Saturday, April 19, 2014


At your Palm Sunday Mass or Good Friday Liturgy of the Passion, was the Passion acted out? This is a Baptist Church's Good Friday Service on a horrible, rainy Good Friday in Macon. Baptists don't have a true liturgical tradition so they often resort to drama instead of liturgy and try to make it prayer. Some Catholics have turned away from the true spirit of our 2000 year old liturgical tradition and have become like these Baptists at worship, liturgical literalists or fundamentalists, not only with the Passion but also with the Foot Washing at Holy Thursday and the manner in which the Eucharistic Prayer is proclaimed to the Assembly by the priest-dramatist.

One of the devastating effects on the liturgy's reform of the 1960's is what I would like to call a creeping or creepy literalism or fundamentalism. In the Mass it manifested and continues to manifest itself in the following ways:

1. The celebrant as an actor and master of ceremonies where it all hinges on his ability to draw people in, entertain them and make them feel at home as though the congregation is an audience visiting the priest's house. Priest and people together form the Body of Christ in their own home but this is not often communicated either by priests or official greeters who make it seem like everyone else are guests. Do you have an official greeter at your home to greet your family members when they arrive home?

2. In many places and in still some today, Palm Sunday and Good Friday's passion are acted out instead of the Gospel being chanted or even spoken. Usually youth groups do this and take it very seriously--however it is entertainment and not liturgy and is best kept for devotional purposes apart from the liturgy.

3. While the Foot Washing option of Holy Thursday's Mass has created much controversy over the years in terms of who is invited to have their feet washed and this has accelerated since Pope Francis has chosen not only to wash the feet of women but also of non-Catholics, a more serious liturgical abuse is having everyone wash everyone's feet, a very clear literalism or fundamentalism that goes against what the Mass is and the actions of the Mass which are liturgical, sober and often very highly stylized, not drama, literalism or fundamentalism.

4. Turning the Liturgy of the Eucharist, especially the Eucharistic Prayer, the Canon, into a literal event as though Jesus is still at the Last Supper the night before He died and the congregation is the apostles. This manifests itself with the priest, when facing the congregation for the Eucharistic Prayer, or any prayer for that matter, gestures toward them with the bread and then the wine when consecrating both as though everyone is at the Last Supper, as though it is a literal enactment of the Last Supper rather than the means by which the Church after the Resurrection will in prayer recall what Jesus did the night before He died as a memorial of His entire Paschal Mystery, His incarnation, life, passion, death, burial, resurrection, giving of the Holy Spirit and the anticipated return of our crucified and Risen Lord at the Last Judgement.

5.The Kiss of Peace which is meant to be a highly sober, symbolic longing for the complete reconciliation of the world in the heavenly life is turned into a time of greeting and highfiving everyone as people go everywhere to greet someone else. In the 1970's the Sign of Peace often eclipsed the reception of Holy Communion as a central act of the Rite of Holy Communion in the same way that washing everyone's feet at the Holy Thursday's Liturgy puts that act way out of proportion to the rest of the Mass and in a fundamentalistic way.

The Roman Liturgy, both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of it, is meant to be highly stylized, symbolic in many aspects and completely sober and to the point.

The Good Friday Liturgy is the epitome of sobriety when done according to the Liturgical Books. It is a stark liturgy, quiet and quite stirring when done appropriately. All liturgies of the Church can be this way when done according to the books and without drama, fundamentalism, literalism and the like.

Do your parishes celebrate the Mass as described above as Protestant Fundamentalists or literalists might or often do?


Gene said...

Oh, yeah. This stuff was rampant in the port church when I was a port pastor. I never allowed it in my churches and I cannot stand it. It is seeking a Christ of the flesh...

John Nolan said...

