Let’s Revisit “Praise and Worship Music is Praise But Not Worship”

Most articles in the blogosphere have a very short shelf life, which is why I am quite surprised that an article I posted on Chant Café on 2 June 2011 keeps reappearing on blogs and in my social media newsfeeds every so often.  Why Praise and Worship Music is Praise and Not Worship seems to keep being resurrected, which I can only surmise because the discussion it continues to elicit is still quite relevant, and the questions it raises have not been answered to everyone’s satisfaction.  What’s more, following the comments on social media on the article has been very interesting, and I think telling about where we are now with regards to the situation of praise and worship music in liturgy.  Perhaps a revisit is in order.

The article has three main components. In the first part, I share my own experience with a particular use of praise and worship, the Lifeteen Mass, which was twenty years ago now, and how it caused me to reflect at the time and now on its appropriateness for the sacred liturgy. What I have found most interesting is that the most negative reactions I have come across to the article tend to parse this first section and then ignore the other two. My response to this is the following: My experience is obviously not going to be the experience of everyone; some will resonate with that experience and others will not. That’s why it is a personal reflection. I am delighted to read that there are those who have not had anything like the experience that I had with Lifeteen. I am also dismayed to read that, twenty years later, some people are having exactly the same experience I have had. I am told that the organization Lifeteen itself has repudiated many of the abusive liturgical practices which made my exposure to it so distressing, and that the guidance of Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix has been exemplary in this regard. I rejoice that this is the case. Surely it is in some way testimony to how Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s rich theology of the liturgy is finding its way into the Church’s life. I am also aware that there are a significant number of priests, seminarians and committed young lay faithful who credit Lifeteen and similar initiatives as powerful in their formation as Catholics.  All of that is to the good.  And none of that invalidates my experience, any more than it invalidates the experience of those whose history with these initiatives is entirely different than my own.
Yet, this is exactly the neuralgic point with taking experience as a locus for deciding how the Church should pray the sacred liturgy.  One of the main points of the article is that we have effectively reversed what we are supposed to be doing in the liturgy: if praise is something we offer to God, then however we may seek to praise Him with a sincere heart is certainly an oblation pleasing to God. But worship is not something we offer to God, when it comes to the Mass.  The Mass is the self-offering of Jesus to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Our participation in the Mass is not constructing this event under a ritual form which we find meaningful; it is a liturgical and sacramental surrendering of ourselves to the action of the sacrifice. The Mass is something Christ does in us, in that sense.
The most virulent criticisms of the article center around the pronoun “I”. I do not like what the article says because I do not feel it to be consonant with my feelings, and so I reject the idea that praise and worship is inconsistent with the theocentric, and not anthropcentric, objective of the liturgy. The injection of the subjective as the principal criterion by which many have come to evaluate their appreciation of the liturgy has led precisely to the idea that, because I like it, it must be right. A predilection for Gregorian chant, Latin, or the treasury of sacred music is then demoted from its status of connaturality with the Roman liturgy, which is supported by Sacrosanctum conciliumand Musicam sacram, to a mere option in exercising one’s preference.
The second part of the article records eleven observations about the inappropriateness of praise and worship music for the sacred liturgy.  I would like to list them here:
  1. P&W music assumes that praise is worship.
  2. P&W music assumes that worship is principally something we do.
  3. P&W music assumes as its first principle relevance.
  4. P&W music assumes as its second principle the active participation of a certain age group.
  5. P&W music self-consciously divides the Church into age and taste groups.
  6. P&W music subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass.
  7. P&W music assumes that there can be a core of orthodox Catholic teaching independent of the Church’s liturgical law and tradition.
  8. P&W music consciously manipulates the emotions so as to produce a catharsis seen as necessary for spiritual conversion.
  9. P&W music confuses transcendence with feeling.
  10. P&W music denies the force of liturgical and musical law in the Church in favour of arbitrary and individualist interpretations of worship.
  11. P&W music prizes immediacy of comprehension and artistic ease over the many-layered meaning of the liturgy and artistic excellence.

As soon as we enshrine the principle of subjectivity in the realm of liturgical music, it is hard to see how we can avoid a situation in which our worship is balkanized along taste fault lines.  The very fact that the discussion over the article remains acrimonious is because we have not moved past that principle, and in fact, as long as we are stuck there, we won’t. It is important to note that nowhere in the article do I state that the music which has grown up in the Praise & Worship milieu has no place in the life of the Church.  But that is different than saying it should be in the Mass.
If we take Mass to be something that we do to “attract” people to God, then it makes sense to craft an experience which corresponds to what they feel they need in order to commune with God.  But, if we truly understand that the Mass is not that, then another set of concerns comes to the fore.
The assumption that praise and worship music is appropriate at Mass because the people who make the music are sincere and the lyrics are about sacred things does not make it sacred music appropriate for the liturgy. The mind of the Church in this matter is very clear, in her documents.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Sacrosanctum concilium and Musicam sacram all point to a different set of concerns about the choice of music at Mass.
Namely, the sacred liturgy is something which we are given, not something we create. If we are to sing the Holy Mass, rather than sing at Holy Mass, we must sing the actual texts of the Mass: in the first instance, the Ordinary of the Mass; and in the second instance, the Propers of the Mass. The concern over the texts given to us is matched by a clear predilection for certain things in the music at Mass: Latin, Gregorian chant, and music free of vulgar or popular associations are all mentioned specifically in the documents. The issue is not the date of composition of the music, it is its dignity for the sacred liturgy.  While it may indeed be the case that there are places where there are great numbers of people who “like” praise and worship music at Mass, it is not as self-evident that the documents of the Church, which express the mind of the Church on the sacred liturgy, in any way support the subversion of the liturgy by the criteria of relevance, numbers, or comfort.
The witness of many seminarians and young priests bears this point fruitfully. I have come across numerous budding levites who were formed in the praise and worship mentality, many of whom because there was nothing else their parishes was offering them. Many of them remain grateful for what they received, because it was something that connected them to their faith.  And many of them also, either upon entering the seminary or at some point before or after, actually started to read the documents of the Church which spell out the expectations of the Church on sacred liturgy and music, as well as sound liturgical theology.  Many of them retain an affection for the music of their Catholic adolescence, but their perspective has been broadened and formed by something much deeper. They understand that the people in the pews they have just traded in for the sanctuary are often far from that full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy as the Church envisions it in her documents. And they also want to bring those same people to it. The big question for them, and for many of us in pastoral ministry is, how do we bridge the gap?
So let us keep in mind the eleven things I mentioned in the third part of the article:
  1. The Church’s musical and liturgical tradition is an integral part of worship, and not a fancy addition.
  2. While Praise is a high form of individual and small group prayer, it is not Worship as the Church understands the corporate public prayer of the Liturgy.
  3. Worship is not principally something that we do: it is the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are received in Holy Communion. Worship is Sacrifice and Sacrament, not Praise.  
  4. Relevance is irrelevant to a liturgy which seeks to bring man outside of space and time to the Eternal.
  5. Participation in the liturgy is principally interior, by the union of the soul with the Christ who celebrates the liturgy. Any externalizations of that interior participation are meaningless unless that interior participation is there.
  6. The Church’s treasury of sacred music is not the province of one social-economic, age, cultural, or even religious group. It is the common patrimony of humanity and history.
  7. The Church must sing the Mass, i.e., the biblical and liturgical texts contained in the Missal and Gradual, and not sing at Mass man-made songs, if it is to be the corporate Worship of the Church and not just Praise designed by a select group of people.
  8. Orthodox Catholic teaching on faith and morals must always be accompanied by respect for the Church’s liturgical and musical teaching and laws.
  9. The deliberate intention to manipulate human emotions to produce a religious effect is abusive, insincere, and disrespectful of God’s power to bring about conversion in the hearts of man.
  10. While music does affect the emotions, sacred music must always be careful to prefer the transcendent holiness of God over the immanent emotional needs of man.
  11. The Church’s treasury of sacred music inspires and requires the highest attention to artistic excellence. It is also an unfathomable gift to the Church, and must be presented to the faithful so that they may enjoy that rich gift. 

When I wrote this article in 2011, I was a doctoral student without the care of souls. I could afford a more theoretical and speculative look into this question, and did so against the background of my own experience.  At this writing, I am pastor of a church which in many ways is like any other parish in the country: filled with people searching for God, and for love, wanting to bring others searching for the same thing into the House of God. Every time I ascend the altar for the Sacrifice of Redemption surrounded by my amazing flock, I know that it is nothing that we do which will bring that about. It is all a grace, it all is the work of God. If we celebrate the sacred mysteries as the Church gives them to us, in the beauty of holiness, then God will use that, and not our creativity, to work out His purpose in the world. And it is precisely there that the most creative work happens.

Books Mentioned During Plenary Session

I have been asked several times to give a full list of all the books I mentioned in rapid random fire during my talk on Liturgical Theology: Are We Just Now Beginning?

So, here goes the full list:

Romano Guardini, The Church of the Lord
St John Paul II, Ecclesia de eucharistia
Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis: Summorum pontificum
CDF, Dominus Jesus
St Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini
Pius XII, Mediator Dei
Vatican II, Lumen gentium; Sacrosanctum concilium

Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975
Piero Marini, A challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal 1963-1975
Nicola Giampietro, The Development of the Liturgical Reform As seen by Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli 1948 to 1970

Gero Weishaupt, forthcoming book on Summorum Pontificum

Klaus Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy
Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform
Josef Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy

Laurence Paul Hemming, Worship as a Revelation: the Past, Present and Future of Catholic Liturgy
Jonathan Robinson, Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backwards

Charles Journet, The Mass: the Presence of the Sacrifice of the Cross
Abbot Vonier, A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist

Happy reading, and to all the CMAA Colloquium 2014 participants in Indianapolis, thank you for your kindness and good spirits during an excellent time together!

Oremus pro invicem!

The Word of God in Liturgy and the Church

One of things that I thank God for is that I was born within an observant Baptist family, if for no other reason that when I became a Catholic, the grace for which I thank God the most for, I already had a tremendous foundation in the Bible that made my experience of Catholicism richer. I have often in these twenty years since I left for the land of milk and honey looked back upon the onions and leeks of Nashville with fondness, so much so that I took the spoils of the Canaanites with me into the Promised Land. I received from them, not only knowledge, but a method of how to study Scripture and apply it to my life. It also has made me think a lot about the place of Scripture in liturgy and the life of the Church.

Evangelical Pedagogy

As most of you know, for the evangelical, there is only the Word. There are no sacraments. And in 500 years, the evangelicals have developed a pretty effective pedagogy by which their people learn the Word of God. It is direct, simple, and free of unnecessary theological speculation. The idea is to let the Word speak for itself to the person. This is done by private reading of Scripture in the home, Bible study at home and in the church, and preaching.

One of the most interesting things you will note is that almost the whole of an evangelical Sunday or Wednesday night service is taken up by the sermon. And that sermon can take well over an hour, and more in some places. A pastor’s sermons are collectively referred to as his “teaching” and it is clear that those who hear him are there to learn. Everyone brings their Bibles and a pen, and it is not unusual to see people taking notes in their Bible or in a separate notebook for that purpose.

Often the teaching is centered around a small passage of Scripture which is usually read by the preacher at the beginning of the sermon. Evangelicals do not try to preach on the entire Bible in a year, even if some encourage everyone to read through the Bible in a year at home. The idea is simple: short passages of Scripture which are the central focus.

