T IS NOT INFREQUENT to read or hear, in church debates, about fights between conservative and progressive Catholics. Especially the last two pontificates—Benedict XVI and Francis—have polarized much of the Catholic world; as if we must select one side or the other to feel part of “society.” Of course liturgy and liturgical music have known similar situations, intensified after Benedict’s promulgation of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum on 7 July 2007. The “liturgical wars” (to use the Anglo-Saxon term) became more and more violent, and the recent 50th anniversary of the first vernacular Mass by Pope Paul VI in the roman church of Ognissanti has once again brought the “liturgical problem” to the forefront.
Our liturgies—are they more effective and spiritually appealing in recent decades? I would say a clear “no.” The liturgy supposes a rite, and the rite assists passage from the DAILY LIFE DIMENSION to another dimension: the dimension of God. Anthropology has said a lot about rites of passage, especially in the studies of Arnold Van Gennep (1873-1957) and Victor Turner (1920-1983). In Italy, Aldo Natale Terrin and Roberto Tagliaferri—taking inspiration from Van Gennep and Turner—have presented to the liturgical community the problem of the rite and the importance of the limen (“threshold”). Having considered all the important contributions brought by these scholars on the topic of liturgy, we come to realize that the real problem is not between progressive and conservative Catholics, but between the attention to the dynamics of the liturgy and mediocrity.
MEDIOCRITY IS THE REAL ENEMY of liturgy and of liturgical music. In every diocese wherein we contribute, we must ask: where is the balance here? On the side of attention to the needs of the rite? Or is everything dominated by mediocrity? But what is mediocrity?
Mediocrity is the “virtue” of those who choose the medius; staying in a sort of limbo between good and evil. I mean, they are not bad…but not even good. They don’t access the limen; they prefer to stay on our side of the limen—a more comfortable position that does not disturb the dull existence they’re leading.
How many liturgies in our dioceses are the result of mediocrities? The causes are legion. For instance, we don’t have the courage to tell people they’re incompetent, so the liturgy pays for our lack of courage. When everyone—without any study or serious analysis of the liturgy and its needs—can decide how the rite should be performed or which songs should be sung you have mediocrity arising as the sun in the east. Experts may be dangerous, too; but you can imagine how dangerous are the ones who talk without any serious consideration of the liturgical discipline.
The situation, then, is dramatic. Some people are using the liturgy not to seek Christ, but for reassurance. They want to be confirmed on their (already accepted) medius state, continuing to use religion as a tool to feel better and avoid looking inside themselves. They refuse to accept that religion—and especially the meeting with Christ—is not a cup of tea every day at 5:00pm 1 but falling from a horse and accepting the blindness of sin and torment of “otherness.” Real liturgy is for daring hearts, not for uninspired mediocrities. If you don’t accept that in order to find yourselves you must lose yourselves, you will simply lose what you think you have found.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 That is a rite, too, and in some cultures may have a very deep meaning.