Friday, June 22, 2012

Rites and Rubrics...for a Reason

From Baker City, Oregon…here’s the latest announcement in the parish bulletin about our new Bishop Liam Cary’s up-coming first visit to his Cathedral:

We are all looking forward to welcome our new Bishop Liam Cary as he visits our parish and its mission for the first time next weekend. During the morning Mass at 9:30 AM, we ask everyone to be present at least 10 minutes before the Mass starts. This is because there is a brief ceremony that will be done before the Mass starts, whereby Bishop Liam takes possession of the Cathedral, as the new bishop, and technically its new pastor. He will knock three times on the main doors, while I will greet him, offer him a crucifix to kiss as well as the holy water sprinkler (also known as aspergillium,) with which the bishop sprinkles himself and all those present.
As we process towards the altar, he will then reverence the tabernacle and the Mass will start as usual. Since some parts of this ceremony were already done in St Francis of Assisi church in Bend on May 18, they may be skipped here at the Cathedral. But it is very important that everyone be in place before the Mass starts, so that you can follow this unique ritual, which is held only here at the Cathedral parish.

“Unique ritual”? I guess! It’ll be “unique” all right, because no one else in the entire Catholic Church does it this way.

“Some parts of this ceremony were already done” so they’ll be “skipped here at the Cathedral.” Whoever heard of splitting up the parts of a rite in time and space?!

And this rite will be done “only here at the Cathedral parish”?! I certainly hope so! It’s being done for all the wrong reasons, but it should never enter anyone’s mind that this is a ritual that would be repeated in other parishes as well! I think we have lost the sense of what a cathedral and a cathedral parish are all about…at least in the Diocese of Baker.

In addition, Bishop Cary is not taking possession of the cathedral as its pastor; he’s taking possession of the diocese which is represented by the cathedral.

I’ve talked through this whole issue before – go here for the thorough discussion of what’s wrong with the whole idea of attempting the rite of reception after our new bishop has already been ordained AND seated on his cathedra (despite the fact that the chair had been uprooted from its cathedral and unceremoniously transported halfway across the state for an ordination that was NOT taking place in the cathedral).

To be blunt, the problem is this: the ordination was not done properly. Why not? For the sake of convenience. The Cathedral in Baker City is a 2-hour drive from the nearest major airport. It’s a 5-hour drive from Bend, where the chancery office is located. Think of the inconvenience for the visiting dignitaries and guests! (I think small plane travel is possible, but probably quite expensive, and there aren’t too many flights.)

I hate that the ordination was done improperly, but I think we should just stop beating the poor dead horse. We’re not going to make it all better by performing half of a rite in the Cathedral six weeks after the fact to make up for what was not done properly at the time. It makes as much sense as, say, having a priest say all the prayers and words of the rite of confirmation at one Mass in one church, up to the anointing with oil, and then having everyone get together a month later in a different church for him to finish the job.

Now, I’ll bet most people – and maybe even some of you reading this – would say, “So what’s the big deal? Why not have a little special something for the Cathedral, even if it’s not really done right? Who will even know whether it’s done properly or not? And seriously, do you think God really cares?”

The big deal is this: We are Catholic. We have rites. With rubrics. For a reason.

If it doesn’t matter whether we do it right or not, why don’t we all just become Protestants?

The ordination should have taken place at the Cathedral, and the faithful of the Cathedral parish should have been incensed that it did not. There should have been a huge outcry about it, and a demand for it to be held at the Cathedral. There wasn’t. What does that tell you?

It tells me that the faithful of the Cathedral parish have no idea what it means to be the Cathedral parish. They – including the rector – have no idea that the Cathedral is supposed to be the mother church of the diocese. They don’t know they are supposed to be setting the liturgical standards for the other churches to follow.

And the office staff, who’ve been there long enough to have been through a priestly ordination or two, just don’t want the headaches of a big celebration anyway. It’s too inconvenient.

