When Liturgy Goes Off the Deep End – Troubling Trends in German Speaking Lands. Two Videos Depict the Problems
Under the current liturgical norms there is greater flexibility than some would wish regarding both diversity and inculturation. Most of you who read this blog regularly know that I am probably more appreciative of legitimate (please note that word) diversity. I celebrate both the Traditional Latin Mass (usually in the solemn high form) and also pastor a parish with strong African American roots where we use gospel music, spirituals and exhibit charismatic enthusiasm.
However, I must add, that in the African American community, such things ARE traditional and considered sacred and reverent by most of my parishioners. In fact the traditional hands folded, with a rather solemn look and minimal responsiveness, feels oddly out of place to many in my parish. Some will say to me when I note their joy and enthusiasm, “Father I’ve just got to praise Him. He’s been so good to me!” The fact is there ARE cultural differences in how people understand and express reverence and the liturgy is right to embrace legitimate differences.
But there is also a deep end of the liturgical pool, where we are no longer in touch with the foundation. There is a precipice, we must avoid where we are no longer in the realm of tradition or legitimate diversity. It is place where we have simply cast aside proper liturgical boundaries and the fundamental focus of the liturgy is lost.
And that fundamental focus is, of course, God. At some point it becomes clear that liturgy has devolved into a self centered circus which celebrates human exotica, not the truth of God of the beauty and proper order that is proper to God and the things of God.
And the bottom of this post are two very disturbing videos from Europe that exhibit a total loss of focus on God, and an obsession with exotic and strange human behaviors. Childlike simplicity before God is a virtue, but childishness is no virtue at all. It is simply obnoxious, and should be rebuked, as silly children often are with the admonition: “Grow up!”
The first video features a bizarre clown liturgy of sorts. I think these absurdities are largely gone form the American scene. The German priest and other ministers process down the aisle of the church in various stages of clown dress. The priest (Fr. Bozo?) wears a clown nose and comes down the aisle in a superman cape. Later he dons a jester’s cap as he “proclaims” (makes a joke of ?) the gospel. The opening song has a polka rhythm and is done in the style of carousel music. The homily seems more of a standup routine, than a sermon on the Word of God.
Some one may respond, “But Father, But Father, isn’t Mass supposed to be joyful and relevant?” Yes, but there is plenty of that possible within the norms of the Mass. Come to my parish and I will show you joy and exuberance within the tradition of the sacred. It is not necessary to don secular clown attire and turn the liturgy into a carnival. There is nothing sacred in any tradition about bozo noses and jester hats. There is no sacred tradition associated with carousel music and priests wearing superman capes. Carnivals (literally: “farewell to meat”) did and do occur in some cultures on Fat Tuesday, but outside the church, in the town square. There are no liturgical norms that envision Bozo noses, for example, by indicating that the color of the Bozo nose should match the color of the vestment of day .
Many questions arise at seeing this video. Where is the local Bishop? Has he disciplined the clergy and sought to instruct the people on the true nature of liturgy? How have the clergy gone so wrong? Probably in stages. But who instructed them? How widespread is this problem in Europe?
The second video, in Austria, I think, is of a so-called “Western Mass.” That’s “western” in the sense of the “old wild west,” and Country and Western music. The people dress in old wild west garb and Mass is celebrated in the midst of a picnic. During the Mass the people are eating and drinking. Many are also smoking, even during the canon and distribution of communion, we see some puffing away. During the homily, the priest congratulates himself and the people on making the Mass so available. And he opines that this is more of what we have to do to make the Church credible to people. He also claims the local Cardinal’s approval for the whole thing. Meanwhile, people puff on cigarettes and open soda pop cans. Communion was opened to non-Catholics as well.
Sigh… But this is what often happened as the Western World has turned in on itself (curvatus in se). In the anthropocentric shift that occurred as early as the 16th Century “man” has become increasingly fascinated with himself. God has been moved to the periphery, (kicked to the curb if you will), and Man has moved to the center.
And this anthropocentric notion has surely plagued modern liturgy. There’s a kind of an “aren’t we great” mentality. So that anything “we do” should be brought into the sacred liturgy. People ride carousels, aren’t we great! So let’s celebrate what we do in the liturgy. People goof off and sing silly songs and smoke and drink, too. And since we’re great, why not celebrate this greatness in the liturgy too?
And what should be God-centered: about God and what he has done, becomes all about us and what we do, even the silliest, least sacred, and sinful things about us. So “we” gather and celebrate “us.” God? Oh sure, he’s invited too, he is invited to praise us and delight in us almost as much as we do, if he wants. This is, after all about us and for us isn’t it?
But that’s just the point. It isn’t about us. It is about God, and what he has done for us in saving and setting us free. It is about the great paschal mystery, it is about adoring, worshiping and praising the God who has rescued us from this present evil age (Gal 2:1).
And God has not left us to figure out how best to praise him. He has given us the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, wherein he carefully spells out the form of the heavenly liturgy in order that we may properly enter into it. He carefully set it forth in Exodus 25-39 and told Moses to follow the pattern exactly. Christian Tradition, having received this teaching from antiquity, saw it fulfilled and transposed by Christ, (et antiquum documentum, novo cedat ritui – and the ancient document gives way to the newer rite), but all the essentials are still there. And they are developed and set forth in the Book of Hebrews and the Book of Revelation, as the heavenly liturgy is disclosed and set forth. Christian antiquity did not just “make things up.” Our Liturgy is based on the revelation of the heavenly Liturgy. As St. Paul says, For I handed on to you what I myself received (1 Cor 11:23).This paradosis (or handing on) is an essential quality of liturgy and the faith.
The modern age has shown a forth a tremendous rupture in this receiving and handing on of the Tradition, a Tradition which comes from God himself.
Here too, the heart of the problem seems to be the self-centered, and self enclosed quality of our times. If those who came before me handed on something precious from God which does not seem immediately understandable and relevant to me, it is too easy to cast it aside, rather than to try and understand it, and conform to it. If it doesn’t speak to me, it is worthless. If it DOES speak to me it is worth everything! This is insisted upon, even if it is silly and not appropriate for the occasion. Because it speaks to me I am permitted to put it on display. It is like children running about and being silly at a time and place where this is not appropriate. Correction is needed from some adults in the room.
As stated at the beginning, there is legitimate diversity and inculturation permitted in the liturgy. Some who are more traditional in the Church are too quick to condemn what is permitted and what is, in fact, experienced as sacred by others. But it doesn’t take and anthropologist to know that bozo noses, jester hats, superman capes, smoking and drinking during mass and so forth, are not sacred and never have been. They are secular to the core and have no place in the sacred liturgy, a liturgy revealed to us by God, not made up by us, and not a kindergarten playroom either.