Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The "New" Rite Mass: The Source of all evils?

Fellow compatriot Ragazza Gallese's most recent blog post [1] offers a lot of food for thought regarding the the relationship between good theology, catechisis and liturgical practice. In it, she exasperates that she is "sick to the back teeth of hearing people complain about clergy who turned (and continue to turn) a blind eye to abortion, contraception, cohabitation, divorce" but still "still regularly (and freely) attend a mass where [there] is ... clapping, ... singing of various dodgy hymns, Communion on the hand, immodest clothing worn by young (and some not so young) girls, ... no catechesis, where the priest celebrates mass with his back to the Blessed Sacrament, .. where lay people distribute Holy Communion as if they were themselves priests, where said lay people then stand around a table and drink what is left of the Precious Blood as if they were finishing off the last dregs of a pint, where confession is rarely available and where the Sanctuary (and indeed the whole church) has been stripped bare of anything that might remind you of the Holy Sacrifice".

I sympathise with much of what she has to say post but am alarmed by the prospect of creating a two tier church of "us and them", a profoundly un-Catholic concept for a Universal Church. I am well aware that there is a de facto split in the Church, largely centred around issues of morality, but allowing these differences to be entrenched in parish life will eventually lead to schism. I could never be an Anglican because accepting diametrically opposed theology makes absolutely no sense.

From my experience, orthodoxy and reverence are in no way intrinsically opposed to Mass in the New Rite. I accept that liturgical malpractice has proliferated under the reformed liturgy but it is disingenuous to suggest that they never occurred under the Old Rite. It is not beyond the realms of plausibility to suggest that it is the lack of belief and true understanding of the Mass that is responsible for the liturgical abuses - I'm quite sure if Rome decreed that every Mass should take place under the Old Rite then liturgical abuse would continue to take place.

One's own soul must take precedence in matters of salvation as one is unlikely to effect the salvation of others if one is in danger of losing Faith. If such a scenario were to arise over the type of Mass at one's local parish then finding a new parish would certainly be warranted. For those of us not in such a situation, if we want to effect change in the Church and promote a more appropriate liturgy which greater reflects the splendour and glory of what actually takes places at every Mass (reverent or irreverent thank God! [2]), then we need to be in our parishes, working for change. 

I suspect that poor catechesis for both priest and laity alike are at the root of these liturgical abuses. It would be impossible to perform poor liturgy if one has a true understanding of what take place at every Mass and this is where those who have received such a grace can help their fellow parishioners. After all, deliberate liturgical abuse is tantamount to "eating the bread", or "drinking the chalice of the Lord" unworthily, a sin which incurs the most grievous guilt of the body and of the blood of the Lord. To be truly culpable of such a sin is grave indeed. Without wishing to be condescending, those with greater depth of understanding regarding the Mass have a duty to help those who do not. If you are interested in developing your understanding of the Mass, I recommend starting with "What Happens at Mass" by Jeremy Driscoll OSB [3]. It's a short and very readable book, which is quite profound in its simplicity.

Speaking mainly as a thirty-something-singleton, I don't know where Ragazza Gallese's opinions on liturgy have been formed but perhaps she too feels left rather bereft by life as a Catholic in Wales. I regularly attend Mass in either one of two local parishes and, while I am thankful for two priests of excellent but different charisms, I cannot shake the feeling that we are rather impoverished in terms of cultural life when compared to some of the parishes I have attending when visiting friends in England. In this however I truly am to blame because I am not making any effort to affect change, nor have I gone out of my way to look for opportunities to support my Faith. Perhaps it's time I made a start...

In thinking more about the issues raised here, I was reminded of letter XVI in C.S. Lewis's Screwtape letters. There the erstwhile demon writes to his diabolical nephew:

Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that "suits" him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

... The parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction.

I have already written a little about my university experiences and how liturgy became a divisive topic in Oxford [4] and the final statement from Screwtape describes the results perfectly - certain individuals used the Church and the liturgy to develop their own exclusive club from which they could condescendingly regard those who were not part of it. I am not suggesting that this is the ultimate end for all those who start down the path but it is at least a possible destination. It is a temptation to which I have been guilty of indulging in the past, as I felt a certain superiority to liberal Catholics or Protestants. Thankfully, my University experience forced me to venture outside of the artificial bubble of orthodoxy to which I belonged and I met individuals in whom the Holy Spirit was clearly at work, even though I sometimes  had profound disagreements with their opinions on particular issues. I hope those experiences have remedied that fault in my character - one down and many more to go!

[1] http://ragazzagallese.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/do-you-know-the-blog-post-here-comes-the-rant/
[2] http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/what-does-the-expression-ex-opere-operato-mean
[3] http://www.acnuk.org/products.php/70/what-happens-at-mass
[4] http://lucascambrensis.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/liturgical-wars.html


  1. I am not asking for a two-tier Church, I'm not sure where you got that from. I ask for respect for the Lord, be it OF or EF. The fact of the matter is that the EF does not allow for disrespect to God, which is the beauty of it.

  2. If one advocates leaving one's parish and attending Mass with like minded folk and priests, then one is de facto establishing a two-tier, divided church. If "liberal" parishes are stripped of all those parishioners who want to live the fullness of Faith, without compromise, they will become emboldened and even worse theology and liturgy will abound. It may reasonably be argued that due to poor catechesis, at least in Britain, such parishes would be in the majority and that would be a dangerous precedent.

    The EF is not a watertight safeguard against disrespect to God because a priest or a member of the laity can attend any Mass and not act in a reverent fashion. Priests can rush through prayers (or even pretend to say them as the congregation can't hear what they are saying), make improper or half-hearted gestures etc. The congregation can still wear what they want, whisper and chat throughout Mass etc. Indeed, as the priest isn't facing them, they could be texting in the pews or reading the newspaper.

    It is not the rite per se which is the guarantee of reverence but rather the interior disposition of those that take part in it.

  3. You published this post a long time ago so may not get this comment. Apart from hurried or careless celebration there was little liturgical malpractice in the old rite. Why? Because it was very prescriptive, often rubrics were backed by pain of mortal sin, there were no choices of texts or ceremonies (except the occasional choice of celebration such as a particular votive Mass on an otherwise ferial day) and the whole culture of innovation, "relevance", pleasing the congregation and creativity in liturgy simply did not exist. That is why the changes were such a shock to us who lived through them. We had been told from our mother's knee that the Mass was universal, unchanging and unchageable, these were its greatest claims, and suddenly that rug was unceremoniously (literally!) pulled.