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August 10, 2006

To Defend The Liturgy

Often posts from this blog have been copied off and sent anonymously and cowardly to the Bishop or to the Diocesan School department to complain about my defense of the liturgy or to object to my defense of decorum and proper dress for the Liturgy.

My complaint has never been against any person, but against actions or dress that are deemed inappropriate by official offices in the local and universal church.

The one thing that amazes me is that several women, people with official roles in leadership, often think that my criticism is inappropriate. In other words, brides who wear strapless gowns should be allowed to do so. This is the culture, they say. This is what everyone does, they say. You would be the only one to object, they say. The Bishop, on the other hand, likes to come here because we do the liturgy well. It is always amusing to see a complaint sent to him about something he asked me to do.

The culture does not determine the liturgy. I am increasing amused by people who ask for upbeat songs. There are some who think I do not listen. Yes, I listen. The answer is "no." From now on the conversation is on the text, or the conversation is over.

There is a new book by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called "Catholic Matters." In it he talks about the groups who believe that Vatican II was a movement in discontinuity from what went before, as if there was a pre-Vatican II church and a post-Vatican II church. What most people think is a Vatican II Liturgy is nothing of what was intended by Vatican II. I would recommend this book for anyone who struggles to defend the liturgy today. It is a very affirming and supportive book.

I am the pastor. I am not a talk-show host or a choreographer. I am the one responsible for the liturgy at this parish and I take my responsibility seriously. We are not putting on a show here. People who come for the music or for the decoration or for the community are missing the point. The purpose of our singing is not to enable us to feel the Spirit. The purpose of our music is to give us the vehicle to enter into the word of God, to give ourselves to the Word of God, and pray that we may become the work of God. People will be taught to come here for Jesus, and for nothing else.

How we dress for the liturgy indicates our reverence and our readiness. As always, people who dress inappropriately will be welcomed in our church and treated with great hospitality. However, they will not be lector, Eucharistic minister, or in any leadership or ministerial role.

The Liturgy has become a place for groups and organizations to strut their stuff and look good. The recent support from the Diocese has been very affirming and has given me much support. Count me as part of the Reform of the Reform. The Liturgy, the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, the Communio with the Lord and all the Saints; it is the center of the universe, it is the center that holds, it is everything that gives us life or directs who we are to be.

There are many who wonder how long they have to put up with me. The most telling day was when someone complained and said they wanted their church back. That very day another thanked me for bringing back reverence and beauty and they ended by saying, "thank you for giving us our church back."

Ministry is not decided by opinion polls or what anyone may think about what I am doing. It is the Lord's ministry and the Church is the one who determines the validity of ministry. To be Catholic is to believe in the Church and to think with the Church and to seek to be and do what the Church does.

I remember a conversation where I said that we needed to begin to look at the liturgy from the Church's perspective. The answer came back, "we are the Church." Nope, sorry, we are not individually or collectively the church. We do not get to decide what is right or wrong or what the truth is. Truth is not based on what we might feel about something or what we might like. Jesus himself is the truth and our task is to listen, to learn and to receive his grace.

So go ahead, copy this off and send it to whomever you like. It is the Church's Liturgy, and I will continue to defend it.

Posted by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. at August 10, 2006 9:54 PM

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Great post father and yes I will copy it. I will file it in documents and one day, if I have enough courage, give it to my parish priest.

My archbishop has a policy of not reading letters which are not signed.

Posted by: Victoria at August 11, 2006 2:01 AM


Posted by: Brian Michael Page at August 11, 2006 4:50 AM

Perhaps you should ask Bishop Vigneron for a diocesan policy on dress at weddings, so that it's more widely supported and not just seen as one pastor's interpretation.

We could always suggest the practice common among Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese wedding couples, who often use both a Western set and an Asian set of marriage garb at different points in the ceremony and reception. The strapless gown could show up at the reception after a different gown is worn in church.

That said, Father Jeff, the tone of your message reflects so much frustration that it comes across as a take-it-or-leave-it rather than an invitation to a genuinely respectful conversation that might create possibilities for change.

Is there really no place in liturgy to discuss the affective role of music?

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at August 11, 2006 1:09 PM

God bless you, Fr Keyes.

"The culture does not determine the liturgy. I am increasing amused by people who ask for upbeat songs. There are some who think I do not listen."

I don't suppose my story of the liturgy planner who asked for a "nice, peppy Kyrie" bears repeating.

Posted by: Geri at August 11, 2006 3:30 PM

Never a man to mince your words, are you, Father? And thanks for taking your responsibility for the liturgy seriously. Pastors like you are hard to come by.

And what is it with the "upbeat music," anyway? I've gotten this line too. I murmur and gaze into the middle distance. I'm incurably cheerful personally, but liturgical music takes place at a solemn event. It can be joyful, but "upbeat" sounds like disco or a pep rally.