But the sermon is much more than a simple exegesis of one tiny passage. A good evangelical sermon will illuminate that passage with numerous other Biblical texts and relate the whole very directly to the Christian life of faith and morals. Stories, jokes, passages from other literature are often weaved in seamlessly as the preacher brings about a point. Often, however, his point will go on over a series of successive Sundays. The point evolves over time, and gradually becomes clear, all through the preaching on the text. Sometimes a preacher will take his hearers through an entire book of the Bible, and it is not unusual for him to take months or even a year on one book of the Bible. I still remember a vivid series on the Book of Revelation when I was a kid that took a year. But at the end of that year, I knew the book backwards and forwards and can still remember much of what I learned.

Does any of this have anything to teach Catholics? I think it does. As much as some older adults complain that, before Vatican II, no one read Scripture, Scripture reading and study is a large part of our Tradition that only needs to be recovered. The problem we are grappling with is: how? No contemporary Catholic would dream of having one hour long sermons on Sunday morning (although no one seemed to have a problem listening to St John Chrysostom in the 4th century or St Francis de Sales in the 17th century for hours on end). But is there something in the evangelical pedagogical method that is useful? Yes. We have to let the Word of God speak for itself in its own power and might. But we also have to get Catholics to understand that this will happen only to the extent that private Bible reading (guided by the Magisterium of the Church, of course!), study and prayer are part of it. Also, our presentation of the Bible has to be direct, simple, free from unnecessary theological speculations, and related to actual Christian life and practice today.

The Readings

When Catholics think of the Word of God, we automatically think of the Scripture readings at Mass. We think that the only objective of the homily is supposed to explain those readings. But in our Tradition, the Word did not become a Book, but Flesh. The Word of God is seen in Scripture and Tradition. It is celebrated, not only by the readings during a Eucharistic celebration, but in the life of the Incarnation in the world and most especially by the Word Made Flesh in the Real Presence of the Eucharistic species. The Incarnational aspect of the Catholic’s engagement with the Word of God is visible, in part, in the way in which the Church celebrates the Word. The ritual accompanying the reading of Scripture underscores its importance: singing the Word, carrying the Gospel Book in procession, incensing the Word. The way in which we engage the Word at Mass through the senses is inspiring and beautiful, and should be celebrated as well as possible always.

But strip away all of the externals surrounding the proclamation of the Word, and what do we have? The readings are not proposed willy-nilly, but according to a plan in conjunction with the Liturgical Year. The Catholic Church has always had such a plan, even though it has differed from place to place and time to time in parts. And that plan consists, not only of the readings at Mass, but also the special Antiphons which come at the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion, as well as those parts of the Scripture which make up the Ordinary of the Mass. The current plan which most Latin Rite Catholics follow was designed as part of what we now call the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This plan was a response to the call of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council to offer richer fare at the Table of God’s Word.

It is true that, quantitatively, at least, more Scripture is read, during the Readings, at Mass in the Ordinary Form of the Mass than at the Extraordinary Form of the Mass which was most Latin Rite Catholic’s experience of the Mass before Vatican II. The organizing principle of the Plan behind that is for almost the entire Bible to be read on Sundays in a space of three years, and weekdays in a space of two. So the pericopes chosen are shoehorned into that scheme. Those responsible for making the Plan a reality sought to establish as many connections as possible between the Readings. Sometimes, however, the connections are forced. Also, the fact that the celebrant may often choose between an option to have a continuous reading on weekdays or choose another set of special chosen readings according to the liturgical calendar brings about the occasional odd juxtaposition of themes within one liturgical celebration.

What is the pedagogical method behind this Plan? Often the Ordinary Form is criticized for being too “didactic.” Even the arrangement of the readings according to a two and three year set of cycles is dismissed as being too pedagogical in and of itself. But, as we have noticed, our evangelical brethren, who do not have a ritual liturgical proclamation of the Readings, for pedagogical reasons, choose very short passages of Scripture as their central theme, around which other passages are used to illuminate it.

It is not clear if according to the Plan for the OF Lectionary, the same pedagogical method, which as we have seen, has its benefits, is employed. It would be understandable if, for example, the Gospel was always considered to be the main passage and the other readings proclaimed at Mass illuminated that Gospel pericope in some way, as through typology, for example. But it seems that the principles for the selection of the readings are the following: 1) we need to fit as much of the Bible into a cycle of two or three years as we can. 2) we need to arrange them so we have an Old Testament reading, a non-Gospel New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading, as well as a Psalm thrown in there too. 3) we will arrange them in such a way as that there seems to be a connection between them somehow.

The establishment of a connection across the readings comes at the end of the reasoning process, not at the beginning. It is for this reason, I contend that the Plan for the Lectionary in the OF is not pedagogical at all, or at least not pedagogically sound. The mere proclamation of more Scripture does not translate into greater understanding. Greater understanding can be had, without resource to explanation, only to the extent that a sound pedagogical method takes as its first principle one reading and the second principle the other readings which are connected with it by theme, typology, or theological verity. Such it is that Our LORD was able to illuminate words of the Hebrew Bible by His own Word.

Homily

Often Catholics think of preaching as the homily which explains the readings at Mass. Priests attempt to explain what the readings mean. Often they will ignore one or more of the readings appointed for any given day because he can find no obvious connection between them, or he forces a connection between them all. Each Sunday is seen as a discrete unit all to itself, and no attempt is made to set the appointed readings in the context of the other readings in previous or subsequent Sundays. He also attempts to do all of this in five or at most ten minutes. He might tell a joke or share a story, but because it is in Mass, he will generally respect the formal nature of the homily as a part of the Mass. And he will almost never preach outside of Mass.

I content that this situation is an unintended byproduct of Vatican II. Before Vatican II, the homily was not considered a part of the Mass. In fact, it was not considered essential, even on Sundays, although warmly encouraged. In some places, the priest took off, not only the maniple but also the chasuble, as a cue that this sermon was not a part of the Mass. But what has happened is that, the emphasis on the homily as an integral part of the Mass has led some priests to limit their preaching to Mass. It also has led many priests to preach when they probably should have not, because of illness, lack of preparation, lack of knowledge, or just plain lack of ability to speak clearly and properly.

The time issue is the first thing that must be addressed if the Word of God is to richly inform the homily. We are told that, because people’s attention span is getting shorter and shorter, we must preach less and less. Yet the same teenagers in our pew who can’t string two consecutive sentences together that have a logical connection between them can watch a two and a half hour movie rapt at attention. We often skimp on the homily because of fear of our own limitations. That, and the fact that the next Mass is in five minutes and the parking lot has to clear. So we do not teach our people the Word of God with calm and with a sure pedagogical method because of practicalities which could be re-arranged if we only have the courage to re-arrange them. We also have to spend time with Scripture and prepare our homilies well and in advance, as well as practice them. Composing them in our heads on the way to the ambo from the chair is not a way to preach!

Also, we must revisit the idea that the homily explains the readings at Mass. Often, this can become little more than an exercise in exegesis, with no application to the actual lives of people. How is the Word of God living and effective through a homily if it is little more than an academic exercise? Is that all it is, or something much more?

Also, there is precedent in Catholic Tradition for preaching outside Mass. Some priests will say, “I can’t even get them to Mass, how am I going to get them to another sermon?” But there have been other times in history when Catholics, who were not bound to come, did come, and sometimes in great numbers, to sermons held outside of Mass. Some Catholics would even come to Mass just to go to the sermon afterwards, especially during the Catholic Reformation and Patristic periods. If you preach well, they will come!

Sunday School

Often we give the Mass the burden of reading and explaining Scripture. Before Vatican II, for Protestants, religious education consisted of Sunday School for the whole family and for Catholics, the Baltimore Catechism for children preparing for sacraments. Sometimes there was more, but not often. In the Catholic Church, we have so closely linked religious education with the reception of the sacraments, that we have produced now generations of Catholics who are only barely catechized. And some are beginning to ask, Are they even evangelized?

I contend that the pastoral priority for the Catholic Church is to develop in every parish and diocese Christian formation for the whole family, for all the Church’s children of every age, and that this be, if not as important as Sunday Mass attendance, certainly next to it. In many places religious education, which once was memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, is now arts and crafts and self-esteem lessons.

Christian formation has to integrate the Scriptural and the catechetical, and be for all Catholics of any age, not just kids preparing for sacraments. There are various ways to do this: 1. adopt a primarily Scriptural model, into which is integrated the full catechetical program, for all ages. 2. adopt a primarily catechetical model, into which is integrated as much Scripture as possible. 3. a liturgical model, which integrates Scripture and catechesis into the liturgical year and celebrations. My preference is for the first. It was the way the Church Fathers did evangelization and catechesis and does not suppose such a huge gap between Scripture and Catechesis.

The Church Fathers, the evangelicals and the pre-Vatican II Church did have one good pedagogical method common to all of them: memorization. There is no reason why Catholics of all ages cannot memorize Bible passages and the Baltimore Catechism (which is a model of pedagogical soundness) in the context of a wider Christian formation which teaches Scripture, Catechesis, as well as spirituality and moral life. What has been separated out into distinct spheres for learning theology must be reunited together for Christian formation of all people.

Often Bible Studies for adults have been started in parishes. But they, along with the homilies, often do little more than repeat well-worn theories of Biblical scholars about how the text isn’t really the text or about the socioeconomic situation of the time period. They also get lost in theological speculation, much of which is difficult to square with the teaching of the Church. At any rate, much of what passes for Bible Study in the Catholic Church, particularly in canned programs, is not direct, simple, and free of useless theological speculations. It doesn’t help people get in touch with Scripture. But is there a way that can?

Lectio Divina and Collatio

In the seminary, every Monday night we gathered in the Chapel and sang the Veni creator spiritus. We would then hear the readings for the following Sunday proclaimed just as they would be proclaimed the next Sunday, ritually. Then, one of the seminary staff or a guest would give a conference on those readings. The speaker would often do a careful exegesis of the readings, bring in Church Fathers and theologians, and relate it to the life of the community. The seminarians would then go to their rooms and spend an hour praying over the readings. We would work with the Greek and Hebrew, use commentaries, write out the Scriptures in our hand, whatever we wanted to study those Scriptures.

Every day in the seminary we had a Eucharistic Holy Hour. Seminarians would often bring down their missals, Bibles and commentaries. Sometimes they would bring breviaries, rosaries or other spiritual books. But often part of that time in the Holy Hour was spent studying the Word of God, especially as it would be celebrated on Sunday. But some of us also used it to read the readings for the next day. On Fridays, we gathered in small groups, with a man from each year of the seminary, to discuss the readings and pray together. On Saturdays, the deacons would then meet with the Rector and do the same with him, often sharing what the other seminarians had come up with.

Many of the graduates of the Roman Seminary brought these traditions of lectio divina and collatio into their parishes and schools, often combined with a Eucharistic Holy Hour. Think of what it could bring to our American parishes: the lay faithful and clergy together studying the Scriptures for next Sunday, silently praying before the Blessed Sacrament, sharing in small groups the fruit of their prayer, and learning under the guidance of their pastor? Much better than canned programs of dubious orthodoxy that are boring and don’t feed the soul!

The Mass and Music

The new corrected translation of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Missal is important for many reasons. Perhaps the most important is that it returns many of our prayers, not just to the original Latin, but closer to the words of the original Scripture from which the prayers are taken. I have often remained stupefied at the fanciful interpretations for and against certain aspects of the new translation, none of which go back to the Scriptures. (Matthew 8.8. and Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof comes immediately to mind).

