On many occasions I have commented on the liturgical malaise evident in the Church and the resultant alienation of many from the Church due to liturgical abuses that have gone uncorrected. In 1980, Pope John Paul II felt the need to speak in the name of all Bishops of the Church to beg:
"Forgiveness for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience or negligence, and also through at times partial, one-sided and erroneous applications of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the reverence, veneration and love due to the great Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist."
(Dominicae Cenae, 12)
Since 1980 Catholic newspapers and periodicals have amply recorded the sentiments of the faithful regarding the liturgical abuses inflicted upon them. As one writer recently noted: "25 years of abominable liturgical and scriptural translations are more than enough" (National Catholic Register 8/27/95). An impressive panoply of scholars such as the distinguished editor of "Sacred Music", Msgr. Richard Schuler, have explained how:
"The Liberal camp (in the Church) have brought about a catastrophe in all forms of Catholic worship: funerals, weddings, Sunday Masses, school Masses, even great ecclesiastical occasions. One is embarrassed, often ashamed at the inferior treatment of even the most holy elements. This is the same Liberal Establishment that ruined catechetics, the religious orders, seminaries and vocations to the priesthood, the beauty of our Churches, in a word, the faith of our people. How many people have been robbed of their parish Church by incompetent and ignorant architectural consultants who have been nothing more than 20th Century iconoclasts? In every area, the Liberal element has destroyed what centuries of Catholic life have passed along - evidencing a 'poorly veiled hatred of the sacred'."
Similarly, the erudite Swiss theologian Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar lamented:
"An element lacking in good taste has crept into the Liturgy since the (falsely interpreted) Vatican II Council, namely the joviality and familiarity of the celebrant with the congregation. People come, however, for prayer and not a cozy encounter... Before and after the Liturgy personal encounter is entirely in place, but during the celebration everyone's attention should be directed to the One Lord."
(from his "New Elucidations")
In commenting upon the kind of liturgical celebration that has become only too common in North American parishes, observers from the entire religious spectrum can be found remarking on the fact that a sense of the awesome majesty of God has disappeared from the consciousness of all too many American and Canadian Catholics. To many devout Catholics the frequent relegation of the Blessed Sacrament to side-altars and side-chapels (and sometimes even out of the church itself!) certainly makes it appear that our smug bourgeois liturgists have unseated God and put themselves in His place. In addition, it would appear that for them the more barren and stripped of ornamentation a church is, the better. They appear triumphant when every sign of the splendor of Christ the King and His Heavenly Kingdom is banished.
No less than lapsed Catholic and radical feminist Camille Paglia has added her voice in bitter denunciation:
"My dissatisfaction from American Catholicism, which partly began during my adolescence in the late 50's, was due partly to its increasing self-Protestantization and suppression of its ethnic roots. Within 20 years, Catholic churches looked like airline terminals: no statues, no stained-glass windows, no Latin, no litanies, no gorgeous jeweled garments, no candles; so that the ordinary American church now smells like baby powder."
(Buffalo News 4/2/95)
There are not lacking perceptive Protestant and Eastern Orthodox observers who have noted the ravages wrought by liturgical extremists imposing their "fabricated liturgy" (Cardinal Ratzinger's phrase). The strange jargon they indulge in: "Gathering", "worship space", "song", "glory song", "sending forth song", "presider" (ad nauseam), "minister" (ad nauseam), "to do Eucharist", "preparing the gifts" (instead of offering them), "Hebrew Scriptures", etc., etc., – is but another manifestation of their de-supernaturalizing the official worship of the Church.
An evangelical Protestant who embraced Eastern Orthodoxy is Frankie Schaeffer, son of the distinguished Calvinist thinker, Dr. Frank Schaeffer. Interestingly, Frankie has been unsparing in his criticisms of what passes for Catholic Liturgy in our churches. It is true, he remains inbued with old Protestant and dissident Byzantine prejudices concerning the Papacy and various Catholic doctrines. However, Mr.Schaeffer's observations provide matter for a profound examination of conscience on the part of Catholic bishops and priests and parish liturgy committees. Can Catholics continue to ignore the criticisms of sensitive observers as to how secularized in mentality and liturgical behavior they have become? Here are some of his comments on "Protestantized and democratized Roman Catholics":
- "Politicized secular bishops of the American Roman Catholic Church... desperately try to shore up their diminishing influence."
- "Many of the loudest voices raised in a chorus debunking the historic Christian faith have been those of Protestant and Roman Catholic, so-called liberal theologians."
- "Tragically, the American Roman Catholic Church has also become almost as trivialized as its Protestant counterpart. Just as the culture around it most needs the transcendent religious hope that non-politicized, pure, ancient religion also can offer, many Roman Catholic bishops are acting like politicians and Roman Catholic liturgies have become mere popular entertainments, and not very tasteful ones at that."
- "Think of the bouncy humanist little tunes that the modern American Roman Catholic Church has introduced into its liturgies. Now try to imagine how the words of Christ in Mt. 10:21-23 would sound set to such mindless paeans to well-being, self-esteem, inclusiveness and good feeling."
- "Modern Roman Catholic church buildings (bare rooms stripped of imagery) often look like some United Nations meditation center rather than a Christian church. They seem to be even more 'Protestant' than Protestant churches themselves."
It is not enough to dismiss such criticisms as exaggerated and mere anti-Catholic polemic. There is too much substance in them. The permissive doctrinal and liturgical attitudes of secularized Catholics (hapless victims of a decadent culture) constitute now, in fact, a formidable obstacle to that unity of Christians so desired by Pope John Paul II. It is time to take seriously the admonitions of Vatican II that:
"sins against Unity... and deficiencies in moral conduct or in Church discipline... should be set right at the opportune moment and in the proper way."
(Decree on Ecumenism, 2:6)