Reverence and Revolution

Recent comments on the liturgy have certainly stirred up some strong feelings in the combox! Unfortunately, what strikes me about so many of the comments from people defending the Latin Mass is a tone of snobbish superiority, self righteousness and an undercurrent of sour negativity. I would not, for a moment, accuse everyone who likes the Latin Mass of such things, but it does seem that a few who put themselves forward as the most vociferous spokespeople for the Latin Mass do, too often, fulfill their opponents’ worst expectations.

Another thing which I find rather strange is some readers’ inability to grasp the point I am actually trying to make. In fact, I’ve had one commenter say, “What a wonderful post. At last it is good to see someone say that all the problems with the church come down to lack of reverence at Mass.” In fact, I am attempting to make precisely the opposite point, –not that the problems in the church are due to lack of reverence at Mass but that lack of reverence at Mass are due to the problems in the church.

I wish to make the point again as simply as I can: simply obeying the rubrics or performing the Mass in this direction or that direction or standing here or there or wearing this particular vestment or that particular vestment or holding your fingers together there and bowing properly there do not necessarily make a Mass reverent. It makes the Mass more formal. It makes the Mass conform to the rules, but it is not the magic bullet people would wish for. Plenty of priests have ‘said the black and done the red’ and the Mass was still sloppy, irreverent and unfocused.

Does this mean I am opposed to the Latin Mass. No. I’m glad the Latin Mass is enjoying a revival. Does this mean I am in favor of polka Masses, Clown Masses and all the other extreme abuses? No. I think they’re stupid and wrong. Do I acknowledge that a formally celebrated Mass with Gregorian chant, trained servers, a good homily and fine music is better suited for Catholic worship? Of course. Do I think rubrics don’t matter? No. I think they do matter.

Here is my main point: I think those who blame all the problems of the church on the Novus Ordo are simply missing the point. If there are things wrong with the Novus Ordo they are symptoms, not causes. The core problem in the church is not the Novus Ordo or the liturgical abuses or the bad hymns and liturgical dance and all that awful stuff. These things are symptoms of a disease, not the cause.

The cause is much deeper, and it did not start with Vatican II or with the introduction of the Novus Ordo. The cause of the malaise is a very deep departure from the ancient faith. The cause is modernism, and modernism is a complicated and many headed beast. The beast’s genealogy dates back five hundred years before the Second Vatican Council. The beast’s roots are in the Protestant Revolution and the other godless revolutions that followed. The malaise in the church has grown out of the philosophical and cultural shifts within Europe for the last five hundred years.

The result is a turn away from a supernatural understanding of the faith to a utilitarian and practical understanding. The faith shifted its center from God to people, from heaven to earth, from a focus on God’s redemptive work in the world to our good works in the world. In other words, we turned from looking to God for our salvation and turned to ourselves and our community for our salvation. The philosophical and cultural waves that swept over us undermined a supernatural and God-centered view of the Christian faith and left us with a mish mash of half baked psychology, social theory, political activism, sentimentality, utilitarianism and self help ideologies which we have made into a new religion.

This is, if you like, the way of the world. This hotch potch of philosophies and ideologies and sentimental mush is the air we breathe, the education we receive, the culture in which we live. It is this radical departure from the faith of our Fathers which has been cooking for 500 years which produces the abuses in worship and the dire state of our Church in our age.

Lack of reverence at Mass is not the cause of all our problems. The problems are the cause of lack of reverence at Mass. The reason the Latin Mass seems to be ‘more reverent’ is not because the language is in Latin or because the priest obeys all the rubrics or because he faces East. (remember I am not against all those things!) The reason the Latin Mass seems more reverent is because the people who attend the Latin Mass are far more likely to be well catechized Catholics who believe in the old, old story of God’s supernatural grace in the world, the tender story of a pure maid who bore the Son of God into the world to suffer and die and save poor lost sinners. Those who prefer the Latin Mass are more likely to believe and seek to live these precious old truths, and that’s why the Latin Mass seems more reverent.