The corrected English translation is not the only thing which will help the Word of God to be more visible within the life of the Church. There is a move afoot to replace man made hymns with the proper (mostly) Scriptural antiphons appointed in the Roman Missal at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion of the Mass. For those who are always looking out for increasing richer fare at the table of God’s word, I ask: Why then promote man-made hymns when the people can sing the actual words of Scripture which are appointed by the Church for those times? For the Word of God to be powerful in one’s life it is not sufficient merely to hear it. For the faithful, not only to say the words of Scripture in the Ordinary of the Mass every time they go to mass, but also sing those words as the appear in the Proper of the Mass: that’s a real way of offering richer fare at the table of God’s word, instead of just random songs composed by others.


The Divine Office

Finally, I would like to note that, if we are to offer the faithful more of the riches of Scripture, as well as offer them tools for Christian formation, there is no better way than the Liturgy of the Hours. The Psalter, the other scriptural readings and the texts from the Fathers, saints and other ecclesiastical writers complement the Liturgy of the Mass. Opening the treasures of the Scriptures to the faithful also entails involving them in the public prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours. How many parishes offer centering prayer, yoga, devotions, novenas and Perpetual Adoration, but not Lectio Divina and the Liturgy of the Hours?

Conclusion

It is often charged that Church musicians of a certain stripe only care about a certain type of music, and that they do not take into account the consequences of Vatican II’s call for a Church embued with Scripture. In this view, these musicians actually are an obstacle to that vision, because they propose music of a certain type, or in another language. It is also often charged that the postconciliar liturgical reform has been a tremendous success in bringing Catholics closer to Scripture. I think both charges need to be analyzed more closely.

For the Church to implement the desire of Vatican II to restore Scripture to its rightful place of honour in the Church, as well as the call of Pope Benedict XVI in his latest Apostolic Exhoration Verbum Domini, several things need to happen. First, the Church needs to discover what is the best pedagogical method by which the Church arranges her Plan for Scripture during liturgical celebrations in such a way as to be fruitful. Simply by asserting, “There’s more now than there was before” is not sufficient. We also must find ways to re-envision both preaching and Christian formation in such a way, not only to be pedagogically fruitful, but also to more effectively initiate believers into Scripture. Finally, we must take advantage of the riches of the Missal (in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms) and Liturgy of the Hours to assist Catholics not only to be present at, but feast at the table of God’s Word.

Our own time, then, must be increasingly marked by a new hearing of God’s word and a new evangelization. Recovering the centrality of the divine word in the Christian life leads us to appreciate anew the deepest meaning of the forceful appeal of Pope John Paul II: to pursue the missio ad gentes and vigorously to embark upon the new evangelization, especially in those nations where the Gospel has been forgotten or meets with indifference as a result of widespread secularism. May the Holy Spirit awaken a hunger and thirst for the word of God, and raise up zealous heralds and witnesses of the Gospel. – Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini

Why Are Seminaries Afraid of the Extraordinary Form?

Personal Reflections

I had just entered the seminary when Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, came out. I had an English copy expressed to me and brought it with me into the chapel as my spiritual reading during our daily community Holy Hour. One of the older men knelt next to me as I was engrossed in Ratzinger’s chapter on Rite and whispered, “Do you want to get kicked out of the seminary? Change the book cover now.” All of my attempts to not publicise the fact that I actually knew the Old Latin Mass had apparently been blown out of the water by this defiant act of wanton schism. Suddenly seminarians began to knock on my door and counsel me how to survive the seminary, and so I exchanged Ignatius Press’ book cover for one entitled “The Pastoral Letters of Paul VI.”

Apparently it was too late. I was a marked man. Not surprisingly, the superiors were made aware of my “problem,” but for the most part, they left me alone. I refused to be duplicitous about my love for the Latin Mass, and I also went along with the liturgical customs of the house without trying to reform or denounce them. I did from to time steal away from the house to go to a Latin Mass, carefully folding my cassock up into my overcoat and hiding my collar with a scarf, feeling all the while a little bit like Superman waiting for a small cubiculum where I could transform into my true self. Only once was I ever “discovered” as I was serving a Low Mass for a Curial prelate in the private chapel of a Roman noble family that was having an annual open house, as it were. Nothing was ever said.

My deacon year, however, I had a very strange experience which made me realize the odd dynamics that are often at work in seminaries when it comes to the Latin Mass. We had a Lenten tradition called “fraternal correction” in which any member of the house could call another member of the house on the floor for anything which he considered wrong. I had escaped four previous Lents without feeling the need to engage any of my brothers in this somewhat contrived version of what we did every day living together, nor having to feel the brunt of someone else’s issues at my expense. Not this time.

One of my confreres came up to me in the magazine room and expressed his concern over the fact that I was a Lefebvrist. My superiors were already content with the fact that I had told them I was more than happy being a priest in the contemporary Church, as she is today and not as she was at some mythical time in the future, so I was rather annoyed at this sincere desire to save me from my own schismatic self. I attempted to try to explain that not everyone who is attached to the pre-Vatican II liturgical tradition is a schismatic, but was apparently unsuccessful. One of my superiors attempted to come to my aid. He said, “You think Christopher is a Lefebvrist because he likes Latin and Gregorian chant. Well, then I am a Lefebvrist too. And so is the Church, because she made it very clear at Vatican II that we were supposed to have Latin and chant in the Mass.”

The problem was that I realized that neither my superior nor my confrere knew who Marcel Lefebvre was, or anything about the genesis and the complicated nature of the traditionalist phenomenon. Neither had any experience of what we called back in the day the Indult Mass, and they would not have known anyone who actually was a priest of the SSPX, if it had not been for one of our alumni who had just jumped ship to them a few years before.

The whole experience left me rather sad. It made me realize that there are many good men in the Church, who are products of and involved in seminary formation who do not understand why anyone, least of all a seminarian, would be interested in the Extraordinary Form. There is no knowledge at all, or only partial circumstantial and anecdotal knowledge, often negative, that they have of others who expressed an interest in that liturgy.

Shortly after the abortive attempt at fraternal correction, I had an exam with a famous Italian liturgist. He was famous for giving everyone perfect scores, and all he asked was that you come in and talk about one chapter from the books he assigned us to read in class. Five minutes, and you were done and had a nice advance on your GPA. There was a chapter in one of his books which compared the Ordinary of the Mass in the older and the newer forms. So I began to talk about that chapter. “How do you know anything about this?” he asked angrily. I replied that it was in the book, and tried to show him where it was in the book that he had told us to read in class, but he would not be moved. And so began a 45 minute oral exam in which he grilled me on everything in the books, which I had studied and knew. I was dismissed from the exam and given a barely passing grade. Imagine my surprise when he showed up at the seminary to give a talk to my class on the liturgical reform. He started off with, “Well, of course, none of you know anything about what the Mass was like before Vatican II.” My class knew about the exam from hell I had just had with him and started snickering. Looking for an answer as to why the giggling, I calmly said, “Well, I actually served the Old Latin Mass this morning before I came to your exam today.”

I would never counsel a seminarian to do the same. Nor do I offer anything I have ever done as a model! But what I gained from that experience was that I could not dispassionately engage a famous liturgist about the Old Mass with something as objective as what the differences are between the two forms.

So in my seminary experience I encountered two phenomena: a lack of knowledge and a positive hatred of one form of the Church’s liturgy. Since then, we have had Ratzinger elected Pope, as well as Summorum pontificum and Universae ecclesiae. The nature of the game has changed, even if there are some who are unwilling to admit it.

Reasons Why Seminaries Should be Afraid of the EF
But a question must be asked: Are there any legitimate reasons why a house of priestly formation should be leery of the EF? As far as most seminaries go, Ecclesia Dei adflicta has not landed, much less Summorum and Universae. The day to day liturgical life of the seminaries has changed very little since Pope Benedict XVI took office, even as seminarians in some parts of the world have done an admirable job of trying to educate themselves about the rite. Some seminaries offer a few Masses a year and some optional training in the old rite, but I am not aware of any diocesan seminary in which it is a normal part of the life.
Much to their credit, seminary rectors and faculty realize that they are preparing their men for ministry in a Church in which they will find a variety of liturgical expressions. Whether that pluralism is always legitimate or not is a good question, but young priests have to be capable of serving in parishes where the Good News of Pope Benedict XVI has not yet reached. Some might be afraid that emphasis on the EF might render them incapable of reaching the people in the pews.

Also, the more that curious seminarians delve into the EF, they will have a lot of questions, not only about the mechanics of the EF but about the whole liturgical reform itself. These are uncomfortable questions, and seminary faculty must have not only a wide learning to answer those questions, but much patience to accompany seminarians through their questioning.
Seminary superiors also are loath to divide the community in any way. There is a fear that encouraging the EF might split seminarians in their fraternity and cause them to break off into cliques of liturgical preference, and that this division would be magnified in parish life. Parishes, rectories, and schools would feel the weight of EF-happy clergy intent on changing how they “have always done” things until the biretta-wearing, Latin-talking upstart comes to town.

Seminary staff are also aware that the enthusiasm of youth is often not tempered by the virtue of prudence and seasoned by the practical knowledge that comes with experience in parish ministry. One of the phenomena that has come about is the seminarian who has taught himself all he knows about the EF. The autodidact often knows less than he thinks he does, and, with the best intentions in the world, annoys people unnecessarily. I was reminded of this recently as I was sitting in choir at a EF Solemn Mass. Although the clergy were seated in their proper order, a seminarian spent his whole time fretting about giving the signs to the senior clergy he thought were ignorant of when to sit, stand, bow, and use the biretta. As it happens, he was frequently wrong and I spent the whole Mass distracted by his trying to be a Holy Helper.

Many seminarians have a genuine love of the Old Mass, but the tradition has not been handed down to them in a living organic way. And when one tries to resurrect the tradition by way of books, videos, and self-help, there are too many holes in the fabric to make a rich vesture in which to clothe the Church’s liturgy. As most seminarians’ experience of the liturgy has been more or less exclusively the Ordinary Form, there is also the inescapable temptation to graft a Novus Ordo mentality onto a liturgy whose mens is quite different.

There are not a few people responsible for the formation of priests who see all of the above phenomena and think to themselves, “We don’t want to touch this with a ten foot pole.” And of course, what does a good seminary rector do when he knows that Tradition-unfriendly Bishops will pull their guys out of their seminaries if they begin to teach the EF?

Reasons Why Seminaries Should Welcome the EF

None of the above phenomena, which are real, should impede seminaries from a joyous welcome to the EF within their daily life. By this point, it should be patently obvious to everyone that a significant proportion of the men interested in the seminary are also, if not positively enthusiastic, at least not unfavourable, to the EF. Of course, this is true only in certain countries and in certain regions of those countries. But even where there is little or no interest, there are still reasons why seminaries can welcome the EF.

The most important reason is that the Magisterium has made it very clear that there are two forms of the same Roman Rite and that both are equal in dignity. If all priests of the Latin Rite have the right to celebrate both forms, it follows that seminaries should then form all priests in both forms. Then, they will be ready to fulfill the requests of those faithful who desire the EF and they will broaden their own pastoral horizon.

The enthusiastic welcome of the EF into seminary life will also unmask the tension that has been growing over EF-friendly seminarians in houses of formation. If they are not formed properly in the seminary to be able to offer the EF, many will embark on an auto-didactic parallel formation which will keep their minds, hearts and often their bodies out of the seminary formation environment. When seminarians begin such an autodidactic parallel formation, the tendency is to develop a form of duplicity to be able to engage in such formation. And given the state of the clergy in today’s Church, no seminary can afford to give seminarians a blank check to get their formation elsewhere.

