Friday, March 13, 2009

And Now, A Gripe...

I need to pick a bone.

But first, a story. A dear friend of mine, himself a canon lawyer and a consultant on liturgical law, shared with me an experience of his at a meeting of English-speaking liturgists and canonists with the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome. Representatives of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia were present.

At the meeting--there were twenty-five or so present--one of the officials of the Congregation was rattling off a list of liturgical abuses he'd heard of. Once, such-and-such happened. Again, this-and-that took place. He was visibly upset. And he should have been.

One of the participants raised his hand, "Excellency, this is all very terrible! But, where is this happening? We've never even seen such things!"

The laundry-list of liturgical abuses continued. A second participant raised his hand, "Your Excellency--we really don't understand. We've never heard of such things happening in our province."

The official of the Congregation pressed on with his denunciations. Finally, a third participant intervened, "Excellency, we really don't know what to say. None of this happens in my diocese. Where are these awful things taking place?"

The official was visibly annoyed, but the point was clear: When it comes to liturgical abuses, it's more urban legend than documented fact.

Another colleague of mine, the Director of Liturgy for a bishop at a major See in the western United States, has recounted innumerable stories of being sent by the bishop to investigate an alleged liturgical abuse, only to report that none was taking place, or at least admit a rather minor infraction. And this one chastised me for ranking Peter Elliot's Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite over the Ceremonial of Bishops! It's a burn I'm still recovering from...

This isn't to say that liturgical abuses do in fact take place. I've seen silly stuff happening at the Call to Action services. But I've also seen major infractions of the GIRM on Eternal Word Television Network's televised Masses. And believe me, Deaf people have an eye for detail, and it is difficult for even minor variations to escape my attention.

We should not glibly assume there aren't liturgical abuses taking place in the celebration of the 1962 Missal as well. I see them all the time. Catholics who attend the Extraordinary Form of Mass unwittingly talk of them.

But, my friends, abusus non tollit usum. That there are abuses in the celebration of Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI does not warrant either (a) an abandonment of said Missal or (b) a return to the Missal of John XXIII. Attendance at either of these Forms of Mass should arise from nobler reasons.

Anyone who reads the history of the Roman Liturgy can learn very easily that there have been abuses in the celebration of Mass since time immemorial. A history of the Reformation will often show, for instance, that presiders recited the Ave Maria at the Consecration rather than the Words of Institution. Moreover, there would not have been a "liturgical revival" in the decades up to the Second Vatican Council if there were no abuses taking place. For example, Gregorian chant was already in decline until the superb and excellent works of Dom Prosper Gueranger.

Now here's my gripe. Why should those who are partial to the Missal of Paul VI, especially when it is celebrated worthily and in accordance of the Church's laws, be made to feel responsile for liturgical abuses when they do take place? To be sure, Call to Action does a lot of silly things. But so does Eternal Word Television Network. But I won't be held accountable for their actions. Nor will the Missal of Paul VI be held accountable, any more than the Missal of John XXII or the Missal of Pius V be held accountable for the liturgical decline in the period before the Second Vatican Council

It seems to me that the eighties of the twentieth century was the worst time for liturgical abuses. But consider who may have been guilty of such abuse: priests who were formed in the decades prior to the period 1962-1965. Therefore it is precisely a pre-Vatican II formation that was responsible for liturgical havoc, not only formation subsequent to the Council.

And when abuses do take place, it is not the result of the Church's laws and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council; it is because of an ignorance of them. So the Council and the subsequent Consilium cannot be held accountable, only those who fail to assume their own responsibilities in familiarizing themselves with the documents and the legislation.

Again and again: abusus non tollit usum.

1 comment:

  1. Mr.Hysell, thank you! thank you indeed for this balanced piece.

    Jean Cheney


Please ensure that comments are concise, to the point, and substantiated. All laws of English grammar remain in force. Thanks!