The reason the Novus Ordo so often seems irreverent is not any intrinsic deficit in the Novus Ordo. (otherwise why would Holy Church say that it remains the Ordinary Form of the Mass?) Instead the Novus Ordo is sometimes celebrated irreverently because people regard the Mass as a celebration of their social activism, or a community festival to increase their self esteem or a sentimental, individualistic, spiritual comfort session. They have ceased to really believe in sin and grace and a God who saves, and instead they look to one another for their salvation. So there’s not much reverence required there.

I say this after serving as a priest in a parish and school where the Novus Ordo is celebrated with great solemnity and beauty–often with the priest in an ad orientem position, and among many friends who love the Latin Mass and attend it regularly, and (by the way) are not of the snooty, self righteous variety I criticize above. I also say it as a priest who makes every attempt to simply ‘say the black and do the red’ myself. In my own parish the servers are dressed well, are trained well and serve with dignity, simplicity and beauty. The music is simple, classic and worshipful. The building?…well we’re working on that.

So don’t hit me with a stick about not being in favor of ‘proper liturgy’. I’m simply making the point that the root problem is not lack of reverence at Mass or liturgical abuses at Mass. These are symptoms, and even if we could correct the symptoms with a magic wand, it would be putting a band aid on cancer, or lipstick on a cadaver.

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  • Rachel Gray

    It's tough to distinguish the symptoms from the root illness, since they go together! Anyway, Father, great post.

  • Ben Compton

    Thank you Father for a wonderful post. Self selection into mass is a very important factor. I have attended mass at many parishes in my life and have found that more often than not it is the parishioners, not the priest, who contribute most to the sense (or lack thereof) of reverence during the mass. The priest can do everything perfectly, but unless he has a congregation who are equally reverent, then what happens before, during, and after the mass appears more like a social club event than a sacred ritual.

  • Lydia Cubbedge

    Amen, Father! You've articulated what I've been thinking for a long time. It's a matter of treating the overarching problem in its entirety, not just the externals of liturgical worship.

  • Brennan

    Ok, this will apply both to this post and the previous one. First, yes, form does matter. It matters more than merely following the rubrics. Obviously, if a priest decided to perform an African rain dance for Mass he may follow the “rubrics” for the rain dance perfectly but the form would obviously convey an entirely meaning than the regular form of Mass. This is why the liturgical changes after Vatican II are important. As others have pointed out, the liturgy is the primary means by which Catholics are formed. Liturgy and reverence are inextricably linked. If a priest, for instance, decided week after week to celebrate Mass in a Hawaiian shirt and toss out the communion host to the parishioners so they could catch it in their hands what does one think would happen with people’s attitude towards Mass and Holy Communion?This is why, for instance, when one meets a President or a Queen the form for doing so is important. If people were allowed just to go up and backslap either and say, “How’s it shakin’ buddy?” what would happen over time to the reverence due to those offices? What would be taught to the people about the reverence due to those offices?Hence the form, music, art, architecture, gestures, bows, etc. of the liturgy do matter. They will either lead people toward a proper reverence for Mass or away from it.

