Pomp or People

I am all for fine liturgy, reform of the reform, the hermeneutic of continuity, say the black do the red, save the liturgy save the world, Catholics should look Catholic and all that whole routine, but you know there is another side to the coin.

The big divide in the liturgy wars is not so much, “Which music shall we have and what should a church look like and where should the priest sit and which way shall he face and what should he wear and what chant shall we use?” The big divide is actually about what we think liturgy is all about in the first place. People have said it before. Is the liturgy vertical or horizontal? Is it about God or God’s people? Is it about communion with God or communion with his people?

Fact of the matter is that it is both. Proper worship should be vertical and horizontal. It should be focused on God but for the people. The Eucharist is certainly the holy sacrifice of the Mass, but it is also the family wedding banquet of the people of God. When one vision or version becomes the only one distortion and damage result. So, for example, what happens when the worship becomes all about the people of God? You get round churches, informal liturgies, ‘creativity’ in worship, awful trendy ‘relevant’ music and religion that is reduced to social work.

But what happens when the people are forgotten and all the emphasis is on rubrics and rules and liturgical finesse and ecclesiastical fine-ness? There is a danger that it all turns into a precious religious ceremony for the liturgical elite. I’ve heard of parishes where the music is so fine and the ceremonial so refined and the servers so meticulous and the liturgy so correct that ordinary people are repelled by it all. They are not connoisseurs of brocades and birettas, Lassus and lace; Mozart and maniples, and when the liturgy gets so high and mighty it only makes them feel low and lowly.

Oh yes, I realize that the awesome majesty of God is what we are celebrating. I accept that we must not lower the bar and cater to hoi polloi. I agree that the lowest common denominator is both low and common. Nevertheless, there must be some balance. Those who wish to reform the reform and bring in fine and reverent liturgy must also establish some balance lest they alienate and lose the very people they are trying to bring into a closer and more reverent relationship with God.

While I am shooting at my hunting buddies, I should also say that too often those of us who are interested in fine liturgy, good music and reverent worship are snobs. While it is right to criticize the Haugen Daz school of church music for being smooth and creamy and sweet, and while it is fine to slam teepee churches and polyester vestments and groovy para liturgies it is not fine to criticize the sincere and sweet people who are often doing their best and are guilty of nothing more than being victims of execrable catechesis.

Not only are we too often snobbish, but we can be insufferably self righteous. When I compare two groups of Catholics: the rad trad crowd and the vast hordes of AmChurch ordinary Catholic folks I have to ask what my impression is of them as people. As a priest I get far more negativity, criticism, sour self righteousness, suspicion and downright ugliness from the traddies than the trendies. I also get far more appreciation, respect, good humor, and open positivity from the trendies than the traddies.

So while I’m all for beauty and reverence in worship I don’t want to go to such an extreme that I actually exclude God’s people. By God’s grace I want to lift them up and take them to a higher place, but to do that I have to first go down to meet them, and if I can do that then maybe I’m also doing what Christ did, for “he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but took on the form of a servant…”

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