Tuesday, August 08, 2023

On liturgical abuses: for Catholic Answers

Fr Alan Robinson of Corpus Christi Maiden Lane. Note what he's doing 
with his fingers: he has to hold forfinger and thumb together from the
Consecration to the washing of his fingers after Communion.

My latest for Catholic Answers is about liturgical abuses. It is an interesting and important topic and one to which I have devoted a fair amount of time to over the years. But I also feel a bit detached from it, since this debate is all about the Novus Ordo. Attending the Traditional Mass provides an opportunity to worship God without worrying about this issue, except on very rare occasions.

People sometimes say: surely liturgical abuses are possible in the TLM too? In one sense they are actually easier, as there are more rules to break. There was an old joke about how many mortal sins a priest could commit while saying Mass. Many of these things would be invisible to the people, however, and the rule-defined nature of it inculcated, and continues to inculcate, a very different attitude to the liturgy from that characteristic of the Novus Ordo. It is more likely that a priest will break the rules that do exist, if he is trained up to use his own words in numerous places, and to experiment with countless options. The Novus Ordo has a distinct spirit and liturgical culture: everyone knows this. And this culture is not about strict adherence to the rules.

On rare occasions priests have done bad things with the TLM. Many years ago, England, there was a priest who wanted to use altar girls. Many years before that there was a priest who wanted to use the Novus Ordo calendar. The rules however were very clear cut, and supported by Rome at the time. And perhaps most importantly, the faithful had no time for it at all. They voted with their feet.

This is ultimately how the rules must be maintained: through a shared liturgical culture, reinforced in all sorts of ways by priests, people, and the hierarchy. This is possible with the Traditional Mass. I'm not sure it is with the Novus Ordo. Even to try would be to invite endless and often quite vicious conflict.

I don't argue for that in this piece: I simply invite readers to think about the reasons for the rules. Some of them are very important, and they can't just be allowed to collapse. 

A key quote from my piece:

Pope John Paul’s documents condemn laxity on liturgical law in the strongest terms, but ultimately, they failed to curb it. Their failure was symbolized by Pope Francis washing the feet of a non-Catholic woman on Holy Thursday in 2013. The law was not changed to allow the washing of women’s feet until 2016, and the new rule still excludes non-Christians from the rite. Pope Francis was certainly making a telling, symbolic, point: the battle over liturgical law is over, and the legalists have lost.

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