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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Perpetuating Bad Liturgical Habits

I admire and respect George Weigel and, just about 99% of the time, I agree with what he says and writes.  His credentials are impressive and he possesses a wealth of knowledge.

However, in reading his article called "Breaking Bad Liturgical Habits" which appears online in the National Catholic Register, I was surprised to find some items that seem to actually perpetuate just what he is trying to halt.

The introduction of the third edition of the Roman Missal and the new translations of the liturgical texts offer the entire English-speaking Church an opportunity to correct some bad liturgical habits that have developed over the past four decades. That is true.  We are now praying to God using language that is befitting.

The point of these corrections is neither liturgical prissiness nor aesthetic nostalgia; there is no “reform of the reform” to be found in lace surplices, narrow fiddleback chasubles and massive candles.

The point of correcting bad habits is to celebrate the Novus Ordo of Paul VI with dignity and beauty, so that holy Mass is experienced for what it is: our participation in the liturgy of saints and angels in heaven — where, I am quite confident, they don’t sing treacly confections like Gather Us In.

Celebrants (not “presiders”): If you’ve fallen into the bad habit of concluding Mass by some variant of “May almighty God bless us all, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” please cease and desist. You were not ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament to invoke, generically, the divine blessing, which anyone can (and should) do before and after meals; you were given the power to confer the divine blessing by being configured to Christ in holy orders. Agreed.

Catholics who embrace the truth of Catholic faith do not enjoy clericalism. But they do not find comfort, much less evangelical leadership, from priests who imagine they can avoid clericalism by unwittingly denying the truth of their own sacramental vocation and its distinctiveness. Agreed.

Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist: The same admonition applies to you, but in a different way — you must not offer a “blessing,” in any form, to pre-first-Communion children who join their parents in the Communion procession. (While he makes a solid point, Mr. Wiegel uses a term that is incorrect.  According to both the GIRM and Redemptionis Sacramentum, the correct term is Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion).

Eucharistic ministers are not junior-grade clergy or petty officers; no one outside of those in holy orders should “bless” in a liturgical context. Again, this is not a matter of prissiness, and still less one of clericalism; it is a matter of doctrinal and theological precision — which, if lost, can damage the celebration of the sacred liturgy. Agreed, except for the fact Eucharistic Ministers are clergy.  Bishops and priests are Eucharistic Ministers because only they can confect the Eucharist.  Bishops, priests and deacons are Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are vastly overused in U.S. parishes, a practice that risks of signaling that the Mass is a matter of the self-worshipping community celebrating and feeding itself. But the problem of the ordinary use of what is supposed, after all, to be “extraordinary” can be addressed another time. For now, pastors must make it clear that no one blesses children during the Communion procession except bishops, priests and deacons, i.e., those in holy orders.  Along with terminology problems, there is a major point that Mr. Weigel seems to miss regarding these "blessings in lieu of the distribution of Holy Communion."  I will address these later on in my post.

Music directors and pastors: As a general rule, sing all the verses of a processional or recessional hymn. Good hymns have a textual integrity that is lost when we sing hymn excerpts rather than hymns. It doesn’t take that much more time to sing all six verses of For All the Saints or all four verses of Crown Him With Many Crowns; cutting such great texts by two-thirds or one-half inevitably sends the signal that music in the liturgy is filler — and there is no room for filler in the sacred liturgy.  Here there is some room for disagreement, especially if there are some questionable pieces out there.  I will cover this comment in greater detail later.

The Congregation: Sacred space is different from other space; the inside of the church is different from the narthex (not “gathering space”). Agreed.

Thus we should all break the bad habit of commencing the post-Mass conversation immediately after the conclusion of the recessional hymn or organ postlude. Wait until you leave the interior of the church before beginning to chat with the neighbors. Agreed.

If there is a choral postlude, chatting over it is an insult to the choir, which has worked hard to prepare something beautiful for God; if there is only an organ postlude (with or without a recessional hymn), chatting over it is an insult to the organist. Thirty seconds of silence after Mass is no bad thing.  Agreed; however, it would not be a bad idea just to have silence after Mass.  We do not need to fill up every moment of silence with noise.  Silence is not the absence of noise; it is the language of God.  We need to give God a chance to speak to us.

And while we’re on the subject of the congregation, might we all reconsider our vesture at Sunday Mass? Dressing in one’s “Sunday best” was not an affectation; it was an acknowledgment of our baptismal dignity. Definitely agreed!  Shorts, graphic t-shirts and flip-flops are not "Sunday best."

Let’s reclaim that dignity and its expression in our “Sunday best.”
As I indicated earlier, Mr. Weigel makes some very solid points, as a lot of what he says certainly rings true.  However, as valid as his concerns are, his article, unfortunately, contains some errors that, in all charity, need to be pointed out.


