THE DEGRADATION OF CATHOLIC WORSHIP:

HOW WE SEE OURSELVES



- Part II -


In Part I we expressed general agreement with Eastern Orthodox writer Frankie Schaeffer in his denouncing what passes for liturgical worship in all too many Catholic parishes. He can be said to have echoed Cardinal Ratzinger's criticisms by observing that:

"Many sincere Christians have a sense of being cheated by their self-invented, commercialized and trendy 'liturgies'. Many Roman Catholics and Protestants seem to know they are participating in a sham. But they are not sure why this is so. Many bewildered Catholics and Protestants long for a deeper, more eternal spirituality that is awe-inspiring, respectful of God, has majesty and a sense of changelessness and dignity about it... Yet how are sincere Christians to fulfill this call, if they only know a 'Jesus' who is a concoction of revitalist, romantic, 19th c. Protestantism on the one hand, or trendy post Vatican II 'liturgies' on the other?... This is a 'Jesus'... Who has been banished from the ancient Church altar! If, that is, you can even find an altar in today's trendy Catholic churches or gymnasium-style Protestant 'sanctuaries'."

Frankie is correct in noting the intrinsic connection between Liturgy and Christology, and it is not surprising that he should be repelled by:

"the mediocre popular 'inspirational' music of the kind with which modern Catholics have polluted their sadly reduced 'liturgies' in imitation of the worst American pop culture".

Perhaps he was commenting on the notion of the "meaningful liturgy" found in such periodicals as "Modern Liturgy" and "Religion Teachers Journal" found in parish racks that influence all too many priests and catechists. A Catholic layman active in Serra, an organization dedicated to promoting priestly vocations, has responded appropriately to the notion of "meaningful liturgy" imposed upon the faithful by today's soulless liturgical bureaucrats:

"Meaningful to whom? Lovers of the theatrical may be pleased at the cast of performers in the sanctuary where once the sacred mysteries were action enough... But how has the meaning of the Sunday liturgy been enhanced by habitual omission of the Creed; or by the omission, on the part of some liberated clergy of references to Our Lady; or by the alteration of words someone has convinced the 'presider' are 'sexist'?...  In what way do pietistic tin-pan-alley hymns make the liturgies more meaningful? What has been gained by switching... to insipid Protestant ones? (You can find good music in parishes, but you are just as likely to endure "Amazing Grace" and other banalities that interfere with worship instead of promoting it)... How those really great liturgical reformers of the mid-20th century must have shuddered as the barbarians crept in, especially when it began to be plain that the Eucharistic Sacrifice was being remodeled, insofar as possible, into a jolly get-together with a dance beat"
(John J. Farrell in "Homiletic and Pastoral Review", January 1988)

But, our liturgical fascists tell us, "We have done all this for the youth! They found the Mass boring". But where are the youth today? Empty pews, the drying up of priestly and religious vocations, and the appalling statistics on Mass attendance for both adults and youth amply testify to the disaster of "Come Alive Liturgies". But some pastors never learn.

A great priest commented on the folly of liturgical innovation which he saw spreading in the Diocese of Buffalo in the '70's and '80's. Msgr. Nelson W. Logal has now gone to his heavenly reward after serving his Diocese for many years (including 12 years as pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Church in Williamsville, New York). Gifted with an acute intellect and oratorical prowess, he often reflected on the iconoclasm of contemporary liturgists. His book "On the Rubble of Renewal" (Franciscan Herald Press, 1975) refuted false interpretations of Vatican II and mocked the idiocies of liturgical reformers who would separate in destructive fashion the communal aspect of Catholic worship from personal piety and devotion. He denounced those who would jettison solemnity and reverence in worship and scored with his acerbic wit that: "horizontalism of religious practice which has replaced the vertical worship of God." In his parish bulletin, he dealt with our pop-liturgy updaters:

"Liturgical updaters use a lot of imagination and they invest a great deal of work in attempts to make the Liturgy relevant. The motivation of these people is good; only their assumptions are faulty. They assume that people, especially young people, must be entertained if the Liturgy is to become appealing. So they import a variety of novelties from the secular world to bring the "street" into the sanctuary. They insist, "This is where the people are at". The heidi-ho, palsy-walsy approach of the celebrant, the bizarre costumes which are used instead of vestments, and the "gather-around-the- pretzel-bowl" sit-ins. The jigs and dancing, the visual aids, and even "necking" during the exchange of peace are used to illuminate their liturgies.

The advocates of relevance in the liturgy may deserve an A-Plus for effort; but they deserve a double zero for attitudinal motivation. Their updating substitutes entertainment for worship. They introduce rock'n roll hysteria for serious prayer. They convert the sanctuary into a staging area for amateur theatrics instead of using it as a sacred place. The inverted scale of values effectively destroys liturgical prayer and worship. Even worse, the wrong dividends are promised-entertainment, excitement, and mood elevation instead of reverence, self-giving, and loving surrender to God.

Young people should not be blamed when they profess boredom with the Liturgy. They have been cajoled into expecting something that should not be expected in liturgical prayer-amusement and diversion. Their leaders are to blame for their disappointed expectations. Liturgical nonsense does not even approach the bang of the rock concerts, the flashing lights of the disco, and the intoxication of the beer blasts. Promised fun and games, they experience only poor imitations of what is available on the street.

So why blame the kids? Their liturgical mentors bear the guilt with their meretricious promises and their clumsy apings of the secular world of entertainment".
(Parish Bulletin, 4/18/82)

As we eagerly await Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's theological treatise on the Liturgy as part of a renewed effort to truly implement the authentic teaching of Vatican II, we can recall his remarkable words in "The Ratzinger Report":

"In the solemnity of her worship the Church expressed the glory of God, the joy of faith, the victory of truth and the light over error and darkness. The richness of the liturgy is not the richness of some priestly caste; it is the wealth of all, including the poor, who in fact long for it and do not at all find it a stumbling block. The whole history of popular piety shows that the poorest have always been instinctively and spontaneously ready to do without necessities in order to show honor through beauty to their Lord and God without giving any thought to themselves... A theologian who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous. Blindness and deafness toward the beautiful are not incidental: they necessarily are reflected in his theology."
(page 130)

His words to theologians are especially applicable to those who would call themselves "liturgists."



About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage