CCORDING to ecclesiastical law, there are two forms or uses of the Roman Rite: the Ordinary and the Extraordinary. Each is equally valid; both are to be regularly available for the benefit of the faithful. Alas, the way in which the Ordinary form is still typically celebrated in most American parishes amounts more to an abuse of the Roman Rite than a use of it; and surely, the ongoing indifference or even hostility to training seminarians in the usus antiquior and to making it widely present in parishes across the land is nothing short of a scandal.
The decades-long abuse of the sacred liturgy—and therefore, of faithful Catholics who, as Redemptionis Sacramentum declares, have a right to the sacred liturgy in its fullness—constitutes the first and fundamental form of clerical abuse of the laity, of which sexual abuse is a particular and more demented moral variety. Given the absolute centrality and the inherently infinite dignity of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist, abuse of the liturgy and the sacraments is, in itself, the worst crime against God and man. If the highest and holiest thing in existence does not deserve our utmost veneration, why should mere human beings deserve any respect? We are mere dust and ashes compared to the divine Sacrifice of the Altar—and yet, if we profoundly reverence and fear Christ, we will acknowledge and care for His image in the souls and bodies of human beings.
An insight that I had never seen openly acknowledged—namely, that clerical sexual abuse was linked to clerical liturgical abuse and that sexual perversion is a moral mirror-image of liturgical perversion—now suddenly seems to have become a quite prevalent view among faithful Catholics. Martin Mosebach, one of our best Catholic authors today, saw quite clearly the connection between the loss of the sacredness of the Mass and the loss of priestly identity and virtue.
At his blog, Fr. Zuhlsdorf quoted a pointed and poignant reader’s message:
[I]f we can’t treat the body of our Lord and Saviour with respect, why would we treat the bodies of our neighbors with respect? Is there a short, slippery slope that runs between sloppiness at Mass and sin? . . . When we take Mass and the Eucharist seriously and let all our relationships flow forth from that first, essential relationship as Christ, we cannot use other people as objects. When the Mass goes, everything else starts to go too.
Of course, abuse can happen in ‘Good Liturgy’ settings, too—because good liturgy cannot be our goal. Our goal is to love and adore Christ. I think that a reverent liturgy flows naturally from a love of Christ in the Eucharist and a realization that we’re in the presence of God. (For instance, I noticed my 6-year-old’s behavior at Mass has improved DRAMATICALLY since we started attending Children’s adoration once a month.) If you have a nice-looking Liturgy, but no love, it’s just an empty pageant. On the other hand, most awful liturgies are also empty pageants, focused on the congregation instead of the Divine.
Father Z is right. “Save the Liturgy, Save the World.” It’s not a coincidence that the pope [Benedict] who is focused on cleaning up the filth of abuse in the Church is also focused on cleaning up the liturgy. If we can’t respect God, we won’t respect each other.
Father Zuhlsdorf himself has said, with characteristic vigor:
The Eucharist, its celebration and itself as the extraordinary Sacrament, is the “source and summit of Christian life.” If we really believe that, then we must also hold that what we do in church, what we believe happens in a church, makes an enormous difference. Do we believe the consecration really does something? Or, do we believe what is said and how, what the gestures are and the attitude in which they made are entirely indifferent? For example, will a choice not to kneel before Christ the King and Judge truly present in each sacred Host, produce a wider effect?
If you throw a stone, even a pebble, into a pool it produces ripples which expand to its edge. The way we celebrate Mass must create spiritual ripples in the Church and the world. So does our good or bad reception of Holy Communion. So must violations of rubrics and irreverence.
At times, a Catholic feels the urge to say to the secularizing and liberalizing clergy of the past five decades: you and your minions wrecked theology with modernism; you wrecked the liturgy with your “reform”; and, as the coup de grace, you wrecked the lives of children. This is a ghastly inversion of the Kingdom of God. A time will come when all this evil is purged, if not while yet there is time for repentance, then assuredly when the Lord prepares for us a new heavens and a new earth.
Meanwhile, let us remember this fundamental truth and promote its realization with all the energy we have been given: traditional Catholic theology and traditional Catholic liturgy go hand in hand, and both are the necessary precondition of real pastoral care, true evangelization, and superabundant works of charity.