Thursday, May 22, 2008

Liturgical Thoughts, Part II

ONCE upon a time at a sales training class I took, the instructor (a quite successful race-car driver turned consultant) used a true, but politically incorrect saying:
"They say that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but that's really not true. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but if you put him back in the same yard, he is going to poop in the same spot". The point being that training and seminars and books can teach you the right thing to do, but unless your environment changes, you are doomed to revert to the same old routines.

And so it goes with the liturgy. No amount of Papal suggestions, no books, no amount of training or retreats, will address the liturgical doldrums we are in unless something fundamental breaks the cycle. That is something that can only be done from the top down, and only with care and deliberate movement on the part of the Church. Certainly there are a quite a few priests, such as Father Longenecker who, along with his Pastor are taking the initiative to bring their own parishes liturgy around to something reverent and impressive, but they are the exception. For every one of them there are 9 who will not do it even if they think it is right, either from an aversion to parishoner complaints, or a fear of retribution from the hierarchy. And excepted from both categories are those who don't think anything is wrong with slouchmasses to begin with. Just as there are many who like Haugen/Hass/Schutte music, there are (usually the same) people who think that the liturgy is just fine the way it is.

So then, where to start? What changes can be clearly mandated in a non-fudgeable way to start the ball rolling toward the reverent liturgy that is both proper and needed? Anything that says "should" is right out. To say something like "Priests must assure that the mass is celebrated with the proper reverence" is meaningless. There must be some outward and visible and unmistakable change that grabs both the clergy and the laity by the collar and says "look here". At the same time, one can't just slam too many changes in at once, lest they both be rejected or ignored. And more importantly, while by definition this must happen from the top down, it cannot be just proclaimed and dropped.

The path to follow is clear. There are only two possibilities. Both practical, both critical, and both more or less easy to initiate.
The first must-do is to get rid of, as quickly as possible, every table altar in the every Catholic church in the world. There are some places where this will take some time and some money, but there are probably just as many (at least in the US and Europe) where the old high altar remains and the "reconversion" would take, say, 5 minutes. The change will be a bit shocking to the laity, but with a bit of catachesis, they'll adapt, and soon they will understand. And then they will believe.

The other possibility is that of re-instituting communion on the tongue while kneeling. There is simply no substitute for the feeling of being on your knees before the lord, opening up your mouth and accepting him into your person. The feeling of complete submission is simply indescribable. Since my sincerely believe that our fundamental problem with the modern liturgy is one of pride, kneeling in submission would go a long way towards dispelling the pride and restoring the submission. Something we all - including myself - desperately need.

So there are the two keys to the restoration of God's Church. THe question is, who is willing to take up those keys, and unlock the gate to the kingdom of heaven. A gate which was slammed shut decades ago by the self-absorbed "reformers" of the 1960's.

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