Worship Straight Up

In the combox someone wrote, “Just give me the liturgy straight up. No ice.” I like that.

It got my brain humming and I started comparing liturgical styles to drinks. One of the problems with a traditionalism that goes too far is that all the nice things can draw attention to themselves. Nothing in the liturgy should draw attention to itself–either because it is very wonderful or because it is very terrible. A splendid vestment from Barbiconi’s that is so gorgeous that it draws “oohs and aahs” is just as distracting as a da-glo green polyester horror with a grapes pasted on it.

The same applies to every aspect of liturgy: music that is too splendid is just as distracting as music that is too tacky. Good taste is not exhibited by extravagance. It’s exhibited by restraint and decency. Good taste, like good manners, means adapting oneself to the situation without compromising one’s standards. The story is told, for example, of Queen Victoria taking tea with a working class woman. When the woman spilled some tea in her saucer she simply lifted the saucer to her lips and slurped the remaining tea. Rather than look on in horror at the “bad manners” the Queen promptly lifted her saucer and slurped her tea.

Good liturgy, therefore is adapted to the congregation and the situation. When I celebrate Mass at Camp on a Sunday afternoon in the gym I don’t demand a solemn high Pontifical Mass with the music of Palestrina. The music is simple and informal, but still reverent and worshipful.

What my reader meant about liturgy being “straight up. no ice” is that she wants the liturgy to be basic and functional–dignified and reverent without frills and extravagance, but also without tacky “relevant”  homilies and music–without the personality of the priest intruding–without the political or ecclesial agenda of the priest intruding–without servers drawing attention to themselves either because they are terribly sloppy or because they are terribly prim–without anything drawing attention away from the simple dignity of the Mass and the awesome presence of Our Lord.


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  • Otepoti

    What would Caitlin say about liturgy. I wonder?

  • FW Ken

    In my opinion, the movement toward restoring the proper psalms with their antiphons is a good movement away from the frills of hymnody. Don’t get me wrong: I love hymns. But for the Mass, they could easily fit into the Offertory and post-communion, with plenty of time for the psalm/antiphon. Both/and… That leaves a simple introit (procession for special days).and omit the bombastic closing hymn that leaves you on a false high.

    As an former Episcopalian, I have a great love of hymns. But we did the propers for awhile under one music director, and I found it an enriching way to worship.

  • Nathan

    Sounds a lot like “say the black, do the red” so often cited by Father Z. Perhaps the rubrics need to be followed more strictly as the case was with the 62 missal?

  • Lynda

    The Liturgy of the Church is part of the Sacred Tradition of the Church. It is not to be subject to experiment or novelties. Styles have no place in the universal Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Sadly, there has been widespread rupture with Tradition in the praxis of the Liturgy – causing a collapse of the Faith, and the scattering of the Faithful.

  • John

    Amen, amen, a thousand times AMEN!

  • H. Hobbit

    This was helpful– and I needed help! The devil is in the details AND the distractions. With all the clamor about how it needs to be this way or that way, I regrettably find myself feeling as if I should put on the theater’s critic hat while I ‘review’ the performance of Christ’s Holy Church. “Father Bland gave a sub-par performance in his role of Christ this morning, however Mrs. Gump, the choir director, made up for it with that creative flare she so often displays. ” I don’t WANT to critique the Mass! Life gives me enough distractions as it is…………….

  • u3

    In regard to the opening statement, you basically want your liturgy to be ‘neat.’ There’s nothing wrong with neat.

  • Mandy P.

    This is a very good piece! And I agree with it completely. I’m more traditionally minded, although I don’t attend an EF mass (the nearest one is an hour away) so I am sympathetic to wanting all the bells and whistles. But in my own experience with trying to introduce the more traditional style into my own presence a the mass, that can backfire, too. For example, I took up wearing the veil for a time. What I noticed is that before I wore it I was just one of many worshipers. After I started wearing it I began getting looks and comments (and not all negative, so I wasn’t being intimidated). Now, I’m not an overly self-conscious person so those comments and stares didn’t particularly embarrass me. However I realized that it was making me stand out and drawing attention to myself that I didn’t desire to have during the mass. The mass should be focused on Jesus, not me. So I gave the practice up.

  • Cecilia

    My family listens to very good music at home and in the car–Palestrina, Byrd, etc. It’s not a pretense or affectation. The parish we attend is a cathedral with a professional choir, and the music at Mass is comparable to what we listen to outside of Mass. So I’m not quite sure what you mean by music “too splendid”; music in Mass that was notably worse than what we listen to at home would be “as distracting as music that is too tacky”.

    Neither my family nor my parish is wealthy or elite. But we love beauty in music. In the anecdote about the Queen, did she drink Lipton tea with the working class woman? Or share with her the fine tea she ordinarily drinks?

