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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Restoring what could be lost

Yesterday, my Alma Mater celebrated its patronal feast day, the Memorial of Mary Help of Christians.  A bad migraine kept me from visiting the school on its feast day; however, I was able to make the trek today.

There is something to be said about having a whole campus to oneself.  While the buildings had been renumbered and some new classrooms had been added here and there, the lay of the land remained the same.  The chapel, shown above, has gone through very little changes; the stained glass windows were added after I graduated.

I learned to love the liturgy in this very building.  My father would drop me off at the ungodly hour of 6:30AM twice a week.  I was bleary-eyed through most of the Mass and, in order to keep me awake, the nuns would invite me to help them in the sacristy.  The nuns introduced me to the Lectionary and what was then known as the Sacramentary (now Roman Missal).  I learned about the Proper of Time and the importance of liturgical colors.  I even learned how to properly care for the sacred vessels.  Those twice-a-week lessons instilled in me a love for the sacred liturgy and it deepened my Faith.  My eighth grade teacher jokingly called me the class "theologian" because I really enjoyed the theological aspects of our daily religion classes.

Now 32 years removed from my graduation, I returned to what once was.  As I walked through the grounds of the open air campus, I could still see the eyeglass-wearing tall kid making her way to the library to check out some obscure book on the Mass or joining her classmates at what used to be the swimming pool.

I also thought about how much school liturgies have regressed since my time as a student.  I am not strictly speaking of my Alma Mater (although, in recent years, the new group has been slightly infected with LifeTeen and other weird things); I refer to what has happened elsewhere within the confines of my Local Church.

At Mass this weekend, I noticed a small program that had been left behind in the sacristy.  The parish school had celebrated its eighth grade graduation the night before and, as I read the program, I grew concerned.  The school had drawn its music from the Protestant Praise and Worship genre (very similar to what LifeTeen has done) and had inserted some para-liturgical items into the sacred liturgy.  One of the parents shared with me that she was concerned that the school had used recorded music and also engaged in some weird "teacher blessing" wherein the instructors were to impart a blessing on the graduates within the context of the Mass.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that, at least at the Local Church, Catholic school staff tend to use the Mass as some sort of petri-dish for liturgical experimentation.  The liturgy in question seemed to me to have heavy influences from both LifeTeen and the Leadership Council of Women Religious,  (on the one hand, music from LifeTeen and on the other, the strange ritual that seems to have been drawn from the LCWR).  One of the school's staff members actually comes from an order that is part of the LCWR.

Based on the commentary of the concerned parent and what I have also personally experienced at these particular liturgies, it seems to me that both the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and Redemptionis Sacramentum are routinely ignored when it comes to school liturgies.  The defense that organizers use is the Directory for Masses with Children; however, these are not kindergarten students who are being affected (although I am strongly against inflicting this kind of damage at an early age).  These are eighth graders who are old enough to be exposed to proper liturgy.

Having a song like "Alle, Alle, Alleluia" in place of the prescribed Gospel Acclamation is not allowed in the GIRM.  Music like "Love One Another", "With Every Beat of My Heart" and "Shine, Jesus Shine" may work for youth gatherings, but, they are inconsistent with the Church's liturgical documents and sacred musical patrimony.

It's as though the organizers either never read Sacramentum Caritatis and its back up documentation, or, they simply have chosen to go their own way, completely ignoring the rules.  I know that I have posted both references, but they do merit repeating.  In fact, while re-reading the Instrumentum Laboris for the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, I found this major observations that the bishops made:
(T)he songs and hymns presently in use need to be reconsidered.87 To enter into sacred or religious usage, instrumental or vocal music is to have a sense of prayer, dignity and beauty. This requires an integrity of form, expressing true artistry, corresponding to the various rites and capable of adaptation to the legitimate demands of inculturation. This is to be done without detracting from the idea of universality. Gregorian chant fulfills these needs and can therefore serve as a model, according to Pope John Paul II.88
Evidently, the bishops who took part in the Instrumentum Laboris believed (and still do) that music used in sacred worship needs to be re-examined.  Nine years removed from the Synod, the problem persists.

