Tolkien on Awful Liturgy

Roving Medievalist weighs in on the lessons learned from awful liturgy. He quotes Tolkien on the subject. Check it out.

This quote not only makes the main point, but it reminds us that awful liturgy, venal priests, silly music and human frailty have always been with us. I sometimes get the impression from the extreme traditionalists that before the second Vatican Council every mass was a sublime exerience that took one to the very doorstep of heaven because of the aesthetic wonder of it all.

Tolkien’s quote reminds us that things have always been messy–right back to the feeding of the five thousand. Ask a Catholic old timer what it was like in one of the big Catholic parishes in the old days and he’s likely to tell you it was a sacrament mill with the crowds kneeling in bored ignorance, their only concern was to see if Father Slapdash would set a new land speed record for saying Mass.

Roving Medievalist also makes the point that the vast majority of parishes are not goofy New Age outposts with fire ceremonies and liturgical dance. Instead they are struggling middle of the road churches with pastors and people who are all too human. I have not had much experience of the American Church, but in my seven years working for the St Barnabas Society in England I visited a different parish every weekend. I can only think of two where the abuses were extreme. All the rest were populated with priests who most often said Mass in a simple, unadorned and ordinary way, and people who were trying to be good Catholics in a confused and atheistic world.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Anonymous

    Was it not St. Fransis who kissed the hands of an adultrous priest saying “These are the hands that bring me Christ!” I am probably quoting and spelling badly.

  • Jeron

    Fr. Dwight, I’d say that your evaluation of the state of things in the U.S. is more accurate than not. It’s just the really bad stuff gets more press. Enjoying your work … keep it up! :)

  • Brian Mershon

    Please define extreme traditionalist, so we know who/what you are talking about?Is Cardinal Medina one? The current pope? How about Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos? Archbishop Ranjith?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I would define an extreme traditionalist as anyone who loves the Latin Mass more than they love God.

  • HanseaticEd

    Father, I accept and agree with pretty much everything you have said about the Liturgy. My own parish is no bastion of Tradition, but neither is it disrespectful of the inheritance of Faith. It just does what it does, sometimes in amessy way, and sometimes in a good way, and I am happy to report that it is a place where I am able to raise my children in love, and with love for Christ and the Church.One thing I would like to explore, however, is how our Eastern brethren (Orthodox and Catholic) have managed to avoid some of the pitfalls we have succumbed to in our Western liturgical practice.I know from experience that not all of their liturgies are done with absolute beauty and attention, and yet they still manage to stay within a theological/liturgical/spiritual framework that conveys the mystery and beauty of Christ through the messiness. At its best, the Novus Ordo can accomplish the same thing. But often, it is a vessel of the priest’s (or some of the people’s) own subjective tastes, and that can be painful.A friend and mentor of mine once said that going to his local parish was a spiritual discipline, and his is an approach I hope I can always appeal to. That way, I will have the comfort of being able to set aside *my* tastes for the sake of the Body of Christ.I just wish that we had some kind of liturgical formula that limited the damage all of us can inflict on the Church when our tastes become the ultimate arbiter of what we do in the Mass.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    There are advantages and disadvantages to the Novus Ordo. It does allow for variations. The advantage of this is that the Mass is adaptable for many different cultural and pastoral situations. It is possible to say the Western Mass on the battlefield, in an African village, in an American suburb or in St Peters. THis flexibility is, in my view, a great aid to evangelization and the spread of the Catholic faith throughout the world. The disadvantage is that so many abuses, personal preferences and liturgical nightmares come about.The Eastern Rite is more prescribed. It is therefore more changeless, but it is also less adaptable to different pastoral and cultural demands.Probably the answer is for priests and people to try first of all to actually obey the directions for the liturgy that are already laid down. If all priests took seriously the directions already established we’d be a long way toward getting rid of the abuses.