A Plan for Integrating the EF into Seminary Life
But how can the EF be integrated into seminary life? First of all, all of those involved in priestly formation must come to accept what Pope Benedict XVI has done for the Roman liturgy: he has declared that there are two forms of one Roman rite, and every priest has a right to celebrate both. If that is true, the question must be asked: Why is every seminarian in the Latin Rite not trained in both forms? Some seminaries have offered some limited training to those who are interested in it, but that still makes it seem like the EF is a hobby for some priests, or some kind of eccentric movement barely tolerated within the Church, and not of equal value with the OF.

Yet before any seminary can integrate the EF into seminary life, seminaries must offer a comprehensive training in the Latin language and sacred music. These two subjects, which were once part and parcel of every seminary training, have been relegated to a few optional classes in many places, when they should undergird the curriculum.

Many seminaries, in an attempt to prepare their men for the reality of life in the parishes to which they may one day be destined, often offer Spanish Masses or folk Masses or other kinds of “Liturgical Styles” for seminarians to participate in. Whether or not this is a good type of formation is not the scope of this article, but it also brings up a question: If OF and EF are two forms of the Roman Rite existing side-by-side, for the universal Church, how can they not both be celebrated side-by-side in the seminary. For the community Mass of a seminary, one wonders why Low Mass, Dialogue Mass, Sung Mass and Solemn Mass cannot be part of the weekly rotation of types of Masses celebrated in seminary communities.

There are indications that, in many seminaries, the men themselves are pushing their seminary rectors and faculty to recognize the validity and the possibilities of the celebration of both OF and EF in their communities. There is open discussion of this topic, with much less fear than there was in my time, which was not all that long ago. The openness and transparency with which the liturgical questions can be asked, confronted, and resolved bodes well for the future. Far from producing one-sided priests who leave the seminary bitter liturgical Nazis bent on reforming their parishes to their liturgical opinions, the frequent celebration of the EF in seminaries can foster an atmosphere of serene liturgical formation in which men can better appreciate both forms and learn how to more effectively open up the riches of the liturgy for the People of God.

What Can Happen when the EF is integrated into seminary life
I was recently at a Cathedral down South on a weekday and I wanted to celebrate a private Mass. As I was vesting in my Roman chasuble and my altar server, a seminarian, was preparing the altar for my EF Mass on the feast of Saint Dominic, a newly ordained priest was vesting in a Gothic chasuble and a layman was preparing another side altar for his OF Mass on the feast of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. My newly ordained priest friend has not yet learned the EF, but is interested. We both went to side altars at the same time to offer two forms of the Roman Rite, with clergy, seminarians and laity in attendance. It just kind of happened that way, was something not planned. Later that week, my newly ordained priest friend sat in choir at an EF High Mass that the seminarian and I helped to sing, and I concelebrated the OF in the same Cathedral where he was ordained. The Director of Religious Education for the Cathedral, a young woman theologian and student of liturgy, happened to be present at all of these occasions, and she commented on how, in our own way, we were making real Pope Benedict’s vision of the Roman Rite in two forms. No one was confused, no one was angry, no one was ideologically motivated to criticize the other.

The younger clergy have a tremendous opportunity to be conversant in the two forms of the Roman Rite, and in doing so, build bridges where previous liturgy battles had separated the faithful from each other. Seminary superiors are right to want to avoid at all costs further liturgical polarization in the Church. But continuing to marginalize a form of the Roman Rite which has been restored to its full citizenship within the Church will only continue to polarize people. Giving the EF its due in priestly formation will be the way forward beyond opposing camps into a Church where both forms can co-exist side-by-side in harmony.

Just my $0.10 worth about the Translation of Cantus in the New Missal

Just had some thoughts, for what they are worth. While it is true that yes, cantus can be translated as song as well as chant, there are some observations to be made:

1. If I am correct, the rubrics and the GIRM will be printed in the MIssal for the first time in the new translation, with all of the post-Redemptionis Sacramentum adjustments. There were editorial comments in the last Sacramentary that approached rubrics, or at least so it seemed. (Before the Syllabus of Errors gets started on this point, please remember that I haven’t said an English OF in so long, I can’t remember, and I don’t have the book here to look at it.)

2. The changes in the Missal might mean that priests who have never read the red bits or the GIRM before (and they are legion) might just do so for the first time, or for the first time since 1970. That alone might get some thinking.

3. While it may seem that the last option is still an argument to allow hymns at Mass, I am not sure it really is, whether it is in the original Latin rubrics, or the new corrected English version. Why? In any translation, it i necessary to go back to the intention of the author when using that word. Now, I would be interested if anyone could go leafing through Bugnini’s Reform of the Liturgy, his apologia for the liturgical reform, and see if he had any intention of vernacular hymns replacing the propers. From what I remember from what I have read, the answer is no. Also, if Musicam Sacram is still the proper legislation for music in the Roman Rite, is cantus as used in that document referring to the Propers?

The REAL question is this: What is the mind of the Church about music at those times? I don’t think there is any indication in any official document that the mind of the Church was to use vernacular hymns when the Propers are called for. To argue that, because hymns are used by the People of God at Mass, that is the mind of the Church and it is as such expressed in the GIRM I find a little backwards. It seems to me that the use of vernacular hymns was tolerated in the German-speaking world. Toleration in the official documents does not mean that the Church desires it for her worship, at least not universally.

4. While it is clear that hymns at Mass and Low Mass have occurred and continue to occur throughout Church history, it also seems clear to me that the Church’s intention is to SING THE MASS (Ordinary, Responses and the Propers that are in the text of the Missal) and not to SING AT MASS (paraphrases of the Ordinary as in German and Spanish, and Hymns at Mass.)

Those who are derided as having an ideology to push the propers have a better argument that trying to legislate the Propers into existence everywhere. The argument is simple: SING THE MASS, DON’T SING AT MASS!

Why Praise and Worship Music is Praise, But Not Worship

The first time I ever went to a Life Teen Mass I was sixteen years old. It was New Years’ Eve and I thought, instead of going downtown with my pagan friends, I should be a good Catholic boy and ring in the New Year with Jesus. The parish that had the Life Teen Mass was not mine, but I went anyway. Everyone had been telling me that there were lots of people my age, who were serious about their faith, and that it would be a Spirit-filled time. Some of my friends were going to be there, too, so what could be better?

But as soon as the Mass started, I felt like I had stepped into a no-man’s land suspended between Catholicism and some vague form of Protestantism that I as a convert had never seen before. It wasn’t that the music was strange to me. I grew up with contemporary Christian music around the house and listened to it on the radio (when I wasn’t listening to classical music or Latin dance music). So I knew the songs. The church was full of high schoolers and Baby Boomers and they all seemed to know and love each other.

But as the Mass unfolded, I kept noticing things that I knew very well were not in the rubrics, those pesky little red directions in the Missal that tell us how to celebrate the Mass properly. The Life Teen coordinators had decided that they would modify the Mass to make it fit whatever they deemed necessary to get the kids involved. And so there was dancing, hand-holding, and music that had nothing to do with the actual texts of the Mass.

But then, it was time for the Eucharistic Prayer. The celebrant invited all the kids to come around the altar. As the church was quite full, this was rather cumbersome and also pointless. But everyone stood up and made their way as through a mosh pit (I am showing my age, now!) to get closer to the altar. I stayed behind in the last pew. And of course, the celebrant thought that I was too shy to come up and so he encouraged me, from the altar, to join the kids. I had had enough, and so I yelled from the back pew, “No, sorry, Father, I’m a Catholic, I don’t do that kind of thing,” and pulled out a rosary and knelt to pray it as I watched the Eucharistic Prayer degenerate into something eerily similar to the ecstatic cults we had studied about in Ancient Greek History.

Not only did I never go back to a Life Teen Mass, I started the next Sunday to go to the Orthodox Church. There I felt like I was worshipping God and not having earnest adults try and fail to make religion relevant to me by assuming I was too young or stupid to understand real worship. It was fifteen years before I ever had to participate in anything similar ever again. By this time, I was a priest and I had been asked to preside over a Holy Hour for young people. The youth minister in this particular parish was very sensitive to the fact that Praise and Worship was not my thing, and she warned me ahead of time.

As I knelt there in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I realized something. The same people were doing the music who were doing it fifteen years before. It was the same music, the same songs that I made fun of when I was the age of the kids who were in the pews behind me. How relevant is that? But this time the kids who were there just seemed bored. I asked them afterwards what they thought of it, and one young man said, “Well, that was ok, I guess. When are we having another Latin Mass, Father?”

Of all of my friends from high school who were Life Teeners, not one of them is a practicing Catholic anymore. Will the kids today who are raised on a diet of Praise and Worship continue to practice the Faith when they are no longer of that age middle-aged people in the Church want to cater to? I don’t know. But my experience has brought me to reflect on why Praise and Worship Music is not appropriate for the liturgy:

1. P&W music assumes that praise is worship.

All of us are called to lift our hearts, minds and voices to God in prayer. A particular type of prayer is praise, when we recognize God’s goodness, holiness and mercy by our own actions of praise. Praise has always been accompanied by music. Praise has always been something that takes place on an individual or small group level. It is often spontaneous and takes the form of culturally relevant symbols and forms. Praise is something common to all Christians and to many other religions.

Worship is indeed a type of praise, and music is an integral part of it. But the sacred liturgy is the public prayer of the Church, a corporate worship by which baptized Catholics enter into a Mystery which is not of their making. Being a corporate action, it is governed by law and tradition so as to preserve its unity throughout the world and its fidelity to the Message revealed by God. Worship is a Christian act of the baptized gathered by bonds of communion with the visible institutional Church.

P&W music actually identifies worship with praise, by grafting the freer and more individualistic nature of praise onto the communal prayer of the Church’s worship.

2. P&W music assumes that worship is principally something we do.

Martin Luther defined the Mass as a sacrifice of praise. It is something we render to God. The Council of Trent solemnly defined against Luther that the Mass is a true sacrifice. The Mass is the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ to His Father on Calvary in the Holy Spirit. The Mass is something that Jesus does, the Redemption, the fruits of which are shared with us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Worship is not Praise, but Sacrifice and Sacrament. Worship is something that Jesus Christ brings about in us through His self-offering to the Father.

P&W music reduces the Mass to a sacrifice of praise that we offer to God. Even when P&W proponents assent to the teaching of the Church on the Mass, it is as an abstract truth of faith. In the concrete, our sacrifice of praise is grafted onto that Sacrifice of Redemption. It overlooks the fact that it is the Sacrifice of Redemption that is the highest Praise to the Trinity, and that our participation in it is not by what we do, but by who we are as baptized Christians in the life of grace.

3. P&W music assumes as its first principle relevance.

P&W recognizes that music is important in the Church’s worship. But it also posits that music must “reach people where they are.” It must be relevant to those who hear it. Relevance, however, is an ambiguous notion. What is relevant to me may not be relevant to someone else, and so P&W introduces into the liturgy an element of subjectivism based on human concerns.

Often P&W is directed at an ostensibly missionary effort. The idea is that, if people find the music at Mass attractive or relevant, they might be brought into a deeper relationship with God. Yet, faith is a gift that comes from God, not from us. P&W attempts to clear the way for divine action, as if relevance could accomplish that.

