal periods, but come from different people. Nevertheless, I think it is likely there is some truth in it, as I have said before:

Everyone’s an ultramontanist when they like the guy.

To me, the question isn’t quite so theoretical. These issues of what people “should” do (as in- “Should people look to Papal liturgy as an example?”) are pointless: the FACT of the matter is:

  • Some people DO, and ALWAYS WILL, see Papal liturgies as an example to follow
  • Most people will continue to do whatever they like, and either ignore Papal exemplars (when they disagree) or invoke them as cover (when they are in alignment).

The more important influence seems, to me, to come from the whole operation of liturgical culture- which the Pope has a big hand in swinging one way or the other – not in the actions of individual priests and liturgists deciding to copy one aspect or another of a Papal liturgy. (Fanons, anyone?)

In that way, the influence of Benedict – who influenced liturgical culture both actively and passively – will be long with us, whether any of us like it or not. Since Francis seems somewhat less interested in liturgical matters, it strikes me that his influence is less in some particular direction, and more like a loosening that allows a return to the “natural” development and habits of liturgical culture and practice (both good and bad).

All that being said: I think the worthwhile questions are not “What should people do in reaction to Papal exemplars?” (as the prescriptive fussbudgets in every age declare), or “What should the Pope do, since he ought to know that everyone is watching?” (as so many papal pundits seem to be blathering on with), but rather:

What should I do? What should we do?

46 Replies to “The Pope’s Liturgical Example – and our response to it”

  1. Naively, I thought that blog would stop trying to claim Pope Francis as "their guy" after he consecrated the world to the Blessed Mother, with obviously heartfelt devotion. I must have missed the post where they explained that gesture in their predictable (wearisome) modernist terms.

    I applaud you, Adam, for finding a serious question in the midst of the cynicism. Carry on.

  2. What should we do? Pray the Rosary. Celebrate Mass in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms. Observe Eucharistic Devotions and Holy Hours. Pray the offices of the Monastic Hours. Learn the great music of the Church in both Latin and English (and Spanish and Portuguese, and all other world languages, for that matter.)

    Same things we've been doing all along. Pray for peace.

  3. Heartfelt devotion to the Blessed Mother is not exactly a hallmark of progressive liturgists. Wouldn't you agree?

  4. There was a time, not so long ago, that the only way you might have known how things were celebrated in Rome was if you were actually there. The internet has changed the terms of the debate, as one can easily see on video the ritual life of the St. Peters and the Holy Father. Does this change the question? Perhaps, insofar as one now can easily point to evidence of this or that. But does it change what we are supposed to do. No, not if we hold the tradition of the Church in esteem, pray for discernment and work hard to do the best we can. As my Abbot used to say " St. Peters is still just another church, it just happens to have the Pope there. But it is still a church, with all the good and bad."

  5. The PTB post is quite misleading. Alcuin Reid has been making this argument for years — since before Benedict was Pope, actually, and throughout his papacy as well. For all that time he has been directing his argument precisely at what he calls ultramontane conservative Catholics, who sometimes seem afraid to criticize the postconciliar liturgical reforms because, you know, the Pope.

    Reid's liturgical thought is interesting, refreshing, and probably a bit original. I would bet that at least some PTBers would find a lot more to agree with in Reid than disagree with if they could look past stale political categories.

  6. While it might not be a "hallmark" I've certainly known many progressive (even uber-progressive) liturgically inclined folks with a heartfelt and demonstrative devotion to Our Lady. It's not a reliable shibboleth in that regard. Mercifully.

  7. Personally, I wouldn't agree. I was baptized on one Marian feast, born on another, and have a daughter whose middle name is Marie. I prefer the Magnificat over the Benedictus. I pray the Marian antiphons at Compline, and always look forward, with apologies to Simeon, to that final song of the evening. I pray the Rosary, though without the Fatima Prayer. My wife shares the name of Mary's mother and her middle name is another variation on the BVM.

    Marian devotion is part of the Ignatian tradition, which I also admire and embrace.

    I'm with Liam: Marian devotion is a very unreliable marker. Next shibboleth, please?


  8. Then there was the pilgrim Egeria who went to Jerusalem and brought back Eastern stuff to Rome.


  9. Glad to hear all this. The last chapter of Lumen Gentium seems well on its way to being fulfilled.

    "The entire body of the faithful pours forth instant supplications to the Mother of God and Mother of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Savior, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity." (para. 69)

    I'll be even gladder when no Catholic, particularly no monk and priest, feels write the scare headline, "The Rosary is back."

