As I remarked late last year, the introduction of the third edition of the Roman Missal and the new translations of the liturgical texts offer the entire English-speaking Church an opportunity to correct some bad liturgical habits that have developed over the past four decades. The point of these corrections is neither liturgical prissiness nor aesthetic nostalgia; there is no “reform of the reform” to be found in lace surplices, narrow fiddleback chasubles, and massive candles. The point of correcting bad habits is to celebrate the Novus Ordo of Paul VI with dignity and beauty, so that Holy Mass is experienced for what it is: our participation in the liturgy of saints and angels in heaven – where, I am quite confident, they don’t sing treacly confections like “Gather Us In.”
Note to Celebrants (not “Presiders”): If you’ve fallen into the bad habit of concluding Mass by some variant of “May almighty God bless us all, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” please cease and desist. You were not ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament to invoke, generically, the divine blessing, which anyone can (and should) do before and after meals; you were given the power to confer the divine blessing by being configured to Christ in Holy Orders. Catholics who embrace the truth of Catholic faith do not enjoy clericalism. But they do not find comfort, much less evangelical leadership, from priests who imagine they can avoid clericalism by unwittingly denying the truth of their own sacramental vocation and its distinctiveness.
Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist: The same admonition applies to you, but in a different way – you must not offer a “blessing,” in any form, to pre-first-Communion children who join their parents in the Communion procession. Eucharistic ministers are not junior-grade clergy or petty officers; no one outside of those in Holy Orders should “bless” in a liturgical context. Again, this is not a matter of prissiness, and still less one of clericalism; it is a matter of doctrinal and theological precision – which, if lost, can damage the celebration of the sacred liturgy. Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are vastly over-used in U.S. parishes, a practice that risks of signaling that the Mass is a matter of the self-worshipping community celebrating and feeding itself. But the problem of the ordinary use of what is supposed, after all, to be “extraordinary” can be addressed another time. For now, pastors must make it clear that no one blesses children during the communion procession except bishops, priests, and deacons, i.e., those in Holy Orders.
Music Directors and Pastors: As a general rule, sing all the verses of a processional or recessional hymn. Good hymns have a textual integrity that is lost when we sing hymn-excerpts rather than hymns. It doesn’t take that much more time to sing all six verses of “For All the Saints” or all four verses of “Crown Him with Many Crowns;” cutting such great texts by two-thirds or one-half inevitably sends the signal that music in the liturgy is filler – and there is no room for filler in the sacred liturgy.
The Congregation: Sacred space is different from other space; the inside of the church is different from the narthex (not “gathering space”). Thus we should all break the bad habit of commencing the post-Mass conversation immediately after the conclusion of the recessional hymn or organ postlude. Wait until you leave the interior of the church before beginning to chat with the neighbors. If there is a choral postlude, chatting over it is an insult to the choir, which has worked hard to prepare something beautiful for God; if there is only an organ postlude (with or without a recessional hymn), chatting over it is an insult to the organist. Thirty seconds of silence after Mass are no bad thing.
And while we’re on the subject of the congregation, might we all reconsider our vesture at Sunday Mass? Dressing in one’s “Sunday best” was not an affectation; it was an acknowledgment of our baptismal dignity. Let’s reclaim that dignity and its expression in our “Sunday best.”
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