Now, here is the quote in question wherein the bishops specifically mention the problem with music used at Youth Masses:
In other responses some lamented the poor quality of translations of liturgical texts and many musical texts in current languages, maintaining that they lacked beauty and were sometimes theologically unclear, thereby contributing to a weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer. A few responses made particular mention of music and singing at Youth Masses. In this regard, it is important to avoid musical forms which, because of their profane use, are not conducive to prayer. Some responses note a certain eagerness in composing new songs, to the point of almost yielding to a consumer mentality, showing little concern for the quality of the music and text, and easily overlooking the artistic patrimony which has been theologically and musically effective in the Church’s liturgy.
If the Synod Fathers found this kind of music problematic, should this not raise concerns within the Local Church where such a genre is used for the youth Masses that take place within its jurisdiction?  It certainly raised a concern for Pope Benedict XVI, prompting him to write this response in Sacramentum Caritatis:
Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131). 
If those who are planning retreats and other activities outside of the liturgy wish to use selections from Spirit and Song, then this could be suitable; however, when it comes to the Mass, they need to "respect the meaning of the liturgy", as Benedict noted in Sacramentum Caritatis.  While it is certainly laudable that Catholic Schools are doing their best to help pass on the Faith to their charges, they also need to adhere by the guidelines set forth by the Church and not make things up as they go along.

Along with music, another area of concern, insofar as these school Masses are concerned, is the mistaken idea that the Directory for Masses with Children permits everything and anything to occur. The idea of having teachers "bless" the graduating students within the context of the Mass is not allowed.

Again, we turn towards the Holy See, specifically, the Congregation for Divine Worship, for direction on this matter:
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). 
Adding this "ritual" into the Mass is a serious abuse to the liturgy.  It also confuses both the students and the parents because they have this mistaken notion that such an act is meaningful and special for the recipients, when it really has no bearing at all and seems to downplay the actual blessing that everyone will be receiving from the celebrant.  Those planning such a thing, including religious staff (i.e. nuns, brothers) should know better, especially since  Sacrosanctum Concilium expressly forbids this (Redemptionis Sacramentum reinforces this prohibition as well):

Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority. (Sacrosanctum Concilium
[11.]  The Mystery of the Eucharist "is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured".27 On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free rein to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved,28 and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ's faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal,29 but are detrimental to the right of Christ's faithful to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church's life in accordance with her tradition and discipline. In the end, they introduce elements of distortion and disharmony into the very celebration of the Eucharist, which is oriented in its own lofty way and by its very nature to signifying and wondrously bringing about the communion of divine life and the unity of the People of God.30 The result is uncertainty in matters of doctrine, perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God, and, almost as a necessary consequence, vigorous opposition, all of which greatly confuse and sadden many of Christ's faithful in this age of ours when Christian life is often particularly difficult on account of the inroads of "secularization" as well.31 (Redemptionis Sacramentum)
Thus, the Church is very clear as to what can and cannot be done.  Lamentably, it has been my experience that those who organize school liturgies tend to hold more value over "rituals" that they create themselves as opposed to that which the Church has established since her very foundation.

The school liturgies that my Alma Mater held during my nine years there were not exactly the textbook model, at least insofar as music was concerned.  The early 1970s were a turbulent time full of sad experimentation and equally bad music.  We were subjected to the likes of the St. Louis Jesuits and other really bad things; however, to their credit, the nuns who handled our liturgies did not take it upon themselves to "create" something.  That was not the way Don Bosco would have had it.

However, these days, the creative spirit has reared its ugly head even there, though not as badly as in other places throughout the Local Church.

The final stop on my solitary tour of my Alma Mater was also my first stop:  the chapel.  As I looked around the space, my mind went back to my younger years. I could still see myself flipping through the pages of the old Sacramentary, asking Sister Guadalupe why some of the wording was in red while a huge chunk was in black.  She gave me the most basic explanation:  the red is what the priest is supposed to do and the black is what he is supposed to say.

It's really that simple.  That is all that has to happen in the Mass.  Unfortunately, when the red is not done and the black is not said, all of us lose out.  The Church loses her liturgical integrity and the faithful, most especially the students, lose perspective.  They lose out on the fact that the liturgy is not something that we can "cobble up", as Pope Benedict wrote on so many occasions; rather, the liturgy is a most precious gift from the Church so that we can render God proper worship.  We need to restore that and, in the case of Catholic schools, such a restoration needs to be made, lest the children lose that connection between worshipping as we believe.

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