A quick note on liturgical gimmickry

Rorate Caeli recently precipitated a minor blow-up in the direction of some hapless young priest who celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass for a Catholic men’s university on an altar that, well, looks like Thanksgiving, with a cornucopia of canned and boxed goods above a fancifully painted wooden sign.

The outpouring of rage on their Facebook picture is predictable and reveals, I think, a fundamental disconnect between people of more traditionalists sensibilities and those of more novel ones. The latter experience transcendence as alienating, the former as nourishing. As a result, the latter experience liturgical innovations in the direction of immanentism as comforting and the former experience them as banal at best and sacrilegious at worst.

I appreciate the traditionalists’ sentiment but it is a bit of a far cry to call such an altar “sacrilegious.” He’s not carving a turkey on it, for Heaven’s sake. It’s rather just dumb, which seems to be Rorate Caeli‘s point: it’s weird, pointless, stupid — gimmicky, in a word. It is evidence of the general trend in postconciliar liturgy to make the Mass “meaningful” (because, of course, it was never meaningful until we brilliant, special, unique moderns came along and set history straight), not by carefully educating the faithful on the naturally meaningful symbolism of the Mass, but by introducing gimmicks that instill a purely human sentimentality in the souls of those whom the modern Mass often leaves desperately bored and unfulfilled. It is, in other words, an implicit recognition of the Pauline Mass’ comparative latreutic barrenness and the need to enrich it by importing something, please God anything, to fill the spiritual void left by the relentless slice of the reformers’ knives.

I feel bad for the priest who, if he is aware of the hubbub at all, is no doubt quite embarrassed or annoyed, having likely never received even a minimally competent formation in liturgy and thus not knowing what the fuss is all about. Many American priests, in my experience, don’t receive such formation, and I have heard more than I care to recount say pointedly ignorant things like “Vatican II turned the priest around at the altar” or “Before Vatican II, people just prayed the rosary all Mass cause they didn’t know what was going on.” I suspect he is both a product and a victim of the postconciliar Church’s own deliberate devaluation of the ordained priesthood in the service of kneecapping “clericalism,” both in its liturgical symbolism and in its tendency to refer to priests with such drearily technocratic titles as “co-workers of the bishop” and “administrators of the sacraments.”

Let us all pray for priests, that they might grow in appreciation of the majesty of their ontological character and the dignity of their office.


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