The elephant in the sanctuary

The elephant in the sanctuary

Paul MacLeod

How to Go to Mass and Not Lose Your Faith is the English translation of the title of a recent book, written in Italian, by senior Vatican official Fr Nicola Bux.

In launching the book in Rome in March, Cardinal Raymond Burke said he agreed with Fr Bux that "liturgical abuses lead to serious damage to the faith of Catholics".

It is evident that this is precisely what is occurring in many parishes in Australia.

As it happens, the Vatican announced in January that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments is preparing a booklet to help priests celebrate Mass properly. Here in Australia, the final version of the General Instruction on the Mass has just been issued, with directions on how the Mass is to be celebrated.

Moreover, a conference is to be held in Rome at the end of June on the topic of the liturgy and its correct celebration in the light of the Vatican II document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

All indications are that there is a problem – a major problem – which is having grave consequences, and which needs urgent action.

As Fr Bux puts it, "If you go to a Mass in one place and then go to Mass in another, you will not find the same Mass. This means that it is not the Mass of the Catholic Church, which people have a right to, but it is just the Mass of that parish or that priest."

Too many modern Catholics, he says, think the Mass is something that the priest and congregation do together when, in fact, it is something that Jesus does.

More than that, some priests set out deliberately to create the impression that it is "our" celebration and that "this is how we do things here" – an example of clerical bullying.

This approach is quickly picked up by pastoral assistants and lay "helpers", with the result that liturgical abuses abound.

The time before and after Mass can mean unrestrained chatter and laughter; the priest may offer the Mass wearing only an alb and stole, making him look more like a Protestant minister; homilies become chats, interspersed with jokes, about the week's news or some Readers' Digest-type pop psychology; the music is "we-centred" and more suitable to a dance floor; and Communion involves numbers of lay folk standing around the altar as though they are concelebrants, helping break Hosts, sharing the chalices with one another and approaching the tabernacle (wherever it is) without any genuflection or sign of reverence.

There is lingering hostility to the new English translation, with some priests simply omitting words and phrases they don't like, or continuing to use words that have been superseded, such as "for all", if not ad-libbing.

These are a few examples that make faithful Catholics cringe.

A parish that is subjected to this kind of social gathering or theatrical performance smothering the Mass soon comes to believe that nothing else about the Mass really matters that much. It has descended to the level of the worldly.

The sense of the supernatural and the sacred has been diminished in these parishes and among their parishioners. Their faith is undermined and finally destroyed. The old saying, "Lex orandi, lex credendi" (the law of prayer is the law of belief) is as true today as ever.

In parish after parish, the faith of the people is flickering like a flame about to go out. This carries over into people's private and public lives, where the Church's teaching does not matter any more than the proper celebration of the Mass.

Pope Francis has been warning repeatedly that a worldly Church is a weak Church. Worldliness within the Church, he said recently, is its greatest threat, and "the work of the Evil One".

To remedy this, he has been calling for the correct implementation of Vatican II, instead of false ideas about what it taught, which are used as an excuse for all kinds of innovation and novelty.

In a recent article on deviant liturgical "customs", Dr Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College (US), stated that it is morally necessary to change from bad practices to good ones, and that to refuse to make such changes is sinful.

In the sex abuse scandal, there are two guilty parties: the offenders and those who covered up the offences. Likewise in the liturgical scandal, the guilty parties are the priests who are blatant in their disobedience, and those in authority who fail to take action on behalf of their people.

The people, after all, have a right to a correct, reverent liturgy, whose purpose is plainly to offer worship to God and to sanctify His people – not to entertain them.

They also have a right to complain, first to their parish priest, and if nothing is done, to the local bishop, or then direct to the Holy See, and to have their complaint heard. They may find they have little backing, but truth is not measured by numbers.

In the meantime, until the would-be innovators have gone to find out what their eternal reward is, faithful Catholics can either sit out the storm, hoping their example will bear some fruit, or – especially those with children – seek out a parish that will not endanger their children's faith.

The current erosion of faith among many parishioners, and its cause, is the elephant in the sanctuary.

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