Sunday, December 29, 2013


When I was in the seminary between 1976 and 1980, one of my most favorite professors was a biblical scholar, Sulpician priest, Fr. Addison Wright. He liked to debunk things.

One of the things he tried to do was to show the parallels between Israel, when it had veered off course in terms of fidelity to God and what had and was happening in the Church, when the same thing would happen, especially on an institutional level.

He often spoke of "sick religion" as it concerned Judaism of the period of Jesus. The Pharisees of Jesus' period were the religious reformers of the day. They understood the identity of Israel not  primarily as a worshiping community, but a holy community honoring the Torah in which worship was included.

And I think it is precisely here that we can get some sense of Pope Francis and his reform of the Church today and it is from the theology of Fr. Addison Wright who was articulating this theology along with many others in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II. This is lifted literally from my notes on the class Fr. Wright gave on March 21, 1977:

"What did Jesus' preach? His message was "repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand." Repentance is an ethical movement toward God and His kingdom. It is primarily ethical. This ties in with the reformers of Judaism of Jesus' period, the Pharisees who wanted to bring Israel back to its Mosaic roots and away from the Paganism of the day.

Paganism as a religion was political and had economic purposes. All the needs of the citizens were taken care of by the state. This was compared to the primary concern of Israel in Mosaic times, not power and money as for the pagans, but the primacy of ethics as illustrated in the Law, especially the 10 Commandments viewed not primarily for the individual, but for social liberation.

For the Pharisees, religion was not to become a museum piece. God's will is to permeate in all areas o life

What does Jesus do, within the more positive aspects of the Pharisaical movement? Jesus intensifies the call to ethical biblical behavior. He will write the laws on the people's hearts. One is to be a doer of the law not just a hearer. One must do the will of "my Father" and this must be internalized not forced in the external sense. 

Jesus calls us to "maximum performance" in the realm of the ethical. To be merciful as the Heavenly Father and to be perfect as the heavenly Father is. Our primary worry should be this: "Have I done enough?" 


Fr. Wright knew what was happening in the Church of the 1970's and the liturgical wars that pitted Catholics against one another as well as the great social upheaval of the day and social work in the Church becoming like paganism, governmental and economic where politics also divided Catholics in the pagan sense.

Pope Francis would have certainly been aware of what was happening in the Church of this period after a period of relative calm prior to the Council.

The new breed of Catholic professionals, of the post-Vatican II period, called liturgists became preoccupied by liturgy and its reform and often promoted a reform that alienated those who had simply come to accept the worship of the Church as it was even though for some, not all, there was not always a connection made between worship and the rest of their lives during the week.

Liturgists still exert influence, an almost ungodly influence, on the Church today and Pope Francis knows it and doesn't like it. When one becomes preoccupied with vestments and their style, language and its style, candlesticks, chalices, decorations and the like, one is distracted from what one should be doing with the rest of one's time as a follower of Christ, living the biblical, ethical life to the fullest, at home, work and play, wherever one finds oneself. And this living is centered on love of God and love of neighbor and expanding who it is that is our neighbor to include those on the periphery of life, the abandoned, the homeless, the sick and the mentally ill, as well as the possessed.

This doesn't mean that liturgy doesn't mean anything to Pope Francis, it certainly does, but liturgy does not become the end all and be all of Catholicism. It is the source and summit in which God calls us to go from worship and witness to the Gospel in every day life

Pope Benedict, although a patron of the arts and one who appreciates the cultured life, also understood this when he at his command inserted into the Ordinary Form of the Mass two new options for the Dismissal of Mass: "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord" and "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your life." 

Catholics can be very worship oriented and have the most splendid liturgies with the most splendid vestments, music and choreography and it will be impressive for those who participate and those who visit. Yet what about the lives of Catholics who participate in this form of the Mass?

We can ask the same question of those who prefer simplicity and simply the basics of the Mass, does this become the source and summit of their lives at worship but there is no indication of their lived Catholicism at home, work and play.

