Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I had an article on the liturgy eleven years ago, in the March 6, 2003 edition of our Diocesan Newspaper, the Southern Cross.

I had attended a priestly continuing education week in sunny West Palm Beach the January before. One of my favorite presenters was Jesuit Father Paul Cioffi. So I tried to recapture some of what he taught us in his presentations.

Unfortunately Fr. Cioffi died the next year unexpectedly.

Although the article is 11 years old, I still stand by it and agree today with what I wrote back then:

The post Vatican II reform of the Mass: what went wrong?

Father Paul Cioffi the preeminent Jesuit liturgist (and no that’s not an oxymoron) in evaluating the last 40 years of liturgical renewal has come to the conclusion that the renewal of the Mass has been a “mixed bag.”  He states that the unambiguous successes of the past forty years include the restoration of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the reform of the lectionary and Liturgy of the Word, the development of liturgical ministries, more frequent Holy Communion at Mass and allowing the Chalice to be given to the laity.

But he warns that there have been “unambiguous failures” as well these past forty years.  Church leaders have not adequately catechized the laity on the need or the value of the reforms of the Mass and its theological and devotional impact.  Priests and seminarians have not been well trained in the area of catechetics, homiletics or presiding at Mass.  In fact he states that only 10% of priests are capable of presiding well.

Fr. Cioffi maintains that in the last forty years, apart from a few exceptions, we have only had reform but not renewal of the Mass.  He states, “we changed texts and translation and moved furniture without changing minds or moving hearts.”  Catechesis concerning the new theology of celebrating the Mass, its spirituality and ecclesiology has been so lacking that very few grasped the meaning of the reforms and thus feel that the reforms seem to be “much ado about nothing.”

For the most part, the Sunday experience of Mass throughout our country fails to nourish our need for mystery and the transcendent.  The main culprit in this failure is that many liturgists and liturgical architects rushed to an uncritical horizontal/communitarian approach to celebrating Mass so much so that it has overshadowed the vertical/transcendent.  Fr. Cioffi states that new Liturgical forms “did not sufficiently reinforce awareness that we are in another story and on Someone else’s agenda”—God’s agenda.  To an outsider the Mass appears to be merely a humanistic feast. 

We have forgotten that we are not just a community; we are a forgiven community with a forgiveness, which comes from God’s intervention in the human community and more importantly in the lives of individuals.  We have tried to produce at Mass a sense of a fellowship of joy and warm feelings whereas God’s intervention in the gathered community and in the individuals celebrating Mass produces exultation.

Fr. Cioffi states that the “notion of sin was lost” also.  We can only appreciate our salvation and justification in Jesus Christ to the extent that we recognize the “wretchedness” of our sinfulness and how our sin is responsible for the one sacrifice of Jesus, his shedding of his blood on the cross, his death and his glorious resurrection.  If sin and redemption are trivialized in the celebration of Mass, as they have been over that last few decades, then the central Christian experience of being forgiven and being a “wretch” in need of forgiveness will be trivialized as well.  Only the one who truly understands the need for forgiveness will hunger and thirst for the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. 

Fr. Cioffi states that “we have carried the principle of variability of ritual and musical forms to a degree which destroys the very concept of ritual whose nature is to be the same.” Without contemplation created by “silence, sameness, repetition, and precision in the ritual,” there is the unfortunate tendency to keep improvising which then destroys the essence of ritual.

For example, many believe that we have too much new music of poor musical and theological quality constantly thrown to congregations today.  Paperback hymnals and missalettes, which are replaced on a regular basis with new music constantly added, destroys ritual that needs to be the same.  In addition, songs in which Biblical texts are set in a secular musical style reminiscent of musical theater or current pop music violate liturgical guidelines stated by Pope Pius X in 1903 and affirmed by the Second Vatican Council.  Many songs composed in the recent past which admittedly have become popular at Catholic Masses unfortunately fall into this category.

Fr. Cioffi also points out that we have failed to “pay enough attention to the non-verbal and non-rational elements of worship, nor to the value of silence, repetition, precision, and music that point to another world. Liturgies became too busy, creative, and wordy.”  In other words, our Mass for the most part as well as our art and architecture have failed to inspire and lift us into the eternal heavenly banquet of the Lamb slain for our salvation.

Someone has once said that if we celebrated our Masses as intended by the Church, we would be so caught up in the beauty, splendor and contemplation of mystery that if the Second Coming of Christ were to occur we would not know the difference.

