About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark has served since 1989 as Music Director and Organist at Saint Cecilia Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. For the Archdiocese of Boston, he directed the Office of Divine Worship Saint Cecilia Schola. His compositions have been performed on four continents.
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“Indeed, we may not hope for real Latin poetry any more, because Latin is now a dead language to all of us. However well a man may read, write, or even speak Latin now, it is always a foreign language to him, acquired artificially. It is no one's mother tongue. Does a man ever write real poetry in an acquired language?”
— Rev’d Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)

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The Unhealthy Liturgical Obsession with Self
published 14 October 2016 by Richard J. Clark

N OBSESSION with self-affirmation can lead to problems in everyday life. Those who do not need it, even in the face of adversity and criticism, tend to be happiest. (This is no easy thing and requires a lifetime of struggle.) Those who are in service to others tend to also be happiest.

But those who require self-affirmation, especially immediate attention, are at risk of covering up real emotions. They are at risk of masking pain from unaddressed problems, which can lead to a host of dire consequences.

Please note, none of this is a judgment. I struggle with these very same things as I am mindful of the myriad planks I should remove from my own eye. (I often joke that I write these articles because I am emotionally needy, and I seek affirmation from the Internet.)

If an obsession with self-affirmation is something contrary to personal happiness, then why does this crop up in the liturgy so often?

It is not found in the Roman Rite. It is not there in the scriptures. We are in fact inserting such self-obsession. The ubiquity of self-congratulatory lyrics and added sentiments (not in the Roman Missal) has normalized this mindset. No, we have not gathered to celebrate ourselves, but the Sacred Mysteries, which are eternally present, now and always. This is the sacramental reality of the Eucharist. This is worth celebrating with joy far beyond our limited human understanding.

Avoiding self-focus does not preclude building a welcoming parish. Reverent prayer and being inviting are not mutually exclusive in the least. In fact they go together beautifully. Placing Christ at the center is a dynamic agent of change in our hearts and therefore change in the world.

Furthermore, a need for self-affirmation is quite different than underscoring service to our fellow parishioners. The latter is vital to a successful parish and key to the concept of Lex Vivendi, which is the law of how we live our lives according to our prayer and our beliefs.

OUNTERINTUITIVE PERHAPS is that the more focused we are on God—and less on ourselves—the happier we may be. As such, the more a community makes Christ the center of their prayer, the stronger its bonds. This in turn helps a community be of greater service far beyond the four walls of the sacred worship space.

As a leader—as a choir director—one must never make the liturgy about oneself. Yes, we are entrusted with decisions, but it must be in the service of God and others—not an affirmation of self-worth as a musician.

INALLY, THE IMPORTANCE of hymnody with solid Roman Catholic theology cannot be overestimated. Better still, sing the propers whenever possible. Sing the Mass. In doing so, we are singing the scriptures. In doing so we put God at the center.

Then watch what happens deep within our soul.

Soli Deo gloria