  10. In my opinion we should look to Papal Masses IF they are in harmony with the Church's continuum of teachings on the matter. If not, then we can rightly say that they are not living in union with their own teachings. We should follow the rubrics and do so in a way that's as beautiful, dignified, profound, and Christ-centric as possible. (AKA – do not emulate WYD Masses; I still wonder who "writes the script" for those things…)

    It's interesting that a close family member who left the Catholic Church eight years ago is actually more attracted to the beautiful, Christ-centric Masses than the self-adulating folk Masses, which, at the time, was all he really knew and experienced.

  11. "Folk" Masses, by definition, are for the folk, the people.

    I've seen far more examples of self-adulation in traditionalist performance venues: choral concerts and vestment fashion shows masquerading as Holy Mass.


  12. The exchange between Jacob and Todd highlights the need for firmer liturgical principles than personal taste. Todd doesn't like showy vestments (and maybe not polyphony either?) and Jacob can't stand guitars in church — so for Jacob the "folk mass" is self-adulating and for Todd, a certain kind of gaudiness in dress and music makes mass into a masquerade.

    I would bet that in reality both the folk-massers and the Rococo trads are, as a general rule, sincerely trying to give their best to God, which is in some sense the definition of worship. They just have radically different notions of what "giving their best" should look like concretely. If neither one is violating liturgical law, are they both right? Or is it possible that they are both wrong? If the conversation about these questions remains at the level of personal taste then it will just be an endless round of bickering.

    Seems to me that the liturgical thought of Alcuin Reid (whose recent talk prompted the original PTB post), and others like him, might offer a way out of that bickering. He's trying to go deeper than papal taste, deeper even than liturgical law. I think Adam is right about the real questions we should be asking, and that's exactly Reid's point as well — his critique of ultramontanism (which he's been making consistently since before Benedict's papacy, BTW) is simply meant to clear the air so that there can actually be a substantive conversation.

  13. To digress from Adam's excellent observation is unappetizing, but Todd teases so well.
    The intellectual content of those two sentences, Todd, can be so convoluted as to constitute a game of twister between the leaders of the US Senate and HoR majority/minority leaders, in other words, a pointless and ultimately worthless display and effort that brings no joy.
    Lesson, don't engage the semantics. You're just poking the pig who was not necessarily poking his nose at you.
    Your first response is in no way a truism.
    Your second response is overly presumptive and perjoratively judgmental (masquerade) which obliterates any sympathy this readership might have extended to your perspective. As someone who has never felt more alive as a Christian soul than at worship at a Missa Solemnis in Pittsburgh a few summers ago, your caricature doesn't seem but is truly mean-spirited. That's not who you are.

  14. It seems that following PT's insinuation that Reid is only talking about ultramontanism in the current climate is just as unfair as making the insinuation in the first place, and distracts from the important point Reid has long been making. Perhaps you're unaware that Reid edited not only Fortescue's "Ceremonies" but also his book on the early papacy which would take an immense deformation to turn into anything remotely ultramontanist. And, as was commented on PT's post by an astute observer, Reid, in his 2005 "Organic Development" comments on Guéranger's ultramontanism as being "foreign" to the principle of organic development. (See p. 57.)

    Certainly there will always be ultramontanist tendencies among liturgists of all stripes, and you may be right regarding the practical effects of Popes Benedict and Francis, but Reid has never been counted among the ultramontanists, and the end of the post which advocates eschewing the debate in favor of pure action is problematic. How does one act rightly without principles? The farming analogy of running around like a chicken with its head chopped off seems apropos.

    Reid agrees with you that it is important to focus on what we ought do and that we ought do the work of carrying on the new liturgical movement regardless of papal exemplars, but he raises important issues that must be considered in determining what one ought do and what the pope ought do. Without consideration of these, the potential for many mistakes is high. And it is careful consideration of these principles, such as Reid has given, that deserves more reflection than being swept away with insinuations of being a "prescriptive fussbudget" "blathering" about the pope.

  15. Catholic Sensibility,

    If one can't make a distinction between a Graduale Introit sung by choir and a group of less-than-able folks strumming out to 'Gather Us In', then we can't have a conversation. They are not equal in dignity, in majesty, in their artistic value, in their Scriptural/textual composition, and in their edifying value.

