“The liturgy has its laws which must be respected.”

Pope John Paul II, March 8, 1997

A liturgical crisis has been brewing for a long time. Back in 1973, Archbishop Robert Dwyer of Portland, Oregon, wrote: “Sincere Christian men and women in their thousands and millions are reacting against the impoverishment and degradation of the liturgy, as they are reacting against so many displays of enfeebled or uncertain leadership.” (Catholic Priests’ Association Bulletin [England], Vol. I and II, 1973, p. 42).

Some important complaints

The Instruction “Inaestimabile Donum” (“Inestimable Gift”) of April 3, 1980, lists some of the liturgical aberrations reported from different parts of the Catholic world. Among them are the confusion of roles, especially regarding the priestly ministry and the role of the laity (indiscriminate shared recitation of the Eucharistic Prayers, homilies given by lay people, lay people distributing Holy Communion while the priests refrain from doing so)

Quotationthe confusion of roles, especially regarding the priestly ministry and the role of the laity (indiscriminate shared recitation of the Eucharistic Prayers, homilies given by lay people, lay people distributing Holy Communion while the priests refrain from doing so)Quotation
; an increasing loss of the sense of the sacred (abandonment of liturgical vestments, the Eucharist celebrated outside Church without real need, lack of reverence and respect for the Blessed Sacrament, etc.); misunderstanding of the ecclesial nature of the liturgy (the use of private texts, the proliferation of unapproved Eucharistic Prayers, the manipulation of the liturgical texts for social and political ends).”
The list of other abuses, not to be dismissed as minor, is long: there is a refusal to give Holy Communion on the tongue, or to those who are kneeling; bowing instead of genuflecting after the elevation: holding hands during the Our Father; unwarranted so-called liturgical dancing; leaving the sanctuary to give the kiss of peace; changing, adding or omitting words even of the Canon of the Mass.

Among other liturgical horrors are clown and rock masses, and the consequent profanation of the church as a sacred place. There is also the annual “Call to Action” mass, sometimes attended by bishops, priests, religious and laity, at which all say the words of consecration.

A recent atrocity was the “Tyme Mass” in London, England, during which the young danced in a night-club atmosphere, a young woman gave the homily and sesame-seed loaves were consecrated in ceramic bowls.

A current common practice destructive of faith and morals is the reception by all, or nearly all, of Holy Communion. This is at a time when sexual sins are rampant and our confessionals are deserted. Many have been led even by priests to erroneously believe that the Mass forgives mortal sins.

A surpassing reverence is due

The importance of the liturgy, the public worship of the Church, can hardly be exaggerated. The work of the liturgy is our sanctification and salvation. Through it we go from sin to grace, from earth to Heaven. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II tells us: “It is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine Sacrifice of the Eucharist, the work of our redemption is accomplished.” (Introduction, n. 2). No private action is comparable to liturgical worship: “Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of His Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others.” (ibid. n. 7).

Not only does the liturgy offer grace and salvation, it is also a vehicle of divine revelation, a preserver and teacher of doctrine, the ultimate Catechist, instructing and teaching on matters of faith. “Lex orandi, lex credendi,” the law of prayer or worship is also the law or carrier of our belief. Pope Pius XII referred to the liturgy as “the principal organ of the Magisterium of the Church.”

The measure of charity in the world can be largely gauged by the measure of liturgical worship. Pope John Paul II has affirmed the essential link between the Eucharist and the Church’s spiritual and apostolic vitality. (Dominicae Cenae, Feb. 24, 1980, no. 4).

The Liturgy and Law

The Church guards the liturgy and protects it with liturgical law. She does this with divinely delegated authority. “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, the bishop.” (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 22). Bishops and bishops’ conferences have only that authority over the liturgy which is explicitly granted. “No other person, not even a priest, may add, renew or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” (ibid.). The reason for this is that “liturgical services pertain to the whole Body of the Church… they manifest it and have effects upon it.” (ibid. n. 26).

Liturgical law is found in numerous instruments. The Code of Canon Law is not a primary source. It says “For the most part, the Code does not determine the rites to be ob served in the celebration of liturgical actions.” (C. 2). Yet, it sanctions liturgical law as such: “The liturgical works, approved by the competent authority, are to be faithfully followed in the celebration of the Sacraments. Accordingly, no one may on a personal initiative add to or omit or alter anything in those books.” (C. 846.1).

The main corpus of liturgical law is scattered over liter ally hundreds of Instructions, Declarations, Apostolic Letters, Notes and other documents. There is the Constitution of Vatican lion the Sacred Liturgy and three Instructions on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. There is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Liturgical books like the Lectionary, the breviary and Rites of the Sacraments, all containing their specific laws.

Liturgical law is ordained not to restrict freedom of worship, but to enhance it, to ensure both the truth and beauty of public prayer. There is a marvelously concise overview of liturgical doctrine and law in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1066-1209. It answers the questions: Why the Liturgy? Who Celebrates the Liturgy? How is the Liturgy Celebrated? When is the Liturgy Celebrated? “Where is the Liturgy Celebrated?

The Intrinsic Evil of Liturgical Abuse

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

“One who offers worship to God on the Church’s behalf in a way contrary to that which is laid down by the Church with God-given authority.., is guilty of falsification.” (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 93, a. 1). It is a violation of the first commandment. The priest becomes an impostor.

