Is the Liturgy Really That Bad?

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Uploaded by Michael 1952.

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Uploaded by Michael 1952.

We’ve recently had a dust-up here on Public Catholic because I had the temerity to (1) disagree rather strongly with Cardinal Burke, and (2) come out in support of altar girls.

You would think that I had  barbecued a kitten.

I deleted a ton of hate-women comments in the course of this discussion. I also deleted another ton of hate-Rebecca comments. According to a good number of commenters, I’ve got myself a ticket to a first-class seat in that proverbial hand bucket headed to hell, all because I think we should have altar girls.

I had to delete that claptrap. If I had let it through, any self-respecting woman would have walked away wondering why she, or any other female person, would want to be part of the Catholic Church. At the same time, someone who didn’t actually go to mass on a regular basis might think that we’re running a carny show, complete with clown suits and balloons, behind the altars of our churches.

Of course, both assumptions would be off the mark. I’m going to set aside the woman question for a moment. That will give time for all those folks who dislike the fair sex so very much to draw a breath and gather themselves for the next attack.

I am instead going to stick my head into the liturgy hay bailer.

My question is simply this: Is the liturgy really that bad?

I mean, I go to mass on a regular basis and Jesus Christ the Lord is there every single time. You can count on it. He is there.

I remember wandering back into the sanctuary after Holy Thursday service one Tridium;  after we’d stripped the altar, removed the Host and doused the flame. The difference was stark. That sanctuary, which had always held a warm Presence every time I entered it, had been transformed into an empty, echoey room. There was no Jesus in that place, and the lack thereof was palpable.

So now we have a Cardinal, a prince of the Church, telling us that the liturgy is all messed up and driving men away from the Church because it has been “feminized.” Evidently, there are a lot of people out there who agree with him.

Public Catholic was deluged with angry commenters, swooping in to announce that the liturgy at our masses — the same liturgy that soothes my soul and brings me in direct contact with my Lord — is straight from the infernal regions. It makes me wonder if they and I are members of the same Catholic Church.

As I’ve already said, and will be happy to say again at any time, I think the Cardinal is playing the blame game. I think that for a Catholic Cardinal to blame anything about the liturgy on women, is, well, almost comical. He is the cardinal. If there is a problem with the liturgy, it’s his responsibility, not that of the womenfolk who sit at the back of the hierarchical bus.

Now, I’m going to take on those poor sad Catholics who seem to live to criticize our Church and its liturgy. As I said, I go to mass on a regular basis. I’ve also gone to mass in a number of places. I’ve never attended mass on the East Coast of the United States, so maybe that’s where the priests in clown suits and tap-dancing altar servers show up to do their do. I don’t know.

All I know is that I’ve never seen it. I have gone to mass in (gasp!) San Francisco, and (another gasp!) Seattle. What I encountered there was the same mass — about half of whose attendees were male, btw — that I saw at various points around the globe, as well as here in God’s country, otherwise known as Oklahoma.

Every mass has had some sort of fumble or titter from the pews. Sometimes a cell phone rings and is then hastily silenced. Babies cry, babies crow, little old ladies belch, the priest gets the words slightly wrong, or the altar server stumbles. I’ve seen people drop the Host and people keel over in a faint and priests trip.

I’ve seen priests who couldn’t stand, sit throughout their homilies and then totter to the altar and, ever so shakily, consecrate the Host and barely lift it up.

I’ve heard applause, and seen people hold hands during the Our Father, and other people get all sniffy about holding hands during the Our Father and transsexuals looking downright odd in their wigs and lipstick and truck driver arms and tattoos. I’ve seen women in saris and men in golfing shorts, and knelt in pews beside folks who needed a bath. I’ve heard mass in Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and English. I’ve attended quick daily masses that took about 20 minutes, and full-on masses that lasted for an hour and a half or more.

Every liturgy I ever attended was unworthy of Christ the Lord. I know that every liturgy I ever attend will be unworthy of Him, as well. What I have never seen, not once, was a liturgy that was unworthy of me.

I’ve attended mass in living rooms, hotel basements, and once, on a mountaintop with the ocean spread in a 360 degree arc at its base. Every place I’ve gone, every mass I attended, I encountered Christ the Lord.

I didn’t encounter a Django Jesus, standing beside the altar with a baseball bat, ready to smack down the unworthies who try to approach Him. The Jesus I meet in the Eucharist of every Catholic mass is the Good Shepherd, the Jesus of the Cross, Who lays down His life for His sheep.

I have never walked away from the Eucharist feeling condemned. In fact, that encounter with Christ washes away the self-condemnation I so often bring with me when I approach it. I reach out and touch the living Christ, hiding in a wafer, and I walk away feeling accepted and loved.

Considering what sinful people we all are, I don’t see how anyone can approach God with hearts seething with condemnation of the people around them. Do these folks really go to mass and sit there, pick, pick, picking away at the priest, the liturgy, the music?

That is a horrible thought to me. Do you folks of the liturgy cops really, truly enter the Presence of the Lord with hearts full of rage and condemnation?