  • Brennan

    I agree with Fr. Longenecker that many of the problems the Church faces today began with things like the Protestant revolution and the attitudes of the enlightenment and modernism. However, the changes to the liturgy after Vatican II were not made in a hermetically sealed vacuum. It certainly does seem as though many of the changes to the liturgy were done to accommodate “modern man” (and even Protestants as other have noted). Pope Paul VI himself remarked about “modern people, so fond of plain language which is easily understood and converted into everyday speech.” the attitude, presumptions, and goals which were enjoyed by the committee that reshaped the liturgy after Vatican II are important as they themselves can be shaped by modern trends and goals. (People may be interested in the book “The Mass and Modernity” which details these influences( Perhaps this is why Cardinal Ottaviani wrote about the form of the New Mass:1. The accompanying Critical Study is the work of a select group of bishops, theologians, liturgists, and pastors of souls. Despite its brevity, the study shows quite clearly that the Novus Ordo Missae–considering the new elements widely susceptible to widely different interpretations which are implied or taken for granted–represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session 22 of the Council of Trent. The "canons" of the rite definitively fixed at that time erected an insurmountable barrier against any heresy which might attack the integrity of the Mystery.2. The pastoral reasons put forth to justify such a grave break, even if such reasons could still hold good in the face of doctrinal considerations, do not seem sufficient. The innovations in the Novus Ordo and the fact that all that is of perennial value finds only a minor place–if it subsists at all–could well turn into a certainty the suspicion, already prevalent, alas in many circles, that truths which have always been believed by the Christian people can be changed or ignored without infidelity to that sacred deposit of doctrine to which the Catholic faith is bound forever. The recent reforms have amply demonstrated that new changes in the liturgy could not be made without leading to complete bewilderment on the part of the faithful, who already show signs of restiveness and an indubitable lessening of their faith. Among the best of the clergy, the result is an agonizing crisis of conscience, numberless instances of which come to us daily. von Hildbrand once noted that our age is one known for its technological advances and not its poetry and thus we should have been triply careful about any changes we made to the liturgy. How right he (and Cardinal Ottaviani) were.God bless and I do wish to say I applaud and celebrate priests (and I would include Fr. Longenecker here) who teach the faith and celebrate Mass in a reverent manner.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Brennan. In post after post I affirm that rubrics and form matter. What I keep asserting is that other things matter much more, and that form alone does not do the trick.Those who are so keen on the rubrics and form being some kind of magic bullet don't seem to realize that in fact, a very formal, traditional Mass doesn't necessarily lead people to more reverence. It simply makes many of them yawn and become frustrated with all that 'dumb formal stuff' or instead of being more reverent they just become fed up with what they perceive as arty, stuck up people being 'awfully holy'.

  • Brennan

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Brennan

    Hello, Fr. Longenecker.Well, we are in agreement that form does matter. And I would also agree that form is not the only thing that matters (catechesis is also important as you have noted, though I look at liturgy, art, and architecture as a type of catechesis). Nevertheless, I do look at form as indispensable over the long haul in regards to reverence. If the form is lacking this will erode at reverence over time or, conversely, if one wishes greater reverence at a parish form had better be paid attention to or good luck with leading people to greater reverence (in these and other assertions I am not assuming a disagreement with you).However, you then go on to say a formal, traditional Mass doesn’t necessarily lead people to more reverence and that appears to contradict what you say about form as mattering. Or, let’s just say this is where we disagree. What I was attempting to say in my first two posts is that the objective content of the form does matter and a traditional Latin Mass with Gregorian chant will lead to greater reverence because the form itself in its prayers and gestures (and the art and architecture that usually goes with it) in and of itself treats what is happening at Mass and Holy Communion with greater reverence. Now, some people at first may not like this “formality” and prefer a more casual liturgy such as typically celebrated at most Catholic parishes but again, I am speaking more about which type of liturgy will lead to greater reverence over time. And I do believe that it will lead even these people, over time, to greater reverence because they are in an atmosphere which conveys the sacred to a greater extent. And of course this is why the Church has done things like given Gregorian chant pride of place because she recognizes, objectively speaking, that Gregorian chant does lead to greater reverence and conveys what is happening at Mass better than, say, folk songs. And this is regardless of whether or not people “prefer” Gregorian chant or other types of more formal sacred music or not.I am reminded (and I’m sure you know this quote already) of C.S. Lewis talking about love. He said that if you want to love someone, start acting like you do and don’t wait for the feeling. If you start acting like you love someone, the feelings will follow. Conversely, one may start out loving someone but if they start treating them negligently or even poorly then feelings of ambivalence or worse will follow as well. This same principle applies to the liturgy, art, and architecture as well. God bless.

  • John Hetman

    Father, thank you! This is one of the best analysis of the problems facing our Church and, yes, our world as well. You expressed the malaise and its remedies in such a succinct and eloquent way that it clarifies much of the muddle in my own mind.

  • Wade St. Onge

    Fr. Longenecker, thank you for clarifying. I do think you must admit that the first post especially could easily be misunderstood.As far as "snobbishness", it is not only the traditionalists who have that tendency. Orthodox Catholics who personally have no use for all things Tridentine do a mighty fine job of that as well. You are acquainted enough with the Catholic blogosphere to know that.

