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May 3, 2004

Liturgy Discussion

The recent liturgy document has fostered a great deal of discussion among Catholic Blogs, and even in this household. In many places there are some who take issue with the church's right to "meddle" in the liturgical affairs of the local assembly.

I have no desire to be a slave to rubrics. I simply wish to celebrate the Eucharist in a community that is focused, not on me and not on themselves, but on Christ. Too often I have seen the discussion develop into an apologia for what the presider or parishioner has a "right" to change or do with the liturgy.

I, for one, am happy with the document. There are a few things about it I question, and there are places to take those questions. Simply dismissing the rules as unreasonable does not serve the people well. The new GIRM and this new instruction seem to be calling for a greater reverence in and for the liturgy. I think this is a good thing, and I am more than willing to study the liturgy a little closer, and to make an effort for greater reverence in and for the Eucharist.

One Catholic Blog talked about this as receiving a document without theological justification. I do not want to quarrel with his experience, so much as to provide a different perspective.

He said, Good liturgy is not only faithful to the structure and rubrics of the Roman rite, but is also an artistic endeavor.

I wish to gently take issue with the idea that the liturgy is an artistic endeavor. Please do not take anything I say to mean that the liturgy should not be done well. But who is the artist? If the liturgy is a place for me to display MY art, then I am not serving the liturgy but using the liturgy as a way to serve me. At liturgy, I am not the artist. Jesus is.

I think the church has a perfect right to govern the course of the liturgy and how it is celebrated.

If how creative and artistic I can be takes priority over matter, form, structure and rubrics, then I have formed a plan to change the liturgy and not allow the liturgy to change me. It then becomes the liturgy of Jeffrey Keyes, not the liturgy of Jesus Christ.

American culture has not served the liturgy well because artistic forms are mostly based in entertainment values. The church is helping us rediscover some worship values.

The liturgy is not a set of rubrics or a recipe to follow. It is a home, a place to meet the one who hase loved me and poured out his last drop of blood for us. It is where I meet him.

We are to do the liturgy well. It is the center. It is the most precious event of any day. We are to provide our best. (Often this is quite difficult in the morning.) But evn if I have failed to cast off the sleep from my eyes, it is stilll a call to a relationship with another, and not an expression or exercise of my art.

Posted by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. at May 3, 2004 6:46 PM

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Fr. Jeff,

re: your comments in
May 03, 2004
Liturgy Discussion
"The recent liturgy document ..."

I say,

Yep, you got it.

ur obedient savant

dave byron

Posted by: dave byron at May 3, 2004 9:55 PM

"At liturgy, I am not the artist. Jesus is."

Amen. And that is why I am so moved at liturgies where you preside: in your homilies, Jesus is speaking to me; in your singing, it is Jesus who gave you that voice and I feel connected to the Lord through your singing using His voice.

Over the years Dave and I have been blessed to remember some very special liturgies and homilies by various other priests: Fr. Roy Eco, Fr. Darrell Olds, Fr. Jim Sloan are a few that come to mind.

For all you priests and future priests--yes, we in the pews do hear you and appreciate you and remember--and it is always through Jesus.

Posted by: Maria Elena at May 3, 2004 10:28 PM

Peace, all.

At liturgy, no individual is the artist, not even I. The artist is the community of the faithful, providing an act of worship for God. I think one can say that God's grace and inspiration provide the canvas or score on which we work.

I think serious and extreme liturgical violations need correction. Not lay preaching. Not chalice metal. Not when wine or sacrament is poured. Not the numerous small and fussy things people complain about.

For a composer of sonnets, the discipline of form provides the freedom to create a work of art. I would liken the new liturgy document to the insistence that when a sonnet is written, don't use any word with the letter "v," use only sans serif calligraphy, and stick to topics of love. Challenging enough, and a test of obedience and discipline to be sure, but missing the point.

Posted by: Todd at May 4, 2004 10:11 AM

>>The artist is the community of the faithful, providing an act of worship for God.

No! Again, this is where Todd goes astray, and this is typical of the so-called "progressive" Catholic's approach to Catholicism.