So, you ask, what does it matter then, if no one cares?

Well, I care. And by golly, I am entitled – yes, entitled – to have the rites celebrated correctly. It’s not really all about me, though; it’s really all about the liturgy. In Redemptionis Sacramentum we find that:

…[I]t is the right of all of Christ’s faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms. (12)

That document is concerned primarily with the Mass, but it doesn’t exclude other liturgical rites. And even though I am only one person, I am also one of “the faithful”; and I have a right to ask for – and expect – good liturgy.  That doesn’t mean liturgy according to how I want it, but according to how the Church wants it.

Others should care, but even if they don’t, they are entitled to the liturgy prescribed by the Church. And it’s important that they get it, for how else will they learn what good liturgy really is?

Most people aren’t going to look up the rubrics for a rite – especially one that doesn’t happen often. They’ll just sit back and experience it. And whatever they experience will impact their Catholic identity. The more correctly the rite is celebrated, the more it will enhance our Catholic identity. And the more sloppily it is celebrated, the more it will make us think and act like Protestants. Or worse.

The Rite of Reception is supposed to go like this:

1142  The bishop is received at the doors of the church by a minister dressed in cope, who is…the rector of the cathedral church. He offers the bishop a crucifix to be kissed, then a sprinkler of holy water, with which the bishop sprinkles himself and those present. The bishop may then be escorted to the blessed sacrament chapel, where he kneels for a moment in adoration, then to the vesting room (sacristy). There the bishop and the concelebrating presbyters, the deacons, and the ministers put on the vestments for Mass, which is celebrated in the form of a stational Mass.

But here’s my prediction: the half-rite of sort-of-reception into not-really-the-Cathedral will proceed as follows: the rector of the Cathedral will NOT be dressed in a cope (though it’s a possibility), the bishop will NOT be escorted to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel (and there is one to which he could be escorted), and there will be no need to repair to the sacristy, because everyone will already be vested for Mass.

Not only that, but there will likely be only one deacon at that Mass; at least half the altar servers will be cute little girls with pony tails and high heels; if we’re lucky there’ll be an adult male acolyte or two serving, but regardless, all servers will wear sloppy, seven-dwarves-type albs…complete with dopey hoods. Guitars will be strummed, and a tambourine might be jangled, but the beautiful organ in the choir loft will remain silent. In fact, the entire choir loft will be empty, because the “folk group” will be singing from their place at the side of the sanctuary. There won’t be a single syllable of Latin, not one note of Gregorian chant…and no one will notice.

And yes, I do really think God cares.

For more posts on the Mass on this blog, click on the "TLM and Liturgy" tab at the top of the page.


  1. Rules exist for a reason. The Holy Roman Catholic Church is universal. It's universality rests on the predictability of sameness (except perhaps for language--though Latin could solve that) anywhere and everywhere in the world.

    When the rules are ignored universality goes away. Ignoring the rules or "modifying" them to suit one's personal preferences is inexcusable. Rules are about the Church not the popularity or convenience of Priests or Bishops. Not the right way to start off I'm afraid.

  2. I feel your pain, Jay. Do you not have relatively easy access to an FSSP apostolate or Institute of Christ the King or SSPX? I guess if you did, you'd already be going there. So again, I feel your pain!

  3. Thanks for the sympathy, Elizabeth! No, there are very few options in Eastern Oregon when it comes to Mass. In a few months, we may see a return to our EF Mass in the town 45 miles from us, but I'm not holding my breath.

  4. When you become slave to rules you lose the spirit and meaning of Jesus mission on earth. He was angry at some Jews for their adhering only to the " letter" of the law and ignoring the spirit of God and his son. I feel sorry for you all that cling to dogma of thousands of years ago.

  5. I agree with you, the rubrics exist for a reasons. The Liturgy is not ours to screw around with. I love St Mary's in Pendelton, OR, even if it is the NO, it's well done with lots of Latin and no screwing around.


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