  • http://corningcm.wordpress.com CPT Tom

    You can still be simple but traditional. The schola I am in sings at a Ordinary form Sunday mass but with Latin Propers and ordinary. The music is Chant with no accompaniment, the priest uses incense at the entrance for the altar, at the gospel, at the offertory. There are bells and smells with noble vessles and vestments, but otherwise there is sacred silence. It is beautiful, without distraction. I believe this is noble simplicity, as opposed to the guitars, burlap/tie-dye vestments and pottery vessels, which is often loud, cheesy and disrespectful of the sacred miracle we are witnesses to in the Holy Sacrafice of the Mass. God Bless!

  • Wills

    Yes reverent! At today’s mass for local Catholic school the priest went around asking all the second graders to cry like roosters because of the reading. What exactly does that teach them about worship? Or reverence? Then there’s the music. Just because he’s a children doesn’t mean they have no taste. Some of the most beautiful music in the world these kids are being taught “sanctuary”

  • http://thatladyisalwaysknitting.blogspot.com/ Teri

    Along these lines, I have become increasingly dismayed at the natural tendency for the congregation to break into a round of hand-clapping as the final notes of the choir ring. Or sometimes even after a hymn during the liturgy!!! It’s as though they are confusing worship with attending a concert. When the choir sings, it’s a PRAYER, people, not a performance.

  • veritas

    I get very wary of calls for “simplified” liturgy.

    However, I do totally agree that we need liturgies where the priest’s personality does NOT intrude, where he wears the best vestments he can, not to draw attention to himself but becvause he is standing in “altar Christus”. This is one reason why I would love to see a return to the priest facing away from the people, so he is focusing – with the people – on Almighty God and not on being seen by his parishoners.

    The liturgy should always be the best we can offer to Almighty God.

    The Book of Revelation helps give us a beautiful picture of what is remarkably similar to a full Catholic High Mass – incense, falling down in adoration, choirs singing the Sanctus, all focusing on the High Altar with the Lamb that was slain.

  • Lila

    It was me who said that, Fr. ::blush:: Glad you liked it. :)

  • Caroline B

    Maybe that’s what she meant, but it’s so vague it sounds good to the ears but could mean anything.

  • David Zelenka

    When we preach the gospel we use a language that the other person understands. If I talk to a scientist, I might explain the gospel in the light of how Teilhard de Chardin reasoned. If I talk to my 3 year old, we get down to fundamentals. On Pentecost, the Spirit spoke in the language of all the different peoples. We must do the same with the liturgy…within the boundaries of glorifying God and not glorifying the self. If we don’t speak the language of our youth and our elders, we’ll lose them both.

    Paul explains that we allow vegetarians because of their faith is weak. Likewise, we must allow certain types of liturgy because our brothers and sisters have weakened faith. So, who has weakened faith: the one who depends on the EF or those depend on contemporary worship styles? Both have a weakened faith. But pastorally, we must allow both types of liturgy to build up the faith.

    Bottom line is that we must allow the type of worship that will build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, not ourselves.

  • veritas

    Excuse my spelling mistake – it should of course read “alter Christus”

  • Tom S

    This is, I think, your best “liturgical” post ever, Thanks, Father.

    BTW I note that your post itself is also “straight up”! Reminds me of a line from a movie… “Would you like some water in your whiskey Mr. Flynn?” To which he replies “When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey, and when I drink water, I drink water”.

  • Deacon Jimmy

    What would be the definition of a tacky ‘relevant’ homily? Just curious.

  • Angela

    Thank you. Father Z is very to the point.

  • Paul Rodden

    It seems to me that the capacity to pull off the, ‘Straight up. No ice.’ Liturgy requires a dual love: the priest’s love of our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist and his love for his congregation.
    Yet by love, I don’t mean ‘empathy’ or anything sentimental, but a deep resonance with both one can only achieve from deep relationship with both. A distortion in the nature of either domain distorts the Mass as do heresies in relation to the nature of the Blessed Trinity distort Christ.

    Blessed John Paul II articulated the nature of the Human Person, Pope Benedict, the Eucharist. Pope Francis,however, seems to be bringing them together in a wonderful ecclesiological ‘hypostatic union’ as a true father figure.

    So, if his first Audience is anything to go by, as we are sent out at the end of Mass, so he’s sending us out into the world as the Church – as if the opening of the windows at Vatican II was to let something out- and not let ‘the world in’ as the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ would have it.

  • Paul Rodden

    Visit any Episcopalian establishment on a Sunday morning and listen to the sermon and you’ll get the idea… :)

  • Paul Rodden

    That kids seem to get it and adults don’t. :)

  • http://corningcm.wordpress.com CPT Tom

    Maybe one with props and jokes?

  • Lila

    Actually, I said I was tired of the trendies and the traddies. For me, I want only to be fully Catholic, straight up, no ice. The real thing. Fr. went from there in a way that I agree with.