Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The "Virtus" of Bad Liturgy

I’m teaching CCD at my parish this year. It’s exciting and a little nerve-wracking, because I have the second graders – First Confession AND First Communion! We’re using the Ignatius Press Faith and Life series, which looks like a great text.
Last night, I did my mandatory Virtus training. The moderator was very good – she’s the principal of our local Catholic School, but the videos themselves were pretty terrible.

The information was superficial and out of date, especially with respect to technology. Even the discussion of ‘warning signs’ was nothing new or unexpected- after a year and a half of following the Legion saga, I’m apparently pretty well-informed about child abuse and the tricks molesters use to groom children. (Hey, maybe the bishops should make an updated video, featuring Father Maciel!)

One thing really jumped out at me. Periodically, the video showed scenes of parts of the Liturgy to emphasize the idea that we as a Church must “Protect God’s Children.” The baptism scenes were fine, but every other scene showcased an example of Bad Liturgical Practice.

We saw: A girl taking a glass chalice filled with the Precious Blood from a lay minister, drinking it herself, and then passing it back to the lay minister.

A bishop filmed in front of a bookcase holding clay chalices.

An apparent Mass which involved children processing in holding multi-colored burlap banners.

A really bad folk choir.

Children being sent out of Mass for a ‘Children’s Liturgy of the Word.’

As I watched, I wondered what message the Bishops were trying to send by including bad liturgy in the Virtus video.

1. Was it supposed to evoke warm fuzzy feelings? “Why, that parish is just like MY parish!” It didn’t, because those liturgical abuses wouldn’t fly around here.

2. Was it supposed to show us what the Bishops think a parish SHOULD look like? If so, I weep for our Church.

3. Or was it something more subtle? Was it supposed to help us make the connection between Liturgical abuse and sexual abuse? After all, if 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?

I have a feeling that the makers of the video were aiming for 1 and 2. But I think our pope would probably point to number 3. 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 can not 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.

In the end, I did learn something at Virtus training. Father Z is right. “Save the Liturgy, Save the World.” It’s not a coincidence that the pope 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.


Pam said...

I am a daily reader of Fr. Z's blog. I am also a convert. I volunteered for many years as the catechist taking the children out for Children's Liturgy of the Word. I am interested in why that is a liturgical abuse. Our liturgies are full of abuses and I hoped I could instill a love for God and Truth by teaching them.

Question 2: Please explain why a communicant taking the cup of the Precious Blood and consuming then handing it back to the EMHC is a liturgical abuse.

Thanks for answering my questions.

Anonymous said...

As posted on WDTPRS:

It is interesting that one of the “markers” designating potential child abusers is an attitude that “The rules don’t apply to me.” That certainly could apply equally to retrogressive and progressive liturgical styles.

With respect to attempts to correlate clergy sexual abuse with retrogressive vs. progressive styles, it would be very difficult to design such a study; but perhaps not impossible. For my bachelor’s thesis I did create a BMVT scale which was used to correlate various scales of the Edwards Personal Preference Schedule with the degree of Marian Devotion of seminarians. The study was later validated at the master’s level.

I doubt, however, that the designers of the John Jay study would go to the expense of creating a retro v. progressive scale. The validity of such a scale would surely be called into question.

Therefore, we are left with anectodal data. I suspect that most priets know a handful of retrogressive priests who have been removed due to sexual abuse of minors, and a handful of progressive priests as well. In the absence on data indicating the contrary, there is no reason to doubt that with respect to liturgical stlyes of presiders pedophilia and ephebophilia are equal opportunity proclivities.

With respect to “Mommy,” her liturigal pet peeves are trival, petty and absurd. Her complaints:

“Communion under both forms.” Not an abuse, it is permitted if not preferred.

“A Glass Chalice.” The Virtus video was created prior to the current GIRM.

“A Lay Minister.” Permitted, not an abuse.

“Girl taking the cup and handing it back.” The correct manner of distrubion of the Precious Blood.

“Bishop filmed with ceramic chalices in the background.” The chalices were not in use, they were on a book shelf.

“Banners.” They are not prohibited. Tasteless perhaps, but not an abuse.

“Bad Folk Choir.” A matter of taste, not prohibited.

I suspect that “Mommy” knows all of this, and was making a crude attempt at sarcasm.

Pinning sexual abuse of children on priests with a liturgical style she does not like is ugly and mean-spirited.

This woman would not be teaching PSR at my parish, and she certainly would not be responsible for second grade sacramental prep.

Deirdre Mundy said...


-I hadn't realized that the video was pre-GIRM. The age would also explain some of the dated technology information in the program. Perhaps the group that made the video might consider an update.

