When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took occasion to note the 'collapse of the Liturgy' in various sections of the Church, he did not exaggerate. Whatever legitimate criticism could be made concerning poor liturgical celebration in the pre-Conciliar period, it pales in comparison with the massive and appalling loss of the sacred, diminishment of reverence, and decay in parish manners, and decorum marking the "Celebration of the Eucharist" in all too many American and Canadian dioceses.
Sensitive observers cannot fail to be struck by the notion of "Gathering" marking the beginning of the Mass in liberal parishes. In these parishes, where the Blessed Sacrament is present (if indeed It is still in the Church proper), such "Gathering" is characterized by a spirit of familiar conviviality with God, far different from that "tremendous awe" before the Holy of Holies that typified all the traditional Catholic Liturgies of the East and West.
Delivering a homily at a Requiem Mass for the great philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand (whom I personally knew and admired), Fr. Ignacio Barreiro noted:
"Von Hildebrand understood how the Liturgy was pervaded with reverence before the "Majestas Domini" (Majesty of God), the clear consciousness of His absolute dominion and the acknowledgment that we receive all from Him. At the same time, this did not mean a Jansenist or Calvinist remoteness from God. Rather the Liturgy encouraged us to adore God because He is infinitely glorious and beautiful, inconceivably Holy and Great and because the experience of the Liturgy brought us to see God as the King of Eternal Glory... If the Jews felt a tremendous awe before the Holy of Holies of the Temple, where only an effect of God resided, His 'Shekinah', His Glory, what, then, should be our attitude to His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament?"
Unfortunately, the above is not the experience of all too many Catholics who find the celebration of the Holy Mass in their parishes simply painful to hear and see. They see liturgies stripped of solemnity and dignity (priests holding hands around the altar with altar girls, women "ministers", and bellowing choir members), the questionable use of potato-sack vestments, ugly altar vessels, and simply atrocious music more reminiscent of the bar-room, the cafeteria, or a Broadway musical. Then, too, there is constant distraction of hordes of lay people milling about what was once considered the sanctuary of the Church and who are apparently intent on exercising an elite status in the parish. Amidst all the noise and distractions, and the mayhem at the "Kiss of Peace", it is certainly difficult to see that the "Gathering" is involved in the worship of Christ, the All-Holy God. Interestingly, Australian priest Fr. Fabian Duggan has written:
"It is rather curious that "liturgical experts" made a big issue of tearing down altar rails in many churches on the pretext that they were a barrier between priests and people. Yet almost immediately they substituted an even greater barrier, the altar itself being placed between the priest and the congregation, with the priest standing half-observed like a shopkeeper behind his counter".
But that is not all. Laity have also encountered the priest-actor, the priest-showman, the priest-entertainer, the priest-joker – each of whom appears intent on "relating" to his people in that congenial, convival, palsy-walsy, casual and relaxed style that reveals the loss of that Catholic sense of priest as 'man of God', mediator and intercessor for his sinful people, beseeching for them the Mercy of Christ, the Lover of mankind.
I draw upon my own recent Mass attendance in various dioceses to suggest a few "reforms" (as the Church moves inexorably to a "reform of the reform"):
- how wonderful it would be to remove the piano, drums, synthesizer, and percussion instruments from Churches;
- how wonderful it would be to eliminate the loud and noisy choirs placed in or near the sanctuary and which are fixated in singing the sickly sentimental "hymns" of the Sixties;
- how wonderful it would be to eliminate from parish Masses the hordes of Extraordinary ministers (deceptively passed off as "Special ministers" or "Eucharistic ministers") and now serving as "Ordinary ministers-in-practice" . The latest Vatican document calls upon Bishops to remove these "Extraordinary ministers-become-Ordinary";
- how wonderful it would be to have "smells and bells" at Mass again (i.e. a bell rung at the Consecration, and plentiful incense) to involve the whole person and all his senses in sacred worship;
- how wonderful it would be to hear sacred chant and sacred music again;
- how wonderful it would be to eliminate the scandalous abuse of lay people posturing as priestly concelebrants. (The new Vatican document calls for the immediate elimination of "extraordinary ministers and other lay people receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants");
- how wonderful it would be if priests would install laymen as "Lectors" and "Acolytes" (these are lay ministries reserved to men) instead of capitulating to radical feminism by assuring women and girls exercise liturgical ministries at the expense of men and altar boys.
It is time for the "reform of the reform". Liturgical sanity and decorum will occur when the liturgical directives of the Church are implemented "in spirit and in truth". We Catholic laity can do much to see that the "Silly Season" in Liturgy ends.