Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


A Tale of Two Masses – Part I:The City of Bad Liturgy Done Well

June 11th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

While Charles Dickens was most definitely not writing of Rochester when he published A Tale of Two Cities, there are certainly a great amount of parallels to be had, even in that oft-quoted first paragraph. Indeed, while Dickens was speaking of London and Paris as the “two cities” in his novel, we have two different “cities” before us. The first city is Bad Liturgy Done Well, and the second is Good Liturgy Done Poorly. Naturally, the “golden city,” that “heavenly Salem” I call Good Liturgy Done Well, needs no real discussion in this post. After all, it is the predominant theme of this site.

So what is this City of Bad Liturgy Done Well? It sounds like some kind of misnomer, maybe even an oxymoron. Alas, is is not. In truth, it seems that this is the city towards which the powers-that-be in the Diocese of Rochester constantly strive. Anyone who had the privilege to attend this morning’s ordination Mass at Sacred Heart can surely agree that no expense was spared to enhance the worship experience. A magnificent Festival Choir, a top-notch organist, stellar instrumentalists, and rhythmically-gifted bell-ringers all demonstrated that those in positions of authority at the Cathedral Community have a very clear vision of the liturgy. They recognize it as something special and set-apart, something deserving of a great deal of thought and effort.

Unfortunately, much of this thought and effort is misdirected. Rather turning liturgy into something both horizontal (the community of believers) and vertical (addressing the Divine), the liturgy stays flat, hugging the ground and afraid to soar beyond the realm of being, quite simply, a good musical performance. No one is debating that the music or general mood of the Mass was disingenuous or hollow. On the contrary, the Mass embodied the yearnings, strivings, and labors of many people whose lives are dedicated to the service of God and His Church. However, what Catholics must realize is that just because something sounds beautiful, or looks majestic, or makes us feel enriched or spiritually nourished, it doesn’t make it worthy of use at Mass. The Mass is not about our tastes or aesthetic inclinations. It transcends those, leaving all these personal desires and ideas within ourselves, and uniting them all under the vast and permanent mantle of the Church’s liturgical heritage.

So, quite simply, we must not treat the Mass as something dependent on us. On the contrary, we depend wholly on the Mass and, thus, on the priesthood. When we bend the Mass into a celebration of community, into a mere commemoration of a meal, we lose the richness of what the Church has built into the Mass for us. We may belt out beautiful hymns with gusto, and we may have fleets of well-trained servers, deacons, priests, etc., and we may have great numbers of professionals “making a joyful noise unto God,” but if we allow the Mass to reflect our desires, our opinions, and our inclinations, we lose focus. We gather at the table of the Lord, not because it’s an opportunity to have a parish meet-and-greet, or because it’s a chance to show off our Halloran All Saints pipe organ, but because He commanded us to do so. “Do this in memory of Me.” Notice, Our Lord commended us to do this, not to do something. The “this” to which He referred was the Passover seder, a highly ritualized ceremony in which there was no clapping, no dancing, no showing off of mortal capabilities. It was a profoundly intense service in which the presider left his personality at the door, a service wherein the participants do what is asked of them, not what they feel “called” to do.

The city of Bad Liturgy Done Well is one that looks beautiful, but whose foundations are rotten, and whose buildings are only shells whose elaborate exteriors mask the lifeless faith of the inhabitants whose only desire is to feel good and pull God down to our level, rather than aspire to raise ourselves to His. The citizens of this city are good, loving, Christian people, but they approach the liturgy from a flawed understanding of it. When we enter a church, we should be silent, in respect for the God who dwells in our tabernacles at His desire to do so. We are nothing, and no matter how glorious our celebrations may appear, they are nothing compared to the unrivaled splendor of the heavenly liturgy, of which even our most elaborate and solemn occasion is but a shadow.

This being said, the major flaw of this city is its lack of humility, its presumptions as to what is right and wrong. Again, just because something looks beautiful does not mean it actually is so in God’s sight. “He that rejects instruction, despises his own soul: but he that yields to reproof, possesses understanding. The fear of the Lord is the lesson of wisdom: and humility goes before glory” (Proverbs 15:33). It is humble to obey, and to obey is to endear oneself to God. Vainglory is not something that serves us well in the sanctuary. It serves only to divert our praise from Our Lord and redirect it to some perverted worship of our own abilities. Anything that draws attention to individuals as opposed to God should be re-evaluated as to its prayerfulness. That is one of the many benefits of having Mass “ad orientem,” with the priest and people facing the same direction. Even the most rubrically-unsound of our readers will have to admit that it is far less distracting to look at the back of someone’s head than the front. That isn’t high liturgy, folks, it’s just common sense.

(Part II should follow within the next few days.)


Tags: , , , , ,


17 Responses to “A Tale of Two Masses – Part I:The City of Bad Liturgy Done Well”

  1. avatar Pipes says:

    It’s as if they don’t recognize Him or know Him but want to be recognized or known.

  2. avatar Gen says:

    Well said.

  3. avatar Mary says:

    My favorite recent example: Tree of life…miserere nobis. This is the Catholic Church people, not “Pocahontas.”

  4. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    another example: singing the Eucharistic prayer as if it’s a show tune.

    another example: changing the words of mass.

    another example: replacing the tabernacle with an enormous organ and specifically mentioning the organ prior to the ceremony. huh?

    I want to affirm, though, that the ordination was beautiful. No matter how much you warp it (and I grant good will as Gen does), it is still beautiful – especially given the circumstance. Especially with Fr. Caton’s family there to support him. Especially watching all the priests lay hands on him.

  5. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    well at least there wasn’t any of this (in fact it has nothing to do with today – just a good laugh on life in the DOR):

  6. avatar Dr. K says:

    My favorite recent example: Tree of life…miserere nobis.

