Liturgists Badly Split On Key Issues


Liturgists Badly Split On Key Issues


(Special to The Wanderer)
October 26, 1972

DETROIT — The 1972 Detroit meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, co-sponsored by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy and the Archdiocese of Detroit, revealed deep splits and strongly divergent tendencies among the several hundred delegates as well as between the delegates and their federal leadership. Indeed, a hefty minority of American dioceses sent no representatives to this meeting at all, preferring to “vote with their feet,” as several well- informed persons told this reporter.

Most of these splits emerged in debate and voting on specific resolutions, a few of which will be detailed below. Other disagreements, however, concerned broad policy tendencies visible at the meeting but never crystallized into resolutions. One such tendency, for example, was the downgrading of the Mass. No provision whatsoever was made by the Federation leadership for the hundred-plus priests in attendance at the meeting to say their daily Masses. Only one public Mass was celebrated during the entire four-day conference (and that by Auxiliary Bishop Schoenherr of Detroit). Instead, each day’s business was begun with something called “morning prayer,” usually an adaptation of the Office of Lauds. For some time the Liturgy Club has been calling for the suppression of daily (and even weekly) Mass, while attacking the Church’s tradition of Masses sine populo. Now, to the chagrin of many delegates, and without episcopal approval, the club has simply implemented these “reforms” at its own gatherings.

Another general tendency, opposed by many delegates, was the wooing of Pentecostalism. Much of the first day’s program was devoted to the question, “Is the Liturgy Prayer,” with a peculiar connotation given to the word “prayer” by speakers involved in the Pentecostal movement. The Federation leadership had planned to offer the delegates a bus trip to Ann Arbor for the purpose of “touring the charismatic communities” located there, but the project had to be cancelled for lack of interest (“lack of Spirit” as a wag from Wichita remarked).

Yet a third tendency of the leadership — and here the opposition was quite widespread — was a cautious re-cementing of ties with the notorious Liturgical Conference. At one time the heart and soul of the liturgical movement, the Conference fell into doubt and disrepute some years back because it sponsored one or two scandalous “Liturgical Weeks” devoted to revolution and circus clowning. Several bishops moved sharply to interdict these “weeks” and the top personnel of the Conference were frozen out of Federation meetings.

This year, however, the Conference types were back in force. George Moudry, the executive director of the Conference, was invited to speak on Church architecture; Federation officers gave packets of Conference literature to the regional representatives (the delegates to the Federation meeting vote in regions, corresponding to the twelve regions into which the dioceses of this Country are organized, and each region has a representative for purposes of liaison with Federation officers) for them to distribute to all the delegates. Some representatives refused to pass the stuff along. Only one other independent group was allowed to distribute its literature through official channels: the infamous Woodstock Center for Religion and Worship (and leapfrog). But the most serious symptom of the new Federation-loves-Conference romance was the invitation of Conference brain truster, Fr. Robert Hovda, to give the wind-up address of the four-day meeting. His topic was “A New Vision of the Church — How Do We Move To It?” Hovda is the author of a thing called Manual of Celebration. Those who wonder why so many unconnected priests in so many different places all do the same flakey things during Mass — ignore rubrics, invent prayers, handle contemptuously the Eucharistic Christ — will find a good part of the answer in Hovda’s Manual.

Now Fr. Robert Hovda, for the information of those who haven’t heard him in person, is a spellbinder. Whereas Fred McManus usually reminds me of a snake oil salesman, Hovda has the bearing of a prophet. With his gray goatee, wispy hair and flashing eyes, he is type-cast for a senescent Jeremiah, or better, a retired Mephistopheles. He roars, burns, whispers, teases, and erupts. In the full glow of peroration, he declares: “Persons are more important than the Church will ever be,” and “The Catholic Church has been only a dream until now. But now the world is made for us. Why don’t we give ourselves to it?” A good question, thought the sixty percent or so of the audience which gave Hovda a standing ovation a moment later at the end of his remarks. But the other forty percent — and this, I thought, was most significant — neither stood nor applauded, so strong was their repugnance for Hovda and his cause.

No fewer than 29 resolutions were drafted by the Federation brass and presented to the delegates for ratification. Debates or panel discussions were held to air the ones that were expected to be fairly controversial. Written ballots were collected at various points throughout the four-days, and several business meetings were held to report the votes and to iron out conflicting amendments (or modi as the Federation rather pretentiously called them). The result of this procedure was a parliamentary nightmare. Resolutions were being amended, tabled, and sent back to committee after they had been passed. No efficacious means could be discovered for coping with thirty different amendments at once, and there was considerable uncertainty even in the rules by which amendments might be brought to the floor. Left to his own devices, the man serving as chairman, a Fr. Terrence Donnelly of the diocese of Marquette, almost always did the wrong thing, and so, a chorus of cheerfully imprecise parliamentarians arose to help him.

