Sunday, October 30, 2011


Bishop Edward Slattery is the Bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma

From Bishop Edward Slattery's interview with the National Catholic Register, published on October 28, 2011: Bishop Slattery on Prayer, the Mass and New Vocations.

You’ve made public statements about problems with the liturgy. What changes would you like to see?

I would like to see the liturgy become what Vatican II intended it to be. That’s not something that can happen overnight. The bishops who were the fathers of the council from the United States came home and made changes too quickly. They shouldn’t have viewed the old liturgy, what we call the Tridentine Mass or Missal of Pope John XXIII, as something that needed to be fixed. Nothing was broken. There was an attitude that we had to implement Vatican II in a way that radically affects the liturgy.

What we lost in a short period of time was continuity. The new liturgy should be clearly identifiable as the liturgy of the pre-Vatican II Church. Changes, like turning the altar around, were too sudden and too radical. There is nothing in the Vatican II documents that justifies such changes. We’ve always had Mass facing the people as well as Mass ad orientem [“to the east,” with priest and people facing the same direction]. However, Mass ad orientem was the norm. These changes did not come from Vatican II.

Also, it was not a wise decision to do away with Latin in the Mass. How that happened, I don’t know; but the fathers of the Council never intended us to drop Latin. They wanted us to hold on to it and, at the same time, to make room for the vernacular, primarily so that the people could understand the Scriptures.

You yourself have begun celebrating Mass ad orientem.

Yes, in our cathedral and a few parishes where the priests ask me to. Most of the time, I say Mass facing the people when I travel around the diocese or when I have a large number of priests concelebrating, because it works better that way.

A few priests have followed my example and celebrate ad orientem as well. I have not requested they change. I prefer to lead by example and let the priests think about it, pray about it, study it, and then look at their churches and see if it’s feasible to do.

And it’s positive when people are thinking about and talking about the liturgy.

When people make the liturgy part of their conversation, it is a good thing. As priests and laypeople discuss the liturgy, they’ll see how important it is and how it is a work of God and not our own.

But we must approach the liturgy on bended knee with tremendous humility, recognizing that it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to God. It is a gift. We worship God not by creating our own liturgies, but by receiving the liturgy as it comes to us from the Church. The liturgy should be formed and shaped by the Church itself to help people pray better. And we all pray better when we are disposed to receive what God has offered, rather than creating something of our own.

My Comments about leading by example: I'm not entirely comfortable with it. This is what Pope Benedict has been doing in terms of the Benedictine Altar arrangement and on occasion, but very rare occasions, celebrating Mass ad orientem, such as in the Pauline Chapel at the Vatican or the Sistine Chapel. The Pauline Chapel Altar allows for Mass facing the people while the Sistine Chapel main altar does not, although in the past a free standing portable altar was placed in front of it.

Bishop Slattery says in the last sentence above: "The liturgy should be formed and shaped by the Church itself to help people pray better. And we all pray better when we are disposed to receive what God has offered, rather than creating something of our own." But isn't that exactly what he is doing when he models something but does not mandate it or make it the norm.

I feel the same way about what Pope Benedict does. He's modeling things, but not making anything the norm. Are both these bishops, one the Pope of course, "...creating something of our own"?

If the bishop modeling for his priests how liturgy should be celebrated is the norm to be applauded, then what if you have a bishop who likes what he was taught about liturgy in the 1970's and how he experienced it back then? Nostalgia can go many ways you know. Should we throw caution to the wind to allow that to happen?

Those who are tradition-oriented will applaud Bishop Slattery for modeling what he likes and allowing his priests to do it if they request it.

But that then opens the door to priests modeling things other bishops do that might not be so much to their liking. Some bishops have very long introductory statements prior to the penitential act. In fact they ask people to sit for it. Is that something that should be modeled (it is also done at major papal Masses on the road).

Some bishops improvise the words of the liturgy. It remains to be seen if they will do so with the corrected English translation. But if they do, do we applaud them for doing it and modeling it for priests as an option?

I say, "say the black and do the red." If that needs to be reformed or expanded, then put it into writing so that bishops and priests do not act in idiosyncratic ways--there's way to much of that out there.

Would you want your bishop modeling this for your priests?


Joseph Johnson said...

This puts us back to that frustrating question of being bound by "norms" versus the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (which I must confess as a layperson I still don't fully understand).

As you know, the GIRM does have wording which implies that the priest is offering the Mass ad orientem because it references him turning towards the people (I don't have a copy here with me but I've read it before) at certains points in the Mass. Of course, this can be read to imply that he was not facing the people at other times during the Mass. For instance, I seem to recall something about the priest "turning towards the people" for the Orate Fratres ("Pray, brethren")and for the Ecce Agnus Dei ("This is the Lamb of God"). So it can be said that it is in writing for the whole Church and this is in continuity with the practice in the older (now Extraordinary) form of the Mass.

I see this as letting a misdirected "custom" (call it a norm if you like) of facing the people for the whole Mass, which originated in the rebellious 60's, override the GIRM and still work against the "external" experience of the Mass conveying its true meaning and nature to the congregation(an act of Sacrifice and Worship directed to God through his priest).

