We left only part way through this inspired rant by a distinguished scholar and analyst of all things Catholic, George Weigel, with this about how Father Freelance makes it up and he goes along while saying mass, “. . . whether indulged by old, middle-aged, or young, it’s obnoxious and it’s an obstacle to prayer.”
George W. continued in that vein:
Especially now, I might note, given the restoration of the more formal rhythms of liturgical language in the English translations we’ve used since Advent 2011. Those translations are not faultless. But they’re a massive improvement on what we used to have . . .
. . . by restoring sacral language that was peremptorily discarded in the previous translation, the current translation reminds us that Mass is far more than a social gathering; it’s an act of worship, the majesty of which should be reflected in the language of the liturgy-which is not the language of the shopping mall or the Super Bowl party.
True, omitting for the moment, the yet more solemn, special, uncommon language replaced by hook and by crook by the post-Vatican 2 fixers — you guessed it, the mother tongue of the West, Latin.
In one sense, though, the new translation has made things worse. For when Father Freelance scratches his itch to show just how congregation-friendly he is by making what he imagines are nifty changes to the Mass text, he instantly sets up sonic dissonance for anyone with a reasonably well-tuned ear. And sonic dissonance makes it hard to pray.
Perfect description of the problem — worst kind of distraction, like a radio jingle. Think the diabolical “kars for kids” or the number to call, repeated thrice, when you have to counter it with your own number, 1-2–3-4 will do, so you don’t remember it.
So with a civil new year upon us, [it was that time of year] may I suggest to our fathers in Christ that they cease and desist from making it up, juicing it up, or otherwise tinkering with the Missal? As an old liturgical saw has it, referring to the difference in color that distinguishes prayers from instructions in the Missal, “Read the black and do the red.” Just that, Father. Read the black and do the red. Or, better, pray the black and do the red.
A golden rule of thumb.
Such self-discipline on the part of celebrants would also help eliminate the clericalism (and worse) involved when Father Freelance, well, free-lances. For in metaphorically thumbing his nose at the Council’s clear injunction (not to mention the rubrics in the Missal), Father Freelance is de facto asserting his own superiority over the liturgy. And in doing so, he is, whether he intends it or not, downgrading the congregation’s role in offering right worship to the Thrice-Holy God.
In a properly celebrated Mass, the vocalized dialogue of prayer between celebrant and congregation takes place in a linguistic rhythm established by the shared text of the Mass. And that rhythm is broken when, to take one example that’s grated on me recently, the celebrant announces the Gospel reading by saying, “The Good News of the Lord as proclaimed by Luke.” To which the expected response, “Glory to you, O Lord,” sounds clunky, whereas it neatly answers the prescribed announcement, “A reading from the holy Gospel according to –.”
Getting into the slightly high weeds here, but what he flags would be jarring indeed.
It may come as a surprise to Father Freelance, but after more than four decades of priest-celebrants trying to be Johnny Carson, Bob Barker, Alex Trebek, or whomever, this act is getting very old. Father, you’re just not very good at it. Your freelancing is often banal, even silly. Moreover, you demean us by suggesting that we, the congregation, can’t handle the sacral language of the liturgy, and that we have to be jollied into participation. In fact, if you listen carefully, you’ll discover that congregational responses drop off when you invite a response in your terms, not the liturgy’s.
Ouch, ouch, double ouch. Let us not read Father out of the human race, but having said that though not so — ah — eloquently, I must agree.
So please, fathers in Christ, spare us these attempts at creativity, or user-friendliness, or whatever it is you think you’re doing. They just don’t work. Please just pray the black and do the red. And the worship Vatican II intended will be much enhanced thereby.
Amen, and I shrink from saying that word, having heard a parish priest in the ’70s use it for a brutally supposed common-man opener to the canon, singing, Sidney Poitier’s song in “Lilies of the Field,” —
Amen. Amen. Amen, amen, amen.
Sing it over!
Amen. Amen. Amen, amen, amen
And last but least . . .
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.
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