Don’t you know that you can not enter into the Presence of the Lord that way?

That, and not whether or not people hold hands during the Our Father, or the mass is in Latin or English, or if the people around you are properly reverent, is what can separate you from God.

I feel sorry for these people who spend all their time gnashing their teeth and getting all lathered up over what they see as the terrible liturgy. They are not only missing their blessing, they are taking their blessing and throwing it back into Jesus’ face.

I thank God that we have priests who bring us Jesus at every mass, who consent to be conduits of grace. I have no desire to pick at them over how high they lift the chalice, if they allow applause and whether or not they pray the liturgy with the “proper” amount of gravitas.

I don’t go to mass to find fault. I go to find Jesus.

The truth of life is that no matter what the situation, the occasion, or the event, if you want to sit back and find fault with it, you always can. If you want to go to mass and sit there, ready to carp and complain and pick away at the seams of the thing, you can do it. But if you do that, Jesus Christ will pass right by you and you won’t see Him.

On the other hand, if you go to mass to find Jesus, you will find Him. Because He is there.

My question is this: If Christ the Lord deigns to come to these imperfect masses and give Himself away to the even more imperfect people who worship there, then who are we to criticize?

If the mass and the liturgy are good enough for Jesus to be there, if we, with all our imperfections, are good enough for Him to love us and share Himself with us, then what’s our complaint?

I go to mass to find Jesus, and — this is the miracle — I find Him.

Every mass is a miracle. It is not a miracle of silk, lace and candles. It is a miracle wrought in suffering and blood.

Before we get too worked up about the particulars of the mass, we need to remember that Our Lord uses the most common things to do His work. He began with spit and dirt.

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God Give Us Holy Priests

If you don't like the liturgy, who's to blame: The guys who wrote it, or the womenfolk sitting in the pews? Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

If you don’t like the liturgy, who’s to blame: The guys who wrote it, or the womenfolk sitting in the pews? Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

I’m a member of a group that meets on a regular basis to pray for vocations to the priesthood.

Aside from the fact that this is a small indication that I want our Church to have more holy priests (which is what we pray for) what does this mean?

It means that I have this oddball idea that vocations of all sorts, including to the priesthood, come from God.

I say that this notion is oddball because that’s the impression I’ve gotten from a recent debate which has been happening both here on Public Catholic and on Facebook about the red-hot, all-consuming question: Is the priest shortage due to altar girls, and is bad liturgy due to the “feminization” of the Church?

Let’s consider, for a moment, why we have altar girls in the first place. The reason we have them is because the Church allows them.

Let me repeat that: The Catholic Church has altar girls because the Catholic Church allows altar girls.

The point I’m making by emphasizing that is simply that believing that what the Catholic Church allows is indeed allowable is consistent with being a faithful Catholic. In other, more direct words, If I say that I think altar girls do not harm vocations, I am not being a bad Catholic and I am not attacking the Church. I am saying that I agree with what the Church is already doing.

Now, to the larger question: Where do vocations come from? Do they come from a boys’ club mentality within the Church? Do they come from social/economic situations? Do they come from solemn liturgy? Where do they come from?

The fact that I join with other Catholics to pray for vocations should tip you off to what my answer to those questions is going to be. I think that vocations — of all sorts — come from God. I think that the reason we haven’t had as many vocations to the priesthood as we want these past decades is that God hasn’t been calling young men to the priesthood.

That’s what I believe.

Now, why would God do that?

I can’t and I won’t speak for God except to say that, based on my many dealings with the Almighty, I do not believe it is because the Church has failed to keep its womenfolk in their place.

There are a few other, extremely serious, lapses such the the clergy sex abuse scandal (remember what Jesus said about those who harm “these little ones?”) the in-your-face heterodoxy in parts of Catholic education (witness the walkouts from Catholic high schools over gay marriage, the kissing of Ceasar’s ring via the HHS Mandate by Notre Dame, the banning of the Knights of Columbus, which was later overturned, from Gonzaga’s campus, etc) and other serious problems that might be where the blame lies. If you want to look and play the blame game, that is.

In my opinion, all these examples and the many more I could name are not the problem. They are evidence of the problem. And that is something that seems to be opaque to most people who get into these discussion. It’s what I call mission drift.

A symptom of it is the propensity for Catholic parishes to sit down and write out “mission statements” for themselves. These things usually end up being a paragraph or two of blah-blah-blah committee-speak that nobody reads and no one, no matter how clever, would be able to figure out how to apply to an individual walk with Christ. More to the point, the fact that these parishes think they need a mission statement speaks to a deep ignorance of Scripture and who they are as Catholic Christians.

These mission statements are a clear indication that the parish has forgotten that it already has a mission statement and that this mission statement was given to it by The Boss.

Here’s the Christian mission statement, in Jesus’ own words:

Everything in heaven and on Earth is under my authority. Go and make disciples of all nations, preaching the Gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And I will be with you until the end of the world. 

I believe that the reason we haven’t had as many vocations as we’d like — and I include vocations in front of the altar to family and childrearing as well as vocations to stand behind it — is that we haven’t been following the mission that Jesus Christ gave us, and our Church is wasting far too much of its energy dithering over itself instead of getting out there and bringing people to Christ.