  • JM

    Amen! Preach It Father! Great Post.

  • Kathy

    This post and comments were wonderful. To Brennan, I enjoyed reading your comments.I had a good priest friend a number of years ago who used to tell my boys to dress well, and approriately for the occasion, since people tend to behave according the manner of their dress. Dress like a slob, you'll pretty much be assured to act a little sloppy, dress up and be well-groomed, etc. and your will behave in a more formal "dressed-up" manner. The question remains, for those of us over-fifties, who don't want to appear self- righteous, but are shocked and disturbed by the lack of reverence, on both sides of the altar sometimes, that if we should pick a parish and stick with it, which I am trying to do, what is the remedy, or how does the Church begin to revert back to reverence at Mass? It seems to me that dioceses could institute dress codes, which they have every right to do, for Liturgical Ministers, etc., and each pastor could follow suit and instruct the faithful in the pews, via the announcements before or after Mass, and the bulletin, as to what is appropriate dress for attendance at Mass. Some will be annoyed or angry, but how else can people start to see Mass for what it really is…the most important thing you do in life. If they don't come back because of this mild catechisis, then are they really there anyway? If they dress like they're heading to the grocery store, or a backyard barbecue, they really aren't getting it, and probably don't even think about the Real Presence. You can't change years of bad catechesis and the disease of modernism in a week, or a month or a year, but a start could be made to insist upon these easily remedied things. I am interested in what Fr. Longenecker thinks should be done. I'm wondering if Communion in the hand should be done away with. Removing Communion rails also went a long way to adding to the problem. If you must approach the altar and kneel, and receive Communion on the tongue, with a server holding a patten to prevent the host, or any part thereof from falling on the floor, or on clothing, etc. it might make people really think that this is not just some "cookie", as I actually had someone say to me, when I lived in NY, and was EM'ing at Sunday Mass. He had a toddler in his arms and asked for a "cookie for the baby"….I kid you not. (no, I absolutely did not give it to him). Things like this along with dirty hands, old ladies with woolen gloves, etc., caused me to decide not serve as an EM after I moved from NY. Fr. Longenecker, I would also like to ask you is there any difference in the priest saying, for instance "name…our Bishop, and Benedict the Bishop of Rome". I just wonder about that since most priests say "…our Bishop, and Benedict our Pope", but our pastor never says Benedict our Pope. Not a criticism of him, just looking for a clarification, so I can stop thinking about it. Many thanks, and God bless you.

  • boredoftheworld

    "performing the Mass"Without reference to anything else, one of your predecessors at OLR would have read you the riot act for using that phrase. I know this because I accidentally said "performing the Mass" once and almost ended up served as appetizers in the rectory dining room.

  • Bender

    The reason the Latin Mass seems more reverent is because the people who attend the Latin Mass are far more likely to be well catechized Catholics Sorry, Father, this is where I have my first disagreement. In fact, as has been seen here and everywhere such persons voice their views and personal, subjective liturgical preferences, they show themselves to be grossly deficient in catechesis.Specifically, they have a very POOR understanding of the nature of the Church, the Popes, the bishops, the priests, and fellow lay Catholics, a POOR understanding that Pope Paul and the Church were inspired and guided and protected by the Holy Spirit in regards to the liturgy, and a POOR understanding of the fundamental virtue of HUMILITY, not to mention CHARITY, among other things.Once upon a time I was sympathetic to and leaning toward "traditionalism," but no more. Trads are their own worst enemy with their pervasive prideful and uncharitable attitude, as well as their penchant for distorting history. To be sure, in too many cases, trads and the dissenting progressives are two sides of the same coin. Both of them seem to love telling the rest of us how lousy the Church is.It is interesting though, given all the vociferous objections trads have made here these last few days, that over at the site of the infallible "Fr. Z" a short while ago, folks were actually coming out and admitting that the pre-Vatican II Mass was NOT paradise or perfection in action, that there were MANY abuses back then too.I once thought myself to be of like mind with trads. But it was the trads themselves that turned me against that.