-As far as taking the Chalice, drinking, and handing it back, I've had some bad experiences with spilling of the Precious Blood. I guess it makes me a litte nervous. Obviously, lay ministers are allowed to help with communion.

-The procession with banners in the video is not just tasteless - if it occured during a Mass it would be distracting and inappropriate. The focus of the Mass should be the worship of God, not putting our own creativity on display.

-If children want to make banners and march with them, there are times OUTSIDE of the liturgy when they can do this. Mass is not the place.

-I assumed the ceramic chalices were NOT just decorative. I apologize if I was wrong.

- While Liturgical music is a matter of taste, I'd argue that it's more difficult to have a REVERENT liturgy when you have a folk choir. And the music helps signify the seriousness and solemnity of an occasion.

-How many brides choose to march down the aisle to a foot-stomping, hand-clapping folk tune? Shouldn't the Wedding Feast of the Lamb be as important as our OWN weddings?

Pam - with respect to Childrens' Liturgy of the Word - I think there are several problems.

1. The early Church did have a tradition of dismissing Catechumens. However, our children are NOT Catechumens. At their baptism, they are full members of the Church and so should be encouraged to celebrate Mass with the whole Church.

2. It's important for them to hear the Word of God as part of the COMMUNITY, with their Parents. A "children's liturgy" would be more appropriate for after Mass, or during Sunday School.

3. Often the Children's Liturgy ends after the Profession of Faith and the petitions-- so we're also denying the children a chance to learn and reaffirm the tenets of our faith, and a chance to pray for the needs of the parish.

4. The age cut-off is an issue. Children in first and second grade are preparing for First communion and should be able to sit through Mass and listen to the readings. If they've gotten in the habit of leaving to go to 'Children's Liturgy' then this preparation for the sacraments will seem like a punishment-- they're losing 'fun time' at Mass.

The Catholic Church is CATHOLIC. All ages should worship together. Our children are full members of the Church and we should treat them as such. Also, how will they LEARN to listen to God's word in the Mass if we don't give them the chance to practice?

I realize the people involved in Children's liturgy are well-intentioned and really enjoy sharing their faith with children. I just don't think that the proper time for this faith sharing is DURING Mass, when families ought to be worshipping together.

nazareth priest said...

Anon: The terms "retrogressive" and "progressive" need to be defined, yeah?
Are you a sociologist?
Anyway...apart from the "liturgical abuses"...there are definite "warning signs" in both "classes" of priests...a certain "clericalism" defines both (whether you like it or not)...the most "progressive" priest can be a real "authoritarian", worse than anything prior to VII; the "retrogressive" priest can indeed, be pastoral, compassionate and even, loving? But he can also be a predator and a jerk.
Sorry to burst your bubble, there.
Stereotyping is not going to help us at all; what we need is for priests/deacons/religious/lay ministers to take seriously the "call to holiness", live it, and inspire others to do so.
This VIRTUS program is just so much crap...a way to make money for some, for others to feel like they're "doing something", and for others to promote an absolutely "un-Catholic" agenda.
If folks would have really been watchful, discerning, and used their common sense, much of this could have been prevented (in the program I was required to attend, a son of a permanent deacon spoke of how he would take little girls into the bathroom to "wash off paint", while abusing them...that should have sent off warning signals to anybody with half a adolescent male, taking little girls into a bathroom, ALONE?)...who needs a "program" to figure that one out?
Anyway, I'm rambling.
Deirdre, keep up the great work!

Deirdre Mundy said...

I posted this in the combox at Father Z's -- Posting it here too..

Hmm... I wasn't thinking as much of a direct correlation for individuals (Father used a glass chalice! He must be a pervert!) as much as a bigger correlation - for Dioceses, Nations, and the Church as a whole. (Because, obviously, if it was a person by person correlation, Benedict's efforts to renew the Liturgy would be worthless against the 'filth', not part of a two-pronged attack.)

However, the Dioceses with the biggest problems (Boston and LA, for example) also seemed to have a loss of the sense that the Eucharist is really the center of our faith-- every thing ought to be centered on and flow out from our adoration of the Person Christ in the Real Presence --

Bad Liturgy of any stripe treats Christ as a 'thing' not a person, and as a means to our own self-glorification, rather than as God.

Also, after reading "Looking at the Liturgy" (Aidan Nichols. From Ignatius Press.) I'm convinced that the problems did not magically appear at Vatican 2 -- in fact, an overly utilitarian sense of the Liturgy pervaded the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Benedict is not the FIRST pope to try to redirect our gaze to God and to remind us that the Liturgy is about adoration and worship. I'm hoping he'll be more successful than some of his predecessors, because he seems to have a clear idea of the steps he needs to take.