The Catholic Church is a highway to heaven. It was not created for priests. Priests were created for it. And the purpose of both the Church and the priesthood is to be a certain, readily accessible conduit of healing grace and faithful teaching that will convert the world. The Church, along with all the rest of us, is the light of the world. But it is hiding its light under the bushel of concerns about such things as are the womenfolk getting out of hand and is the liturgy just so and if it’s not just so, how do we put the womenfolk in their place so it will be just so.

The Church spends entirely too much time worrying about the Church and not enough time worrying about how to bring Christ to the world. When princes of the Church can seriously try to say that what they think of as bad liturgy and the lack of vocations to the priesthood is due to “feminization” in a Church that is wholly and absolutely governed by men, and when they can then go on to try to pin this on a few little girls, things are waaayyyyyy out of kilter in the curia.

The Church needs to stop gazing at its own navel and look outward to a world that is dying for lack of the Gospel. From pole to pole, dateline to dateline, people are perishing for lack of a minister who will bring them the Word of life.

And what is our Church leadership doing about it? Haggling with one another over how to water down the Gospels concerning marriage so that they can be comfortable with a culture that has lapsed into apostasy while they watched, and debating whether or not altar girls and whatever it is that bugs them about the liturgy is due to an excessive input from people with double X chromosomes.

I have to be honest here. I am sooo disgusted with the lack of leadership concerning the conversion of the world. I am sooo tired of hearing men who absolutely should know better trying to act out their inner sexist by blaming the troubles of the Church on altar girls and “feminization” which, I guess, means letting women have any say at all in the work of the Kingdom.

These guys need to look at themselves. Their job — their vocation — is to preach Christ. If they would do that, the vocations would sprout up like a field of wheat, ready for the harvest.

Preach Christ and Him crucified. Bring Him to lost people in the slums, the snow, the jungles and the desert sands. Bring Him to the deeply lost and sneering souls at the intellectual gatherings and the universities and the oh-so-perfect social gatherings they are trying to redefine Church teachings to please.

My message to the men who run our Church is a simple one: Preach Christ and Him crucified.

If you want vocations, Preach Christ.

If you want to convert the world, Preach Christ.

If you want to do the job God has called you to do, Preach Christ.

And while you’re at it, stop blaming the womenfolk for your failings.

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Steve Jobs, Consubstantial and the Mass


Apple’s board fired Steve Jobs in the 1970s.

He went on to a company that ultimately gave us Toy Story and many other computer animated blockbuster films and another company that created what became Mac OSX.

In the meantime, Apple made a lot of money selling the Macintosh, which Steve Jobs had master-minded. When other companies, particularly Microsoft, caught up with Apple’s early competitive advantage and passed it by, Apple began to founder.

I was forced to use an Apple computer for desktop publishing in the mid 1990s, and it was dreadful. I could not wait to get back to my pc. The old Mac OS couldn’t do the job anymore. It was buggy and out of date.

Apple brought Steve Jobs back by buying his operating system from him. At the same time, they put him back in the company loop.

This video is the announcement of this move to bring Steve Jobs back. It begins with a totally ham-handed presentation by the man who was running Apple into the ground at that time, followed by a presentation by Steve Jobs explaining the new operating system. Jobs’ presentation is followed by more ham-handedness that ends in dragging an obviously disgusted Jobs and his co-founder Steve Wozniak back on the stage for a final, underwhelming presentation.

It’s long, but it’s also a case study in the difference between pedestrian leadership and genius leadership. Jobs is clearly angry when he walks out on the stage. I would imagine he was embarrassed to be following such a bad act and angry about what Apple had devolved to.

How does this apply to the word “consubstantial” and the mass? It applies because Jesus deserves better than the pedestrian ugliness of the first presentation in this video. He deserves a liturgy that communicates clearly and is beautiful.

Making the mass ugly because of theological pretensions is a mistake. It is always a mistake. It is an everlasting mistake.

If you watch this video, you will see a dramatic demonstration of the power of simplicity in communication.

I keep hammering on the word consubstantial because it is so unforgivably ugly, awkward, unmelodius and downright insulting. It insults the laity with its high-handed obscurity, and it insults the mass, where heaven touches earth, with its ugliness.

I am not unhappy about or opposed to the changes in the liturgy. It doesn’t bother me one bit. Guarding the liturgy is one of the Church’s primary jobs. What bothers me is when the changes are a step down. The liturgy should be beautiful. It should soar and sing with our love for the God Who made us.

Consubstantial is like a brick on the prayer path of the mass that trips people and causes them to fall out of the rhythm of the worship and awe that leads them to the eucharist. People should not have to overcome the language of the mass. They should be uplifted by it.

My message to Church leadership as it is considering the new evangelization is to start speaking more directly and clearly. Talk to people instead of talking at them. You are communicating the greatest story ever told which tells the truth of the only Hope the world has ever had. Stop mumbling and talking to one another and speak out. Preach Christ.

Here’s the video.

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