As Fr. Keyes points out, Jesus is the artist. The priests - in persona cristi, not acting sua sponte - carry out the instructions of Jesus.

The focus should not be "let's make something beautiful out of this artistic endeavor." Instead, the focus must be on worshipping God as Jesus has instructed us. A faithful worship will have an instrinsic, unearthly beauty all its own because it faithfully reflects God's Word to us, no less, no more. No such beauty can be "created" by any "artistic endeavor."

Posted by: The Barrister at May 4, 2004 10:57 AM

Sorry Todd, I must respectfully disagree. The current generation of musicians and liturgist has been poorly trained to think of them selves as the sole arbiter of what is good liturgy.

It is not ours! It is a sacred treasure that we recieved from Jesus and it has been cared for, for better or worse, by the generations.

God is the artist.

We are HIS work of art.

as for canvas, that might be us. Certainly he cannot paint on something as intangible as "inspiration."

And if it is grace you are referring to, that is him again.

Posted by: Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS at May 4, 2004 11:14 AM

Found this on Fr. Matthew's site:

Something I refer to as "carving your initials on the Mona Lisa"; after working with teenagers for years I noticed some of them were prone to a certain type of narcissism, unpleasant but not too uncommon among children. Many people have at one time or other encountered a sort of "Beavis" personality that would find the Mona Lisa boring. But if Beavis carves his own initials on the Mona Lisa, all of a sudden it becomes interesting, because it is "his" now! This is the mentality behind most graffiti and vandalism. This is also the mentality that the new Vatican encyclical Redemptionis Sacramentum is fighting against. There exists a small number of Catholic adults who like "customizing" the liturgy so that it reflects themselves more than the Church's faith. Fortunately I have only encountered this kind of abuse on rare occasions - but even a little bit of it is a problem. Priests who change the words of the mass are carving their initials on the Mona Lisa.


Posted by: The Barrister at May 4, 2004 1:11 PM

Todd, the Vatican's preference has always been to specify only as much as is absolutely necessary. It is only when recipients of an original instruction fail to take it in the intended spirit, and instead exploit every conceivable loop-hole, that more restrictive demands are required. It's just like we treat our children: we give them freedoms, but when abused, they are curtailed with more specific rules. If bishops, priests and liturgists would have submitted to the originally intended spirit of the liturgy, none of this would have ever been needed. But because we have widespread disobedience in large matters, even those matters which one might consider minute are going to be more closely regulated.

It's my belief that these minor things do not constitute the main thrust of the document. But if the powers-that-be would have been faithful at large, a few minor things could have easily been overlooked, since the faithful could rest assured that the overall is as it should be. Instead, we have major liturgical abuses, which have resulted in Rome's corrective action with broad strokes. At least, that's the way I see it.

Posted by: Paul Rex at May 4, 2004 2:00 PM

Peace, all.

"The current generation of musicians and liturgist has been poorly trained to think of them selves as the sole arbiter of what is good liturgy."

I don't believe I was trained this way. I do think that some musicians and clergy through the centuries (even present-day ones) have seen themselves imbued with some kind of exalted personal importance in the liturgy. Those people would be misguided.

I stand by my assertion that people: leaders and worshippers both, must do more than merely follow the rubrics to achieve good liturgy. That assertion isn't mine, by the way. It is written in the council documents. To suggest that obedient passivity is enough, or even primary to liturgy, is to reject Catholic teaching on the Mass. "Something more" is required, not an optional extra.

Let's step back and assess our common ground though:
- We agree liturgy is a needful priority in the life of the Church
- We agree Catholic liturgy has yet to achieve its potential as summit and source for the laity
- We agree some expression of universal liturgical governance is helpful to the Church

From there, I think we quibble on the particulars of how to bridge the gap of our dissatisfaction. But I think the Church is helped by people working in their respective specialties (and working together) than fussing about whose details are more important.

I don't know much of the details of what St Bloggers do in their parishes. I had a deep respect for Fr Jeff when I knew him as a parish music minister. I appreciate the care and artistry he puts into his chant schola and priestly ministry as I read of his exploits. I suspect he and I achieve similar results in our parishes without sharing identical lingo on how we get there.