4. P&W music assumes as its second principle the active participation of a certain age group

P&W essentially views active participation as everyone doing, singing and feeling a certain way about God when at Mass. The music is a means to produce an end. It also sees the absence of young people at church, and argues that, if the music at Mass were more like what young people like in their normal lives, they might be opened up to a more abundant life. Thus, P&W is designed often by middle-aged people with little or no theological, liturgical or musical background to coax teenagers and college-age kids with a similar background into a theological, liturgical and musical milieu. That milieu reduces the liturgy to a man-made act of praise engineered to produce an apostolic result.

5. P&W music self-consciously divides the Church into age and taste groups

P&W music is principally designed based on an abstract idea of what young people like. It often reflects more the trends of the past that were germane to P&W participants’ adolescence than it does the actual relevant trends of current adolescents.

It also tends to disparage the Church’s musical tradition by claiming that it is too difficult, elegant, or irrelevant to teens. For them, P&W is a grassroots, democratic, egalitarian, music relevant to youth. In contrast, the Church’s musical tradition is often painted as theatrical, aristocratic music for old people in concert halls.

By selectively choosing the abstract notion of youth and what is relevant to it as a criterion for liturgical music, P&W effectively divides the Church according to what is arbitrarily considered to be youthful and not youthful. It also argues that different “styles” are fine for the liturgy. This introduces into the liturgy the ambiguous notion of style and taste as a principle by which the liturgy and its music should be conducted.

6. P&W music subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass

The Roman Missal contains antiphons for the Entrance and Communion which are normally biblical texts. The Roman Gradual, which is still the Church’s only official source of music for Mass, contains antiphons for the Offertory as well as for the Interlectionary Chants. These together are known as the Proper of the Mass. The Missal and Gradual also contain official texts for the Ordinary of the Mass, for the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.

P&W bypasses the first and preferred option that the Church’s liturgical law mandates for music at Mass, namely the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass as contained in the Church’s liturgical and musical books. It substitutes hymns, which have never been part of the Roman Mass, or paraphrases or re-workings of the Ordinary. If a biblical text is used, it often has little or nothing to do with the texts appointed by the Church in the Missal or Gradual.

In doing so, P&W sets up a situation in which people do not sing the Mass (i.e., the texts contained in the Missal and Gradual), but they sing at Mass songs chosen by the impoverished criterion that those songs “kind of go along with the readings or the theme of the day.” P&W divorces the music of the Mass from the Mass and substitutes in its place texts that are not or only barely Biblical or liturgical.

7. P&W music assumes that there can be a core of orthodox Catholic teaching independent of the Church’s liturgical law and tradition

Many P&W proponents assume that, as long as they continue to believe in what the Church teaches in the Catechism about faith and morals, that the liturgy can be adapted to how they think such a teaching should be incarnate in song. There are some who would never think of denying an article of the Creed or promoting immoral actions condemned by the Magisterium. But the same proponents see the liturgy as another sphere. Any appeal to liturgical law or tradition is rejected according to the principles of relevance and active participation of youth.

Orthodoxy is then separated from Orthopraxis, right belief is separated from right worship. The Church’s power to speak on faith and morals is upheld even as the Church’s power to safeguard the liturgy through rubrics, laws and traditions is dismissed as man-made legalism. In doing so, P&W promotes an attitude of passive, or even sometimes active, resistance to the hierarchy’s duty to safeguard the sacral character of the rites of the Church. The impression is created that there is such a thing as right belief, but that the idea of right worship is contrary to the Spirit of the Gospel.

This creates problems of communion between priests and their people when a priest attempts to reform the liturgy in any given place to bring it into line with the Church’s liturgical law and tradition.

8. P&W music consciously manipulates the emotions so as to produce a catharsis seen as necessary for spiritual conversion

Conversion is seen principally as a dramatic emotional event accompanied by strong feelings. Recognizing that music can stimulate feelings, P&W seeks to produce liturgical events which will bring out the feelings that could in turn bring about the emotional catharsis seen as necessary to conversion. The way the liturgy is planned and the music developed is done so with an eye to aiding this conversion process.

Yet, this is not what conversion really is. Conversion is the formation of the conscience under the grace of the Holy Spirit to inform the intellect and strengthen the will to live the supernatural life of the virtues in union with Christ. Although emotions are involved in the life-long pilgrimage of conversion, their deliberate manipulation, even for an ostensible good end, is abusive. It sees the human subject not as ready for the response to a divine call, but as something to be primed for an experience. In reality, the life of grace brought about by conversion is not an experience at the level of the emotions, but a movement of the soul over and above those emotions.

9. P&W music confuses transcendence with feeling.

The deliberate manipulation of the emotions by P&W often produces an excess of sentiment. The very strength of that feeling can induce some to think that such an event is the work of the transcendent God in them. Musical forms which truly are transcendent, in that they disengage from the emotional and bring the person above their emotions, such as Gregorian chant, are rejected because they do not necessarily cause an emotional event, which is seen as proof of divine action.

The constant spiritual tradition of the Church has taught to distrust feelings and to prize the transcendent holiness of God. It also teaches that human manipulation of other people’s intellects and wills is a violation against the freedom of the human person. When done in the name of God, it is also a violation of God’s sovereignty over the intellect and will of man, as it replaces the free action of God in the soul with a gimmick to make that action in theory possible.

10. P&W music denies the force of liturgical and musical law in the Church in favour of arbitrary and individualist interpretations of worship

P&W, in making relevance and a reduced notion of participation the fundamental principles for engineering liturgical/emotional events geared towards emotional catharsis taken for conversion, ignores liturgical and musical law in the Church when it contradicts its goal. Often the greatest proponents of P&W have never read the pertinent documents of the Church’s Magisterium about liturgy and music, or they read them within a hermeneutic of rupture.

Liturgical and musical law seeks to safeguard the unity, purity and clarity of the Church’s corporate worship. P&W offers other criteria for how the Church should worship. First, it subsumes true liturgical worship under the rubric of praise. Second, those who are in charge of the praise often engineer the rites and music according to principles alien to those that govern the Church’s liturgical and musical law. Third, the opinion of individuals, small groups and committees, often uninformed by a wider theological, liturgical and musical education, is preferred to the Church’s theological, liturgical and musical heritage which is found in the Church’s documents and the Missal and Gradual.

11. P&W music prizes immediacy of comprehension and artistic ease over the many-layered meaning of the liturgy and artistic excellence.

P&W prefers simple music that anyone can understand or participate in easily. It also prefers what can be sung or played with a minimum of practice, instruction, or talent. Its levels out the many-layered meaning of the liturgy to that which is most readily accessible, and denies access to the infinite riches in the Church’s liturgical life.

A constant diet of P&W throughout the liturgical year separates people from the Church’s actual liturgical prayer as found in the Missal and Gradual. It also denies them access to the art form produced by the Church herself, Gregorian chant, and to the transcendence to which it points. It also gives the impression that the Church is not serious about serious music. The idea of excellence in liturgical motion, sound, and sight and that the Church is a patron of the highest forms of such expression, is dismissed in favour of what is easiest. In doing so, P&W does not inspire youth and older people to plumb the riches of the Roman liturgy and music.

That is a lot to take in, I know. I am also sure that many of my P&W loving friends will take issue with some of what I have written here. But it is important that those involved in the Church’s ministry remember the following:

1. The Church’s musical and liturgical tradition is an integral part of worship, and not a fancy addition.

2. While Praise is a high form of individual and small group prayer, it is not Worship as the Church understands the corporate public prayer of the Liturgy.

3. Worship is not principally something that we do: it is the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are received in Holy Communion. Worship is Sacrifice and Sacrament, not Praise.

4. Relevance is irrelevant to a liturgy which seeks to bring man outside of space and time to the Eternal.

5. Participation in the liturgy is principally interior, by the union of the soul with the Christ who celebrates the liturgy. Any externalizations of that interior participation are meaningless unless that interior participation is there.

6. The Church’s treasury of sacred music is not the province of one social-economic, age, cultural, or even religious group. It is the common patrimony of humanity and history.

7. The Church must sing the Mass, i.e., the biblical and liturgical texts contained in the Missal and Gradual, and not sing at Mass man-made songs, if it is to be the corporate Worship of the Church and not just Praise designed by a select group of people.

8. Orthodox Catholic teaching on faith and morals must always be accompanied by respect for the Church’s liturgical and musical teaching and laws.

9. The deliberate intention to manipulate human emotions to produce a religious effect is abusive, insincere, and disrespectful of God’s power to bring about conversion in the hearts of man.

10. While music does affect the emotions, sacred music must always be careful to prefer the transcendent holiness of God over the immanent emotional needs of man.

11. The Church’s treasury of sacred music inspires and requires the highest attention to artistic excellence. It is also an unfathomable gift to the Church, and must be presented to the faithful so that they may enjoy that rich gift.

Do I think that P&W has a place in the life of the Church? Of course I do. It is praise, it is prayer, it does get people lifting their minds and hearts to God. There is obviously a place for that in the Church. But that is not Worship, and the communal prayer of the liturgy, by which God unites Himself with us, must be allowed to be itself. We should not be so cynical as to think that our Catholic people are too young (or old), too stupid (or overly-educated), and too spiritually weak (or indifferent) to pray the Church’s liturgy as it is indicated in the Missal and Gradual. The music of the Church’s tradition is the Church’s own gift to mankind. Let’s pray the Mass, let’s sing the Mass as worship. Then our praise will be worthy of the Spirit’s breath, because Christ through His Mystical Body will sing the Father’s praise in us.

A Tale of Two Abbeys: Klosterneuberg and Heiligenkreuz


Anyone who has read anything about the Liturgical Movement in the twentieth century has come across the name of Pius Parsch. He was the pastor of a small parish in the Austrian countryside, and a chaplain to any number of youth groups in and around. His name is important to know, because many of the things which we now take for granted in our celebrations of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite began as experiments in or were popularized from this one place. Mass facing the people, offertory processions, vernacular mixed with Latin in the text of the Mass: all of these things were already “traditions” fixed in the minds of Parsch’s parishioners well before Vatican II.

But Pius Parsch was not a diocesan parish priest. He was an Augustinian canon, a member of a religious community in Klosterneuberg not from Vienna. As a canon, community daily Mass and the Divine Office were already part of his spirituality, and he sought to bring the riches of that liturgical experience he loved in the monastery to his parishioners. How he did that is a fascinating story in and of itself, and we cannot underestimate the influence Parsch had on the liturgical reform of Vatican II, and the influence he still has today, especially in Austria. But that is the subject for another article.

Klosterneuberg is not just any monastery. As one of the canons explained it to me, Klosterneuberg is to Austria what Westminster Abbey is to England. It is the spiritual heart of Austria, and its importance in the fascinating story of Austria has always been great.

The history of the Austrian Church has been very peculiar, especially on account of the widespread meddling in Church affairs by the “Sacristy Emperor”, Joseph II. What this means is that the way religious life is lived in Austria is different than the way it is lived in any other place in the world. What it means to be a Benedictine, a Trappist, or a Norbertine in Austria is markedly different than what it means in other parts of the world. The active life has been emphasized very much over the contemplative life, not by accident of history, but by imperial edict.

The Austrian Congregation of Canons Regular of St Augustine does not have a counterpart anywhere else in the world. The most venerable house is Klosterneuberg.

