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The liturgy war

By Matt C. Abbott
Op/Ed

I doubt this will come as a shock to my readers, but, aside from John Allen's column and the occasional article, I don't much care for the National Catholic Reporter. Its editors and writers almost always espouse heterodoxy and criticize orthodoxy.

A recent example is an editorial in the Dec. 28, 2007 issue, titled "Liturgy reform: No going back."

An excerpt from said editorial:

'...If liturgy has characteristically been below the radar for most Catholics, opponents of Vatican II knew from the outset that the one way to preserve Trent was to halt liturgical reform. To look back over the 42 years since the close of the council is to see that progress in the reform has been real but slow, and to admit that any awakening of Catholic laity to their full baptismal identity is still in the future. At the same time, those devoted at many levels to a pre-Vatican II model of the church have worked hard to bring down many aspects of liturgical reform. Frustrating the process of vernacular translations, crimping the rubrics for Mass to accentuate the ordained and, most recently, restoring the Tridentine rite, are among the more visible signs of successful retrenchment....

'What they have always known in Rome is important for all of us to know: Liturgy is the visible expression of the arrangement of power. The 2,500 bishops of Vatican II, perhaps surprising themselves, began the process of opening up the [C]hurch to its own members and to the world. We all have a say in the kind of [C]hurch we are. The reform of the church was a struggle worth undertaking more than 40 years ago, and it is a challenge each of us, in our own way and in our own faith communities, should prize and not lose sight of today.'


I thought I'd ask a few of my favorite "in the know" friends to respond to the NCR editorial.

Father Richard Perozich, of the San Diego Catholic diocese, and Father J. Patrick Serna, of the Corpus Christi, Tex., Catholic diocese, were happy to oblige.


Father Richard Perozich's response:

'One aspect of the ecclesiology of the Church is about empowering the laity to full, active participation in proclaiming the full Gospel in word and deed over the whole world in the long Tradition of the Catholic Church, under the guidance of the clergy who teach, guide, and sanctify the faithful for their task. The liturgy is a prime source for empowerment if people engage in Mass according to the texts of the Second Vatican Council.

'The liturgy is the celebration of the sacred mysteries of our redemption, the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, a perfect prayer to God the Father through Jesus the Son in communion of the Holy Spirit. Full, active participation in the liturgy involves choral prayer, the priest calling to the assembly to praise God, the assembly's response to that call, regardless of the language of celebration, and finally, when the priest announces, 'Go, the Mass is' (Ite, misa est), all depart to engage in the mission of announcing the Gospel by living lives with Christ now in them in word and Eucharist.

'Emotionally charged language such as monarchical, separation, vertical, and the like reflect a lack of understanding of the organic development of the liturgy in the Latin Rite and does not take into account the liturgy of the other rites of the Catholic Church in their solemn forms of celebration of entering into the divine encounter with God, or solemn the biblical expressions of the divine encounters. The author has taken one phrase but neglected other important teachings of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which encourages the use of Latin, the rich tradition of chant, the organ, theology of hymn-writing, among others.

'Pope Benedict XVI, present at the Second Vatican Council, knows the intent of the council. Adaptations to liturgy, ecclesiology, theology, doctrine and other Church life since that time do not always reflect the council that is often invoked to justify whatever anyone wants to claim that it justifies. Benedict recently called us to the texts of Vatican Council II, rather than the false idea of a spirit of the council to justify whatever it is that we wish to do. In liturgical law, the legislator is also the interpreter.

'In our Holy Catholic Church, the pope is the legislator and the interpreter. In obedience to him who is divinely appointed by God through the spirit of the cardinals, we will see what unfolds in the liturgy and ecclesiology of the Church in this century to fulfill what Vatican II taught. Pope Benedict recently addressed this trend from his perspective of having been at the Second Vatican Council to know its ends, and from his position as head of the [Congregation for the] Doctrine for the Faith dealing with opinions counter to Church teaching.

'The first cultural upheaval was around 1968, three years after the end of the council where the rebuilding of Europe on its Christian roots gave way to the idea of changing everything radically, rejecting Christianity to try to begin again from nothing in an absolutely new way with Marxism as the scientific formula. The Marxist revolution was wrongly identified by some Catholics as the will of the council. Its leaders ignored the texts of the council substituting their ideas calling them the 'spirit' of the council.

'In 1989, with the fall of communism, rather than return to the Faith and rediscover the Church with the authentic teachings of the council, the response was total skepticism, which taught that nothing is true, everyone decides on his own how to live, materialism, and an intolerance for truth.

'Benedict says that in the context of these two upheavals, '[T]he Church sets out with humility upon its path between the passions of the world and the glory of the Lord. Along this road, we must grow with patience, and we must now, in a new way, learn what it means to renounce triumphalism of so called new ways of thinking.'

