Monday, June 15, 2009

Your Friendly Neighborhood Liturgical Curmudgeon


Happy Monday everyone. I hope your weekend was a good one. 

Sometimes I find myself sounding like what one of our editors here calls a "liturgical curmudgeon." This blog post is an occasion for one of those times.

A few years ago on the First Sunday of Advent in my parish, someone decided to "rework" the introductory rites. It was not recognizably Catholic. I found myself becoming more and more uncomfortable as the "rites" unfolded. Just after the "let us pray" before the opening prayer, I said a quiet prayer, hoping that at least the opening prayer would be the official text of the liturgy. Unfortunately, it wasn't. It was a prayer that was constructed to fit the themes that had unfolded previously. 

Why get so worked up about something like this? For me, there are two reasons. The primary reason is that these are the texts of the Church. Part of what it means to be Catholic is that we inherit and share a treasury of official liturgical texts. Within these texts is embedded our belief. Liturgy is "first theology." As I like to remind people, if you want to find out what Catholics believe, go to an Easter Vigil. The second reason is a little closer to my heart. You see, I am the only member of my immediate family who does not live within a fifteen minute drive of my parents. They are all in the Boston area. When I go to Mass at St. James here in Chicago, or at any parish around the country—or anywhere in the world, for that matter—it is important to me that I am hearing the same readings and praying the same texts that my parents and family members are praying in their parishes. This is a critical connecting point that links me with those I love. It makes me feel part of a much larger family. When the pope prays the opening prayer at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on a given Sunday, that is the same opening prayer that my pastor prays at St. James, that my parents' parish priest prays at St. Therese in Billerica, Massachusetts, that the parish priest prays at St. Anthony's Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts (where I was baptized), that priests are praying at tens of thousands of parishes around the world. 

I guess you now understand my uneasiness with what happened in my parish on that First Sunday of Advent a few years ago. Thanks for letting this liturgical curmudgeon do a little venting. I hope your week is a good one. Gotta sing, gotta pray. Comments welcome: just click on the comments link below.

3 comments:

Chironomo said...

Amen. Substitute the word "chant" for the word "text" in this essay and it would be equally valid.

Anonymous said...

Chant is not an all encompassing word. Text is fine as a general term.

Chironomo said...

Anon...

I didn't mean it to be all-encompassing. My point was that if you substitute the word Chant in the above posting, it makes the exact claim that advocates of Chant have been making for years...i.e..

"these are the chants of the Church"...

"Part of what it means to be Catholic is that we inherit and share a treasury of official liturgical chants"...

"Within these chants is embedded our belief. Liturgy is "first theology"...

"Just after the "let us pray" before the opening prayer, I said a quiet prayer, hoping that at least the opening prayer would be the official chant of the liturgy. Unfortunately, it wasn't. It was a prayer that was constructed to fit the themes that had unfolded previously"

The actual texts of the liturgy are so bound up with the chant that it isn't really possible to separate them without diminishing the liturgy. As such, the argument for using the "official" texts of the liturgy (as if there is some other kind...) is a de facto argument for the use of chant, whether in Latin or vernacular. I find it humorous that someone would so strongly advocate for using the liturgical texts in one part of the liturgy while also advocating the substitution of songs or hymns for other texts in the liturgy. I would be interested in hearing the argument supporting such a position.