June 2, 2010

When Options are Norms, and Vice Versa

The Church's liturgy has norms and options. It's amazing to me that they are often treated in reverse; to ignore or transgress norms is often overlooked or even praised, but to question the use of certain options is unimaginable. It's backwards.

For example, I have been in places where the use of illicit matter for Mass is praised as 'greater attention to symbol.' The use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion while clerics are readily available is praised as 'inclusive.' Elements which are normative on certain days, like the Gloria or the Creed, are omitted according to personal taste. (This is how the so-called liberal approach to liturgy self-destructs; it becomes a tyranny of individual taste and opinion. Everyone one is a liturgist, and we must all conform to the opinion of the "presider.")

On the other hand, while it's o.k. and even praised to ignore norms, it's not o.k. to question certain options. In some cases, one may not even raise a question about how certain options seem to have hardened into unassailable norms; e.g. the offering of Mass versus populum or in translation, or of replacing the actual texts of the Mass with songs and metrical hymns. These options for the celebration of Mass have become such de facto norms that a lot of people, including priests, don't remember that they are options and might not even believe you when you tell them. Maybe you just want to explore the tradition in a spirit of innocent curiosity, but soon you will earn for yourself various unpleasant labels.


In the past men were handsome and great (now they are children and dwarfs), but this is merely one of the many facts that demonstrate the disaster of an aging world. The young no longer want to study anything, learning is in decline, the whole world stands on its head, blind men lead others equally blind, and cause them to plunge into the abyss, birds leave the nest before they can fly, the jackass plays the lyre, oxen dance. Mary no longer loves the contemplative life and Martha no longer loves the active life, Leah is sterile, Rachel has a carnal eye, Cato visits brothels, Lucretius becomes a woman. Everything is on the wrong path. In those days, thank God, I learned from my master a desire to learn and a sense of the straight way, which remains even when the path is torturous. (Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)


Anonymous said...

Father, I agree with you 100% on this. To me, the liturgy should not vary significantly depending on who is the "presider" (a term I have always disliked) and should not be subject to a cult of personality fostered by the priest.

Brother Charles said...

It's funny about 'presider.' I was brought up with it and never thought much about it; it's a fair and useful term perhaps, especially, say, in the context of the Liturgy of the Hours.

On the other hand, several times I have received the sort of ceremonial instructions sent ahead of bishops or other important persons, and they will specifically say that 'presider' is not be used.

I perceive a backlash against the term.

Anybody who knows more than me about such things care to enlighten us as to how the term came into our vocabulary, and what's at stake in its use?

Julia said...

I've never thought about it before, but "presider" seems to imply that the priest is simply the manager of the Mass, instead of the one who offers the Sacrifice, in persona Christi.

Nice post, by the way. Interesting.

ben in denver said...

I'm not sure how the term "presider" came into use, but I can't help but think that it has to do with the increased use of con-celebration. When it is a regular feature at larger masses that there will be multiple celebrants, I suppose that one needs a way to distinguish the "main" one. In the EF, I believe that con-celebration only ever happens at ordinations, in which case the term "bishop" serves as an adequate distinction between the main celebrant and the con-celebrants.

Greg said...

Good thoughts on the liturgy. I'm still digesting the wonderful treatise on the liturgy written by Scott Hahn, titled The Lamb's Supper.

Has anyone else read it?

Lee Gilbert said...

"Maybe you just want to explore the tradition in a spirit of innocent curiosity, but soon you will earn for yourself various unpleasant labels."

Well, as St. Augustine pointed out, even when we question we teach. When you earn unpleasant labels by teaching the way you do, it is obvious that you have been casting your pearls before...before persons with an unkosher...unkosher aspect. There we go. I wanted to avoid saying swine if I could.

And if you keep it up, they will turn and tear you. It's all in the gospel. And you will feel torn to shreds.

So, be obedient and don't cast your pearls before swine :) They ain't innerested.