Shouldn't bishops just enforce the GIRM as it is written just as they would have in the pre-Vatican II days (rather than saying that, OK the GIRM says this but the "norm" has been -since the 60's, to do otherwise)? It just makes it feel like what started in the 60's has some special sacred status which takes precedence over centuries of doing otherwise.

I'm sorry, I'm under 55 (50), was 4 years old in 1965, and I want the Church to toss out the questionable practices of the 60's as quickly as possible and get back on a track of real continuity and of teaching solid doctrine.

Frajm said...

Facing the people was not an act of rebellion in the 1960's and was encouraged from the highest levels. In fact some places were doing it in the 1950's. Facing the people in the mid sixties was done with the Tridentine Mass, now called the EF Mass.
It was all about allowing the people to see what the priest was doing. For example as a child I did not know that the priest received Holy Communion. I didn't know what he was doing up there. The first time the altar was turned, my parents and many others commented that it was rude for the priest to eat in front of them when he received. They didn't like looking at him when he received. And of course it was the first time that we realized that the priest actually chewed the host unlike the laity who were told not to do so. It looked to many of us like chewing cud which is not a very delicate thing to say about how one receives our Lord!
Even the popes began celebrating facing the people also and Pope Benedict still does it as the norm. So I would say that if the other way of doing it is being fomented, then it should explicitly be given rubrics and bishops should make sure that priests explain the change and that we aren't constantly yanking people around in parishes or from parish to parish.

Father Shelton said...

I wish the Holy Father would ask His Excellency if he has any friends he would recommend to be appointed bishops. Our Lord needs more like Mons. Slattery. I think each bishop does present a three person list, but in this case three dozen might be better!

pinanv525 said...

Our's is a "take it or leave it" culture. Leading by example will not work for the majority of Priests and laity. People need to be told what to do.

Templar said...

I think the Blog post is a straw man argument.

Of course no wants their Bishops to model clown Masses or Tie Dye vestments and Tennis Shoes, that's because all of those acts are clearly in violation of the GIRM. Conversely, what the Laity desire is that if the GIRM allows something that the Clergy not hide behind obedience to unlawful orders.

Bishops CANNOT prevent a Priest from saying the EF. Bishops CANNOT prevent a Priest offering Communion by Intinction. Bishops CANNOT prevent a Priest from saying Mass Ad Orientem. All of these things are permissible, and any Bishop who would attempt to prevent a pastor from exercising their lawful choices is Himself acting unlawfully.

Obedience is the servant of Faith.

If you feel it is right, and can find support for these feelings in the prescribed norms of the Church, why in God's Great Green Earth would you not FIGHT for that right? What little remains of the Laity are begging to be led. Please dear Go let it be more than just guides to the Catacombs.

Father Shelton said...

"Custom is the best interpreter of the law". The modern practice of the priest and people looking at each other, instead of towards the Lord together, is now an established custom, and cannot be set aside too quickly or boldly. In the Traditional Use of the Roman Mass, the Altar Cross is the primary center of liturgical attention, marking as it does the way to the Father. Learning from this Form, we could first recover the very notion of facing God in liturgical prayer by placing large crosses on our altars, and then gradually move towards literally reorienting our churches.

Joseph Johnson said...

I wasn't necessarily saying that facing the people was an act of rebellion in and of itself--it's just that it did not begin to become commonplace (a "norm") until the 1960's. Even though I was born in the early 1960's, I guess I am suspect of things (not all, but many) that are products of the 1960's period. The latter part of the decade, particularly, was a time of rebellion and aberration--not generally a time that one would want to point to as a period to be emulated and revered. I have to continually remind myself that, if I were a little older and had been a teenager or young adult at the time, I might feel differently.

I would love to see ad orientem mandated by the Pope or our bishop but given the attitude I have encountered in many of my somewhat older Catholic peers, I don't see this happening anytime soon. Meanwhile, Bishop Slattery has apparently found a way to provoke thought and discussion on this issue without universally imposing it (in his Diocese) and causing a possible rebellion and boycott by some older Catholics and clergy (just look at how they are "howling" about the new English translation!).

I recently had an older lady (and faithful benefactor of our parish) tell me that if the Church went back to using Latin in the Mass she'd leave and start going to the Methodist Church! This lady is a lifelong Catholic and is in her 70's as she has a son and daughter in my age range (just above and just under 50). When she made that statement I was just too astounded to respond! This is what I mean by a strong reaction by some of those who were young adults in the 1960's and want things to stay just as they are.

Bill Meyer said...


I was in high school during V-II, and am a nominal child of the sixties. That said, I am suspicious of many of the legacies of that very rebellious age, and am an unreconstructed traditionalist with regard to the Church.

Little of what occurs on many parishes today is to be found in the V-II documents, except as liberties taken under the justification of what Michael Davies was wont to call the time bombs in the documents.

I appreciate Bp. Slattery's latest writings, though I could wish he were as much in line with Church doctrine on the subject of immigration, on which he wrote a couple of years ago.

The Church in America is still saddled with many variations which not only are not in the V-II documents, but fly in the face of the G.I.R.M. I pray that more bishops will undergo a conversion on these matters.

