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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Monday, September 23, 2002  
Replacing the missal with a Little Red Book: The forced collectivism of the liturgical commissariat

Free Republic notes the web site of a Catholic chapel in State College, Pa., that is a model of get-your-mind-right Liturgist-Speak.

The re-education in new-think proceeds apace, from the rationale for the full-immersion baptismal jacuzzi to those given for the lack of decoration or of a defined sanctuary.

Altar area: Eucharist is a celebration of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This area is the focal point of the space without being removed or isolated from the rest of the space. It is given just enough prominence to allow visibility by all present but without putting distance between this space and the rest of the room. Christians gather around the table of the Lord; they are not spectators at the Lord's table. The area is uncluttered by extraneous appointments; there is simply the Lord's table (the altar), the lectern or ambo, and the presider's chair. These are the focus of the liturgy.

Altar shape: The square design best expresses the theology that all are gathered around the table. There is no front or back, no head or foot of the table. All places are of equal importance. (A round altar can also express the concept.)

Presider's chair: While certainly not a throne, the chair's central position serves to remind us that the community does gather around someone who presides at the celebration.

Seating area: One of the challenges in designing a space in keeping with a contemporary understanding of liturgical celebrations is seating people so that they do not see themselves as spectators but as active participants in the liturgy. They are as much a part of the action of the liturgy as the presider or the reader or the choir. They are to interact with each other as well as with the presider and the reader. Their role in the liturgy is of equal importance with the roles of anyone else taking part in the action of the liturgy. We are not in a theater to watch. We are with each other and at the table of the Lord, and our seating arrangement is designed to help establish this feeling.

An important general feature of the worship space is that everything in it is portable or moveable except for the baptismal font. This allows us to gather in this room in a variety of ways, and, on occasion, to use the space for other liturgical functions as well as concerts, plays, etc. The options to rearrange the room can help to facilitate special liturgies. It might be one way to mark the change in various liturgical seasons. Furthermore, we are a pilgrim people. A pilgrim people is a people that is on the move, not fixed and permanently settled. We should not forget that.

Here we have the liturgist as modern-art critic, explaining the symbolism behind the latest innovation in worship as performance art. An argument for Mass in the vernacular was that it made the rite more accessible for the average worshiper. But if a standing class of liturgist-critics is required to intepret all the new "symbols" they are constantly inventing, from "pilgrim" folding chairs to the filling of holy-water fonts with sand, has the Mass been made truly more accessible to the average person in the pew (or "pilgrim" chair)?

Remember the scene in Dr. Zhivago when his Red commissar brother criticizes his poetry as personal and "self-indulgent"? The scriptwriter might have been borrowed for this passage on the corrupting influence of "private" devotions:

The absence of kneelers is another notable feature, related to the fact that this space is meant for public worship, not private, personal devotion. According to the rules of the liturgy of Vatican II, standing or sitting are the two preferred postures, rather than kneeling, although kneeling is not outlawed. Kneeling is a posture suited to private, personal prayer; kneeling tends to close out people around us. This should never occur in liturgy.

For similar reasons, our worship space also has no statues, no votive lights, and no stations. This space gives prominence and focus only to those elements involved in the public celebration of the church's liturgy and draws all of our attention to the sacramental life of the church. It invites us insistently to develop a liturgical spirituality. A liturgical spirituality is one which gives primary emphasis to the sacramental life of the church. Even private devotion takes its inspiration from and leads back to the celebration of the liturgy.

This is not Catholicism. This is liturgical bolshevism.

And while this is an extreme case, the trend toward forced collectivism, with the shifting of focus toward the assembly, and an emphasis on Mass as shared meal rather than sacrifice, is why many blanche at the seemingly innocuous imposed handshake with "Christ in your neighbor" that Fr. Johansen mentions.


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