200th post – reflections on expressing faith and devotion in the liturgy

This post is the 200th post on this blog, and mostly coincidentally, there have been to date a total of 400 comments on 80 of those posts — thank you to all who have contributed to various discussions!

I have noticed in celebrating liturgy myself, and observing it celebrated in various places, that celebrating the Mass and other sacraments with actual, evidenced faith and devotion, and showing noticeably attention to the meaning of what one is saying, is a significant factor in disposing persons to participate in the liturgy with their hearts and minds, and to gain the most fruit from it. Although the celebration of the Eucharist, as a sacrament efficacious ex opere operato, when validly celebrated confers grace regardless of the holiness or devotion of the priest celebrating it, more grace is received according as the recipient is better disposed to receive it. And the manifestation of the priest's celebrating Mass with faith and devotion contributes a great deal to helping the persons attending the Mass to be disposed to celebrate well and receive the grace of the Mass. Unfortunately many priests give the impression of just getting through with the job of reciting their parts, at any rate, do not clearly manifest faith in and awe for the mysteries they celebrate. This is not a judgment or even an opinion about their habitual or even hidden actual faith with which they celebrate, but only about its visibility or lack thereof.

On this general point there might even be some general agreement between those who favor traditional celebration of the liturgy in Latin (preferably according to the usus antiquior), and those who favor the celebration of the liturgy in the vernacular and with practices that more readily allow the manifestation of personal faith and devotion (e.g., the use of free formulations where they are allowed, as they can more readily manifest actual personal faith than formulations given in advance can). The disagreement regarding this point, I think, mostly concerns one of two things:

(1) There is disagreement concerning the relative importance of the liturgy's disposing the people attending liturgy to acts of faith and devotion in comparison with its objective suitability to express the mystery being celebrated; some would hold that the objective suitability is much more important, and therefore adaptions, including almost all of the changes made in developing the Novus Ordo of the Mass, are at best tolerable for the sake of persons indisposed to appreciate the traditional Latin Mass; others would hold that the suitability of the liturgy to dispose the people present to partake with their mind and heart is by far the most important thing.

(2) There is disagreement regarding the way in which faith and devotion is best or most surely manifested. Some are of the opinion that actual faith and devotion is manifested precisely in the observance of relatively detailed rubrics such as those prescribed for the Traditional Latin Mass; the idea seems to be that only genuine and actual devotion will keep someone carefully following all of those rubrics rather than sloppily or carelessly celebrating the Mass. Others are of the opinion that actual faith and devotion is manifested especially through gestures, facial expressions, tones of voice, and the like; that though faith and devotion are not emotions, they are especially revealed in a manner quite similar to other emotions, through tone of voice and body language.

I have a lot of sympathy for the positions taken on both sides of these issues, and do not simply side with one over the other. It would not be possibly for me to do so honestly, and in any case my more greater concern is to help those on either side of such disagreements to better appreciate the true and valid points of those on the opposite side.

What occasioned these reflections now was my attending an ordination where the bishop towards the end of his homily remarked that it is ineffective to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel, with joyless faces. Yet, he himself did not really show joy in his face at any point of the liturgy, not even while speaking about the Church's joy on the occasion, but was formal and stiff, except where he showed vigor and sternness in attacking ignorance and errors regarding the priesthood that were prevalent in the late 60s, when he entered the seminary, and are still present today. The dissonance at that point between his statements about joy and the lack of joy on his face was so great it was somewhat humorous, though still somewhat saddening.

3 thoughts on “200th post – reflections on expressing faith and devotion in the liturgy”

  1. The straw that broke the camel's back for me was when the celebrating priest wore clearly visible white running shoes with his vestments. And when I tell you that, you just know without being told that the priest involved was celebrating in the newer form. 
    The Bishop who remarked that the Good News shouldn't be proclaimed with joyless faces does not know the meaning of "good" and "joy", and does not bear in mind that the Mass is centred on the most Holy Sacrifice. 
    A good company of smart soldiers briskly marching in step across a square is a joy to behold and even better to participate in; a bunch of slouches meandering and whooping across the square isn't much of a sight. If many people behaved with the same degree of casualness in a movie theatre that they do during Mass, they'd be hissed out of the premises in no time. Attention to form is essential. For the inner truth and meaning that is expressed during Mass can only be expressed through form. This is obvious. The Mass is all about embodiment. 

  2. Please forgive me, Father Bolin, but as someone with a fondness for the usus antiquior, I think I would have to give the disagreements outlined above on somewhat different terms.

    1. I would divide 1. into two parts. A. There is a disagreement as to whether it is better to offer a less objectively suitable liturgy if that liturgy requires less of its participants such that it inspires more/better participation, and B. there is a disagreement as to whether the less suitable and 'easier' liturgy actually does inspire more/better participation.
    2. There is a disagreement as to whether faith and devotion are made most manifest (or, I would prefer to say, as it would seem to be more important, 'are most increased in the participants') in a more externally reverent, careful and humble liturgy, or in a liturgy that allows for more creativity and emotive expression.

    Regarding 1, many so-called traditionalists (myself probably included), would argue that the litany of Saints who worshiped according to the Old Rite and the storied piety and genuine devotion of millions of other Catholics through the centuries is proof that the more ancient use cannot be opposed to the people's participation (and I do mean participatio actuosa), although it certainly requires a real intention and effort to do so. The Novus Ordo, plenty of us argue, seems to require a much lower degree of effort in order to have participatio actuosa, but in fact, the actuosa part is too often an illusion driven by external gestures and devoid of interior participation, without which there is, in a very real sense, no participation at all. Another common charge – and I myself attest to this – is that it is typically (much) more difficult, both on account of the rite itself and the way it is often celebrated, to foster real interior participation.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I quite agree with you that, at least in communal celebrations of the Mass, it is of great importance that faith and devotion are "most increased in the participants".

      In the first large paragraph I was pointing out that how the priest manifests devotion makes a big difference to that — though his interior holiness and the intensity of his prayer also does. Consequently, the disagreement I pointed to in 2 concerned the manifestation of devotion in the priest's celebration of the liturgy.

      The disagreement 1.b. you indicate is a valid generalization of this. The disagreement is broader than only about manifesting faith and devotion. The Traditional Missal could foster interior devotion of the participants better than the New Missal for reasons other than better manifesting faith and devotion in the celebrant. Similarly some arguments could be made that the New Missal (or at least the permission to celebrate in the vernacular) could foster interior devotion of the participants better than the Old Missal, inasmuch as they understand the prayers as they are being prayed. And people do disagree on which overall and generally is better. Then there are the outright relativists, who deny (absolutely!) that one can make a meaningful claim about one being generally better…

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