The era of sad rites

Par Don Pio Pace

French, italiano

Manuel Belli, a priest of the diocese of Bergamo, professor in Sacramental Theology, writes in L’epoca dei riti tristi[1] about the desertion of people at eucharistic assemblies, specially the youth. The title is inspired from the book written by two psychoanalists, Michel Benasayag and Gérard Schmit, titled Les passions tristes. Souffrance psychique et crise sociale[2] – in Italian L’epoca delle passioni tristi[3] – regarding the increasing number of young people suffering from psychological issues, in the midst of an era submerged by a state of sadness that concerns all social classes.

Belli’s book presents, chapter after chapter, a series of pessimist assessments such as: The logic of the minimal amount of food to the fastfood or, to the contrary, the reckless bulimia rubbing off on the Eucharist; There is a crisis of the Sunday festivity; Catholic ritual loses the battle against the witches of Halloween; The liturgy is perceived first of all as self-satisfaction, a way towards personal development; The pitiful liturgical music is only to be consumed; Discussions about the presence on public grounds of Nativity scenes and crosses proves that they are reduced to systems of values; and so on, with a chapter on an application called Tinder (an app designed for romantic encounters) compared to the Christian conception of love.

The author ventures to write “provisional notes” to make the ritual more joyful. The least we can say is that he is not very convincing: few recipes found through the various chapters, as for example, in a mass for children, the idea of making the bread with them and encouraging them to write new hymns; or moreover, building on the fidget characteristic of today’s young generations by getting acquainted again with the meaning of the procession. The author entertains the poorly designed project of an “experiential catechesis” which would go beyond pure doctrine yet without losing any…

Manuel Belli had immediately ruled out “extremes”, such as for example masses where the priest might wear a clown nose or, at the opposite, the return to the Latin mass. We should mention that if Mr. Belli makes the observation that young people are not very attracted by the rites of mass in their parish, the Bishops of France, in their response to the inquiry of the CDF (Conference of French Bishops) about the traditional mass, noticed that, to the contrary young people are very attracted (« fascinated ») by this ancient liturgy. The Bishops did not like their findings.

With Manuel Belli, we are in neo-Bugninist anthropologues’ country, at the zero mark of liturgical science. You will not find in his writing any systematic reflexion over the nature of the liturgical rite, or over its function as veil and manifestation of the divine or, more over, over its history and its character intrinsically traditional: it is truly felt by the faithful as a vehicle for what was received since the beginning. HIs remarks are on the other hand very interesting in terms of the assessment they offer: the Catholic ritual today, and especially the one of today, no longer “works”: it is considered bothersome, impregnated as it is with universal boredom.

But the very criteria of Manuel Belli, the one of sadness that is to be tossed away, is very characteristic of the deadlock in which those who, like him, want to vivify the reform find themselves. Why indeed should the rite be “joyful”? Death, sacrifice, penance, are sad in nature, and the supernatural joy comes in fact from the tragedy of the Cross.

But, it is very true that we find ourselves at a time of “sad passions”, with which the contemporary liturgy cannot compete: Manuel Belli draws a report, among so many others, of the failure of the liturgical reform. Yet, he doesn’t think one moment of setting himself apart from it, thus showing through his assessment that the reform suffers from being too modern and, by the solutions he gives, that he cannot imagine anything for a remedy but patch-up like options, internal to modernity. More sad even than the rites, and even dreadful, are the liturgy courses, Manuel Belli’s style, given in seminaries and Pontifical atheneums.

Don Pio Pace

[1] Queriniana, 2021.
[2] La Découverte, 2006.
[3] Feltrinelli, 2013.