But what is Klosterneuberg like today? While vocations are drying up all over the German-speaking world, this abbey continues to receive novices, and many stay. The monastery has gained notoriety in part because of a daring project in which several American priests and seminarians entered the community with the hope of one day establishing a foundation in the US. Very soon three confreres will make that dream a reality thanks to the patronage of the Bishop of Rockville Center, New York. And so the deep roots of Austrian canonical life will find their way to America, which will benefit from the rich history and spirituality of a form of life which many Americans will fall in love with!

Klosterneuberg remains a house of serious religious observance, but within its own tradition. While from the outside it may seem very wealthy and free, its canons are expected to participate in the life of the house and in the numerous apostolates of the community. The entire Liturgy of the Hours is chanted daily, conventual Mass is for all, and the life of the monastery continues much as it always has. But it also is a house for adults, for men whose spirituality does not need to be propped up by the structures of religious life.

For me, Klosterneuberg represents the past of Austria: its glorious imperial history, its intricate and fascinating development throughout the Second Milennium, its famous characters whose stories need to be told outside of the monastery walls. It also represents the future of Austria, and quite possibly, of many other places as well. Ours is an age in which the clerical life desperately needs reform. Priests hunger after a life which gives them the spiritual support they need to do their ministry and save their own souls, but with the freedom and flexibility to respond to the needs of the Church of today. While many people in the Church are experimenting with various movements or novel hybrid forms of religious life, Klosterneuberg offers a very rooted serious tradition which has weathered the post-conciliar years substantially intact. Where other religious communities abandoned their charism and faltered, the Austrian canonical life was able to remain authentically Catholic and authentically religious without sacrificing its essence or its power. The fact that it is a community which is growing when so many others are not indicates something beautiful is going on for God there.

So where is the present of Austria then? Readers of Chant Café will hopefully recognize the name of the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz. This abbey, also a venerable ancient monastic foundation of the Common Observance of the Cistercian Order, is the most flourishing and vibrant religious community in the German-speaking world. The abbey is known for its recent Chant CD. And, watch for a new CD, which has just been issued. entitled Vesperae. It is the reconstruction of Baroque Vespers with Cistercian chant and music from Abbey composer Alberich Mazak (1609-1661).

The Abbey is justly known for its chant. The community of eighty monks, of whom forty or so are resident in the house, sing all of the offices and Mass together. A peculiarity of the Abbey which makes its known in Englihs-speaking circles as a “Reform of the Reform” place is its liturgy. During the Second Vatican Council, an extraordinary man was the head of the community. Abbot Karl Braunstorfer was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council. When the Council urged the reform of the religious life and the Latin liturgical tradition, Abt Karl guided his community through the transition in a spirit of the hermeneutic of continuity. He and the abbey were often criticized bitterly for the way in which they went about this, most notably Franz Cardinal Koenig, the Cardinal of Vienna, who wondered aloud during a pastoral visit whether the Second Vatican Council had ever reached the Abbey. In retrospect, many can now see that the prayerful and resourceful abbot perhaps incarnated the true spirit of the Council more than he has been given credit for.

The Abbey is also home to the Higher School for Philosophy and Theology, and has become a much sought after place of study for orthodox Catholic theology in the German speaking world.

The Latin Ordinary Form is celebrated every day, and the Latin Cistercian Liturgia Horarum, with its two week Psalter Cycle, was produced from within the house. Large antiphonaries for the new liturgy have been produced. All of these new liturgical books have been produced with an eye to beauty, durability, and tradition. One can feel confident that St Bernard, were he to end up at Heiligenkreuz, would find himself very much at home.

The monks are known for their liturgy and their chant, and the abbey church is frequently full of visitors. I have never seen another large monastery church full for the daytime hours of the Office! I had the great grace to be invited to choir practice on Sunday morning. One assumes that monks famous for their CDs would not need choir practice, and it was comforting to see the Prior, who is also the Music Director for the Abbey, encouraging the monks to follow the proper rhythm for the chant and to not drag it or fall flat.

I cannot tell you the emotion I had to sit in the choir stalls and concelebrate Mass. But one thing will always stay with me, even greater than the perfect chant and the superb hospitality. As I came back from the altar after distributing Holy Communion, I saw many of the monks in their choir stalls in prayer. Scapulars and cucullae drawn over their heads, many were prostrate on the floor. Yet there was nothing showy or piously over-devotional about their prayer. The silent witness of those monks in adoration of the God whom they had just received spoke volumes about the proskynesis proper to the worship of the Almighty and Triune God. Music dissipated into a silence where heaven was opened, not by an aesthetic experience, but a moment of grace.

I was surprised to be greeted by a young monk at breakfast, “Oh, I have read your articles on Chant Café” even before I could stammer out a bad German Guten Morgen. So the blogosphere where Catholics come to share their love of liturgy and life has penetrated the walls of the most beautiful cloister of Central Europe. What the monks might not know, is that it is their witness which gives those us from without the cloister wall the courage to share with everyone our love of a common faith.

For more information, check out:

Klosterneuberg at http://newsite.augustiniancanons.org/

Heiligenkreuz at http://stift-heiligenkreuz.org/English.english.0.html

English Mass 2.0: Test Case for the Reform of the Reform?

I am a skeptic by nature. As far as the corrected translation of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Mass is concerned, I still will believe it when I see it, or rather when I celebrate it the first time and hear the people say And with your spirit back to me. We have waited to so long for the new translation, and there has been much angst over its inception, execution and implementation. And I have watched the process unfold closely, but with the jaundiced eye of a cynic in the liturgical wars. But why?

Do I believe that the new translation will be a marked improvement over the current translation? Of course I do. Will I enjoy using the new translation more than the current translation? You betcha! Am I glad I am not in parish ministry when the new translation hits the ground? I thank my lucky stars…

Having grown up as a Baptist, and then wading around in the Thames before finding my way to the Tiber, I grew up with the Jacobean English of the King James Version. Young men in the South have grown up thinking of God and praying to Him in a language far removed from that of the streets ever since the colonies were founded. The hysteria that some feign because of a translation which is not even close to the sonorous English with which I learned to pray in my youth is just something I find rather overwrought. One of the hardest things about exchanging the English Missal of the Society of Ss. Peter and Paul for the English Missal of ICEL was that everything I heard and said just sounded artificial.

As the corrected translation, worked through and over time and time again, wended its way towards the light of day, I continued to be a cynic about the whole thing. My chief objection was this: I have routinely celebrated Mass in different languages throughout my priesthood. I celebrated Mass in Spanish every Sunday for five years, and have celebrated in Latin, Italian, French, Portuguese and German. So I have gotten to know intimately all of those other Missals. And the thought occurred to me: especially in Spanish and Italian, the translations are for the most part extremely faithful translations of the Latin, with no need for Liturgiam authenticam. The faithful have heard the prayers of the Ordinary Form, and not paraphrases, for forty years, and Italy and the Spanish-speaking countries are still not even on the radar screen as far as what most readers of Chant Café would recognize as even tolerable, much less, good, liturgy. There has to be more than just a decent translation to ignite the spirit of the liturgy in the Church.

And so I have remained very guarded about the possibilities of the new translation. My big fear is that it will be business as usual in most American parishes, and that even the great opportunity to commission new liturgical music will be hijacked by warmed over reworkings of the music we have grown so tired of on the American scene.

I am beginning to rethink my earlier cynicism, however. The corrected translation of the English Mass is more important than we might realize. It is no secret that the English language is perhaps the most important for the dissemination of the Catholic faith right now. Even though there are probably more Spanish-speaking Catholics and certainly more speakers of Chinese than English, our language remains a world force. That is why “getting it right” is so important: wherever the English language goes, the faith celebrated in the English language will follow. The new translation has a potential to recondition the way the Ordinary Form is thought of and celebrated all over the world.

But there is more. From one point of view, the corrected translation is nothing more than a response to Liturgiam authenticam to produce a text of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Missal closer to the Latin typical edition. But could there be more here?

We must remember that Pope Benedict XVI is now gloriously reigning from the Chair of Peter. The ecclesial context in which episcopal conferences go about responding to Liturgiam authenticam is different than it was at the end of the reign of Blessed John Paul II. While the rich teaching of Joseph Ratzinger on the liturgy is not invested with any Magisterial authority (although it is devoutly to be wished that this pontiff will give the Church a great gift of an encyclical on the liturgy!), it clearly is having its effect in many quarters.

After the tremendous “event” of Advent 1969 and the extension of the Missal of Paul VI to the Church, all subsequent liturgical texts had as their reference point that Missal and everything that came with it. Liturgiam authenticam is another exercise of that unfolding of the Pauline Missal in our time.

But by the time the English response to that document has come around, the Church finds herself in a very different liturgical situation than she was when the document was drafted. The Vicar of Christ Himself has called for a Reform of the Reform. He has also recognized the substantial unity of the Roman Rite in two forms, and finally rejected the idea that the classical Roman liturgical heritage is something to be discarded from the Church.

Advent 2011, with the use of the corrected English translation, represents the first time since Vatican II that a significant change in liturgical text will affect the faith lives of a significant portion of the Church Catholic. In this new context, the new translation is not business with the Missal of Paul VI as usual. It can be seen as a test case for the Reform of the Reform. Even though the text is still the Ordinary Form, it is very clearly a re-form of the previous English text. It is proof that the liturgy can be re-formed according to principles which bring it closer to the mind of the Church than what people in the Church have experienced for the past forty years. It also will provide a tremendous opportunity not only for catechesis about the true nature of the liturgy, but for wide questioning all throughout the Church about how the liturgical reform has been carried out.

Is English Mass 2.0 a test case for the Reform of the Reform? I have no way of knowing whether that was part of the plan all along (I doubt it!). But in any case, the way in which the corrected translation will be received in the Church will give us many clues about the practical possibilities for even greater reform in the liturgy. This is why no one can be indifferent to the corrected translation of the Ordinary Form. Its effects will not only condition how people pray the New Rite, but it will also open up all kinds of questions and possibilities for how the Church prays in every rite.

Do Women Have a Role in the Liturgy and in the Church?

When I was at the Gregorian in Rome, I had a female professor who was convinced that there had to be women present at the Last Supper, and as such, could be considered to have been ordained priest along with the rest of the disciples. What was her argument? “Well, you honestly think a bunch of men were going to put on a dinner, serve it, and clean up after it by themselves!” I don’t know enough about Near Eastern archeology to ascertain whether she has a point or not, but it did certainly get a rise out of the seminarians! As a dogmatic theologian, I tend to depart, not from scriptural texts, but dogmatic definitions. So, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which Blessed John Paul II wrote that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women, suffices for me. The perennial teaching authority of the Church has made it very clear that women have never been validly ordained priests. The same authority has also made it clear that the difference between the ministerial and the common priesthood is not one of degree but of kind. The two are completely different.

Some people conclude from this, that the liturgy then, is closed to half of the human race. They offer this as proof that the Catholic Church is anti-woman, and that the Church is stuck in an outmoded patriarchal system that harbors a fundamental injustice at its very core. This is a very serious charge, and in an age in which equality has degenerated into egalitarianism, many young people, formed in universities that are “Catholic in name only”, have decided that the Catholic Church has erred. It is simply not enough to repeat the classical doctrine of the Church as formulated in Ordinatio sacerdotalis; we must put forth reasons why that teaching is actually in accord with the Gospel.

Now, here we are not going to solve that problem. But we do want to examine certain aspects of it so as to attempt to answer some of the more controverted problems of it.