So, no, it's not a question of "Banners are bad! The priest is bad!" It's more along the lines that we as a Church/Nation/diocese/etc. have lost the sense that the whole POINT of the Liturgy is the adoration of Our Lord and Savior. We treat Him as a tool. "Oh, I go to Mass to get the graces I need to fufill my ministries." But really, the intense love of Christ needs to come FIRST. Adoration and Contemplation need to be the START.

When using the Liturgy as a way to meet goals is the norm, can we really be shocked when some people's goals are sinful rather than noble?

Josemaria Lazaro Paulo Jeronimo Martin Carvalho-von verster said...

Posted Also on The WDTPRS Blog

I Don’t get the Connection, Between The Liturgical Abuse and Priestly Pedophilia. It’s How Priests Behave that Matters,NOT How They Celebrate the Mass and Other Liturgical Functions

Baron Korf said...

So I'm not the only one who noticed all that as well. That makes me feel better, a bit.

Lauretta said...

I'll jump in here with a comparison that might be valid to show a possible connection between the celebration of liturgy and a priest's personal morality.

I noticed over the years that many of my friends who chose to go against Church teaching and contracept gradually started to question the Church's teaching in other areas, and not just in areas of morality. They would begin to question theological teaching as well, thinking that they had the right to question since they had questioned a moral teaching and subsequently rejected it. I think they subconsciously begin to think that they are a Magisterium unto themselves and can question the Church and at times discover her to be wrong. That's a pretty dangerous place to put yourself in.

As far as the Mass celebration/child abuse connection is concerned, what I have seen is that many clergy who PUBLICLY promote and defend liturgical abuse have been subsequently discovered to be living outside of the Church's teaching in moral areas as well. Yes, there are exceptions on both sides, some who seem very orthodox are abusers and many who are very "creative" with liturgy are not.

Anonymous said...

My "favorite" part of the VIRTUS video, (apart from the facilitators, a pair of Church Harpies, er... Church Ladies who can enliven any pie they can manage to stick their fat thumbs in, which in my parish is EVERYTHING,) was the soccer mom who saw a pervert talking to a group of girls at the park, and righteously took her kid home, leaving the rest of the children at his mercy...

There is no correlation between "progressive" or "retrogressive", (incidentlly, "progressive" means in line with the Holy Father's "Spirit of the Liturgy," in my book - now that would be REAL progress!), and sex abuse.

But I do believe there IS a correlation between self-indulgent, ego-centric liturgy and the failure of that liturgy to instill holiness, and thus to help keep us all, lay and clerical, from sin.

Amy R said...

I hated that Virtus video so bad. Ugh. It still rankles me that I had to watch it, like five or more years ago. I do recall reading somewhere or other years ago now, that the creators of the Virtus program had quite dreadful credentials in terms of being faithful Catholics, for starters. So that would explain why they showed lame liturgies, clay chalices, etc. - it's what they liked apparently.

I'm sorry to hear Virtus is still around. It's a terrible program.

Anonymous said...

"the Dioceses with the biggest problems (Boston and LA, for example) also seemed to have a loss of the sense that the Eucharist is really the center of our faith."
Uhh, that's quite a generalization. I honestly don't know about Boston but, much as I don't like the way Cardinal Mahoney handeled the abuse crisis, I think there are many wonderful Catholics whose lives are vewry centered on the Eucharist. Perhaps their jots and titeles are not the same as yours.
Your comments on life after are very insightful. The example of your daughter hanging on a closet shelf was wonderful.Here you sound very narrow judgemental.
Lighten up dear lady.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Sorry-- I was mostly going on the impression of LA i've gotten from other Catholic bloggers -- that you have to work hard to find a reverent church, that the new cathedral is atrocious, that the yearly all-diocesan Mass is terrible, etc. etc......

It wasn't prejudice against the entertainment industry-- the bloggers in question ARE in the entertainment industry...

OTOH-- it's possible my view is skewed because the people who attend more 'normal' parishes in the LA diocese don't blog about it....

The big thing is, whenever liturgy becomes all about 'Me' and 'How great I am!' there are problems in the offing-- So, for instance, a priest who says Mass in a way that is intended to show that he's hip and cool, is a problem. So is a priest who says Mass in a certain way because he's trying to show how holy and worthy of followers he is.

Mass should always be about adoring God, not about adoring ourselves. The rubrics are there for a reason, and part of that reason is to take the focus OFF us. We focus on ourselves and how great and special we are nearly all the time. Mass needs to be something else entirely......