Posted by: Mary Jane at August 11, 2006 8:25 PM

Father, I just wish there were more priests like you. I encounter too many (55-65 yrs old mostly) who are so afraid of anything that hints of a return to past practices (e.g., a more reverent atmosphere at Mass) that they get quite "unpastoral" in their response. Keep up the Good Work.

Posted by: Michael O'Connor at August 12, 2006 9:01 AM

Well said, Fr. Keyes. How sad to hear about these "turf war" style divisions. I will pray for those parishioners who were erroneously built up in the past to think that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was meant to entertain them, or to be an outlet for their whims, or to be a town meeting. This, unfortunately, is the case virtually everywhere. It's sometimes hard to minister to these people with charity and humility, but I always like to remind myself that they have been taught and formed by well-meaning priests who baptized their kids, buried their dead, witnessed their marriages, but sadly failed them in safeguarding the treasure which is our liturgy (or, in some cases, intentionally sabotaged it!) This is what these people have known all their lives and they can't understand why you've "taken it away" from them. I don't envy your position. You really have no choice but to be faithful to what you know is true and do your best to bear with one another with gentleness and charity.

Posted by: Michael Olbash at August 12, 2006 8:07 PM

"the tone of your message reflects so much frustration that it comes across as a take-it-or-leave-it rather than an invitation to a genuinely respectful conversation"

Then many said, This is a hard saying; who can accept it?
And Jesus ran after them, saying Wait, wait, I didn't REALLY mean it the way you think, let's dialogue about this, shall we? Okay, who wants to be a facilitator when we break up into small discussion groups?

Posted by: Gadfly at August 13, 2006 10:52 AM

I am reading this post on Sunday 8/13. I was the extraordinary minister of the Eucharist at a Communion service for some parishoners in a retirement community. Since today's reading all dealt with the Eucharist, I asked these older folks what they had been taught about the Eucharist. Their responses truly surprised me. They didn't know much at all. I thought these older folks would have been taught better. I keep hearing how religious education has been so bad for the last 30 years, but these folks had religious education before that!

Truly, most people don't know their faith very well. Fr. Jeff, you have taught me a lot regarding the liturgy. Relevant Radio has also taught me a great deal. If I didn't have these sources of info I would be just like the many parishoners you have. They need your teaching and instruction from the pulpit. Otherwise, how are they going to learn about it. I know I have much more to learn about the Catholic Church and its practices. It has been very exciting to learn about these things. I bet your parish hungers for such knowledge as well.

Posted by: Laura at August 13, 2006 5:55 PM

A reverent Mass?!! Not a show? What a radical idea. You really don't consider kneeling a mortal sin?
Obviously, the Lord is with you. Pray with me that respect for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament soon returns to my parish before everyone bails out.

Posted by: Dino at August 14, 2006 10:43 PM

"The culture does not determine the liturgy. I am increasing amused by people who ask for upbeat songs. There are some who think I do not listen. Yes, I listen. The answer is "no." From now on the conversation is on the text, or the conversation is over."

Keep up the good work Father and I am glad our bishop supports you.

A couple of weeks back at our parish, following the communion song, the congregation broke out in applause. Yes, the song was sung beautifully, etc., but what are we thinking of immediately following the Eucharist to applaud a performance?

I know I often fight distractions during this important opportunity for reflection. Perhaps the selection of song and music is also adding to the distraction of others. I appreciate the silence that follows communion during the week day Mass, and it reminds me that our society, our culture is in some ways afraid of silence. We always need to have something going on or filling our background with noise.

Posted by: dpt at August 17, 2006 8:05 AM

Some clarification might be in order regarding what a person means by "upbeat." When I pray the Hours at a monastery, the lion's share of music is chant, and I would characterize a good portion of it as "upbeat." What do I mean? It has spirit and life.

It might be that music at your parish is being performed too slowly. Or it could be that people miss the old songs that, despite their faults, had spiritual meaning for them. So they lash out with inaccurate language.

Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, the CDWDS secretary said:

"A liturgy which fails to take the pastoral aspect into consideration can harm our people's faith! The difficulty lies in achieving formation which instills a sense of the liturgy technically complete but at the same time incisive from the pastoral point of view, and nourishes the faith of the people taking part, leading them to encounter the Lord."

As you say, you're the pastor. You have the responsibility not only for liturgical correctness, but also for the overall spiritual health of the community, that encounter with the Lord.

Posted by: Todd at August 17, 2006 2:27 PM

Thank you, Fr Jeffrey, for showing me that there really are priests who care about liturgy, refuse to buckle to opinion, and are fearless in maintaining that the Church is Christ's Body, not ours.

Would to God that more priests would take the time to brush up their liturgical skills or demand that their directors of liturgy actually KNOW the GIRM instead of Modern Liturgy.

Posted by: Sean at May 7, 2007 1:09 PM

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