Fr. Cioffi laments the fact that the “liturgical bus stalled. No one will get back on until they are assured it is fixed. We must go back to the original vision that inspired the reform.  We must infuse heart into the institutional reform.” We must abandon forever the notion that reform by itself will automatically produce renewal in the lives of our people.

Furthermore, Fr. Cioffi emphasizes that “reform without a renewal of spirituality was a terrible mistake.  The original vision was not a mistake.  The common enemy is liturgy without a sense of mystery; too variable, sloppy and busy; not yet integrated with subjective piety; lack of leadership and presbyters not capable of presiding and preaching.”

We must begin anew states Fr. Cioffi in bring about reform and renewal in the Mass.  It will not be as exciting the second time around, but it must be done.  He states, “Let’s do the truth in love.”


Rood Screen said...

Father Cioffi spoke to the Knoxville priests about the same time. His presentation was good, but he made us watch that "Wild Strawberries" film.

John Nolan said...

I happened to be in Oxford today and went to the 12:15 Mass at the Oratory, which was a Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form; there had been an OF English Mass earlier, and at 6 pm there was to be a Solemn Latin Mass in the Novus Ordo.

The celebrant went through the prayers and the ensuing Mass at a brisk pace, and another priest helped at the imposition and again at the Communion. The 10-year-old boy who was the sole server was impeccable, and reminded me of myself in 1961. I followed the Propers using a hand missal although the priest read the Epistle and Gospel in English before giving the shortest of homilies. With the Leonine Prayers at the end the entire service took 45 minutes.

A glance round the large congregation showed that most were of an age who would never have known such a Mass as the norm, nor were they as absorbed in following every word as the average TLM congregation is nowadays. I was brought up with the assumptions of 20th century liturgists with their historical scholarship which I admired then, and still do. But today I asked myself: "What is wrong with this Mass?" And answer came there none.

Anonymous said...

A very substantial on this topic by James Hitchcock in the current issue of the Adoremus Bulletin:

He suggests (along with Card. Ratzinger) that the breakdown of the liturgy precipitated the breakdown of Catholic belief and morality (rather than the reverse):

"Although the chronology cannot be established with precision, it appears that radical, unauthorized changes were introduced into liturgical practice earlier than radical ideas began to surface in doctrine, ecclesiastical government, or morals. The basic rites were rejected or drastically rearranged for the most part before doubts about the historic reality of Christ's Resurrection, the Trinity, the divine nature of Jesus, the priesthood, religious vows, papal and episcopal authority, and the indissolubility of marriage came to be expressed."

"The symbolic coherence of Catholicism was first weakened or destroyed, and the actual fabric followed afterward. So also the exodus of substantial numbers of persons from the Church followed rather than preceded the attempts to make liturgy "relevant'."

"The official liturgy, as well as the various manifestations of folk piety, articulate and symbolize a total moral and religious order. Thus the apparent breakdown of that system of symbols -- a breakdown which was abetted in many cases by those who were supposed to be the guardians of the ritual, the clergy conveyed the symbolic message, only dimly understood at the conscious level, that all restraints were now removed. This message soon had repercussions not only in the symbolic life of the Church but in its actual life as well"

Anonymous said...

John, I would have agreed with you about the EF Mass you attended, but I happened to attend an OF parish Mass this morning. In lieu of any hymns, the introit, offertory, and communion antiphons with their psalm verses from the Graduale Romanum were recited (with practically the whole congregation joining in) in the vernacular form of the Simple English Propers. No extemporaneous word was interpolated anywhere by either priest or layman, no sermon was given, and no exchange of greetings among the people at the Sign of Peace was invited (the Agnus Dei beginning immediately after the priest's peace). The Eucharistic prayer was recited in an audible but quiet voice that seemed to provide at least some of the "cover" (or at least the unobtrusiveness) that Latin or ad orientem do. A kneeler was provided for those who wished to receive on the tongue (over a paten) while kneeling. Here also, my response to the question "What is wrong with this Mass?" would have been the same as yours.

John Nolan said...

Henry, there is a subtle, yet a significant difference, which results from the Bugnini obsession with interpolating external aspects into the Mass between the Gospel and the Offertory. In the Old Rite the Responsory 'Emendemus in melius', with its dire warning, accompanies the imposition of ashes. The Introit 'Misereris' which offers consolation and hope, then follows. The Novus Ordo reverses this, which to say the least is bad psychology.