  • Brennan

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Brennan

    Hi Bender,Since I have posted in favor of the Latin Mass in this post, maybe you can delineate my own poor understanding of humility and the virtue of charity. I would be especially interested if you would elaborate on your understanding of how the Pope (and I assume the committee that altered the liturgy) were guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit. I don't know of any sort of guarantee that that will occur in regard to non-dogmatic prudential decisions of a Pope or Council (I do believe in the validity of the new liturgy, of course). Thanks.

  • Eileen

    I have to admit that I love the Latin Mass. The reverence of it, and the beauty of the language, simply fills my heart to overflowing.Our parish priest celebrates the Latin Mass at 11.30am every Sunday. At 9.30am he celebrates the Novus Ordo Mass. We attend either Mass depending on circumstances. I frequently read at the NO Mass.At the Novus Ordo celebration, my heart fills and, at the "Lamb of God", tears fill my eyes and my throat swells so I cannot continue to sing as I regard my Lord and Saviour held in the consecrated hands of the priest – as he breaks the Host.It doesn't matter which Mass I attend, I experience being present at the Last Supper as well as Calvary.I really believe this is a combination of the identification of the priest as "in persona Christi" and my understanding of that.Before I shifted location to this Parish, I have to say that I had been challenged by my previous PP to the point where I was seriously considering moving because I would not have to attend his Masses. The Lord facilitated the move without conscious effort on my part, fortunately, but the liturgical abuses in his Masses were a heavy burden on my heart that made me want to weep for a different reason.The major difference between the two priests was, strikingly, humility. My current PP would be highly embarrassed by any personal praise, but like St Paul, he is a great lion of God.

  • shadowlands

    What I hear Father is saying is: If each individual approaches Mass aware of their own standing before God, rather than looking at the brother/sister (or indeed priest)next to them, then we would see a turnabout in respect, a growth of gratitude leading to natural, or rather supernatural reverence. God after all, before He looks at any other part of us, is looking at our hearts.(1 Samuel 16:7). Are we doing that with each other?For me, preparing my own heart for Mass is a full time job. It wanders, grieves, desires, seethes, envies, lusts, and regularly overindulges it's appetites. Infact, if I get serious in it's preparation to stand before God, I may not have time to ever critisize another person again!If anyone sees me appearing to be irreverent at Mass, please pray for me. Obviously you've only noticed me, because you have been momentarily distracted from your own encounter with Jesus. ;)Boy, I could use a good Catholic bible study blog, written by as priest. Doesn't anyone else miss that? I keep having to go to the Protestant minister's blogs. Mindyou, they are good, gotta give them that. And you do feel fed in the spirit afterwards.

  • arturovasquez

    The real problem I think is that of Catholicism enclosed within the four walls of the church. If the Church could afford an all-Latin liturgy on a massive scale in the past, it was because people were supported in their Catholic belief in their other areas of life. Really, Mass was a bunch of inaudible “God-talk”: a chance to exercise one’s private devotions or an obligation that had to be fulfilled every week (and usually was taken care of as quickly as possible). Most people’s religiosity was manifested by participating in paraliturgical social rituals (processions during Holy Week, May Crownings, block rosaries, etc.) and the private cult of the hearth. What the priest did on the altar day in and day out was neither here nor there. Go back into the pre-history of Catholic culture, and maybe you will see some forms of synchronicity between popular devotion and liturgy, but by our time it was long gone in the eyes of the faithful.Of course, the real problem may be that people just don’t know how to be reverent, period. In other words, reverence also cannot be confined to four walls of a church. Growing up in a Mexican family, we were obligated as children to kiss the hands of our elders when we met them. That very outward and physical sign of respect is something that is inconceivable in the Anglo-Saxon world, even in the religious context. Our mentality is too egalitarian and liberal to ever be comfortable with such a hierarchical approach to social relations. What makes people think that Catholics could put on and take off such reverence like a glove once one enters the precincts of a church? In Spanish, we not only call God, “Señor” or Lord/Sir, but even the saints. But even in Latin America, such a mentality is dying, so what makes Americans so immune to such egalitarian inculturation? For me, the rhetoric that lobbies for “more reverence” can seem like advocacy for ecclesial playacting. We long ago moved past the medieval hierarchical social relations in our daily life. Why must we assume them again when we go off to church?