Twice in the article, Mr. Weigel refers to the lay faithful who assist the celebrant in the distribution of Holy Communion, calling them either "Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist" or "Eucharistic Ministers." According to Redemptionis Sacramentum, the term is "Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion".

[156.]  This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not "special minister of Holy Communion" nor "extraordinary minister of the Eucharist" nor "special minister of the Eucharist", by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.
This language actually came into usage back in 1997, in the interdiscastery document called Ecclesia de Mysterio, signed off on by the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Here is what the document states:

The non-ordained faithful may be generically designated "extraordinary ministers" when deputed by competent authority to discharge, solely by way of supply, those offices mentioned in Canon 230, 3(56) and in Canons 943 and 1112. Naturally, the concrete term may be applied to those to whom functions are canonically entrusted e.g. catechists, acolytes, lectors etc. Temporary deputation for liturgical purposes -- mentioned in Canon 230, 2 -- does not confer any special or permanent title on the non-ordained faithful.(57)

...1. The canonical discipline concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must be correctly applied so as to avoid generating confusion. The same discipline establishes that the ordinary minister of Holy Communion is the Bishop, the Priest and the the Deacon.(96) Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are those instituted as acolytes and the faithful so deputed in accordance with Canon 230, 3.(97)
Even the General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes repeated reference to the term Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  Using the correct terminology is important because it removes any confusion that inaccurage wording can bring.

Blessings in lieu of distributing Holy Communion

Mr. Weigel does get half of the point correct.  In Ecclesia de Mysterio, the document specifically states that during the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:
In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers -- e.g. especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology -- or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant.
This includes the imparting of blessings, as these use both wording and gestures that are proper to the celebrant.

In November 2008, in response to a private query from two American lay men, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments addressed the issue of imparting blessings in lieu of distributing Holy Communion (Protocol No. 930/08/L).  While the matter remains under the Congregations' study, Msgr. Anthony Ward, writing on behalf of the curial body, made five observations as to why these blessings should not take place:
1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, “forbids any pastor, for whatever reason to pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry”. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.

5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church’s discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin). 
There is also another matter to consider.  When the celebrant makes the proclamation:  "Behold the Lamb of God...", he is making the invitation for those who are properly disposed to approach and receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, not a blessing.  This "blessing" appears nowhere in the GIRM nor in the rubric for the distribution of Holy Communion.  Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), Redemptionis Sacramentum and the GIRM prohibit anyone, including the celebrant, from adding anything to the Mass.  Some will argue that they have seen the Holy Father engage in this practice.  Bear in mind, however, that the Pope is the supreme authority and can do as he sees fit because he is the visible head of the Church.  Fr. Joe, at his parish, does not have the same authority, nor does Bishop Smith.


While Mr. Weigel (and, a good majority of the parishes and dioceses out there) concentrate on the four-hymn sandwich, the Church presents us with something entirely different:  chant.  Rather than perpetuate the use of hymns (the fourth option), why not just advocate for the default, the Propers of the Mass?  This will, no doubt, remove any notion of using questionable music and, furthermore, actually fulfill the goal of singing the Mass instead of merely singing at Mass.

The GIRM does not regulate just how long the music should be either for the processional or the recessional.  However, when it comes to the introductory rites (which, as a rule of thumb, should be brief), the GIRM does state that:
47. When the people are gathered, and as the Priest enters with the Deacon and ministers, the Entrance Chant begins. Its purpose is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers.

48. This chant is sung alternately by the choir and the people or similarly by a cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting; (2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time; (3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

If there is no singing at the Entrance, the antiphon given in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a reader; otherwise, it is recited by the Priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. no. 31).

Furthermore, there is no requirement that we should even have a recessional.  The Church states that we can either sing a hymn, have an instrumental or simply depart in silence.  Recessionals need not go in into eternity.  While I can understand Mr. Weigel's point, I would much rather have silence after the time that the celebrant has already left the church.

Mr. Weigel makes some rock solid points on the attire that we should wear for Mass.  I would only add that if folks are exercising some sort of liturgical ministry, they, too, should take extra care in choosing their wardrobe for Mass.  Somehow proclaiming the Word of God while wearing jeans and a t-shirt for Sunday Mass just does not cut it.  Sadly, in today's culture, we live in a world that has the "anything goes" attitude.

That Mr. Weigel means well is without question; however, as I read his article, he fails to do due diligence to what the Church mandates.  Instead of calling for an end to bad liturgical habits, he winds up, without meaning to, further perpetuating the really harmful ones that he is trying to prevent.

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