The Crisis in Catholic Liturgy
By MARIO DERKSEN
One really doesn?t have to be a rocket scientist to discover the liberal and modernist slant in many Catholic parishes throughout the United States, especially in parishes that have been built fairly recently. In the old days, one would walk into a Catholic Church and be amazed at the splendor of the beauty present there ? the Tabernacle, the altar, the statues, the candles, and so forth. All around the holiness of the temple was indicated through the use of stained glass windows and an atmosphere of total silence. Every step a person took could be heard throughout the entire building. In short, it was a given that the Temple of God should be kept reverently silent and untainted, and that it should be the most beautiful edifice in the entire city ? and, indeed, it was.
Let?s compare this unforgettable experience with late 20th century Catholic "churches" ? hardly worthy of the name. We enter what is often merely a "multi-purpose building," and what we see is clearly the replica of a conference hall. What used to be the sanctuary has now, as the modernists would say, "evolved" into a sterile stage. If you thought you could kneel down in a pew to adore the Blessed Sacrament, you are immediately woken up to reality because you realize that, at best, you could get comfortable in a chair and look at all the great banners that are attached to the walls of the building, often only repeating typically Protestant slogans. Kneelers are long history, and if you look closely, there?s nothing you could actually kneel before. You won?t find a Tabernacle, at least not a recognizable one, and definitely not one in the center of the building. Instead, you?ll see a huge "Presider?s Chair" and a small pitiful table that now serves as the, well, what some older folks would rigidly call the "altar."
But the worst is yet to come. As your eyes stream with tears when they must behold the sacrilege that has been done to the most sacred space of Catholics, you notice something completely foreign and alien to the spirit of Catholic worship. Left and right to the center, where one would normally expect the statues of Mary and Joseph or the Patron Saint of the Church, there are now two white screens on which slides are shown during Mass ? sorry, during the "celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy" ? in order to "enhance the presence of Christ" [sic]. As if Christ weren?t already present enough in the Tabernacle! But wait ? what Tabernacle anyway? In the center of the multi-purpose building we now see a Crucifix (if even that), but the Protestant version, of course: instead of a tortured Jesus hanging on the Cross, we now have a resurrected Jesus hovering in front of it somehow. You wonder what has happened to the Bride of Christ!
At this point, we remember the scarily exact warnings of the Venerable Pope Pius XII in 1947: "One would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings?" (Encyclical Mediator Dei, #62). Yet this is exactly what we see today. And, lo and behold, the saintly pope prophesied yet another disastrous state of affairs. Commenting on the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, he said, "This persistence of Mary [at Fatima] about the dangers which menace the Church is a divine warning against the suicide of altering the Faith in her liturgy.... In our [future] churches, Christians will search in vain for the red lamp where God awaits them." This hits the nail on the head! How lamentable it is that Pope Paul VI didn?t seem to attach any importance to this message, however well-intentioned he may have been.
So, in summary, what do we have? A sterile conference building with chairs, a table, and two screens. Beautiful. Just what the Catholic ordered. In short, there?s nothing left that in any way expresses what Catholics actually ? or at least supposedly ? believe about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (please excuse this rigid terminology). What is the "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass" anyway? Well, most fundamentally, Catholics believe that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice. Yes, propitiatory ? that?s a word most Catholics can?t even pronounce, not because it?s spelt so hard, but because they?ve never heard it before; of course not ? where could they? In a sterile multi-purpose building, where they "celebrate the Eucharistic Meal together" with a "Presider" who "breaks bread" on a "table"? No, because there you hear only of a "meal of peace," the "bread of the Word" and a "cup of salvation" of which the "Eucharistic assembly" partakes. Besides, most people there receive the Eucharist standing, in their hands, and have never heard of a "state of grace" in the first place. All of this is, to an extent, supported and encouraged, sad to say, by the new Missal of 1970 itself, when compared with the Missal of St. Pius V.
Having taken a look at the architecture (or lack thereof) in modern(ist) Catholic churches ? I mean, communities ?, let us peek into what kind of hymns are played at the "celebration," and what kind of instruments are used.