It is important to discern what it means for a baptized Christian to participate in the liturgy? Two things must be brought to mind. First, Baptism confers on its recipient a potestas, a sacred power, to participate in the Mass. While a very etiquette-conscious Zoroastrian friend may come to Mass with us and sing, stand and kneel at all the proper times, he cannot be said properly to participate in the liturgy. Why? Baptism makes the individual part of the Body of Christ, and it is the Christ who in the liturgy re-presents Himself, offering Himself up in sacrifice to the Father. Because we are grafted onto the Christ who is both sacrifice and victim, priest and offering, we are also grafted into that mystery. Second, in the Body of Christ there are many members: there is the Head, and then there are the other members who cannot function without the Head. Ordination to the priesthood confers on its recipient a potestas, a sacred power, to offer the Mass as Christ the Head, and not as the members of Christ’s body.

There are thus two different sacred powers associated with two different sacraments which were instituted by Christ for the salvation of souls. But they both are intimately related to the sacrificial offering and priesthood of Christ, although in ways irreducible one to the other. These two distinct powers mark the difference between the ministerial priesthood of Christ the Head conferred by Ordination and the common priesthood of the members of Christ’s Body conferred by Baptism. Just as Christ’s Body and Head are distinct, but cannot live one without the other, so too the priesthood and the laity are distinct and cannot live one without the other.

Note that in none of this discussion has the difference between the two types of priesthood been described in terms of function. The difference is not functional, but sacramental. Furthermore the two are not parallel to each other as adversaries, but mutually complementary to such a degree as to be impossible one without the other. Thus we understand why Blessed John Henry Newman, when asked what he thought of the laity, responded, “We’d look foolish without them!” Just as a head would look foolish without a body.

If the Mass is the sacramental re-presentation of the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father, the sacramental distinction between ministerial and common priesthood is logical. But once we begin to see the Mass as a sacrifice of praise given by a community to God, it is hard not to transform our idea of the priesthood from a sacramental one to a functional one. Once the functional trumps the sacramental, the ministerial priest becomes one elected among the assembly of the faithful who presides over them by gathering them together and organizing their common prayer. The common priest is then one who participates in any way in such a common prayer. Then the question arises: if the priesthood (common or ministerial) is merely a question of function, Who decides who fulfills those functions?

Note that here the sacramental reference to Baptism and Ordination is removed. Participation in the liturgy is no longer: 1) according to the mode proper to a sacred power received by a sacrament, 2) a mystical participation in the redemptive act of Christ’s sacrifice. Instead, participation is: 1) a mere being part of a common prayer by self-selection in to the community that celebrates that prayer, 2) an earthly participation in an act of praise to God.

This Advent 2011, in the English speaking words we will hear for the first time in our own language the priest saying, Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father. Up until now, we have heard since 1969, Pray, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father. I could be wrong, but I think that this sentence alone will raise a lot of questions. First, isn’t “mine and yours” ours anyway? Isn’t it just easier to say ours in English? Second, is this sacrifice somehow no longer mine, or at least as it was in the same way as it was from 1969 to 2011?

We should not underestimate the capacity for misunderstanding and bad feeling here. It is entirely conceivable that some may interpret that the priest presider-celebrant, may be seen to deliberately distance himself from his people by such an awkward phrase. Some may then conclude that this is just another example of clericalism and “turning back the clock” to a time when priests were on a pedestal from which they have fallen in disgrace.

Also think of how the people will see the priest when he says this prayer. Until the post-Vatican II reforms, the priest said, in Latin, the same thing which will be said again from 2011 on: “my and yours.” He turned to the people and said that, and then turned right back around to the altar. In doing so, he visually reminded people that they had a part in the sacrifice as well, according to their Baptism, and then he asked them to unite themselves to that sacrifice in that way as he then turned away from the people towards the Cross, the visual cue to the sacrifice that he would then participate in according to his Ordination. In 2011, in many places, the priest will say “my and yours” and continue to face the people, with the Altar actually becoming a visual barrier between his priesthood and the people’s, with the Cross, the visual cue to the sacrifice, barely or nowhere to be seen.

So, although we are returning to the pre-Vatican II verbiage, although in English instead of Latin, in many places we are not returning to the pre-Vatican II position of the celebrant at the altar. I fear that this will create an ambiguity of meaning. If one has an essentially sacramental notion of the Sacrifice of the Mass and of the ministerial and common priesthood, the orientation of the Mass is always to the Cross by that very fact, although that fact is very eloquently symbolized by priest and people all facing the Cross together. But if one has transformed the meaning of the Mass to a common prayer in which function is the only differentiating factor, then “my and yours” sets up an intolerable division. Likewise, if one has transformed the meaning of the Mass to a common prayer in which the presider only has the function to organize the prayers of the assembly, the phenomenon of the presider turning away from the people he has been called by them to preside with is seen as rude and meaningless.

So what does this have to do with women? When we read why some Catholic support women’s ordination, it is crucial to understand what they mean by several things: 1) what is the Mass? 2) what does it mean to participate in the Mass? 3) what does it mean to be a priest? It is entirely conceivable that there are supporters of women’s ordination who hold the orthodox answers to those three questions: 1) Mass is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ to His Father, 2) participation in the Mass is according to the mode of the sacred power given by sacraments received, and 3) the ministerial priesthood is of essence, and not degree, different than the common priesthood.

But for many supporters of women’s ordination, the answers to those three questions are entirely different: 1) the Mass is a common prayer of those who have self-selected to join in it, 2) participate means to be a part of that common prayer, 3) we are all priests.

Varying answers to those questions have actually split the proponents of women’s ordination into two camps. In the first, ordination is sought as a way to correct a perceived injustice and confer a power on those who to whom it has been denied. In the second, as feminist theologian Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza brilliantly put it, “Ordination is subordination and that’s exactly what we don’t want.”

As to the first, it must be noted that, if participation in the ministerial and common priesthood is a sacramental relationship with Christ, the only relationship of justice in the Mass in between God and human beings. How do we render justice to God by our worship and our life, not how do we render justice to other human beings, which, although it is am important question of Christian life, as nothing to do with the Mass itself. Second, the power of Baptism and Ordination is not a juridical power which priests and laypeople exercise to the benefit or the detriment of Church and society. The power of Baptism and Ordination is a capacity to worship. That capacity to worship puts both ministerial and common priesthood into a double relationship: of ordination to God, as the power orders them to union with God, and subordination, as the power also must make them servants to the God experienced in the Mass.

Both camps of women’s ordination supporters then, are at odds with the classical teaching of the Church, not because they think that women should be priests, but because their understanding of priesthood, Mass and power is completely different than that of the Church.

One of the things that Schussler Fiorenza correctly identified was the subordination aspect of the ministerial priesthood. Just as Christ the Head was both Priest and Victim, and offered Himself up entirely for all (although it would only be the many in whom that offering would be fruitful), the ministerial priest must offer himself up entirely for all as well, as Priest and Victim after the imitation of Christ. Because the liturgy is principally the action of Christ, the priest then cannot in any way not be subordinate to Christ. The way in which the Church calls for the liturgy to be celebrated sub-ordinates the Priest to the action of Christ in the liturgy. His “my” in “my and yours” is not a “my” belonging to himself. The “my” belongs entirely to Christ, and that sacrifice in its ritual form must be accomplished according to the “my” of Christ spoken through His Church, not “my” arbitrary feelings of the way the Mass should be celebrated.

The ad orientem position of the celebrant at the Mass also underscores the fact that “my” does not belong to the individual ministerial priest, but to Christ. The priest faces the Cross, the visual cue of the sacrifice, which is inseparably connected to the Altar, the place of sacrifice, when Christ is re-presenting the sacrifice through the Mass. Facing the people during the sacrifice displaces the visual cue to the sacrifice and then makes the place of sacrifice into a barrier between the “my” of the priest and the real “My” which refers to the sacrifice on the Altar.

One may argue that the Church could in theory preserve the classical understanding of the Mass, the priesthood, and ad orientem celebration and still ordain women. But the Church has already “definitively” taught that she has no right to do so. So what is the role of women in the common priesthood of the faithful during the liturgy?

First of all, the radical gender equality among Christians is a truth for the common priesthood of the baptized. The fact that women are not ordained to the ministerial priesthood does not take away from equality among the members of the Church, Christ’s Body. As such, it is crucial for the laity to understand what it means when the priest asks them: offer “your” sacrifice to the Almighty Father.
Here is where we can profit from an insight of Hans Urs Von Balthasar. He wrote that that there are two ministries within the Church: the Petrine and the Marian. The Petrine can we can associate with the ministerial priesthood of Ordination. The Marian we can associate with the common priesthood of Baptism. One of the arguments opponents of women’s ordinations often put forward is this: If Jesus intended to ordain women as priests, why would He not have chosen His Mother, Mary, especially as she was sinless? The counter-argument, that Jesus was conditioned by the patriarchal society of His time, is unacceptable because it dismisses Christ’s divinity (in which case, why have any discussion at all?), and because the Ancient Near East was very familiar with priestesses of many types.

Behind that question, however, is an assumption: that people should be chosen for the priesthood because of their moral worth. Their dignity for ordination comes from the fact that they have qualities which others recognize which fit them for the functions of the priesthood. It is a functionalist, and not a sacramental, vision of the ministerial priesthood. So when women are told that they cannot be priests, some ask whether the Church by excluding them is saying that they are somehow unworthy of the dignity to undertake the functions of a priest. But, as we have seen, the classical Catholic teaching is that moral worth, talent or qualities is not a reason to ordain someone. If it were, then the Twelve would not have been chosen! The Church chooses some people, among celibate men who have been formed in a particular way, to be ordained to the priesthood.

But if Mary was not a ministerial priest, then can she be said to even belong to the common priesthood? Apart from the theological question of whether Mary was baptized, we can say that she offered her own sacrifice in union with that of Christ. The sacrifice she offered was the continual obedience of her life to the Word of God and her close union in prayer and love with her Son. She exercised a priesthood of sacrifice, sacrificing herself in love, prayers and works of mercy; she was a victim for love, not holding back even her own Son for love; she was a sacrifice, giving up herself entirely over to the Triune God to do with her according to the Divine Will. Mary participated in the liturgy, in the Mass, because she offered the sacrifice of her life in union with the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

When the priest turns to the people and asks them to offer their sacrifice, theirs is a true sacrifice, they do participate in the sacrifice of Christ. But it is not the same sacrifice as the one by which Christ offers Himself to His Father. But the sacrifice, victimhood and priesthood of the laity is nonetheless a real one. And it is real to the extent that it is really united with the Sacrifice of Christ which gives it meaning.

After Vatican II, the priesthood of the laity has been seen not so much in sacramental terms of a power to offer the sacrifice of their lives in union with the Sacrifice of Christ. It has been seen in functional terms, and so we have seen the laity assuming what they felt to be heretofore the rights of the ministerial priesthood. It is important to realize that many of the laity have done this because the clergy themselves confused the sacramental distinction with a functional one. Especially in the United States, many laity enthusiastically responded to the invitations of their priests to take on these functions. We should be reticent to criticize them for responding generously to an invitation. But we also need to redimension the participation of the laity and the clergy in the life of the Church so that it reflects the true nature of the Mass, the priesthood, and the sacramental rather than functional distinctions between them.