Rubrics are on my list, but not at the top. I have little or no control over the make-up of rubrics. What I can influence is the skill and prayer people put into their worship experience. I can lead by example. I can coach people to do better. To me, that makes for fruitful worship, and is the only thing I can "control." I would hope God picks up the pieces, and of course, remains a constant focus, but I leave others to the task of being perfect in that regard.

Posted by: Todd at May 4, 2004 4:18 PM

Todd, you make a number of good points, but I still feel you are talking around the heart of the issue, which is fidelity to the mind of the Church. According to Sacrosanctum Concilium, "116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman Liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."

Because speaking in generalities can be a bit abstract, I hope you'll permit us the benefit of your concrete experience, by letting us in on roughly how many times in the last calendar year the music ministry at your parish has chosen a selection from either the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex? That's what I mean by being faithful in large things. When that over-arching commitment is absent, many things underneath will crumble as well. And that's just one example of what has precipitated the current instruction.

Posted by: Paul Rex at May 5, 2004 7:09 AM

Peace, Paul.

I'll oblige your request. Be mindful I'm not the music director per se, and I have hands on leadership of only two groups in the parish. I have a few resources of plainsong, and By Flowing Waters is a resource I could successfully introduce in small doses with some groups. Other parish music leadership does not seem to be aware of either the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex.

My emsemble used the traditional Pange Lingua at Holy Thursday, in English and Latin. It has been our practice to chant the Lord's Prayer during Lent, though only our pastor was consistent in remembering this. For Advent, we all learned and attempted Conditor Alme Siderum, though in English, for the whole parish to learn, using it at Sundays Masses and evening prayer. It was not embraced well, at least in comparison to a FOREST GREEN setting of the Benedictus we did the prior Advent. Prior to my arrival in 2002, an adaptation of Adoro Te was used for Lenten acclamations. I was asked to retire it my first Lent, as musicians and pastor all said the people didn't respond well to it.

The phrase "all other things being equal," is an important qualifier. My parish has never included plainsong as part of its musical repertoire. We have a reputation as being somewhat conservative, but I think our conservative musical sensibilities would lean more toward "quiet" Masses and traditional Catholic hymnody than chant and polyphony. That's a reality I have to work with: accepting what will work here and conceding that a quantitative ideal of SC 116 is likely not practical in this generation.

I will have a hard time selling a plainsong Mass setting to music leadership here, though that would be my priority after the new Roman Missal is finalized. Meanwhile, we'll try Conditor again next Advent and hope it latches more firmly.

Posted by: Todd at May 5, 2004 8:50 AM

The tone of the document, as it is translated into English and read by a good number of folks in the US, is part of the reactions.

It's not an encyclical, it is an instruction, but I still think a bit of appeal to underlying principles and a stance of assuming we want to do liturgy well according to the Vatican II constitution would make it a lot easier to take.

For example, when the document says "don't break the host in the institution narrative" it just says "don't". It doesn't say how the action of "take, bless, break, give," is enfleshed in the liturgy of the eucharist. If it would just say, the whole eucharistic prayer is the "bless" part, the breaking comes later, I think it might be easier to understand and observe.

So, OK, I guess we have to get our sacristans who are men instituted as acolytes so the priest and deacon are available to the people after the liturgy ends. Fine. I can live with that for now. But that I'm not considered suitable for that service is a bit hard to take.

For anyone disheartened by the what seem to me off-topic issues about lay ecclesial ministers, I recommend Cardinal Mahony's letter on ministry.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 5, 2004 9:05 AM

Todd, thank you for your detailed response. It gives me a better idea where you stand on traditional music. Now I know why you are the most likeable progressive in the blogosphere: because your intent does lean closer to those things we hold dear than would many others.

In saying, "accepting what will work here", I can appreciate that we all inherit a given situation; but the point is that the reason why traditional chant doesn't work there must have had some historical starting point. The efforts you make in trying to inject some traditional music shows me you have goodwill in that respect.

Together we can pray that the promised renaissance of chant will come, that it might recover its rightful place in the Mass.

