I’m not sure I have the delicacy or balance to be discussing the issue of orthodoxy in the Catholic liturgy. However, I have seen many extreme blog posts crying for orthodoxy, and none giving it balance urging acceptance of flaws in the Church community. I will make my best attempt to give such balance, and I beg from everyone that they not take offense. Any reference that may sound like you is not. I assure everyone that the issues I’m discussing are not just found in one or even a couple places.
There is a general cry among bloggers, especially of recent converts to Catholicism or those contemplating conversion, to have a strictly orthodox mass. There are complaints about semi-heretical music choices and flubbed wording in the liturgy. I have heard complaints about the “Judas shufflers” ducking out after communion, which happens to be my pet peeve. Worse, RCIA poorly catechizes initiates and they’re left with confused and vague notions of the Church. Most seriously, there are complaints about poor handling of the Eucharist. Since Vatican II relaxed many things including the liturgy, some believe those on the ground have taken the freedoms too far. Catholic parishes are accused of trying to be Protestant in their laxness and trendiness. Thankfully, Pope Benedict XVI seems to be fighting against this backlash from Vatican II.
This isn’t the whole story. There are plenty of people who love their bishops and I’m one of them. I love Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn, who both have urged the priorities of life and charity in their diocese. During election time, they were hugely vocal about pro-life issues, and even now they fight FOCA and similar legislation with a vengeance. More than ever during these economic hardships, they not only urge parishioners to share with their fellow man and give to the Archbishop’s Call to Share appeal, which supports programs and charities in the area (it has already exceeded its goal of $4 million), but they also urge those in need to come forward and give their brothers an opportunity to share with them. One of our priests gives regular homilies on being a proper Catholic, stressing personal encounter with Christ and sincere and complete observance in every expression of it. There are people doing it right, and people who want to do it right, including those bloggers crying for orthodoxy.
Besides those specific examples, the Church as a whole is getting things right. Running in online apologetic circles, I’m convinced more than ever that the insipid, passive, ignorant stereotype of all Catholics is just a stereotype and there are plenty of examples of those well-versed and passionate in the Faith. Also, the Church still stands against homosexuality, contraception, and abortion where all others have fallen by the wayside. Without a strong root of faith and the blessing of God working through His children, we would never see such positive fruit.
Still, there are those who would separate themselves from the failing liturgies and unorthodox communities. Many travel a long way to find an orthodox mass to attend. But why? Doing that is not addressing the problem. I believe it may even worsen the problem by removing those few who do carefully observe from the community that so desperately needs them. What is the motivation in such a case? I do not pretend to read the hearts of men and women, but if the motivation is selfish, so that said person can distance themselves from the rotten apples and experience the pleasure of orthodoxy, then the motivation is wrong. In all things, we must be motivated by love that is not inward-looking and divisive, but outward-looking and unitive.
Some may protest from their love for God that abuses in the liturgy dishonor Him, and scandalize others, making it difficult to worship Him. Honor and glory given to God is important in itself, but is this the sole purpose of the liturgy? Don’t we all profess the same creed and say the Lord’s prayer, partake of the same divine nature in the Eucharist, to preserve unity of the Faith and of the Body of Christ? Take care with this protest that your motivation is not pure legalism. The liturgy is designed to honor God, but I believe it is designed mostly to unify the Church in the Faith. Legalistic attitudes only destroy the purpose of the liturgy and divide the Body of Christ further.
Yet another reason everyone seems to be so passionate about orthodoxy in the liturgy is because it affects our Faith. This is how we are spiritually fed and how we maintain and pass on the beliefs of our Faith. But we must not make the mistake of thinking messy liturgy causes lazy faith, rather the opposite is true. The poorly catechized and careless individuals are the source of this complaint. We can’t just fix the liturgy when it is merely a symptom. Lack of faith in the people is the real problem, but separating ourselves from them is not the answer. Instead, we must work to strengthen the faith of others by being a good example, giving our fellowship, and volunteering to teach and serve them.
My primary concern is not checking what people are saying or doing, it’s checking the motivation behind their criticism. Our words and actions must be motivated by love, or the most perfect liturgy sounding of the “tongues of men and angels” is worth nothing. For easy reference, I’ve included the entire description of a response born in love below.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)
Maybe we should ask ourselves whether we want orthodox liturgy because it better honors God, or because it better serves a need to feel close to Him. In the latter case, we may be ignoring committed faith which overcomes that empty loss of the presence of God. This kind of faith has become vitally important for me since attending to the needs of my children make it nigh impossible to work up an emotional connect to God, especially during mass. Mother Teresa lived with this kind of emptiness for fifty years. She told Malcolm Muggeridge, who was suffering from the same:
Your longing for God is so deep and yet He keeps Himself away from you. He must be forcing Himself to do so — because he loves you so much — the personal love Christ has for you is infinite — The Small difficulty you have regarding His Church is finite — Overcome the finite with the infinite.