All of the above, however, is applicable to the laity. The common priesthood of the baptized offers the sacrifice of its life in union with that of Christ on the Cross. But what about women specifically? Are they merely just to be considered part of the non-ordained laity? Is there something special for them specifically, just as there is something specific for some men in the ministerial priesthood?
This is not an unimportant question. Especially given the long history of self-sacrifice of women for the Church and the liturgy, a history which has not been duly valued, celebrated, or thanked! Is there a special way in which women can participate in the liturgy? And is there such a way which is not bound to historically or culturally conditioned notions of masculinity and femininity?

Before offering a few thoughts on that subject, I would like to make an observation. One of the phenomena that contemporary women are grappling with now is how their struggle for equal rights in civil society has effected their specific notion of what it is to be a woman. So often, the goal was to prove how women could be equal to or better than a man. The problem was that, the reference point was always men. Now many women are trying to discover how they can be equal to men but still be who they are, women.

Does this have a counterpart in the liturgy? Often, women were pressed into service to show how they could be as competent in the same functions formerly performed by men in the liturgy. Many women have enthusiastically and competently discharged the duties of lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, as well as many other non –liturgical functions within the Church. But often, the reference point was the male ministerial priesthood. For that reason, many began to ask, “If Mrs McGillacuddy can do X, Y, and Z as well as or better than Father O’Connor, then why not let her do it?” But if Mrs McGillacuddy is an orthodox Catholic, she has no desire to be ordained as a ministerial priest. So is the only way she can participate in the liturgy either as a non-gendered layperson performing functions once reserved to the male priesthood, on the one hand, or being a part of the all-woman Altar and Rosary Society washing and ironing the linens and doing the flowers, on the other?

An orthodox Catholic woman seems to have only such two alternatives. And often, when orthodox Catholics talk about what woman should do in church, it usually revolves around the answer to the question, “Should women cover their heads in church?” (Of course, St Paul already answered that question in the affirmative, and not because he was a misogynist!) The question becomes: how can women offer the sacrifice of their lives as women in union with the life of Christ, exercising the power of their Baptism to worship God? However they may answer that question, it does not exclude them from doing certain things (fulfilling certain roles at Mass, singing in the choir, teaching catechism, ironing linens) that all laity can do.

When we look at the women in the New Testament, we get an idea of what women’s participation in the life of the Church and the liturgy should look like. As equal members of the Body of Christ, they had no need of ordination to worship God, or to do the amazing things that they did. And those things were often more remarkable, and had more staying power, than what the Twelve did. The constant close attention of the women in the Gospel to Christ and to others, serving them and in doing so, serving Christ. It is entirely correct to say that a woman’s place in the Church is one of subordination, just as all disciples freely subordinate themselves to love God and all people. A woman’s place in the Church is to follow Christ, lavish her love without cost upon Him, serve the needs of the poor and the defenseless: in other words, a subordination to the law of love. In doing so, women can find that they are not indeed slaves to an outmoded patriarchal system drunk on abuses of power and justice, but friends of Christ. And there can be no greater freedom and noble role in the Church and world than that!

The Effects of a Hermeneutic of Crisis on the Liturgy


There has been a lot of talk for the past forty years about the fact that the Catholic Church finds itself in crisis. Various phenomena, such as decreasing Mass attendance, Baptisms and Christian marriages, have led many to posit that there is a profound crisis gripping the faith in our time. Observation of these worrisome phenomena has led many Catholics to ask why we are in such a crisis, and they have come to interpret everything in the Church’s life under the rubric of crisis.

But there are also two different ways in which the rubric of crisis has been interpreted in our time. The first is the Reform Hermeneutic of Crisis. According to this theory, the Church is in dire straits because she has refused to engage in a real dialogue with the contemporary world and change her doctrine and practice to be relevant to modern persons. The second is the Counter-Reform Hermeneutic of Crisis. This theory posits that the Church has sacrificed her doctrine and practice at the altar of relevance to modern man who has denied God. As a result, a Church no longer distinguishable from the world has rendered herself meaningless to modern man.

There are other interpretations as well, and these are admittedly gross-oversimplifications of two trends in what I call crisis theology. These two very different hermeneutics, however, share a common theological basis. For them, the True Church is in the heart of believers who know their way out of the crisis, and the Visible, Institutional Church of today is at variance with that True Church. As Catholics, they know that there has to be some kind of relationship between that True Church and the Visible, Institutional Church, and for the two to become one again, the crisis can be overcome only by structural reform (or Counter-Reform) of the Church.

In reality, many of the phenomena that people indicate as being evidence of the crisis in the Church are very real. The Reform crowd can point to innumerable instances of misuse and abuse of authority by the hierarchy, and to the virtual absence of the Church’s presence in many spheres of culture, science and intellectual life. The Counter-Reform crowd can point to gross deviations in doctrinal orthodoxy and morality as well as widespread disobedience throughout the Church.

But is the Church really in crisis? Can structural reforms help the Church out of the crisis? First of all, I would like to affirm the fact that both camps have accurately observed that many people in the Church have done things which are not in consonance with the message of the Church, and the scandal caused by these errors has caused many to question or abandon the practice of the faith. But there are deeper theological and philosophical considerations we can make about the Church in crisis.

First of all, the hermeneutic of crisis is not unrelated to a very real phenomenon in contemporary philosophy. According to certain currents in philosophy, the nature of being is change. There is no real essence or nature to anything. The Church, then, cannot be anything other than a mutable, essentially human thing. Appeals to unchanging doctrinal or moral norms are meaningless, because they do not reflect the truth that there is no objective truth. Human activity, inside or outside of the Church, is a constant process of actions and reactions making and unmaking reality in a creative and destructive procession without an end. Crisis, then, or chaos, is what life is all about. For the Church to be in crisis, then, is a sign of inner vitality; for it to be always questioning and re-inventing itself is a the fundamental mark of its own authenticity.

This current of philosophy is rejected by the Counter-Reform school, as being inconsistent with their vision of reality in which there is objective truth, which can be known by man by reason and the living authority of the Church. But even as they reject the tenets of this current, Counter-Reform partisans often grant the basic premise, that the Church is, like all of modern society, in crisis. And so they too view every phenomenon in the Church under the rubric of crisis.

How does this understanding of crisis affect the liturgy? For the Reform school, the liturgy, if it is to be an authentic expression of man’s religious sentiment, must be creative, always changing, and acting and reacting. Liturgical crisis is actually desirable. For the Church to find its way out of becoming irrelevant to modern persons, the crisis must be revealed, produced, or even engineered. If people are not going to Church, we must change the life of the Church so that they will come. If notions of hierarchy, immutable dogma, moral norms, and liturgical rites detract from the fundamental evolutionary process of humanity in perpetual crisis, they must be challenged, destroyed, and their memory annihilated.

For the Counter-Reform school, the phenomena of the crisis have their origin in a cause: the liturgical reform as the incarnation in the life of the Church of a crisis of faith. Liturgical crisis is the effect and the cause of crisis in the Church’s life. If people are not going to Church, we must then return to a situation before the crisis. If notions of hierarchy, immutable dogma, moral norms, and liturgical rites are challenged by man, lost as he is in crisis and chaos, the Church must impose all those notions, as found before the crisis, in whatever way possible.

Both schools propose structural reform as a way out of what seems to be the lessening of Catholic practice in our age. The liturgy, because it is the way in which most Catholics experience and practice that faith, must correspondingly be altered, either by changing it radically to look unlike anything ever seen before, or by imposing it as experienced by previous generations and excising what has come during the crisis.

But is the Church really in crisis? We raised that question before. Many optimists have continued to tell us that there is a New Springtime in the Church, that, contrary indications aside, the Church is very much alive and renewing herself. Yet the hermeneutic of optimism cannot, or does not wish, to explain the phenomena accurately observed by both the Reform and Counter-Reform schools. So how are we to think of these numerous indications that Catholic life in many parts of the world seem to be terribly fractured and fractious?

Sound Catholic theology has always rejected the idea of change as the nature of reality. From this point of view, there is no constant existential crisis in which man or the Church finds itself. But, there is another sense in which, yes, the Church can be said to be in crisis. From the moment that the Church was born from the side of Christ on the Cross, until the Second Coming of Christ, the Church is, has been, and will be in crisis and scandal.

The crisis is that those who have been baptized into Christ, and hence are the Church, are always short of their full potential as Christians. There is always in the Church a tension between the contingency of the new and the fulfillment of the not yet. This is why the Church does not have as her fundamental orientation this world, the present. She has her eyes firmly fixed on the East, whence will come the Rising Son; hers is a fundamentally eschatological orientation, not towards a future that will come, but to an eternity which irrupts into the daily and which will one day be our complete reality. The scandal is that we often do not use the gift of free will to choose Eternity over the present in every moment of this earthly life. And so crisis and scandal are a part of the Church’s life in this world because they are inseparable from our own individual human lives until the consummation of all things in Christ at the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.

The crisis and scandal, which mark life in the Church in this present world, point to the fact that no human structural reform of the Church’s life can preclude the ongoing immersion of the individual Christian in crisis and scandal. The way out of the crisis and scandal, therefore, cannot be had by such human attempts at changing the way people pray or believe.

The Second Vatican Council will always be known as the Council of the Church. In so many ways, the Council provided a rich theology of the Church. It clarified the sacramental and spiritual as well as the visible and institutional nature of the Church. It gave a missionary mandate to the universal common priesthood of the baptized and gave an indication of how that mandate could be lived in communion with the ministerial priesthood within the Church. There has been a lot of talk about the Church.

Unfortunately, however, all of this talk about the Church has eclipsed an even greater truth of the faith. Jesus Christ. Many people have come to feel that, to be faithful to Jesus Christ, they must challenge or contradict the Church. The Church is no longer the Mystical Body of Christ lived as a communion of believers, but a People who can change their message to be in accord with what they think Jesus wants of it. The words of Alfred Loisy, the Modernist, Jesus came to preach the Kingdom and it is the Church that has come, have convinced Reform and Counter-Reform alike that the True Church must regain its visibility by imposing structural change.

Even as this Modernist dictum has seeped into the deepest roots of Christian civilization, many in the Church have lost sight of what I feel is the greatest achievement of Vatican II: the solemn recognition of the universal call to holiness.

As long as Christians are focused on the Church, the crisis in the Church, the scandals in the Church, and how to change the Church, they lose sight of Jesus Christ. True Reform, or Counter Reform, or Renewal, or Restoration, or whatever you want to call it, can never come from us. It has to come from a life of holiness, the life of grace of God lived in us. Each individual baptized Christian’s free response to conform his life to Jesus Christ, a life lived in communion with the Church which is True where it is visible and institutional, is the way in which the tension of the already and not yet of the Church’s life is resolved.

This call to holiness is more than just the minimal observance of moral norms, for Jesus Christ is more than just a moral examplar. The life of holiness involves a complete self-giving to God and to one’s fellow man. And such a life of holiness if not dependent on structural reform of the Church. It is a grace which comes from God, and, as such, it ushers in the Kingdom of God inasmuch as every single soul is conformed to Jesus Christ.

The liturgy, which is the reflection of heaven on the earth, in which the fruits of the Redemption are received in sacramental form, cannot be seen from the point of view of crisis and rupture. It cannot be manipulated and changed as a mere human construct on the way to producing an ideal Church for an ideal human person and society. The liturgy must be humbly accepted for what it is, and celebrated by each member of the Church according to his own role in it, for the purpose of conforming his life, and thus the Church’s, ever closer to that of Jesus Christ. We have no need to invoke a hermeneutic of crisis and seek ways out of the crisis to explain the varying phenomenon of the way our contemporaries practice the faith. We do have need of becoming holy as our Father in heaven is holy.