Posted by: Paul Rex at May 5, 2004 9:43 AM

Dear Father Jeff,

I've read this document several times, with the aim of trying to see how its call for a greater reverence is lurking underneath all the commands.

It's hard to find the reverence in the details.

Maybe because for many actions, I can't equate greater reverence with the ordained vs. non-ordained status of the person who does the act.
I'm not talking about preaching here, but details like who purifies vessels.

The materials on the usccb web site are helpful in understanding the practical implementation of the instruction.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 5, 2004 1:21 PM

Maureen, if I might be permitted to interject - you can't legislate reverence, but you can create the conditions for it to flourish. Regarding the point you made about the state of the person who performs a specific act, it all has to do with confusing the faithful about which action is proper to which state. When the distinction between ordained and non-ordained gets blurred, then the priest is taken as just another person in the community, and his actions are discounted in value. Thus, the appreciation for the value of the Eucharist - the priests primary responsibility - takes a hit as well. In other words, we have less reverence for it.

Posted by: Paul Rex at May 5, 2004 1:37 PM

Yes, I repeat myself; I said this last week:

Because the document doesn't say to those who lead our worship "Cut the chatter," it misses a major hindrance to reverence in the USA English speaking Catholic Community.

I don't find the "action proper to each state" sort of arguments persuasive. And I think these arguments rely on a bunch of presuppositions that don't make sense, either. I'm not saying the arguments are invalid, given one finds the presuppositions reasonable, but the question is what sorts of ecclesiologies are we bringing to the conversation.

Since instituted acolytes, who are lay people (and according to current legislation, must be men), may purify the vessels, the "action proper to each state" argument goes out the window in that case. Whom are we kidding? I don't think anyone is confused about anything when someone like me purifies the cups and plates after Mass. Nor do I think anyone was confused when extraordinary ministers were permitted to assist with Breaking Bread and pouring the Precious Blood under the old procedures.

And I think the concern about distributing Holy Communion from reserved eucharist after a Liturgy of the Word at a Sunday parish gathering in the absence of a priest causing "confusion" is overdone, at least for any community that has experienced a presider who leads the eucharistic prayer well.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 5, 2004 4:56 PM

"To suggest that obedient passivity is enough, or even primary to liturgy, is to reject Catholic teaching on the Mass. "

Straw man.
No one that I have ever read or heard suggests that obedient passivity is "enough."

But I think most of us would say that "obedient passivity" would nonetheless trump disobedient activity. Does anyone disagree?

Posted by: Geri at May 5, 2004 6:49 PM

From the Instruction, n. 183 " let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected."

What will people do about places where the Blessed Sacrament is permanently in a monstrance, but not permanently attended?

Will priests ensure that there is a an altar server to pour water on their hands?

Will everyone bow their head during Mass at the name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Trinity?

Will there be an altar server with a Communion-plate next to every minister of Holy Communion? Then if people want to receive the consecrated host on the tongue they can hold a communion-plate beneath their chin.

Will lectors sit in the sanctuary?

Will people follow the 2002 GIRM: "101. In the absence of an instituted lector, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture."

Its one thing to say "its a good official document". But to implement this is going to take a lifetime of work.

Posted by: John Lilburne at May 5, 2004 7:23 PM

There is always a balance to be struck in celebrating the sacred. Most of us understand the problems with the extremes, from the High Priest whispering the Tetragrammaton inside the Holy of Holies once a year, on the one hand, to "Pizza and Beer... Masses" on the other.

One of the most classic and common ways of indicating the sacred in a celebration has been to reserve certain actions to those who have been solemnly designated for those actions. Personally, I think purifying the sacred vessels reasonably falls within the category of such actions, as a reminder, however subtle it may be, that these aren't just "cups and plates." All these niceties of rubrics and whatnot, however, are really just minimums indeed, not even all the minimums of what makes good Liturgy. With God's grace, we must continually work to widen our hearts and ennoble our minds so that as a community of faith, hope, and love, we may render ever more pleasing service to the Lord.

Posted by: Humilis Penitens at May 6, 2004 11:24 AM