HERE’S AN OLD joke when referring to people or situations that are monumentally unhelpful: “[…] is about as useful as a Jesuit during Holy Week.” The old cliché that Jesuits “know nothing about the liturgy” gives them, or anyone who cites this tired formula, permission to be sloppy with the Mass. Happily, my experience at Saint Mary’s Chapel at Boston College gives no credence to this notion. Some of the most reverent and prayerful liturgies I have been privileged to serve have been among Jesuit priests.
Mind you, Jesuits—like most priests—have their own opinions about the liturgy. Through personal conversations with dozens of Jesuits, I have ascertained that their views are quite diverse. Among them are some who rather detest the new translation of the Roman Missal. However, here’s the interesting part: At Mass, you would never know it. Why?
Opinions aside on Liturgiam authenticam (a topic for another day), they possess a clear understanding and respect for the scriptural origins of the sacred texts and for the wisdom of the ages. They understand the role of the celebrant, which is in part, to preside for all over the prayers of the Mass—not reinvent them, even if deemed deficient. As a result, one may not come to know—nor should know from the Mass—whether a priest is “conservative” or “liberal” in his liturgical views. Instead, all are immersed in the universal prayer of the Church—a community unified in the love of Christ.
• With regard to liturgical experimentation, I have addressed this topic, most notably here:
The People Deserve Better.
ORE RECENTY, ONE JESUIT priest has taken issue with the changing of liturgical texts. He places before us the proposition that for a priest to change the texts of the Mass is an “insidious form of clericalism.” Entertaining—yet quite serious—I encourage you to read the entire brief article, Grateful for Boredom. You will laugh, and you may cry.
In no uncertain terms, Rev. Ryan G. Duns, S.J. writes:
“Regardless my personal preferences, it is not my place to change the wording of the prayers. In fact, I take it as an insidious expression of clericalism to change prayers in an effort “to make them relevant” to the congregation. Clericalism? Indeed: the presider claims a form of privilege to change things that do not belong to him, deciding as he wills what will and will not be said.”
He continues, illustrating the absurdity:
“Imagine how chaotic it would be were the entire congregation to begin to innovate during the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer, swapping out words or lines willy-nilly. It’d be a fractious cacophony professing not a common faith but only a collection of personal manifestos. Yet a certain sort of presider thinks it his prerogative to ‘add’ or ‘subtract’ at will.”
HAT IS NOTABLE here about Rev. Duns is that he is no “conservative.” He is a musician with a passion for Irish music, if not Gregorian Chant. He is not a zealot with regards to rubrics. He even professes appreciation for inclusive language. As such, his words on clericalism strike hard.
But Fr. Duns is profoundly aware that the prayers belong to the people:
“…think on those presiders who take great liberties with liturgical prayers. While I am in some sense sympathetic to wanting to make language inclusive, I have to own the reality that the prayers of the liturgy do not belong to me.” (emphasis included)
Furthermore, Fr. Duns also points out with an example the paradox of changing texts for “expediency.” He writes: “(1) innovation does not breed expedience because it is a lot longer and (2) the theology undergirding it is absolutely atrocious.”
This brings us to the bigger picture of the efficacy of liberally altering texts for various purposes, however well intended. Most often, the result is not greater clarity, but sloppiness and distortion of theology. For example, change the Preface, and one has an excellent chance of changing dogma. With this in mind, Fr. Duns half jokes by imploring celebrants to “DO NO HARM.”
Continuing with an amusing analogy of a local McDonald’s franchise making hamburgers any which way it likes, he concludes with utmost gravity: “Analogously, I fail to see how Catholic churches, where deliberate innovation and abuse takes place, differ from congregationalist churches where local custom trumps universal practice.”
Fr. Duns beautifully concludes his article articulating his “deep hunger” for prayer:
“To be honest, I’m grateful for liturgical boredom because, as I grow inwardly restive, I feel my heart moving toward the One for whom I long, the One who desires to give Himself to me. Often in my life I can get so busy that I ignore this deep hunger that I need to ‘get bored’ in order to know how much I need the Eucharist. I don’t go to Mass to be entertained. I go because I need gradually to open my heart to hear God’s Word and to receive the Eucharist, to ask for pardon, for strength, for healing, and to express my gratitude for all the graces in my life. I’m grateful for the boredom that results from predictability because, it in the settled pattern of prayer, I experience the unsettling desire to receive the Lord and to find strength to continue the adventure of discipleship.”