  • Brian Mershon

    1. I have never met any Catholic who loves the Traditional Latin Mass more than he loves God. It is a non-starter or non-sequitur. In fact, most that I have met love so much that that is the primary reason they want to attend the Traditional Latin Mass, sacraments and worship God in the way He has proscribed, not Bugnini and some misfit committee in the 1960s.No. 2: You said: “It does allow for variations. The advantage of this is that the Mass is adaptable for many different cultural and pastoral situations. It is possible to say the Western Mass on the battlefield, in an African village, in an American suburb or in St Peters. THis flexibility is, in my view, a great aid to evangelization and the spread of the Catholic faith throughout the world.”I say: The documented evidence is quite to the contrary. Msgr. Marcel Lefebvre, (that dreaded name, I know) showed many more converts, increases in Catholic schools, etc. etc. in every documentable and recordable category in Africa in the 1970s–almost beyond belief–then, when he left and the missions were replaced by ecumenical kumbaya and the New Mass, everything plummeted. Documented facts. Just like happened in Western Europe and the United States, as so well documented by Kenneth Jones in “Index of Leading Catholic Indicators.” More Protestants have NOT converted since the advent of the Novus Ordo Missae, substantially fewer have. Those are the facts.I’m glad I have never met an “extreme traditionalist.” Loves the Mass more than God?Doesn’t the Mass produce God incarnate? How is this possible?

  • Brian Mershon

    Sorry, I left something out that one of your parishioners and teachers at the school can confirm, as well as Dr. David Allen White, who teaches at the Naval Academy.Msgr. Lefebvre was one of the only priests/bishops who VERY EFFECTIVELY evangelized in the midst of Muslim countries in Africa. He actually gained many souls lost in Mohammedism and helped bring them to the True Faith, outside of which, there is no salvation.True charity. True unity. Do we have any such bishops, monsignors or priests today who are bringing hordes of Mohammadens to the Catholic Faith?

  • Anonymous

    Brian is right. No traditionalist ever says that every Mass was perfect before the Council. I’ve been to indult Masses where it’s an old priest who was ordained before the Council and he just flies thru the text of the Mass. There will always be some abuses in the liturgy. The difference is this: in the Novus Ordo there are inherent problems in the liturgy itself that cannot be changed no matter how well a priest celebrates the Mass. A prime example is the content of the collects & postcommunion prayers. In the Novus Ordo, the de Fide beliefs of original sin, fallen nature, hell, purgatory, etc. are significantly downplayed or not mentioned at all. And this doesn’t even take into account the horrific translations. I recommend a reading of the articles by Dr Lauren Pristas (I believe in The Thomist) for a full overview of the problem. Another quick pamphlet to read is “Problems of the Prayers of the Modern Mass” by Fr Anthony Cekada from Tan publications. Although he is a sedevacantist priest, this booklet is very fair and scholarly done — a real eye opener.Greg

  • Jeffrey Smith

    A sedevacantist priest? I simply do not understand how anyone who calls himself a traditionalist could have the temerity to set himself up in judgement against Holy Mother Church. When we accept the doctrines of the Faith, we also must accept its discipline. In that department, there are too many “traditionalists” who are worse than the “spirit of Vatican II” sort. Why are they worse? Because they should know better than to reject ANY teaching of the Church, whether in doctrine or in discipline. Such unbelievable arrogance is certainly not inspired by devotion to Our Lord.

  • Ttony


  • Ttony

    Whoops! I meant to say that any Mass in the Latin Rite has always been adaptable, whether to the battlefield, the mission lands, or wherever. Part of the problem with the New Rite is that the adaptability permissable in certain circumstances has become an ad libitum norm for many priests, even those whose Masses are deeply reverent in many respects. You are completely right to say that the solution is adherence to the General Instructions: I just think that this means an imposition of discipline across a larger spread of priests than you might think.

  • Rowena Hullfire

    I tried going to a Latin Mass a few times, and felt so disconnected to what was going on, it seemed pointless to even be there. I think if that’s the only worship I knew, it would lead me to a “punch my ticket” type of faith. You can’t even hear the priest’s prayers! Maybe historically it wasn’t possible, but we have good AV available today.My dad (81 years old) prefers the vernacular Mass because a worshipper can participate and they know what’s going on. We’re both as high church as they get, but there’s a difference between high church and phoning it in.