The average Catholic parish has abandoned the organ in favor of bongos, drums, flutes, and, most of all, guitars. The post-conciliar instruction on music in the Sacred Liturgy, Musicam Sacram (1967), however, expressly says, "The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church" and that the use of other instruments is permitted only "provided that the instruments are suitable for sacred use?[and] in keeping with the dignity of the temple" (#62). Can this be said of the instruments used in many parishes of today? At a recent Confirmation which I attended, the Mass began with the peppy introductory song Come, Holy Spirit, let the fire fall. I felt like at a rock concert. Are people forgetting that we don?t have to have loud extravagant music in order for the Holy Spirit to come down upon his people? Isn?t the Spirit rather gentle as a dove and deserves corresponding music? It is not an accident that when the sacrament of Holy Orders is administered, the soft hymn Veni, Sancti Spiritus is sung. Gentleness is what represents the Holy Spirit best.
So, what used to be the glorious chants and organ music of immemorial tradition, which conveyed a sense of heavenliness to the Holy Sacrifice and to the liturgy celebrated, especially at High Mass, has now been turned into peppy guitar folk music, often even accompanied by drums and other completely secular instruments, so that one wonders whether this is the Hard Rock Café or the Temple of the Lord. Oh, how beautiful is it to resemble evangelical Protestants, who deny the Real Presence as a dogma of their faith! We must remember that, as Jesus said, "My Father?s house is a house of prayer," and not a discotheque. We can listen to rock music during the other 167 hours of the week. Let?s take a single hour a week and play music that is worthy to be played when the Second Person of the Trinity is made present ? provided people still believe that (well, I?m sure we?d find one or two).
As if this weren?t enough yet, the crisis of liturgical music these days is a lot deeper. We have many songs and hymns that are used in Catholic parishes throughout the country that actually border on heresy. As I was looking through the latest issue of a very popular Catholic hymnal published by a well-known Catholic company, I examined the Communion songs. There were 46 hymns, but only a single one whose title even vaguely referred to the sacrificial nature of the Mass?the song See Us, Lord, About Your Altar?and that one was from 1934! What happened? Have we stopped believing in the sacrificial nature of the Mass? Is someone attempting to make us stop believing in it? How come hardly any Eucharistic hymns use traditional terms such as "altar," "sacrifice," "chalice," "host," "victim," or "spotless Lamb"? Why is all we hear these days talking about "bread," "wine," "cup," "meal," "banquet," "supper," and "table"? What?s going on? Even a recent convert to the faith who has just finished a decent introduction to real Catholicism notices that something?s wrong.
When I looked more closely at the "Eucharistic" songs found in the hymnal, I, sadly, detected some very interesting vocabulary in almost every single song; on an almost exclusive basis I found such terminology as "feast of justice, "bread and wine of Easter," "bread that was sown," "bread of love," "table of hope," "gift of finest wheat," "wine for all," "symbol of your love," "bread of peace," "wine of joy," and "banquet of eternal life."
These days, it seems easier to have dinner with the Pope than to find a Catholic hymn that mentions "sacrifice" and "propitiation" and "atonement" in relation to the Mass. But why is that, if that is what we believe? How true is the Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi ? what we believe is reflected in how we pray. No wonder, then, with such architecture and such music, does the majority of "Catholics" at Mass deny the Real Presence of Christ. We live in a culture that is already anti-religious and secular enough that at least Church songs should contain proper expressions of the faith. Is this too much to ask for? Especially in our modern, secular, and banal society, which denies anything that cannot be empirically verified, it is important for the hymns at Mass to offer solid Catholic teaching ? in the face of all secularization, scientism, and denial of the metaphysical. The Church has never been of the world, after all, but merely in the world.