    This seems to hold true:
    True art can be done beautifully and for good intentions.
    True art can be done beautifully and for improper intentions. (Doing Missa Solemnis by Beethoven may be an example…)
    True art can be done poorly and for good intentions.
    True art can be done poorly and for improper intentions.
    Profane art can be done in a matter that is proper to its very nature and for good intentions.
    Profane art can be done in a matter that is proper to its very nature and have bad intentions.
    Profane art can be done poorly and have good intentions.
    Profane art can be done poorly and have improper intentions.

    But I don't think profane art can ever be done beautifully because it is not that to begin with – beautiful.

  16. Further, I don't think you can ever make a judgment about the intentions of a person doing something beautiful. Is person A in the choir because they love God or because they just want to make music? Even then, the thirst for beauty seems to indicate a thirst for the Source of Beauty Himself and so the question itself is more difficult to answer.

    You CAN, however, make judgments about whether someone is doing something beautiful, as it is more objective.

  17. And sorry to digress more from Adam's post, but your experience, Todd, is not at all even close to what we deal with here, and quite frankly almost anywhere. Has Mass attendance and Catholic fidelity to doctrine and Church authority gone down because there are too many fiddlebacks in the world? Has it gone down because there are too many St. John Vianney's wandering around?

  18. I don't quite agree. I think this discussion as well as the one on participation are thoughtful and intriguing and show up a good deal of common ground. I object to the throwaway generalizations, hence my holding a mirror to the proceedings.

    If my caricature is mean-spirited, prove it is more so than "self-adulating folk Masses." Otherwise, let's stick to the topic, my friend.

  19. I would disagree that music you don't like, by definition, is profane. There is also more to art than the two categories of truth and profanity. I think you're off to a good start. But you did veer off topic by tossing out a more-or-less casual insult. I called you on it. No more. No less.


  20. As I implied, I wanted not to veer from the dialectic at all, but you displaying that Mr. Flaherty got your nose out of whack prompted you to take another "low road." Thus, if we're going to be in the business of instructing each other what is fit and proper, I promise to "stick to the subject" A. if you will; B. if you will address direct criticisms with meaningful responses rather than mere dismissal.
    Todd, it can't always be "Your way or the highway."

  21. It just doesn't seem 'Sensible' in a Catholic sort of way to say that 'Gather Us In' is equal in worth to a Gregorian Introit. It's actually quite 'Cain-esque' to believe that. (I won't take any personal insult at anything since anything thrown at me is not as bad as the treatment Abel received…) It's not that I like one better than another in "what it does to or for me" but what is more fitting according to A.) The Church's rubrics, B.) The Church's history, C.) The Scriptural-sense of Liturgy, D.) What is more beautiful, E.) What is more dignified and workable within/inside the Mass' structure.

    I've taught music now for 9 years to all grades, Kindergarten through twelfth grade. I know what kids are capable of. I had a group of 5th-7th graders sing the Ash Wednesday Offertory chant. I had a group of 7th and 8th grade changing-voice boys sing 'Parce Domine'. I had my 7th-8th grade girls sing a beautiful 2-part piece entitled 'Dulcis Christe'…

  22. …I had a group of first and second graders up in the choir loft singing the simple chant Mass (name escaping me) in Latin and a cappella. I taught it to them using symbols for what the words sounded like. 'Gather Us In' and the like is not the best a group of people can do, and if it is, there is a failure in providing teachers who can instruct them properly. But even if a hymn is the best a group can do, they could easily find one that invokes Scripture or makes Christ and His redemptive work paramount (see Kathleen Pluth's great stuff) instead of this music that is riddled with a 'Me, We, and I' complexion, whose orientation is circular and whose god appears to be themselves and their own psychological well-being…

  23. …I for one, as a 31-year old man, can not stand it and will attest to the fact that almost all of my childhood friends who grew up with that "inviting music" are no longer members of the Catholic Church. That is a shame and I blame people who are so afraid of making political calculations instead of just charitably doing what is right and letting the Lord do HIS WORK. If we would just do our best, give God our best, and then get out of the way and let God do His Work and fulfill His promises…

  24. Thanks for responding, Charles.

    I wasn't feeling a disjointed nose from Mr Flaherty at all. I recognize he took things off topic. I engaged in a little exaggeration as a reflection of his offering.

    To get back to the point, the Pope Francis example really moves beyond the tired old extremes of conservative-liberal, organ-guitar, and burlap-linen.

