Catholic Values Column: Let’s start talking about the liturgy



ElishaIn my three ana half years on this hill, nothing stirs an outrage quite like the discussion of the Sacred Liturgy. And perhaps the word “discussion” is too generous of a label for these interactions, primarily conducted online. 

Some notable incidents come to mind  Spandexgate of fall 2017 and the controversy regarding Title IX a year later, for instance — but while those were all relatively short-lived, the keyboard battles of the so-called “Liturgy Wars” are a persistent plague on this student body. Indeed, it is a plague in our Church. 

And why is this? There are many possible reasons, but the most obvious to me is that no one seems to want to talk about the liturgy. 

Yes, that’s what I just said: this student body, generally speaking, is not interested in earnest discussion about the liturgy.  

I’m not here to point fingers or take sides, but the fact remains that when issues of liturgy and worship come up, people are usually quick to do one of three things: reactionarily make unfiltered comments, try to shut down the conversation by saying social media is an inappropriate forum, while failing to present a suitable oneor troll. 

None of these reactions achieves any sort of good. Trolls are useless commenters who, I might suggest, cause more scandal than the opinions make. Knee-jerk reactionaries tend to have logically flawed arguments or fail to consider important factors by trying to solve an entire debate with 50-75 words.  

But the most concerning for me is the group of people who would rather shut down the conversation. 

Christ the King Chapel celebrates three Masses each day that are usually well-attended, praise God. This is truly an amazing and beautiful fact. But it is also an unfortunate reality that many students who go to Mass every day do not care to know the liturgy, to learn about the liturgy. Simply defending one form or aspect of liturgy against another’s opinions is not an earnest discussion of liturgy. This usually just leads to a bitter back-and-forth comparison that achieves nothing, save perhaps for some infamy. 

And when people try to talk about liturgy and tradition, it’s often in the context of lumping people into two separate camps, furthering an unnecessary divide and concluding with vague attempts at the need to find common ground. But again, no concrete suggestions for accomplishing this are offered. 

And this is why I believe people don’t want to talk about liturgy: They simply don’t know how to do so. They are afraid to open a can of worms they cannot control.  

Obviously, the current modus operandi achieves no good and only muddles the most unifying aspect of our faith. Not talking about the liturgy will just feed pent-up frustration. The only way forward is actually talking about liturgy.
It does not suffice to speak relatively of so-called liturgical preference. No common ground will be found there, and it agitates others who cannot see things from the exact same perspective. Instead, I believe the best way to go about these conversations is to break down the liturgy from a fundamental standpoint. 

Simply talking about the two forms of the Roman Rite is not enough. Rather, conversations between people with differing or even uneducated views on liturgy need to begin with the basics. What makes one form different from the other? Why were certain elements included in the Mass when it was codified by Trent? And why were some of those same elements removed during the several liturgical alterations that took place following the Second Vatican Councils? What was the rationale and motivation for those changes, and how well do the changes line up with Sacrosanctum concillium and the desires of the Council Fathers? 

Once people can talk about these things and know where one another stands, they can achieve the common ground necessary to talk further about the liturgy in a respectful and knowledgeable manner conducive to Christian dialogue. 

However, this requires a genuine desire on behalf of students to engage each other and put in the work to have a fruitful dialogue. For some, it may require patience and charity when talking to someone who is not as knowledgeable of liturgical matters as they. And for others, perhaps they should remember that someone’s differing liturgical opinion is not an indictment of their faith or spirituality. 

But throughout it all, one must remember what they are talking about: the re-presentation of Christ’s life-giving sacrifice on Calvary. Falling deeper in love with this beautiful mystery should be a cause of earnest discussion of the liturgy in the hopes we might offer the very best to Christ with every Mass. 

As a friend of mine once said, “Talking about the liturgy is not about ideology — it’s about Christ.”