Three months ago, if some­one had told me I would get all fired up about litur­gy in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, I would have had to give them a wry smile and shake my head at them. I had been there, done that, I would have said. I burnt out, and I no longer had the emo­tion­al ener­gy to get entan­gled in that morass.

And then I start­ed my Chris­t­ian Litur­gy course. When speak­ing of activists (and ter­ror­ists), the term “rad­i­cal­ized” is often used: some­thing — some event, or some encounter, or some expe­ri­ence, or some increase of inequal­i­ty, some­thing — push­es an indi­vid­ual over the line between resent­ment and the will­ing­ness to do some­thing about it. By the end of the sec­ond class meet­ing, I could tell that this course was going to be my rad­i­cal­iz­ing experience.

I haven’t spo­ken up much in this class. Of course, I am typ­i­cal­ly reserved, and sel­dom throw my hand in the air unless I am real­ly con­fi­dent in what­ev­er it is I am about to say. And in this class I have an added fac­tor that keeps me pret­ty mum: I am so aghast and seething on the inside that I don’t trust myself to start some­thing in a ped­a­gog­i­cal con­text that I am not equipped to finish.

I grew up into a pas­sion­ate love of the Roman Rite, in all its “noble sim­plic­i­ty” and in all its solemn grandeur. I loved the Latin lan­guage, I loved the elab­o­rate and care­ful cer­e­mo­ny, and every Sun­day as a boy I longed to be up there, in the sanc­tu­ary, where the sacred action was tak­ing place.

And even­tu­al­ly I got my wish. I was four­teen when I first served as an altar boy in our new parish (most boys start­ed in third grade, but we had been mov­ing around a lot). I was extreme­ly ner­vous, fret­ful that I would for­get what I was sup­posed to do next in the intri­cate dance of the Mass (and I often did). But I was intense­ly engaged in what I was about, and it was not long before I was one of the top servers, and when we moved parish­es again short­ly after I turned six­teen, I was fast-tracked to elite altar serv­ing rôles. And, espe­cial­ly with a pas­tor who was as fond of the sacred pageantry as I was, the step from top-notch altar boy to sem­i­nar­i­an was not such a big one.

But after four years of bit­ter­ly-par­ti­san intra­mur­al con­flict, almost all of which cen­tered on some aspect of the litur­gy or anoth­er, I left sem­i­nary tired to death of it all. How could some­thing so beau­ti­ful, so pow­er­ful, so sacred, be the cause of so much strife? I did­n’t know what the answer was, but I knew I was done with it. Not that I did­n’t care any­more: I still cared intense­ly. But I delib­er­ate­ly pushed such feel­ings down every time they arose, and it slow­ly, painful­ly got eas­i­er to slide along as a prac­ti­cal Catholic, tak­ing the Sun­day Mass as it came, clos­ing my eyes (lit­er­al­ly) when­ev­er I thought some inno­v­a­tive prac­tice or lack of rubri­cal fideli­ty was like­ly to irk me.

But now I am done with that. My Leu­ven-edu­cat­ed litur­gy pro­fes­sor has opened my eyes (though prob­a­bly not in the way she intend­ed) and I am ready to wade into the bat­tle once more. But if you know me, or knew me ten years ago, and think you know which “side” I am on, you are prob­a­bly going to be wrong about that.

I am rad­i­cal­ly sure of two things right now regard­ing the eucharis­tic litur­gy of the Roman Rite. First: the reforms car­ried out over the course of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, while indis­putably nec­es­sary, went wild like priv­i­leged sub­ur­ban girls on spring break, and lost all their dig­ni­ty in the process. Sec­ond: the increas­ing­ly-wide­spread return to the usus antiquior — the 1962 Missal, the pre-Vat­i­can II “Tri­den­tine” Mass, what­ev­er you like to call it — is a deeply-mis­guid­ed and eccle­si­o­log­i­cal­ly-blind effort to turn back the clock, and it is an effort in which I see next to no mer­it. There is tremen­dous solem­ni­ty pos­si­ble with the Mass of Paul VI, and while I agree with the writ­ings of our cur­rent pope regard­ing the many fail­ings of the reformed litur­gy, it is clear that those fail­ings are more often in the area of appli­ca­tion than in the litur­gi­cal books them­selves. There is a mid­dle way here, but it has been lost between the poles of antipa­thy that dom­i­nate the Catholic Church today.