  • anthony

    does humor still exist in my homeland…?SOOOOOORRRYstill break dancing or 'fracture dancing' at the fracure (geddit)and padre hip-hopping way cool

  • Harrison

    Amen!Fr., I am a seminarian from Canada and I ran into the following book during my ecclesiology class last year. I would recommend this book because it picks up precisely on the issues of modernism, etc., that you mentioned above. It is not inexpensive, but it is one of the best works I have read in a long time and I think you would appreciate it due to the important points you have raised.It is called – Nouvelle théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery. It is by Hans Boersma. It is amazing, particularly because, funny enough, he is a reformed Calvinist, though he doesn't sound like one in the book (I would suspect he would become Catholic at some point in the future). Here is his website with a small video of his lectures that plays on the aspect of modernism as well.

  • flyingvic

    Absolutely breathtaking! Not so much, Father, because, once again, you cannot bring yourself to comment upon contemporary Roman Catholic problems without having a gratuitous side-swipe at Protestantism; but because of this: "The beast's roots are in the Protestant Revolution…"Would the 'Protestant Revolution' have had anything like the force that it did were it not for the faults, abuses and blind spots that were so obvious in the Church at that time?And are there not parallels to be seen in our situation today? The Renaissance brought an explosion of information and education; but instead of speaking to the world about the eternal Gospel in the language of the day, the Church responded with little else but yesterday's tradition. Are things any different in today's Information Age?

  • Kristen

    Father — Thank you for this series. Your posts and the comments have been very thought-provoking for me. I am a recent convert to the Church. We have the good fortune to live in a fairly conservative diocese and the Mass is celebrated at our local parish (where we are registered and involved) with care and reverence (at least to my relatively uninformed eyes). My question is — as the parent of three young children and as a convert myself, how do I go about protecting my sons from the modernist perspective that has led us so far astray? More than anything I want my sons to be "well catechized Catholics who believe in the old, old story of God's supernatural grace in the world, the tender story of a pure maid who bore the Son of God into the world to suffer and die and save poor lost sinners", but I am not yet that myself and don't know how exactly to pull myself up by my bootstraps in order to become the teacher I need to be for them.To this point we have focused our efforts on getting to know several good priests personally and to have them in our home as often as possible. I study the catechism and try my best to supplement the "Catholicism lite" material the boys are getting from our parish CCE program with material from the Baltimore catechism. We read the gospel reading prior to Mass and say an an abridged rosary each evening. My school-aged son attends a classical school which, although ecumenical, organizes its curriculum around the liturgical calendar and serves up a challenging curriculum (for example, this week my son's third grade class is studying St. Augustine). But I still don't feel like I am doing enough to counter the tide of culture (even within the Church). Can you please offer some recommendations for parents?

  • Jenny

    Ah, yes, what began as a series on "Church-shopping" has bounced around a lot of issues (which is why I don't get too involved in the blogosphere these days), with some truly frayed nerves exposed. I've heard it said many times from some very holy people/saints that the first and truest mark of holiness is humility. Many, many of the comments over the past LONG week on this blog make me wonder exactly what we Catholic Christians are pursuing;i.e. are we pursuing agendas, verbal conquests, "my way right or wrong, still my way" or true holiness?Just askin'…God bless you, Father, for putting up with us!

  • Calistus Thomas

    Dear Father, Guess you lit up the Fuse and there is an explosion of thoughts, feelings and emotions are bursting out, but one thing seems well clear, we all know that a cancer has crept into the church and have reached proportions where this needs urgent attention. History is always a good guide in these instances, time and time again abuses did creep in, ultimately to be flushed out or trimmed. I have a feeling that time is near….also father since you have begun this pls advise how do you suppose we should come out of this…is this happening, do you see any promising shoots in this regard…GBU

  • Julie

    Great post! Thank you, Father!