'The humility of the Cross, however, excludes these new false ways. The pope continues: 'And thus it seems to me that we must rediscover the great heritage of the council, which is not a 'spirit' reconstructed behind the texts, but the great conciliar texts themselves, re-read today with the experiences that we have had and that have born fruit in so many movements, in so many new religious communities. In this combination of the humility of the Cross and the joy of the risen Lord, who in the council has given us a great road marker, we can go forward joyously and full of hope.''


Father J. Patrick Serna's response:

'There is a recent editorial from the National Catholic Reporter, titled 'Liturgy Reform: No Going Back,' which is par for the course when it comes to liberal misinterpretation of Vatican II. Incorrect and ideological liberal nonsense is clearly reflected in the following statement which shows no grasp of real Catholic ecclesiology, liturgy, or pastoral theology:

''By invoking the church in biblical terms as the pilgrim people of God and as the body of Christ, Vatican II set the stage for a crucial shift away from the juridical 'perfect society' embodied in the unabashedly monarchical church of Trent.'

'For the record, the Church is still hierarchical, and it always will be. Christ placed his Vicar on Earth, referred to as 'the pope' by regular Catholics but referred to as a 'monarch' by leftist ideologues. The pope ('monarch' for NCR types) is the first among equals in the episcopacy. The other bishops carry out their respective roles. Then the priests carry out the roles proper to them. The deacons, the religious, and the laity also carry out their respective roles. Nothing has changed in this respect regarding differences between the ordained and non-ordained. Vatican II did not change the hierarchical model of the Church, contrary to what misinterpreters or non-readers of what Vatican II really said might like to think.

'Let us look at what Vatican II really said, and let us take a look at Pope John Paul II's use of this very same Vatican II text in his 1988 Apostolic Exortation Christifideles Laici (The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People):

''At the same time it [Vatican II] insisted on the unique character of their [i.e., the layman's] vocation which is, in a special way, to 'seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God' (Lumen Gentium 31).

'The foregoing text of Vatican II, which Pope John Paul II and the current leadership concurs with, is no different than the position which the pre-Vatican II Church held.

'Liberal misinterpreters of Vatican II and post-Vatican II teachings love to slam the pre-Vatican II Church by ignorantly claiming that the pre-Vatican II Church was 'monarchical' and that the post-Vatican II Church is much more egalitarian and democratic. Would that more leftist ideologues might pick up real post-Vatican II magisterial teachings, or read them at least!

'With this brief glimpse at Pope John Paul II's Christifideles Laici, we will see how our late Holy Father makes a statement which reminds us of the hierarchical nature of the Church, a structure which presupposes differences between the ordained and non- ordained: '...[A] person is not a minister simply in performing a task, but through sacramental ordination. Only the Sacrament of Orders gives the ordained minister a particular participation in the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and in the Eternal Priesthood' (#23). Here we have it -- a post-Vatican II magisterial text which totally refutes and tramples underfoot any and all claims that the Catholic Church is supposed to operate on some kind of newly invented egalitarian or democratic model!

'The ordained are to do things which the laity cannot do. Is this wrong? No. Is this a way to suppress the laity? No. Men cannot have babies like women can, but do a majority of men complain about this difference? No. So why do certain ideologues feel the need to be the same or do the same things as those who are ordained? For one to oppose the aforementioned magisterial teaching is not only ignorant, it is to follow in the footsteps of the Great Deceiver.

'People who loathe the pre-Vatican II Church frequently refer to the horrors of 'clericalism.' First of all, there is only one form of clericalism (if a cleric is to be scorned for 'clericalism,' then grass should be scorned for being green!). That one and only form of clericalism to be abhorred is perfectly summed up in Pope John Paul II's Christifideles Laici where he laments the clericalization of the laity, and laicization of the clergy. In Christifideles Laici, our former pope comments on '...a too indiscriminate use of the word 'ministry,' the confusion and the equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood...the tendency towards a 'clericalization' of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders' (#23).

'Loathers of the pre-Vatican II Church need to start reading Vatican II documents for real; they need to stop living in an ideological wonderland which has no magisterial basis. Everything stated in the aforementioned National Catholic Reporter editorial, and all unsound liberal thought similar to it, is soundly refuted and rendered idiotic when the following true words of Vatican II are read and interpreted in the only way they can be interpreted:

''The Lord also appointed certain men as ministers, in order that they might be united in one body in which 'all the members have not the same function (italics mine)' (Romans 12:4). These men were to hold in the community of the faithful the sacred power of Order, that of offering sacrifice and forgiving sins, and were to exercise the priestly office publicly on behalf of men in the name of Christ....the office of priest shares in the authority by which Christ Himself builds up and sanctifies and rules His Body.' (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis).

'If people find egalitarianism so important, and if people find hierarchy, obedience, and authority as things to be scorned, then these people need to invent some new cult and stop trying to 're-create' the True Church already established, hierarchically, by our Lord Jesus Christ. I love the Catholic Church as she existed before and exists after Vatican II. Others need to do the same.'


(Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He is the former director of public affairs for the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League and the former executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee. He was a contributor to The Wanderer Catholic newspaper and had numerous letters to the editor published in major newspapers, including the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com)

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