In the Middle Ages sung liturgical dramas (in Latin) were popular; I have sung in reconstructions of these. They would have been performed inside the church, with costumes and props. The famous 'mystery plays' of places like Lincoln and York took place in the open air and borrowed elements from the liturgy. Sometimes the distinction between drama and liturgy would be blurred, as in the 'Donkey Mass' in medieval France. Commemorating the flight into Egypt the donkey would be processed into the church and stand by the altar. To later centuries the following rubric would be jaw-dropping:

'In fine Missae sacerdos, versus ad populum, vice 'Ite Missa est' ter hinhinnabit; populous vero vice 'Deo Gratias' ter respondebit 'Hinham, hinham, hinham.'

Justin said...

I attended a parish back in the 1990s that has teens acting out the Passion, and they had a teenage girl playing the part of Jesus. The pastor at that time was one of the most liberal priests in the state - - this parish was the very first to have altar girls, back in the early 1970s. The assistant pastor at that time, we found out years later, was a letch, who as a young priest, dated several teenage girls in the parish he was assigned to at that time.

Afterwards, this parish got new pastors, one somewhat famous who has appeared on EWTN several times, and the parish has become far more traditional. Sacred artwork has been brought in, kneelers installed, and a lovely Divine Mercy side chapel built. Heck, I wouldn't mind leaving my current parish, who under its current pastor has become very minimalistic and overly obsessed with "noble simplicity" (read "iconoclastic"), and rejoin the first parish.

rcg said...

JN, I suppose they could have had music by Buck Owens and Roi Clark with hymn number 'BR549'. Hee Haw.

Templar said...

Unsolicted feedback from my children. They do not like thec hanted gospels done on Palm Sunday or Good Friday becasue the way it is chanted they can not understand most of what is said from 2 of the 3 choir members. I did kind of chuckle (at myself, didn't share with the kids) that it was funny they couldn't understand chanted English but the whole reason we don't sing or speak in Latin is becasue we want the laity to understand what is said so they can "fully participate" in the Mass. The thought that struck me though was is it "right/licit/kosher/legal/etc" for the choir to do it at all, isn't the Gospel only to be read by a Priest or a Deacon? Granted some Priests can't carry a tune in a bucket, but that hasn't been the case at St Jo's in a LONG time. We're blessed with at least having some priests who chant very well over the last decade.

Anonymous 2 said...


I had exactly the same reaction as your kids and exactly the same thought as yourself. As to the first, I think the choir did a splendid job. They are really excellent. However, such a liturgical style is not for everyone. People are different. Personally I find that the chanted Gospels (as I find chanted Masses generally) distract me from prayerful participation. I much prefer words prayerfully spoken. But I fully recognize that others are different and for them such chant may be most conducive to their prayerful participation. As to the second point, I suspect that there is a norm permitting this, although I don’t know what it is.

As to Latin, as you know I fully support the availability of the TLM for those who prefer it. Personally, however, despite seven years of Latin at school and a specialization in Roman Law at college, and thus despite a cultivated appreciation for Latin, I still prefer the vernacular. Perhaps I just need to work harder at it. On the other hand, I wonder whether it will ever be possible to say and pray the Mass in Latin with the same degree of feeling, mindfulness, and sense of sacredness as is possible when it is said and prayed well in the vernacular. I wonder, too, whether Latin places us at a distance from the source of this feeling, mindfulness, and sense of sacredness because it is less accessible and thus less capable of conveying subtle nuances of inflection and intonation.

I would be very interested to know about people’s experience regarding this last point.

rcg said...

@A2: if you are trying, maybe even able, to follow the Latin as a language I think it might be distracting and sort of off point. The Order of the Mass is easy enough to get down with only the Sunday exposure due to the solid pattern. Like ordering a meal in China, it comes quickly when it is repeated verbatim a few times. But what is the *meaning*, what is the larger point? The Ordinary parts and passages have themes that are modified daily by the variable parts. Meditation on those parts and their larger meaning gives a great importance and therefore sacredness, mindfulness that speak to the worshiper directly. At least that is my experience.