    The lesson is less what happens in the chapel at daily Mass or even in the Vatican for Big Occasions, but the tone and relationships that Pope Francis brings to bear in these settings. And most of all, a sense of true discernment, an approach that I find the Jesuits bring for great benefit for all sorts of choices with which one is presented.

    As far as I see it, Jacob poked, and I poked back. Now let's get back to the matter at hand.


  25. Your last sentence seems eminently Ignatian, and thus in alignment with what I see in Pope Francis's approach to liturgy as well as many other things. I applaud that.

    I also respect your experience as a teacher.

    I disagree with your diagnosis, both of what is going on in the Church as well as what I wrote here. But as for the principle of magis, all for the greater glory of God.


  26. Todd, thank you for your kind words. I guess I don't know you as well as some do on this board. I'm genuinely unsure what you mean when you refer to my "diagnosis on what is going on in the Church." I'm not a terribly sarcastic person, and I'm not here when I say that I don't understand this. Perhaps that will help me understand better. What is the 'it' you are referring to, and how are we different in this regard?

    God bless,

  27. "It just doesn't seem 'Sensible' in a Catholic sort of way to say that 'Gather Us In' is equal in worth to a Gregorian Introit."

    I never said that it was. Don't know where you picked that up. "Gather Us In" is certainly a post-folk liturgical song. So are you talking about folk-derived music, as in the 70's? Or assigning all non-chant to the genre of "folk?" I don't have conservatory training in music, but I can distinguish between what is authentic folk music and what is of a different style entirely.

    This, and the dismissal of piano music as the work of "strummers" raises a caution flag. If you've misdiagnosed liturgical music, I needed the counterbalance of "get out of the way and let God …" to reassure me you weren't just another troll poking at All Things Bad in the Church.

    I ascribe to another Ignatian principle, that of finding God in all things. I don't have a problem with non-chant songs and genres rising to the fore as being the primary way in which people experience what is beautiful, dignified and noble.

    But I know others disagree. So we all have to live with each other, though often in different parishes.


  28. Actually, what are called 'folk' Masses aren't really anything to do with folk music, properly understood. The nearest thing in the liturgy to folk music is found in the Office hymns – they are unaccompanied, they are strophic, and they are modal; furthermore their melodies existed in the aural tradition long before they were written down.

  29. Quite right. But I would also include many hymn tunes from Appalachia and the British Isles and here and there in Europe. "I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say" is much more a folk song than "Gather Us In," which was written for piano and modern ensemble.

    The very best of folk music, be it tunes like Kingsfold or New Britain, or plainsong hymns play well with a larger variety of instrumentation.


  30. "The problem with folk music", said Tom Lehrer "is that it is written by the people" and he went on to show what Cole Porter, Mozart and G&S might have done with "Clementine". Seriously, though, I agree with what you say, although instrumental accompaniment must be subtle – many a simple tune has been ruined by over-arrangement.

    Another problem in using familiar tunes for liturgical/quasi-liturgical texts is that these tunes often have other, secular connotations which are not easily eradicated. I can't sing "Let there be love shared among us" without recalling the 1968 hit "Les Bicyclettes de Belsize" and as for "Plaisir d'Amour" (an 18th century art song) it would have me singing the original words.

    New Britain is so associated with "Amazing Grace" (referred to by by wags as "Astounding Doris") that it would sound weird with any other words. Kingsfold (VW's hymn tune arrangement of the English folk ballad "Dives and Lazarus") is a good tune and very versatile.

  31. I wasn't making an academic statement about what folk was, just the common experience of Catholics in the United States; yes, the music of Haugen, Haas, Schutte, etc… I know that that is not actually folk, but I assumed everyone would know what I am implying when I use that term. I apologize for the missing info here. I really don't know what to call that stuff, honestly, as it is no longer 'Contemporary'.

  32. If there was justice in the Church, all "contemporary" Mass formats would be suspended until the "suppression" of tradition was lifted, and equal time and space was allotted for formats that "transcend" time and space.

  33. Clearly, then, there is no justice.

    "Contemporary Mass formats" continue to inspire people to faith, and to be part of a fruitful and prayerful celebration of Holy Mass. The Church's liturgy is not some kind of politically-correct arena for equal time for everybody. On this level, it's not a democracy, but a crucible for the mixture of art and grace.


