Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Liturgical Creativity and Narcissism

The following interesting piece, Messing with the Mass: The Problem of Priestly Narcissism Today, was sent my way a couple of days ago. The piece was written by Dr. Paul Vitz, who received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University in 1962 and who is a retired NYU professor of psychology, and his son, Daniel Vitz, at the time of writing at least, a seminarian. It was originally published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review in November 2007 and later republished online on the website of the Catholic Education Resource Centre.

They begin by setting out their own particular angle on the question:

Since Vatican II the Mass has fallen victim to various kinds of irregularities. This issue has been much discussed from various perspectives, but in this article we will examine a previously neglected aspect of the situation — namely, the psychological reasons why priests have introduced these changes. We will not deal with theological explanations for why the Mass has been subject to liturgical experimentation, nor will we discuss liturgical rationales for such innovations. Instead, we will focus on the psychology of the priest and those assisting at the liturgy — that is, on the psychological motives as distinct from theological and liturgical reasoning.

We propose that the primary motivation behind many of these changes derives from underlying narcissistic motives — that is, extreme self love — found in many people in contemporary culture.

After considering some of the traits of narcissism, they continue:
Setting aside the important underlying theological issues, we can see deeply rooted psychological motives behind the American priests who “individualize” the Masses they celebrate, placing their “personal stamp” on the liturgy. These priests play fast and loose with the rubrics of the mass, transform the “very brief” introduction after the greeting of the people, as authorized by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, into another homily. Some even individualize the prayer of consecration, and in numerous other ways seek to make the Divine Liturgy conform to their own tastes and views.

Much of this change was long attributed to the “Spirit of Vatican II”, but in fact, our point is that the secular and narcissistic spirit of the times lies beneath these liturgical irregularities.

They conclude:
Given the tendency toward “ego renewal”, self-esteem and self-aggrandizement, priests and seminarians should be made aware of the danger of inserting one’s personality into the liturgy. This tendency toward narcissism needs to be addressed especially in the context of the Mass celebrated versus populum — facing the people. Regardless of one’s view with regard to the respective merits of the mass being celebrated ad orientem or versus populum, there can be little question that the temptation to grandstand is much greater when the celebrant is facing the congregation...

Since the narcissistic or vain needs of many priests lie behind their peculiar and idiosyncratic changes in the liturgy, it is time for these unprepossessing and non-theological factors to be more widely recognized in Catholic seminaries and in the Catholic community at large. We will let Cardinal Arinze have the last word on this issue when he says the liturgy “is not the property of one individual, therefore an individual does not tinker with it.”

Read the entire piece here: Messing with the Mass: The Problem of Priestly Narcissism Today

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