Another typical example of the systematic denial of beliefs peculiarly Catholic in liturgical music is the song Look Beyond. It encourages us to "look beyond the bread you eat; see your Savior and your Lord." This seems orthodox at first, but even Protestants "look beyond" the bread and the wine they eat to remember Jesus ? without in any way believing in the Real Presence. We do not eat bread at Mass, nor do we drink wine; hence it is difficult to see how one should look beyond the "bread" we supposedly eat or the "wine" we supposedly drink. If the song were really Catholic, it would say, "Look beyond the bread you see" because what we do see are the accidents of bread, as opposed to what we do eat, namely the substance, which used to be bread, but which has now been transubstantiated into the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. By ignoring this extremely crucial distinction, the song has shrewdly succeeded in injecting the poison of modernism.
Talking about transubstantiation ? it?s another such word that people in the pews can?t pronounce or spell because they don?t hear it anymore. In the Mass of St. Pius V, it was required that the priest speak about transubstantiation at least once a year ? on the First Sunday of Lent. Nowadays, it is at times questionable whether the "presider" himself even knows what it is.
These critical states of common liturgy in US parishes which I am presenting are in no way new, however. Back in 1978 already, Fr. Kenneth Baker, editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, wrote in response to a reader about the example of a hymn "that urges us to ?eat bread together on our knees? and ?to drink wine together on our knees?" (HPR, October 1978, p. 6). Father observes: "There is no indication here of belief in the Real Presence, and there is also something vaguely pagan in another verse [the very chorus of that song] that has us falling on our knees with our face to the rising sun" (ibid.). Fr. Baker is referring to the song Let Us Break Bread Together [sic], whose title alone already indicates some heavily modernist tendencies. It is not we who break bread, but the priest who offers the most holy and unspotted Sacrifice. How about that for a hymn?! Oh, no, that could offend some Protestants, and since we?ve become a religion that models the most important expression of its faith by the standards of heretics, we cannot use that, of course.
Where does all of this leave us? In short, the "new liturgists" have engaged in unspeakable sacrilege and made the Mass a mess. What used to be the most holy time for all Catholics has in many parishes been transformed into a social gathering at which people celebrate themselves. The altar has become a table, the sanctuary has become a stage, the chalice has become a cup, and even the priest himself has become merely a "presider." The actual edifice is not really a Church but more of a multi-purpose building.
All those subtle long-term changes indicate an implicit rejection and denial of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrifice. Pope Pius XII realized that these changes were being suggested by people whose pretext it was to revert back to the liturgy as it had been celebrated in the earliest days of Christianity. But this is a false archaism. Obviously, the standard for the Church?s liturgical practices cannot be found in its earliest stages or during times of persecution, but rather in its golden age. Pius XII emphasized this when he said, "It is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device" (Mediator Dei #62). Yet, the warnings of Pius XII have gone unheeded, and we now see the results.
These shocking observations in modern churches are not limited to architecture and liturgical setup alone, however. Let?s look at how people dress for Mass. We see teenagers with Michael Jordan shirts and old shaggy blue jeans, women with tops that are so tight and see-through that it would be less revealing were they to wear nothing at all, and girls showing off shorts so short that, in extreme cases, their underwear can be seen. This is often topped by the fact that more and more people are found chewing gum during Mass. Give it another 10 or 20 years, and you?ll find "No Smoking" signs posted in church.
Pastors, the shepherds who are to take care of their flock, often excuse these abuses as being contemporary and so they must tolerate them, "otherwise hardly anyone will come to Mass." In other words, what they mean is that if the Catholic faithful won?t conform to the Church, the Church needs to conform to them. Yet this is not what teaching is all about, and it is still the primary mission of the Church to teach and preach the Gospel. The Mass is the heavenly liturgy on earth ? it is a feast for our King, who deigns to come down to us again in sacrifice and sacrament. We must be dressed properly for having been made worthy to assist at such a gracious act.
It is obvious that the faith of the ordinary Catholic is subtly and tactically being endangered and undermined, not only by heretical and liberal "theologians" but also, and probably much more so, by architecture, liturgical setup, and music at Mass. Even the uneducated Catholic ? and probably especially the uneducated Catholic ? can "read the signs" in these exterior abuses. They say and teach more than a mouthful, and teach unorthodoxy at that. Lex orandi, lex credendi ? how true. And how dangerous.