  34. I was being facetious to make a point. But of course, there is plenty of injustice respecting The Mass. I didn't mean what "really" ought to be. I am sure many people in the Church would agree that the liturgy of The Mass should not be used as a politically correct arena. But as to what the Church is doing, i.e, what we are doing – the Church "is" to a large extent what it actually "does" – our liturgy is in practice a politically correct arena. So I was simply referring to the dominant mode (if not quite universal) prevailing in my experience of dozens of parishes in 10 dioceses in 8 states in 57 yrs.

  35. Re: Another problem in using familiar tunes for liturgical/quasi-liturgical texts –

    Yes – for one example – a parish in my area uses a tune from the Rolling Stones recording "As Tears Go By" to sing the "Our Father," which makes me want to vomit when I hear it. Its pathetic to have worship – the very Prayer of God himself – as a platform for reminding us of the Satanization of culture ushered in by the likes of the Rolling Stones.

    But that's "contemporary-ism"…yes to junk…no to tradition.

  36. The original PTB post missed Alcuin Reid's point entirely.

    Reid is saying — and has been saying since before Benedict's papacy and throughout it — that we need deep foundations for discussing liturgical questions. His critique of ultramontanism is not seasonal and it's not even his main point. It's just a starting point.

    I think he is saying that certain bad ideas, which tend to originate from right of center, masquerade as fidelity to the magisterium but in reality amount to nothing more than rallying around the personal judgment of the Pope.

    It's kind of a radical point and even though it's really just his preamble, I'd be interested to hear a good response to it.

  37. Chris in Maryland

    Not long ago someone reported that a priest sang the Eucharistic Prayer to the tune "Danny Boy" (aka the Derry Air, the French homonym for which is highly appropriate). The comment didn't add that he crooned it into a hand mic. but I wouldn't be surprised if he had done.

  38. I was being facetious to make a point. But of course, there is plenty of injustice respecting The Mass. I didn't mean what "really" ought to be. I am sure many people in the Church would agree that the liturgy of The Mass should not be used as a politically correct arena. But as to what the Church is doing, i.e, what we are doing – the Church "is" to a large extent what it actually "does" – our liturgy is in practice a politically correct arena. So I was simply referring to the dominant mode (if not quite universal) prevailing in my experience of dozens of parishes in 10 dioceses in 8 states in 57 yrs.

  39. PTB isn't in the business of interesting arguments, they're in the business of seeking cudgels with which to beat their opponents to a pulp. I tried debating with them a couple of years ago and found them to be the most vacuous, intellectually-dishonest people outside of the National Catholic Reporter's combox.

  40. Do they? Do they really "inspire people to faith"? And you know this how? Because people haven't abandoned the Church? Perhaps they simply tolerate it because there is no other choice.

  41. They do. They really do. How do I know? Small group sharing. Planning liturgies for funerals especially, but also weddings, school Masses, and even ordinary Sundays. Conversations with choir members, parents of school kids, and music directors in other parishes. The occasional workshop.

    Every so often, I will watch people singing at Mass, too. It strikes me as easy to perceive.


  42. Oh, so your answer is "anecdote." Well! Then I have something just as good for you: "Contemporary Mass formats" continue to inspire people to want to leave the Ordinary Form; the well-catechized ones are heading to the EF (in some cases unhappily, and now, perhaps, to the ordinariates where possible) and the poorly-catechized ones are ejecting entirely. How do I know? Anecdote! Isn't this fun?

  43. One anecdote is largely as good as another, eh? Well, you brought it up, my friend. I do know that by the numbers, traditional Catholicism is a slim minority virtually everywhere. They bring a deep respect for tradition and culture, but also a lot of bitterness.

    I don't have my finger on the pulse of all of Catholicism, and you may well have more fingers on more veins than I do. I believe that you want to believe that traditional Catholicism has more to offer, but I don't see it. I've been on the track of the modern Roman Rite for all of my 40 years as a Catholic, and for more than 25 years in full-time ministry, mostly in the Midwest. If I didn't believe in contemporary Catholicism, I wouldn't work in it. And I'd like to think that thirty-plus years in spiritual direction that if the Holy Spirit were nudging me to a "better" place, I would have been as open to it as I was to any number of sharp, unexpected turns in my life.

    So I have a fair confidence that not only am I on the right track, but I'm not leading others astray either.

    The other telling sign for me is the general antipathy to non-conformism on reform2 blogs and other sites. I think traditional sensibilities have much to offer mainstream Catholicism, and in many parishes we are weaker for not having them in the mix. But a wholescale conversion to smells and bells? I don't see it. The attachment to uniformity, and the expectation of it strikes me as deeply immature.


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