These past two weeks or so, the Gospel readings centered around Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees. In one form or another, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus, accusing Him of infractions with the law. The irony in this is that the Pharisees assail the Giver of the Law, Himself, without taking into account their own abuses.
During the Babylonian Exile, there was a group of pious Jews which understood that the reason for their banishment was because Ancient Israel had repeatedly violated God's Law through its infidelity. This group became the Perushim, the separated, because they wanted to ensure a way to protect the Law so that Ancient Israel would not violate it. What the Perushim did was to build a hedge around the Law, devising minor ordinances to protect the precept that the Lord had given.
Unfortunately, the Perushim (who evolved into the Pharisees) built such an elaborate hedge around the Law that they made these minor ordinances more important than what God had ordained. In other words, they added to the Law and valued their additions more than what came directly from the Lord, Himself. This is what Jesus railed against whenever he upbraided the Pharisees. The same group that was trying to protect the Law wound up violating it by additions they made on their own authority, not God's.
In this day and age, we have our own Pharisees, but the identity of these folks is rather surprising.
In a previous post, I wrote about the notion that not a few people have that those of us who care about liturgical integrity act like Pharisees. I have been accused of that a few times. The irony in all of this is that the very folks who level this charge against me (and others) are the same people who will defend usage of their liturgical innovations over the Church's norms. Just as the Pharisees were so meticulous in following their own idiosyncratic additions to the Law, these individuals firmly hold fast to their own liturgical creations and will not cede any ground, even when these practices run contrary to the Church's liturgical law.
This is especially true in children's liturgies. Those who are in charge of planning these Masses tend to spend significant time rehearsing how the youngsters will gather around the altar and perform some sort of mime interpretation to the Pater Noster or how they will process up to the altar bearing globes and other objects for the offertory. Yet, the organizers tend to see little importance in having the students learn the sung Ordinary of the Mass or proper conduct during the liturgy itself. Liturgies for youth and some ecclesial movements fare no better. The latter tend to place more emphasis on the innovations that they have created as opposed to doing what the Church asks.
We need to remember that the Mass is not our own personal property. We cannot do with it as we please. It is the Church's supreme act of worship with its very foundations going back to the time of Ancient Israel when the Lord dictated to Moses how He was to be worshipped. He strictly enjoined Ancient Israel not to deviate from these sacred practices. Lamentably, every time Ancient Israel committed an infraction against the Law, things went very badly for her.
The Pharisees thought that they could improve on the Law and protect it by adding "sub laws" to it. They thought that their own innovations were helping things. Jesus gave them the short answer: "No." What they did was make their "improvements" more important than what God, Himself, had set forth.
The new Pharisees seem to follow the same modus operandi. They seem to think that by adding their own personal stamp to the Mass, they have made it better. However, once again, the answer is a resounding "no". As Redemptionis Sacramentum reminds us:
[7.] Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty. Yet God has not granted us in Christ an illusory liberty by which we may do what we wish, but a liberty by which we may do that which is fitting and right.18 This is true not only of precepts coming directly from God, but also of laws promulgated by the Church, with appropriate regard for the nature of each norm. For this reason, all should conform to the ordinances set forth by legitimate ecclesiastical authority.
[8.] It is therefore to be noted with great sadness that "ecumenical initiatives which are well-intentioned, nevertheless indulge at times in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith". Yet the Eucharist "is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity or depreciation". It is therefore necessary that some things be corrected or more clearly delineated so that in this respect as well "the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery".19
[9.] Finally, abuses are often based on ignorance, in that they involve a rejection of those elements whose deeper meaning is not understood and whose antiquity is not recognized. For "the liturgical prayers, orations and songs are pervaded by the inspiration and impulse" of the Sacred Scriptures themselves, "and it is from these that the actions and signs receive their meaning".20 As for the visible signs "which the Sacred Liturgy uses in order to signify the invisible divine realities, they have been chosen by Christ or by the Church".21 Finally, the structures and forms of the sacred celebrations according to each of the Rites of both East and West are in harmony with the practice of the universal Church also as regards practices received universally from apostolic and unbroken tradition,22 which it is the Church's task to transmit faithfully and carefully to future generations. All these things are wisely safeguarded and protected by the liturgical norms.
[10.] The Church herself has no power over those things which were established by Christ Himself and which constitute an unchangeable part of the Liturgy.23 Indeed, if the bond were to be broken which the Sacraments have with Christ Himself who instituted them, and with the events of the Church's founding,24 it would not be beneficial to the faithful but rather would do them grave harm. For the Sacred Liturgy is quite intimately connected with principles of doctrine,25 so that the use of unapproved texts and rites necessarily leads either to the attenuation or to the disappearance of that necessary link between the lex orandi and the lex credendi.26
[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
Just as the Pharisees in Jesus' time caused confusion with their additions to the Law, so, too, do their liturgical descendants, with their creative innovations, contribute to the uncertainty and perplexity that Redemptionis Sacramentum warned against.