Thursday, April 09, 2015

Why We Fight

Over the past almost-a-decade, NLM has published much about dubious aspects of liturgical reform and current liturgical practice from a scholarly point of view, but fairly little about specific examples of liturgical abuses or dubious practices. This general tenor of things is not about to change; we accentuate the positive. The following video, however, has been making the rounds over the last few days, even though it is now five years old; I believe it was The Crescat who first brought it to the recent attention of the blogosphere, and it was then picked up by Fr Z. and Rebecca Hamilton, the author of “Public Catholic”. (The joke has been made in all of these fora, and by several of my friends on facebook, that this is something which is difficult to unsee and unhear; you have been warned.)

My purpose in posting this is not to run down this liturgy, this church, or this diocese, but rather, to highlight some important things in what Mrs Hamilton writes about it. Her piece is headlined “I Apologize. I was Wrong. I. Had. No. Idea.”, and goes on to say “I apologize to everyone I ever dissed for being too concerned about the state of the liturgy. ... I honestly thought the people who came on this blog and ripped and snorted about bad liturgy were hypering themselves into a frenzy over nothing much at all. But now I know. ... Again, I apologize to every person I ever dissed for their talk of clown masses.” She also explains that she is from a place where this kind of abuse does not exist, and that she has never encountered anything like it in her travels. But the ongoing debate within the Church about the liturgy, what it is and what it ought to be, is not just important, but indispensable, precisely because her experience is the exception, where it should be the rule, and iron-clad at that. And while it has to be stated, as a matter of fairness, that most of what we see in this video is happening in violation of the Church’s liturgical law, that law is in far too many places simply unenforced. Law exists to enshrine rights; and it is a right for Catholics to celebrate the liturgy in accordance with the tradition of the Church, not a privilege to be revoked at the whim of the pastor and the liturgy committee.

Mrs Hamilton goes on to note, as part of her realization, “There really are nutty masses and performer priests who knock Jesus right out of center place and take a big swooping bow for themselves.” And this is the essential point. A performance like this in the liturgy is theoretically forbidden, and should be actually forbidden, not because the music is bad and the dancing awful. Much less is it forbidden, as some would perhaps have it, because recent Popes and their lieutenants are hopelessly retrograde and out-of-touch with the life of the Church. It is forbidden because it is a performance, and the performers, having turned the holiest part of their church into a theatrical stage, have swept God Himself right off it.

If this critique seems far-fetched or overly harsh, note where the altar actually is in this church’s sanctuary, and note how little respect is shown even to the very Word of God from the ambo which is placed on an equal footing with it. The refrain of the canticle of Moses in Exodus 15 is changed from the official English version of its opening words, “Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory!” to a distant paraphrase, “Sing the song of freedom; God has won the vict’ry. Horse and chariot are cast into the sea.” If you listen all the way through to the end, (which you can’t, of course), you will hear of several other things which have been cast into the sea, each illustrated by a new dance move: “fear and loneliness, death and emptiness ... hate and prejudice, chains and slavery.” There is no point in putting the liturgy in the vernacular, if we do so only to rob the people of God of the truth and majesty of His Word in this fashion.

Now cleanse your palate with some real music: “Cantemus Domino” by Gioacchino Rossini.

Cantemus Domino, gloriose enim honorificatus est: equum et ascensorem projecit in mare. Adjutor et protector factus est mihi in salutem.

Let us sing unto the Lord, for He is honored in glory: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. He hath become my helper and protector, unto salvation.

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