    I couldn’t help but laugh when they inserted that into the Agnus Dei. The same thing happened at the Dolan Mass.

  7. avatar Susan of Corning says:

    Great description, Gen. “Bad liturgy done well” is a very accurate summary of what so many of us endure.

  8. avatar Eliza10 says:

    I couldn’t help but laugh when they inserted that into the Agnus Dei. The same thing happened at the Dolan Mass.

    I nearly laughed, too, except that I was expecting weird stuff! It’s like spending time or working with people whose mental handicaps you are accustomed to. STRANGE things happen, and you take it in stride like its normal.

    It was SO completely strange to insert that, and the other English phrases in the Agnus Dei. It was like a pop-quiz – – “Quick! Can YOU do the mental gymnastics to refocus in this song??” (I suppose if you are bi-lingual its normal to switch back and forth between languages in a conversation.)

    replacing the tabernacle with an enormous organ and specifically mentioning the organ prior to the ceremony. huh?

    Um… yes! It would have been much better for their appearances if they hadn’t mentioned THAT elephant. I was trying to pretend the whole switch of Jesus-for-an-organ wasn’t so, and that announcement was no help at all.

  9. avatar Eliza10 says:

    I don’t know how to use quotes still on this site. If someone can edit for me and insert teh below quotes in my post, that would be great, (then remove this).

    The first quote I tried to quote, above which I commented on, was:
    “My favorite recent example: Tree of life…miserere nobis….” “I couldn’t help but laugh when they inserted that into the Agnus Dei. The same thing happened at the Dolan Mass.”

    The second one I tried to quote was:
    “another example: replacing the tabernacle with an enormous organ and specifically mentioning the organ prior to the ceremony. huh?”

  10. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Eliza10 – I updated it for you. You should be able to click edit to see how I did it for future reference.

  11. avatar JLo says:

    This is a marvelous article, Gen. May I share one thought that entered my mind as I read it.

    Given the soiled environment that’s been created in our diocese over these 30 plus years, even good priests here, clerics who strive to be holy and obedient to Holy Mother Church, can’t seem to help themselves in putting their personal imprint on the Holy Mass, adding words and gestures which are inappropriate or at least not needed (or wanted). All those little things they do! If they only knew how such detract and sadden we in the pews… even such a little thing as their “Good morning!” instead of the greeting provided in the Sacramentary. Why don’t they realize how much greater is “The Lord Be with You!”… than is “Good morning!”. And at their own reception of the Holy Eucharist, so many say the prayer out loud instead of silently and change the pronoun to “we” instead of what’s written for them, “me”. They make it a group reception, for crying out loud, thinking we are looking for equality and democracy! Not so! We want the sacred, the true, the sure.

    I am so hoping that the new wording which starts at Advent will have such good and faithful priests finally reading the black and doing the red. Some very good priests would be very surprised if someone they trusted critiqued their celebration of Holy Mass. That was done in our parish in Las Vegas by a Vatican-trained liturgist, and our pastor was ever grateful, saying that one could so easily fall into faulty habits, even in celebrating Holy Mass, that it was good to have trained eyes bringing him back to a perfect celebration.

    I can’t wait to read the next part of your article, Gen.


  12. avatar snowshoes says:

    Thank you, Gen, excellent critique! God bless Father Caton! Happy Pentecost! Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Thy Love. AMEN

  13. Excellent post, Gen. Looking forward to the second post. There are some Sundays when it is all I can do to sit through another ‘bad liturgy done well’, which is the norm in my parish. When it’s a ‘bad liturgy done badly’ (and I’ve sat through a lot of those, too), I truly feel that I am enduring some type of penance.

  14. avatar Nerina says:

    Gen, this is perhaps, your finest post.

    I thank you for reminding me about humility and obedience when we join in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

  15. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    I joke and I kid, but in all seriousness I have to agree with Nerina that this is one of your finest posts. I was stunned by the insight when I read it. The bar continues to be raised here.

  16. avatar Abaccio says:

    You know, this post explains more fully something I often say: that we must worship in spirit and in truth. Some of these Diocesan goons worship earnestly, with an honest desire to worship God, or at least do what they honestly believe is correct. The only problem is that…well, they aren’t! So many take the attitude that, “Well, this is how I’m going to worship, and if God doesn’t like it, He’s a jerk.” It rocks the very foundation of what they claim to believe!

    I sometimes notice that the traditional folk can miss this proper spirit of worship…just look at the Liturgical Pimp(ernel), who is so concerned with minutia, he sees no beauty in pretty well-executed, stunningly beautiful prayer…that is to say that he’s let the perfect become the enemy of the good…it’s folks like that, “gloomy saints” perhaps, who are too nitpicky that make those heterodox/”pro”gressives refuse to listen to reason and sense.

  17. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Beautiful and so understandable! Your words lift the soul! Thank you, Gen, for a masterpiece! What you wrote is a perfect reflection of Pope Benedict’s words on the liturgy in his interview with Seewald, in Light of the World:

    “The essential point is that the Word of God and the reality of the Sacrament really occupy center stage; that we don’t bury God underneath our words and our ideas and that the liturgy doesn’t turn into an occasion to display ourselves…it is not about our doing something, about our demonstrating our creativity; about displaying everything we can do. Liturgy is precisely not a show, a piece of theater, a spectacle. Rather it gets its life from the Other. Liturgy …it cannot be reinvented every time by the community. It is not a question…of self production. The point is to go out of and beyond ourselves, to give ourselves to Him…. (p 156).

Leave a Reply

Log in | Register

You must be logged in to post a comment.

-Return to main page-