Previous articles have noted the depth and scope of the liturgical malaise afflicting the Church in both the United States and Canada, and how millions of Catholics have been alienated from the Church not only by doctrinal deviations committed in the name of Vatican II, but also by the trendy, insipid, banal, and down-right desacralized Masses that have become all too common in Catholic parishes. The impoverished liturgical celebrations imposed upon Catholic laity simply reflect their "presiders" lacking any deep understanding of the cultural, aesthetic, and spiritual ethos of the traditional Roman liturgy which formed so many Saints of God.
Many writers, both Catholic and non-Catholic have commented amply on how the Catholic Church has lost a generation of its young people to the Church and is in danger of losing yet another generation exposed to the loss of the sacred reflected in pedestrian Masses with their flattened-out Dick-and-Jane English. Rather than the Mass perceived as revelatory of the Real Presence of Christ, only too often it has been transformed into theater and entertainment, a vehicle for whatever is currently popular liberal chic.
Thank God that more and more priests themselves have become aware that their bare, stripped down church buildings are no longer a place of encounter with the Crucified and Risen Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and the Saints. They realize that churches become social centers and gathering places for endless chatter, superficial camaraderie, and the physical touches characterizing the new therapeutic religion of "Huggism" – do not satisfy the spiritual hunger of the human soul. They wish to restore their churches as sacred places of prayer and adoration of God where the spirit of reverence towards both God and man is fostered. A Chicago priest, Fr. Rich Simon, recently wrote to his parishioners:
"In many churches, including our own, the tabernacle was moved from the center of the Church to add emphasis to the Mass and the presence of the Lord in the reception of Holy Communion. The experiment has failed... The behavior of many in the Church is simply outrageous. When Mass is over it is impossible to spend time in prayer. The noise level reaches the pitch that one would expect at a sporting event. The kiss of peace seems like New Year's Eve. Christ is forgotten on the Altar".
(cf. full text in Catholic World Report, Dec. '97)
Yet another priest had the courage to write recently:
"As a priest I consistently hear from lay people that the liturgy nowadays fails to convey a sense of the divine, of mystery, of transcendence and above all interiority. Are liturgists hearing this?
Contemporary church buildings convey the feel of a conference hall in a Holiday Inn [furnished with] thick carpets, plush seats, poverty of symbolism, a table, a podium and a couple of Swiss cheese plants. The Eucharist is reduced in feel to the level of a cooking demonstration. It simply does not speak adequately of the reality of what is happening.
Flimsy polyester vestments, disposable everything, inferior secular style music, an atmosphere of mattedness and above all a lack of prayerfulness add up to genuine suffering for many people, including many who would in no way want to return to pre-conciliar form. They would, however, like to experience once again the reverence and awe they recall (perhaps selectively) from former days.
Liturgy is too important to be left to the liturgists. The Bishops, would do well to remember that the expert should be on tap, not on top. Let them listen to the people. Let them listen to their own deepest intuitions. Some kind of "reform of the reform" may well be needed, but this is the business of the whole church and the bishops, not just the academics".
(Fr. Benedict Livingstone, S.P.)
The impact of bad liturgy on, both, sensitive adults and children cannot be underestimated, as some in our "Offices of Worship" apparently do. Another recent writer (he was active in the Catholic Worker Movement) has noted:
"The Englishing of the Liturgy was, unfortunately, not carried out by poets, but seemed to be committee work. We ended up with language in its flattest state. We lost not only Latin, but Gregorian chant and this too was in my view a pity. Most of the music that took its place was pedestrian at every level, fit for shopping malls and Disneyland. The body language of prayer was in retreat. The holy water fonts were dry. Many bridges linking body and soul were abandoned... If one has experienced only the modern "fast-food" liturgy of the Catholic Church, perhaps the typical modern Mass isn't so disappointing. But for me there was a deep sense of loss. For years, I usually left church feeling depressed."
Such depression helped the above writer (incidentally a biographer of Dorothy Day) to abandon the Catholic Church.
In our next article, in this series, we will examine some of the strange, even bizarre practices that constitute – in the minds of some – "modern liturgy".