Meanwhile great complications arose from a fractional voting system. For some reason, every diocese which had sent one delegate had one vote. Every diocese which had sent more than one delegate (and some of them had sent four or five) had two votes, which were then fractionally divided among all present, except on certain issues on which only the chairman and secretary of the diocesan liturgical commission in question, if present, had the right to cast the two votes. To make matters still worse, the dioceses had to caucus according to regions, and it was the region which actually announced the votes. If the reader is confused at this point, his perplexity is nothing compared to that of the actual delegates who had to survive the meeting. But “procedure” notwithstanding, many resolutions did actually get passed, and some of them are exceedingly bad news.

At the very top of the list in the gloomy tidings category stands resolution Number 8. It runs as follows (I was about to say, it “reads” as follows, but the syntax is so bad that one can hardly say that the thing “reads” at all): “Be it resolved that diocesan liturgical commissions in their respective dioceses and together as a national force, seek to educate priests and parish liturgy teams to develop more involving community celebrations in which the people experience the scriptures and prayers proclaimed with living faith and understanding. We urge that presidential prayers and rubrics need not be printed, and further that the Federation and the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy submit to the agenda committee of the NCCB a calendar for removal in accordance with good liturgical usage.”

Now in case the reader lost the point of that literary confection, I hasten to clarify. The resolution intends to enjoin missalette publishers from including anything in their monthly booklets save the people’s responses and the scripture texts. The extreme parties among the liturgists wanted to exclude the scriptures too, the idea being that people ought only to hear the word of God as it is “proclaimed” viva voce. The extremists want to destroy the written word as a presence in the pew. But the Catholic Biblical Association and the missalette publishers have been fighting the liturgists tooth and nail on this. The Biblicists, you see, want the people to understand the scriptures, a thing which is largely impossible by ear alone, given incompetent lectors, bad public address systems, coughs, babies, and the rustle of missalettes. The publishers, on the other hand, are scared to death because they know “missalettes” devoid of everything save the people’s responses will not sell. The J.E. Paluch Co. of Chicago, the largest of the missalette publishers, tried to produce a booklet tailored to what the liturgists wanted. It was called Celebrate! and it bombed. Therefore Paluch sent a team of lobbyists to Detroit, opened up a “hospitality suite” in the hotel, and there boozed and wooed Federation voters. Luckily for the publisher, most of the delegates were willing to yield on the scripture question. But unluckily for the laymen, they stuck to their guns on the presidential prayers and rubrics.

As an unreconstructed obscurantist, I confess that there is a certain charm to the liturgists’ ideas. They would chain up the Bible and hold rituals In which a barefoot and ignorant populace would open its mouth only occasionally while bizarre and unknown rites went on in the sanctuary. There is a certain aesthetic grandeur, too, in the idea of priests reading, from huge and priceless altar books, texts which profane eyes are never allowed to see. And perhaps the liturgists will get their way. Perhaps another generation of television will put an end to the whole modern world by reducing 90 per cent of its population to irremedial illiteracy.

However, I firmly repress these surging hopes in the face of one short-range fact. If the liturgists succeed in their game of removing the Collects, Canons, and other prayers from the missalettes, the layman will be deprived of his last check on what the rebellious clergy are doing to the Mass. Priests will be free to improvise anything they choose, and no one will be the wiser. Someone should bring this peril to the attention of the Bishops.

Another distinctly bad news resolution, is Number 28. As originally drafted, it read, “We urge that all churches constructed in the future be multi-purpose in style and use.” This is an expression of the famous (and heretical) idea that everything today must be radically desacralized. Churches should probably look like beer halls and meeting rooms and certainly should be used as such. But considerable opposition developed on this resolution, and so a compromise version was adopted, which appended the words “maintaining worship as the priority.”

Another resolution wanted to rake ten percent off all existing church building funds in order to give the money to “needy” parishes. But this lovely idea was sent back to the committee.

Finally, there was a whole raft of resolutions dealing with “Ministry and Orders.” These called for “new forms of ministry” (e.g. married forms), female priests, and democratically elected Bishops. Evidently the Federation leadership expected these ideas to pass in a walk; but to their surprise, strong opposition developed. All of the resolutions on this subject were swamped under a tangle of amendments. Resolution Number 22, the one calling for the ordination of women, almost failed outright (the recorded vote being 78 in favor, 57½ opposed, 20½ in favor if amended). Even more delegates opposed the election of Bishops.

It is a good question how many of the delegates were voting their own minds and how many had been ordered to vote down some of these same proposals by their ordinaries. (I am reliably informed that Bishop Baum of Springfield- Cape Girardeau, at least, gave such orders.) But the result was, in any case, that the entire series of resolutions on “Ministry and Orders” was tabled. This was a shock to the leadership — and a hopeful sign for the future of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, an organization about which hopeful signs are few and faint.

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