In both cases "cafeteria Catholicism" could be at work in the ethical, biblical dimensions. Like the "whited sepulcher" which is spotless on the outside, but full of corruption and decay on the inside, we have missed what Jesus proclaimed and made our worship of Him the centerpiece with all the external trappings, whether high church or low church, when what Jesus actually wants is our biblical lives to be the centerpiece of our existence at worship and in the world.

The centerpiece is based upon the call to repentance, the mercy of God and showing this mercy to repentant sinners. Thus we see in Pope Francis his call to the Sacrament of Penance, the need for God's mercy and a repentant lifestyle. And he tells us that while we might grow weary of asking and seeking repentance and mercy, God never does!

For Pope Francis, Mercy and showing Mercy (both capitalized, since this is Jesus) is the foundation of Catholic life which certainly includes the one hour or week we spend in attending Mass, but also embraces the rest of the time we spend doing other things. 


Gene said...

I believe it is an artificial dichotomy to separate a "worshipping community" from an "ethical" one. I do not even like the term "ethics" as it is often applied to the Christian life because it reeks of rationalistic philosophy and humanistic understandings of the moral life. It also feeds the mentality of those who would center the Christian life in service rather than in belief. Although I have said this before, I am going to say it again…belief is primary…this cannot be denied and remain true to Biblical theology. Right belief leads to right worship, and right worship leads to right service. The order is important. Most theologians today have it backwards…they want to focus upon service (ethics), and try to move up from there. Theologically, this is called "existential theology" and is essentially humanism. It is anthropology, not theology.
Right belief embodies and is manifested in the Liturgy. If the Liturgy is degraded (as it has been) then belief is degraded (unless you are a Protestant, then it does not matter). If you are not clear on your belief, or if you place it secondary, and if your worship is confused and fragmented (as it is), then your service is empty. You may feed the poor (and that is good), but the act itself does not build up the Church and the Christian community. Only right belief, expressed and evangelized through right worship, builds the Catholic community and gives purpose and meaning to our service. By building up the Church (and the de facto witness that comes from a strong Catholic identity), we are building an endless resource from which flows our charity. Otherwise, we are just passing stuff out and feeling good about it. This is called self-indulgence and is a sin.

rcg said...

That last sentence is especially important and characterizes the way people maneuver Christianity to their wants and needs. I think you imply it, Gene, but it bears emphasis that the recursive exercise of proper worship strengthens faith and daily expression of the Love of God, which is the manifestation of ethics for a Christian.

Henry said...

"Catholics can be very worship oriented and have the most splendid liturgies with the most splendid vestments, music and choreography and it will be impressive for those who participate and those who visit. Yet what about the lives of Catholics who participate in this form of the Mass?"

I would suggest that anyone who's experienced life in a traditionally worshiping Catholic community (either vetus or novus) can tell you that the daily life of such worshipers exhibits deeper and fuller Christian charity than those who emphasize worship less.

This is why Catholic liturgy is, indeed, the "source and summit" (a la Vatican II) of Catholic faith. And why any attempt to posit a dichotomy between the two leads to a dilution of both. And thus why this post is wrong-headed in its premises.

Anonymous said...

How is it possible for a Catholic to be "pre occupied with the liturgy". To be Catholic is to be liturgical. And Father have you read Sacrosanctum Concilium? Here is just some of what is says "From this it follows that 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; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree." So the answer to your question is no. Impoverishing the liturgy and ignoring rubrics because of personal dislike is what has contributed to the destruction of the Faith. The Mas is THE way a Catholic comes into contact with Christ.

Anonymous said...

So is the point of this to say the Mass doesn't matter, its more important to join the Peace Corps? Or become a social worker?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

No, the point is that we shouldn't become an NGO as Pope Francis has repeated time and time again, (Non-governmental organization) or purely social workers for the sake of social work, anyone can and does do that and this is of God, whether they know it or not, but rather there as to be a proper balance between worship in all its forms from elaborate to simple, High to Low and how we conduct our lives, including how we treat each other on blogs and especially our Holy Father. When worship becomes an idol or social work becomes an idol, then we are idolaters!

Anonymous said...