In an article about Come Be My Light, we hear more about abandoning our feelings and working in commitment:
Kolodiejchuk thinks the book may act as an antidote to a cultural problem. “The tendency in our spiritual life but also in our more general attitude toward love is that our feelings are all that is going on,” he says. “And so to us the totality of love is what we feel. But to really love someone requires commitment, fidelity and vulnerability. Mother Teresa wasn’t ‘feeling’ Christ’s love, and she could have shut down. But she was up at 4:30 every morning for Jesus, and still writing to him, ‘Your happiness is all I want.’ That’s a powerful example even if you are not talking in exclusively religious terms.”
I do understand that the liturgy is important, and if we are critical of it out of concern for the corporate Body of Christ and love for God, then there are certain actions available to us. The canon law says it is the duty of the priest to guard against abuses and ensure the nourishment of the faithful through “devout celebration”. It also declares the right of the faithful to take their opinions and needs to the priest, adding that we should act in concern for the common good of the Church and in reverence and obedience to the priest.
Canon 528 §2. He is to work so that the Christian faithful are nourished through the devout celebration of the sacraments and, in a special way, that they frequently approach the sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and penance. He is also to endeavor that they are led to practice prayer even as families and take part consciously and actively in the sacred liturgy which, under the authority of the diocesan bishop, the pastor must direct in his own parish and is bound to watch over so that no abuses creep in.
Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.
§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.
Can. 218 Those engaged in the sacred disciplines have a just freedom of inquiry and of expressing their opinion prudently on those matters in which they possess expertise, while observing the submission due to the magisterium of the Church.
Can. 223 §1. In exercising their rights, the Christian faithful, both as individuals and gathered together in associations, must take into account the common good of the Church, the rights of others, and their own duties toward others.
§2. In view of the common good, ecclesiastical authority can direct the exercise of rights which are proper to the Christian faithful.
Throughout, we must be careful of our own behavior. Working for the common good means not only striving for the sanctification of your community through faithful observance, but also avoiding divisive and negative language toward the Church. If our efforts outlined above and our requests directed toward those in authority meet with overruling, we must submit quietly. Love and obedience guide the sound walk of the Catholic faithful. Above all, behave in a manner worthy of the gospel, and, in every thing we do, build up the Body of Christ.
The frustration of living with rejected efforts and careless liturgies may be hard to deal with, but take heart. St. Josemaria Escriva contemplates the dual-natured Body of Christ, that of humanity and that of divinity, in In Love with the Church. Perhaps he can help us see past the despairing treason in the Church, and love her, flaws and all.
In the visible body of the Church, in the behavior of men who make it up here on earth, we find weaknesses, vacillations, and acts of treason. But that is not the whole Church, nor is it to be confused with this unworthy behavior. On the other hand, here and now, there is no shortage of generosity, of heroism, of holy lives that make no noise, that are spent with joy in the service of their brothers in the faith and of all souls.
I would also like you to consider that even if human failings were to outnumber acts of valor, the clear undeniable mystical reality of the Church, though unperceived by the senses, would still remain. The Church would still be the Body of Christ, our Lord himself, the action of the Holy Spirit and the loving presence of the Father.
The Church is, therefore, inseparably human and divine…
It would be a serious mistake to attempt to separate the charismatic Church, supposedly the sole follower of Christ’s spirit, from the juridical or institutional Church, the handiwork of men, subject to historical vicissitudes. There is only one Church…
Faith, I repeat. Let us believe more, asking the Blessed Trinity, whose feast we celebrate today, for greater faith. Anything can happen, except for the thrice holy God to abandon his spouse.
I believe we should approach the Church in the same way we approach marriage. A marriage based on unrealistic expectations is doomed to fail. One in which both partners are grounded in reality, aware of their duties and committed to them, and willing to overlook a good deal of imperfection is bound to be happy and fulfilling. Like in a marriage, we need things from the Church, but she needs us as well. Although we go to her so that our needs can be met, our duty is to perform our specific function with perfection. We must know our place and perfectly fulfill our call, trusting that Christ will fulfill his promise and meet our needs in return.
Despite the loss of orthodox liturgy, we are still needed to serve the broken Church in the hope of healing her. Your broken and sinful communities need you. If you know more about the faith than the RCIA instructor, get certified as a catechist, and volunteer to teach. Befriend your fellow Catholics, join the community, be a good example of how a devout Catholic should behave at mass. Request traditional songs of your choral director. I requested Latin hymns to the chagrin of our old choral director, but she complied. You may be surprised how God can use your effort.
I urge everyone, do not abandon your communities, do not rob them of your fellowship — you are needed right where you are! Don’t separate yourselves from them because they are not good enough. None of us are. Don’t grumble, and do not speak out of turn and correct those in authority over you unless it’s serious enough that the mass may not be valid. Be certain that you strive for personal perfection in the body of Christ because of a sincere and holy love for Christ and his Spouse, and not out of an obtuse legalism. When our motivation is always, first and foremost, love for God, and, secondly, love for our neighbor, then we will not go wrong.