The Summit, Flattened
It is unarguable that the Church as we know it has been in serious decline over the past few decades. Church attendance has plummeted, catechesis has suffered, and vocations to the priesthood have dropped dramatically. The Catholic Church faces many external pressures, but our internal crisis is perhaps the greatest of threats, indicating that we cannot adequately tend to our own flock. Perhaps this crisis derives from a decline in our liturgical life that has ominously followed our overall decline as a Church.
The Catechism states simply that the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life, and as Catholics we cannot deny the necessity of sacramentality in the attainment of eternal life. But what happens when our source and summit no longer appears to be so, and instead appears to be merely a human creation with little or no divine semblances? What happens when we make the Mass only our prayer, and no longer a prayer sanctioned by God, for God? The answer to this question has already been suggested, and a liturgy that has lost its transcendental qualities of truth, goodness, and beauty will inevitably result in lackluster religious fervor, a dumbing down of mystery, and a loss of respect for the faith.
Has the liturgy so lost its sense of the sacred to merit such accusations? It would appear so, especially in many churches that seek to be more accessible, inclusive, and relevant. These churches have been inspired by the so-called “spirit of Vatican II,” an awful specter that thwarts any true effort for liturgical renewal. Although we cannot deny that the Eucharist is still made present on the altars of our churches, the nature of these liturgies, and even of the church buildings dedicated to them, leave a doubt as to the respectfulness given to this wondrous sacrament.
We see in many parish churches a Mass celebrated where Scripture is interpreted politically and psychologically, Tradition is tossed aside due to its “old-fashioned” character, and reverence and awe are reduced to cheap sentiments. We see many of our priests who fear to preach the hard truths of the faith, lack the passion to defend them, or outright contradict them. Much of our liturgical musical repertoire now comprises of period pieces, born of the 80s, that lack the transcendent qualities typical of Catholic liturgical music from previous centuries. Even church architecture took a turn for the worse through the creation of structures more resembling lecture halls and spaceships than places for worship and sacrifice.
Is it any wonder, then, why many do not want to go to Mass anymore? It is boring and blasé, it does not seek to challenge, and it appeals only to a passing fancy more than to a need for transcendent beauty. When we lose a sense of the divine, we lose a sense of worth in the liturgy and the knowledge that the Mass has the hand of God written all over it. The Mass becomes human prayer more than it is divinely inspired prayer. With this perception of human inspiration over divine inspiration, some may contend that if this important aspect of the faith is our own invention, then other important aspects must also be humanly constructed as well. Divine revelation soon becomes perceived as human demands that have no true authority, and Catholicism is thus assumed to be one massive, convoluted God-of-the-gaps theory and not so much a history of man’s salvation.
As Catholics, though, we understand the true nature of the liturgy as the sacrifice of Christ made manifest on the altar before us. The words of consecration uttered by the priest are not simply his words but the words of Christ Himself that transubstantiate the bread and wine into His Body and Blood. These phrases are not our words, or else our critics would be correct in saying that the liturgy is only our humanly constructed rite with no heavenly connections. The fact that these words, spoken at the highest point of the Mass, are not our own indicates the presence of divinity in the sacrament. This is not our prayer for us, but our prayer, both God’s and man’s, to God Himself.
If it is the case that the liturgy is divinely inspired, as we believe it is, then we are obliged to give ourselves wholly to God in the Church’s official communal prayer. We cannot cut corners in the liturgy to evangelize to the young and make ourselves relevant to the world. The young crave authenticity in liturgy; they see truth and beauty in it, but it is admittedly difficult to comprehend behind the strumming guitars and the felt banners. It is time that we more fully demonstrate this beautiful sacrament through a return to “old-fashioned” Tradition, and no longer through the fads of the day, to restore the sense of the sacred and instill a sense of divine purpose into the liturgy once more.
Matthew Gambetta is a senior studying IT Management and Theology. If you, too, like to rant about liturgical furnishings and chapel renovations, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.