"including how we treat each other on blogs and especially our Holy Father. "

It is the Holy Father who has been uncharitable in his remarks towards those he disagrees with. Catholics who actually believe what the Church teaches. Starting with his ridiculing a group of faithful Catholics who sent him a spiritual bouquet as a gift for his election. And the latest calling Catholic who appreciate Tradition "self-absorbed Promethean neo-pelagians". I could never imagine Pope Benedict being so uncharitable. Pope Benedict invited Hans Kung to lunch to discuss their differences. Can anyone imagine Francis doing that with Bishop Fellay? The answer is no, he would never do it. Francis has no problem showing kindness towards habit less, pro abortion nuns, pagans, homosexuals, etc. But I have seen no kindness shown towards anyone or any group with a traditional bent. His treatment of the LCWR and the Franciscans of the Immaculate illustrate this better than anything. The Catholic Church has not been wrong for the last 2000 years, and Francis doesn't know better than all the popes back to Peter. Just because he is pope does not mean that every word, action that comes from him is guided by the Holy Spirit. It is not Catholic teaching to believe that everything Francis does/ says is guided by the Holy Spirit. The pope is the one who should be showing the way. He needs to stop the name calling and alienating a group of people that has been faithful and derided by our own priests and bishops foe daring to call a spade a spade.

rcg said...

If we worship worship (?) that is sort like solipsism, right? Sorry to pull my Trad out, but that is the exact problem with the NO, not the EF. It is a reversal to claim that adherence or even preference for the EF is preoccupation with the form as idolatry. It is the 'losing of one's self' in the EF that makes it appealing and more conducive to worship of God. The OF, in my experience, has been used to emphasize self at the expense of worship. While the basic validity of the NO Liturgy can be argued, declared, as equal to the EF it is almost always adulterated with personality of the priest, the choir, the innumerable 'ministers' and inattentive congregation.

Anonymous said...

Come now,the current Pope has called we Traditionalists every name in the book, and you wonder why we don't trust him or care for his style of worship? I wished the S.S.P.X. had taken up the offer from our beloved Benedict the XVI, but maybe Bishop Fellay knew what was going to happen in this new and SCARY papacy. Francis is the one out of step with the Church not us, he is a product of the 60's and Vatican II like many,I thought the madness of felt banners, altar girls, dancing nuns, hand holding, kiss of peace, and post Vatican II nonsense was over, but then our Benedict stepped down, and here we are back to the Catacombs again waiting for a savoir in the Chair of Peter and it is not Bergoglio!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

How many decades has it been and still the Novus Ordo is trying to get it right??? Point proven, there was nothing wrong with the Mass of All Times for 500 years, His Grace Archbishop Levebvre will in time and God willing be made a Saint for his defense of Our Holy Roman Catholic Church and the true Mass of All Times.

Anonymous said...

I converted about 7 years ago to the Catholic faith at the Cathedral in my diocese, which was my territory parish. However, five years in, I moved to an Extraordinary Form personal parish (FSSP) and it was like going through a second conversion - some have called the phenomenon their "tradversion".

In following God's call, He gifted me with an amazing job in my local diocese. However, I often find myself torn between two liturgical worlds. While I find myself spiritually fed by the spirituality of my priests and my parish, I find much beauty in the Novus Ordo when done reverently, and attend daily Mass often at my diocesan chapel. However, I have experienced grief at work for attending a Latin Mass parish, and have heard very negative remarks about my Bishop and my co-workers from people at my parish who treat the Bishop and the diocesan staff as The Enemy.

However, all is not lost - we do have many wise leaders in the church that understand this challenge and are working hard to help those searching for Christ find their path to Him. As a very wise Bishop recently told me, "There is only one Truth but within His Body, the Church, it is still quite roomy. " Or as Pope Francis said in Evangelii Gaudium, "We are all in the same boat and headed to the same port! Let us ask for the grace to rejoice in the gifts of each, which belong to all." (I highly recommend that everyone take the time to read the section in EG titled "II. Temptations faced by pastoral workers" and meditate on the truths about ourselves contained within.)

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Thanks for sharing this, I may make this comment into a post!