  1. Priv­i­leged Sub­ur­ban girls”? As if!!

    Seri­ous­ly, though. It is inter­est­ing to me, as an Angli­can, how sim­i­lar­ly the his­tor­i­cal sit­u­a­tions have played them­selves out with regard to the reform of the Church’s Litur­gy. We just took the plunge 400 years or so earlier. 

    The prob­lem on both fronts, whether Novus Ordo or Book of Com­mon Prayer, comes from the intran­si­gence of some who refuse to inter­pret these texts in the con­text of the entire­ty of the litur­gi­cal his­to­ry of West­ern Chris­ten­dom. The Novus Ordo isn’t some rad­i­calised inno­va­tion, though in many ways it is very dif­fer­ent from what came before it. 

    Sim­i­lar­ly, the Prayer­book isn’t some­thing invent­ed out of thin air. By main­tain­ing the tra­di­tion­al cycle of Sun­days after Trin­i­ty, prop­er texts for Sain­t’s days, the “Ges­i­ma” sea­son, etc., Cran­mer, et. al. were try­ing to main­tain an “organ­ic” uni­ty with the past while reform­ing that which was in need of reform so that Chris­t­ian peo­ple could not only hear and under­stand the Word of God, but also be able to apply it. Am I com­plete­ly wrong, or was this not one of the intend­ed effects of Vat­i­can II as well? If so, it seems that Romans and Angli­cans have more in com­mon than is gen­er­al­ly appre­ci­at­ed. If only we would embrace our legit­i­mate and authen­tic her­itage and not treat it as some­thing shameful. 

    Well, this turned into more of a dis­course than I intend­ed. Real­ly enjoy “The Egg.”

  2. A‑eff­ing-men, Fr. Squires!

    I am still assem­bling my thoughts (and de-hys­ter­i­cal­iz­ing my reac­tions) for an upcom­ing piece on this, but that is just the thing that most infu­ri­ates me in the cur­rent litur­gi­cal con­ver­sa­tion on the side of the most recent reforms: the sense that “reform” means sweep­ing away 17 cen­turies (give or take) of litur­gi­cal tra­di­tion and devel­op­ment and (let’s face it) inno­va­tion, to return us à la time machine to some imag­ined pris­tine wor­ship expe­ri­ence. It is that igno­rance, or rejec­tion, of con­ti­nu­ity that most con­cretizes the polar­iza­tion between the two camps.

    So yes, I agree that the Roman and Eng­lish tra­di­tions are far clos­er than most dare to hope on this. And Vat­i­can II, though my under­stand­ing of it is still nascent, was very much all about incor­po­rat­ing all aspects of the Church into the very real lives of the Peo­ple of God, and litur­gy is obvi­ous­ly a huge part of that. 

    This top­ic will cer­tain­ly not go away, either in the world or on this blog. Glad to have you as an interlocutor!

  3. Thank you for this! As you know, I am much fas­ci­nat­ed with the sub­ject myself, but have also found myself exhaust­ed by it and long­ing to just give up on mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. I look for­ward to read­ing your future thoughts. We’ve been flirt­ing with the 1962 Mass our­selves for the past cou­ple of years, as our pas­tor is much in favor of it, but, while I do find it beau­ti­ful, I have grad­u­al­ly come to believe it is NOT the answer to all the prob­lems with the litur­gy, in spite of the peo­ple around me who seem to think so. I can’t artic­u­late things as well as you — but I’ll be tun­ing in to your future posts on this sub­ject with eagerness.

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