Far from welcoming our lost brethren back to the fold, the net effect of the changes has been a steady decline in attendance at Mass, and the application of "conscience" to matters of firm doctrine. The failing there being due (in all charity to those making poor choices) to unformed or malformed conscience. And the church also teaches that conscience is itself reliable only after proper formation.

Anonymous said...

I am sure Fram will straighten me out if this is too much of a reach: I think there is a strong link between the ad orientem and the new translation original missal helps keep us straight.

I was reading this week's Diocesan new paper and in it our Archbishop has a letter asking us to open our hearts to the Roman Missal. In it he carries the theme we have had in our study groups: that it going to be unfamiliar, awkward, difficult, and all the other inconveniences we will experience. We are told that our clergy are working hard to prepare for these changes. I understand and support my bishop in this change, but there is an air of foreboding and tribulation in all of this. For the thousandth time, I asked myself "Why is this so hard?"

Then the first reading today gave me an idea. Malachi is sort of like a pseudonym used by a writer of the American Revolution. He is slamming the clergy of his day for their deficient gifts to the Lord. Basically, God caught them half-stepping.

So we have a Liturgy that has been painstakingly authored by some of the greatest minds and most dedicated people on our planet over the last 2000 years. It is not perfect, but it is really, really good for this use, especially since it is written in 'dead' Latin and now captures well formed thought in a fairly concrete state for the ages.

When we slacked off in this rigour back in '68 we began to offer the Lord a blemished product. While it is not necessarily an abomination, at least I hope not, it was obviously less than we were capable of doing. Some of us knew this and were happy to use this opportunity to get some changes done, others were happy to let this hard stuff slide. Before long we were looking at the priest, who was looking at us.

So of course we are telling each other this change is an inconvenience, and seeing that it is at the present irresistible, accepting it in the same self-pitying manner as a trial.

C'mon, man! This is going to make us better from the inside out, this is what the prayer is helping us say, to present to the Creator of EVERYTHING! Anyone who has gotten tongue tied speaking to the principal should be grateful for a crib sheet.

Alexander the Great told his followers before the battle of Arrian that he was there with them to share in every trial and he showed them the scars to prove it. So if we are looking for a leader through some 'hardship' maybe we should all turn around and take look at the front of the Church.


Anonymous said...

On paper, Templar is right. No bishop can prohibit the very things he describes. However, in reality, many can and they do. The Vatican usually sides with the bishop, even when he violates canon law and the bishop can make life very miserable for priests who want to test their bishop's resolve to suppress the pope's initiatives. If you are a priest who wants to offer Mass ad orientem, you'd better be darned sure your bishop isn't going to have a "problem" with it, or you'll soon have plenty of problems of your own.

Joseph Johnson said...

This morning in my fifth and sixth grade PRE class we were discussing the Liturgy of the Word (in an age-appropriate and approved booklet about the new translation)and one boy asked me to show him what the ambo was.

I talked about ambos, lecterns, and pulpits and drew some pictures on the chalkboard (which I still use by deliberate choice--rather than a whiteboard).
When I drew him a picture of an old-style elevated and canopied pulpit with stairs (as one example) he, and the rest of the class, exclaimed that it was "really cool!" This boy then stated that when he grew up he wanted to make enough money to pay for such a pulpit. Then a very bright girl piped in that she would like to see our old Communion rail (which is now part of the unused choir loft) be installed in front of the Sanctuary and the choir go back to the loft! Who knows? If I live long enough maybe I will have something to look forward to (and be proud of my former students at the same time)!

Templar said...

Anonymous: I know only too well what malicious Bishops can do to Orthodox Priests, but the battle can not be won without the fight.

The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of Bishops. -- St. John Chrysostom

If it is true that we are consigned to Purgatory until not only our sins are atoned for, but every sin by every sinner we have had influence upon is also atoned for, it will be miraculous if any Bishop ever sees Heaven.

pinanv525 said...

A little Irish boy comes to breakfast looking sad. His father says, "What is wrong son?"
Son replies, "Dad, I dreamed I went to the bad place last night." Father asks, "Really..what was it like?"
Son, "Dad, I was freezing to death!"
Father, "I thought Hell was supposed to be hot."
Son, "Yeah, but I couldn't get to the fire for all the Bishops."

Anonymous said...

Bishops CANNOT do this and that and yet they do. This is a principle problem in the CHurch with enforcing anything and a sympton of disease. A way must be sought for these Bishops who insist on going against CANNOT with CAN to be disciplined and perhaps themselves moved to another location. All too much power is falling into the hands of Bishops esspecially when we can see clearly that they do as they wish in defiance to the Holy See, the Faithful, and their own Priests. Bishops and their abuse of power is where many of the problems in the Church begin and end. Could it be the reforms that came after the Council went too far in actually promoting Bishops to the position of a "quasi" Pope? Many exhibit this behavior. The time has come to review errant Bishops in liturgical practice and their decision making. Humbing these Bishops may do wonders for struggling Priests who are simply trying to follow the Holy Father, the supreme example and leader. If Bishops are getting in the way they must be called out onto the carpet. This has to start to happen.

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