September 25, 2016

(Franciscan) Liturgical Abuse Rant

Recently I've had some occasions to think about liturgical abuse.

Some of it, I think, is just pride and vainglory on the part of clergy. I need to do things my way. I need to get my theological or, horribile dictu, political tagline or slogan into the Mass, etc. But like most expressions of clerical vainglory and pride, these are often more laughable than dangerous.

But there's another form of liturgical abuse I've encountered in my Catholic life, in certain religious houses, schools, and parishes. It's the liturgical abuse that derives from the intuition that the liturgy as the Church presents it does not properly express who we are as a community, and therefore has to be adjusted or changed to fit our needs and identity.

Perhaps my experience of life as a Franciscan friar provides an example.

There is an ancient and real question and tension in the life of the Friars Minor as to how to understand the presence of the priesthood in the fraternity of lesser brothers. In overly simplified terms, how do we imagine ourselves, as well as propose our charism to the world, as Brothers who are made up of both the 'brothers' and the 'fathers'? How does ordination, which necessarily means a certain kind of authority, go together with the minority of a Friar Minor?*

In my experience this challenge and tension, which is genuine, often finds an unfortunate expression in a liturgical problem that seems to me false, namely the sense that the combined presence at Mass of ordained friars, who concelebrate the Mass (according to the expectations of GIRM 114 and Redemptionis Sacramentum 128), together with lay friars, who assist at Mass in the same manner as other of the lay faithful, somehow introduces division into the identity of the group as whole as a fraternity of brothers.

(At this point I begin to muse on how perhaps someone who thinks distinction has to mean division is not very aware of one of the central doctrines of our faith, namely that of the Blessed Trinity, and this despite frequent--and to my mind sometimes simplistic--claims that our 'fraternal charism' is an imitation of the life of the same Blessed Trinity, but I digress.)

Therefore, as the thinking would seem to go, the ordered assembly as imagined by Mother Church being inadequate to our needs as a community, adjustments have to be made. I have seen a couple of strategies used in this regard.

One is to discourage or even to try to forbid concelebration, trying to break down the distinction between priest friars and lay friars by making the former assist at Mass as if they were the latter (against the previously cited paragraph of RS).

Other times I have seen the strategy of liturgical abuse go the other way, trying to make the laity seem more like priests. For example, all the friars, lay and priest, are gathered into a sort of space that would seem like a presbyterium. Or, all the friars, lay and ordained, receive communion in the manner of concelebrants (which RS 173/94 assures us is a grave abuse).

But whatever the particulars, at the root of this, as perhaps for much liturgical abuse, is the false intuition that the Eucharist, as the Church indicates it be celebrated, in which we enter into the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father and become anew his broken and risen Body in the world, is not adequate to teach us who we are nor to celebrate this same identity. Therefore it must be altered and adjusted to fit our idea of ourselves.

And this even from Franciscans, of whom it is famously and frequently said that their movement has survived and flourished while similar ones crashed and burned and disappeared precisely because of fidelity to the Roman Church and the promise of obedience to our Holy Father Pope Honorious and his successors! (Rule I:2)

In this it seems to me that we Franciscan friars lose one of beautiful opportunities of our charism. As a brotherhood of priests and laity, we can witness to how the distinctions that exist in the people of God, and which are expressed in the ordered assembly of the Eucharist, do not introduce division. The Church is not divided when priests celebrate a Mass and lay people assist in the way manner proper to them. But when we friars feel the need to introduce liturgical abuse in order to manage a misplaced discomfort with the presence of both priests and laity in our brotherhood, we begin to offer the counter-witness to the larger Church that it too is divided.

*Anyone who thinks he might enjoy reading a clumsy attempt to deal with this question ecclesiologically and theologically is welcome to go to the library at Boston College and look up my licentiate thesis.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

H-m-m-m! That's kind of sad. You are right, distinction does not mean division. You are one community of brothers with two identities priestly and fraternal. Are priests better than brothers? Not necessarily. There may be brothers who have achieved a greater degree of holiness than their priestly confreres,and vice versa. I see no problem with the concelebration of Mass by the priests. One way to think of it might be that priests are servants of the community (the religious community, as well as the community of believers) and concelebration unites them in serving together. It makes a statement that the priests are one in their ministry, in their service. If you will, "doing" liturgy together is both a sign of the union of priests, and a means of solidifying that union. It can say that the priests are not just individuals who celebrate the Eucharist, but that they are a communion of servants of the Body of Christ. And that is beautiful. For the brothers, they are blessed to have a communion of servants to see to their liturgical needs, to feed them with the Body and Blood of the Lord. There is an interdependency there--the priests need to have the brothers to serve, and brothers need the priests to serve their needs. Thanks to all of you for the witness that you give to the wider community of believers.