Abuses are also a form of liturgical nihilism. Humility of worship is replaced by pride, service by disobedience. Scandal replaces edification and the custodian becomes a destroyer.

What should be a source of grace becomes an occasion of sin; what should be an act of divine love becomes the stench of death. In the words of Pope Paul VI:
“Anything that departs from this pattern (of loyalty to the will of the Church as ex pressed in its precepts, norms and structures), even if it has a specious attractiveness, is in fact spiritually upsetting to the faithful, and makes the ministry of priests lifeless and sterile.” (Directory on Masses for Special Groups.)

The Effects of Liturgical Abuses

The Instruction, “Inaestimabile Donum” points out four principal bad results which can come from liturgical abuses:

1. The unity of faith and worship is impaired.
Liturgical abuses often inculcate moral errors along with their deviation from the rubrics. The practice in some churches of saying “all are invited to the table” teaches either that the Mass forgives mortal sins or that the state of grace is not necessary for the reception of Holy Communion.

Iconoclasm in our churches has diminished devotion to our Blessed Mother and the saints. The Church teaches that “Sacred images in our churches and homes are intended to awaken and nourish our faith in the mystery of Christ. Through the icon of Christ and His work of salvation, it is He Whom we adore. Through sacred images of the Holy Mother of God, of the angels and of the saints, we venerate the persons represented.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1193).

2. Liturgical abuses bring with them doctrinal uncertainty.
This is done in myriad ways. Sometimes the tabernacle is so hidden that the words of Mary Magdalene could apply: “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” (John 20, 13). Christ is ignored through the failure to genuflect when the rubrics demand it, by standing during the Consecration, by failure to make a sign of adoration in receiving Holy Communion. Christ is ignored by socializing in church. To ignore a person is to treat him or her as non-existent. So, the ground is laid for doctrinal errors like transignification and transfinalization in place of the truth of transubstantiation.

When reverence, decorum, recollection and rightful awe disappear from our churches, the church becomes a place of diminished faith. In the introductory rite for the Dedication of a Church, we read: “This is a place of awe; this is God’s house, the gate of Heaven, and it shall be called the royal court of God.” We ought to conduct ourselves accordingly.

3. Liturgical abuses cause scandal and bewilderment among the People of God.
People and even priests are often deeply offended by liturgical violations. An old priest who has spent his priestly life in the missions, returning to visit his Mother House, was scandalized to see his confreres celebrating the community Mass without alb or chasuble. An associate pastor who trained altar boys to genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament heard the pastor forbid them to do so because it was “pre-Vatican II.” Pastors are scandalized by associates who violate the liturgy and vice-versa, causing trouble or tension in the rectory.

4. Liturgical abuses bring “a near inevitability of violent reaction.”
Some are bewildered and grieve in silence. In many, the reaction is bitter criticism, anger, resentment, or a deep feeling of betrayal. Some stop going to Mass. Some so criticize the Church that their children are alienated from the faith. Every liturgical aberration sets up its own chain of negative reactions by a kind of tragic law.

The Remedies

Obviously, liturgical abuses are eliminated through the observance of liturgical law. This remedy is the vindication of a right. Canon 214 of the Code of Canon Law says that “Christ’s faithful have the right to worship God according to the provisions of their own rite approved by the lawful Pastors of the Church.”

The law states clearly where the responsibility lies. In his own diocese, the correction of liturgical abuses is the obligation of the bishop (cf. C.392.2). Under the bishop’s authority, the parish priest must direct the liturgy in his own parish, and he is bound to “be on guard against abuses.” (C. 528.2).

To obtain the correction of an abuse, it should be sufficient to draw the attention of the parish priest to an aberration. If nothing is done, it must be brought to the attention of the bishop. If Church law and legal redress were ob served, there would not be a liturgical abuse in the world.

What then is the remedy? When shepherds will not shepherd, the remedy, an inadequate one, must be found in one’s personal reaction. Some bear with abuses as a cross and penance. Others legitimately go to another parish or to a church of another rite or a Tridentine Mass.

The tragedy is that some, in anguish and rebellion, stop going to church and join the literally millions worldwide who have lost their faith. The entire responsibility is not theirs!

Liturgical Abuses and Empty Churches

Liturgical abuse is the great enemy of Church practice and a reincarnation of Modernism. St. Pius X spoke of “the perfidious plot of liberal Catholics.” In the moral order, liberal Catholics call for freedom from sexual restraint, the right to pre marital sex, contraception, divorce, homosexual practice, and abortion. In the liturgical order, it takes the form of freedom from rubrical law.

Liturgy is so bound up with authority and the apostolic hierarchy established by Christ that without it “there would be no public worship as Catholicism understands the liturgy.” (Fr. John Hardon, S.J., “The Catholic Catechism,” Doubleday and Co., p. 450).

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One of the greatest heroes in the Catholic Church in Canada is without doubt Monsignor Vincent N. Foy. Monsignor Foy is a priest and canon lawyer of the Archdiocese of Toronto, a one-time head of the archdiocesan marriage tribunal, and a founder and Honorary Member of the Canadian Canon Law Society. He is the oldest priest in his Archdiocese and the only surviving priest of the class of 1939 of St. Augustine's Seminary.

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