Liturgy: less and less ritual

Par Don Pio Pace

Français, italiano

The Catholic liturgy, fifty years after the reform, seems to be at the disposal of all and every participants. And it continues to disintegrate. In contemporary culture, the rite has assumed a “new autonomy” by changing signification in a “cultural discontinuity”, as Andrea Grillo, professor at the Saint-Anselme Institute, in Rome, puts it. His recent work is being presented by F. Claude Barthe in the editorial of this newsletter. A. Grillo writes: “The term ritus takes an other signification when it is used in the Ritus servandus of the post-tridentine missal and in the Prænotanda elaborated since the Vatican II council.”[1]

One of the main characteristics of the Vatican II liturgy was, indeed, to adopt a shapeless ritual form[2]. The importance of the modifications made to the rites, modifications whose innovative effect was multiplied by an abundance of choices left to the celebrant and by the absence of precise rules for gestures, attitude, and often words, has had for a result the Roman rite to explode. Today, the liturgy has become so banal one would think it would have discouraged new “advances”. But, it did not. Indeed, possibilities can still be found to weaken the rite. Many examples of this new trend exist as it is no longer the time for brutal reform, but the time for a lot of crazy nonsense – yet, it is of the official and public prayer of the Church that is affected by all this.

Seen in France, we could talk of “masses at the circus”, which originally targeted the children and were celebrated under a tent, the altar placed on the floor of the circus ring,  surrounded by performers, clowns included, eventually doing their acts during the celebration. Today, these “masses at the circus”, generally celebrated during Christmas time, have seen the gathering of crowds of all ages (the Gruss circus has made it its specialty), its originality now reduced to a decor and a circus atmosphere for a “mass on the circus floor”.

In Germany, Martin Stuflesser, in an article published by Recherches de Science religieuse, “Liturgical reform and local church: between rules and freedom”[3], offered a commentary on a survey from 2013 on the state of the liturgy. This survey showed that the new liturgical books are considered as only indicative, only seen as a “significant help and a guide” (Sarah Kubin).

In this way, the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday is interpreted as a sign of the mutual assistance that the community must provide: the representatives of the different parish groups wash each others feet; or, also, the ceremony of the Mandatum is replaced by the attribution of charitable responsibilities for the year.

In France, there is also “the mass that takes its time” (MT), that is a slow pace mass. Indeed, a celebration of the Eucharist which goes on for much longer than usual, up to a full day actually, during which are included slots for personal or collective prayer, discussions and debates, and even, in some cases, for breaks to eat or rest.

Organized by the Jesuits in the cities of Nancy (Eastern France), Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Paris (Saint Ignace church), etc., these liturgies include contemporary forms of lectio divina: meditation of the word of God, sharing in groups in situ or through WhatsApp, Zoom, or Skype, singing, playing of an instrument, debating and, “for after hour, when mass is over, chips and drinks.”

They are not displays of elaborate progressivism, but only some sorts of spiritual reunions, on Sunday nights, at the end of the week-end, for a young crowd of bourgeois Catholics, relatively different though from the young identitarian Catholics, bourgeois as well, who are a nest for vocations today. “The ‘mass that takes its time’ is more like a casual party at a friend’s house. You come as you are, get comfortable, and engage with anyone who’s there, students or young professionals.”

Nothing truly malicious here, but definitely there is a subversion of what is left of the rite.

Pio Pace

[1] “La tradition liturgique dans le monde postmoderne” (the liturgical tradition in the postmodern world), Recherches de Science religieuse, January-March 2013, pp. 87-100.
[2] Claude Barthe, in La messe de Vatican II. Dossier historique (The mass of Vatican II. Historic Study), Via Romana, 2018.
[3] Loc. cit., January-March 2013, pp. 37-52.