Struggles over Liturgy

Struggles over Liturgy
In ‘Liturgy Lines’ a couple of weeks ago I suggested that young people are turned off by the hypocrisy of those Catholics who preach love but treat those they consider to be disobeying Church law in a most un-Christian way.
I am told that my comments and my orthodoxy were (again!) subjected to a viscous attack on certain conservative Catholic blogsites which I never bother to read. Sort of proves my point really!
It is very unfortunate that the liturgy has in recent years become a battle field when it should be what brings us together. I get calls both from people who could be described as conservative Catholics as well as those who would consider themselves to be progressive criticising certain liturgical practices at parishes and schools.
We have all heard comments after Mass along the lines of: ‘Nobody knew that opening hymn!’ ‘That girl shouldn’t be allowed to read if she can’t dress properly!’
I have received complaints recently about long, boring homilies, communities using real bread instead of mass-produced hosts for communion, and passages by Australian children’s author Mem Fox being included in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass.
Some issues raised are trivial matters of personal taste, some unfair and unfounded; others clearly are in violation of church law. But all receive the same strident condemnation.
Constructive criticism which includes positive feedback is fine. It is the extreme negativity and the readiness to pass judgment without checking the facts that dismays me. We seem to have forgotten what liturgy is – the gathering of the faith community to give veneration to God.
A few years ago I read a very interesting article about the application of liturgical law entitled “Liturgy, Law and Life” by Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk. The author explains that liturgical law leaves room for different opinions and tastes. What one person happens to like is not necessarily what everyone else likes, nor is it guaranteed by the authority of the church. Before complaining about the liturgy, we need to stop and consider what we can do to make it better.
There are some people who will always find fault, no matter how hard we try to accommodate them. ‘They have a claim on our love’, Pilarczyk says, ‘but not a claim on our continuous and undivided attention’.
He emphasises that the liturgy is not intended to be an exercise in rule-keeping but an exercise in worship, a community event in which each participant has the right to know what to expect and the right to be clear about how he or she is called to participate. Just following the rules won’t create the kind of liturgy that the church wants for its members, but systematically dismissing the liturgical rites and flouting liturgical rules won’t either!
Pilarczyk’s final words speak to us all: ‘Struggles over liturgy are not good for God’s church. I believe that they could be reduced in number and softened in tone, that the Prince of Peace could be better served if we were all consciously working toward peace, if we all avoided extremes, if we all stayed conscious of the nature of the liturgy, if we all understood the law and its intent and its interpretation and if we were all ready to love one another – even those whose liturgical opinions might be different from our own’.


Elizabeth Harrington