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Andrew Motyka is the Archdiocesan Director of Liturgical Music and Cathedral Music for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
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“In all this mediaeval religious poetry there is much that we could not use now. Many of the hymns are quite bad, many are frigid compositions containing futile tricks, puns, misinterpreted quotations of Scripture, and twisted concepts, whose only point is their twist. But there is an amazing amount of beautiful poetry that we could still use. If we are to have vernacular hymns at all, why do we not have translations of the old ones?”
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)

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Every moment is a teachable moment
published 6 February 2013 by Andrew R. Motyka

E WHO HAVE FOUGHT in the Liturgy Wars easily fall into the trap of assuming that every liturgical anomaly is born from dissent. As someone who has seen his share of liturgical abuse in his career, I sympathize with the frustration and borderline-paranoia that faithful musicians and others experience. As I’ve delved deeper into working for an Office of Worship, I’ve found that there are far more problems that have lack of knowledge as their origin than problems that are rooted in actual opposition to the law.

One of the more edifying things that I get to do is answering musical and liturgical questions from around the archdiocese. I never thought that I would take joy in it, but it is fulfilling in a very real way. Parish musicians seldom see “breakthroughs” that exhibit their efforts in making a difference, but addressing practical matters in this way is immediate, and I find that I learn something almost every time I am asked to help.

For example, last week a parish musician contacted me to ask some details about the tradition of covering the crosses and images in the Church on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. She wanted to know:

1. What color is to be used when covering the cross and images (she assumed violet).
2. What color the cross is to be veiled with on Good Friday (she guessed red), and if that color needed to be changed on Good Friday.

If your first response to reading these inquiries is “Why doesn’t she just look in the Missal?” then you’re missing a key piece of information: most people don’t even know where to look for answers. It’s not that they’re trying to act poorly. On the contrary, most of the time they have nothing but the best of intentions and truly want to worship to the best of their ability and with the mind of the Church; they just don’t know where to start.

For the record, I double-checked the Missal, and learned something about the rubrics myself:

1. The Missal actually doesn’t prescribe a color for covering the images in the Church. I would assume and recommend violet simply because it’s Lent and that seems like good taste, but it is not explicitly given. (Side note: while the images remain veiled until the Easter Vigil, any crosses should be unveiled after the Good Friday liturgy, when the cross is unveiled and venerated.)

2. The color for the cross’s veil on Good Friday is violet, not red like the vestments.

The woman was very pleased with the information she was able to get from this experience, and I realized that most people really do want what’s best for the Church. Had she not asked, and just gone ahead and used red for the cross, she’d have been wrong, but not because she thought she knew better than the Church. All she needed was a bit of direction.

Charity demands that we assume the realistic best of people in all possible scenarios. We the “liturgical police” sometimes need to calm down, stop being so defensive, and realize that we are not always under assault. We can do far greater good by patiently explaining details than we can by expressing frustration over the average person’s liturgical ignorance. An entire generation has passed where people do not know their faith, and do not even remotely understand what is going on at the Church that they attend every Sunday. Case by case, we need get peoples’ minds in the game and understand the liturgy that they have inherited, so they can truly, fully, actively participate in it.