Ritual and Consistency

A recent study presented to the Society for Catholic Liturgy showed that Catholics prefer ritual and consistency in the Mass and shun changes meant to make the Mass “more accessible”.

The summary of the Ligas’s and McCallion’s research boils down to the idea that Catholics are more apt to verbally participate in parts of the Mass that are more ritualized, such as the Our Father. The response to the general intercession had the highest rate of response and participation, while more “changeable” parts of the Mass, such as the hymns, psalms, or the pastor asking the congregation to greet one another, tended to have low rates of participation.

“From our initial responses, we found that ritual comes to form again,” McCallion said. “If people are not singing the same songs, people are less likely to sing. That’s our hypothesis that bore out in the data. Some hymns, some other parts of Mass that are constant, we found a greater rate of response.”

In other news, water is wet.

The Mass is not a tent revival, a choir recital, or a praise and fellowship gathering–though certainly there are proper places and times for such forms of worship. It is a most ancient and solemn ritual precision-designed to do what rituals do best: connect people’s everyday lives with their shared identity.

And the Mass is ritual par excellence because it actually brings about what it symbolizes.

The initial analysis implies that when pastors and music directors change the pattern of the liturgy in an effort the make the Mass more accessible, it tends to have the opposite effect.

“When you know what’s going to happen, you will know what’s going on,” McCallion said. “When you go to a baseball game, nobody is sitting right next to you telling you every single rule. You just know them, because of the repetition. You know what you are supposed to be doing to enter into the collective ritual.

A collective, communal tradition under siege–why am I sensing a pattern, here?

“The liturgy is supposed to be a communal event, but American postmodern culture is really focused on individualism,” McCallion said. “I’d argue that our liturgy has been affected by individualism. Sometimes as, Emile Durkheim (a sociologist who studied the Mass) said, the ‘secular invades the sacred.’”

The tension between making the liturgy a communal prayer experience while at the same time fostering an individual relationship with Christ is something everyone involved with liturgy – pastors, music ministers and catechists – will have to address in the new evangelisation, McCallion said.

“In the new evangelisation, there is a stress on having a personal relationship with Jesus, but the Mass stresses you are supposed to have a communal relationship with Jesus,” McCallion said. “It is both/and, the sacraments are all communal. The Eucharist, if you want to find the physical body of Jesus, is communal.”

Add “obfuscating the meaning and coherence of civilization-preserving traditions” to the list of reasons why individualism is a cancer eating away at the mortally ill body of the West, along with:

  • Trying to make personal consent the sole criterion of the good
  • Creating a mass of atomized individuals that is helpless against collectivist manipulation
  • Being impossible to implement and live consistently

It doesn’t take a genius to see why parishes administered by the Confraternity of Saint Peter frequently have standing room only Masses. A major negative consequence of the Boomers’ rebellion against all tradition is that generations X, Y, the Millennials, and Z have been systematically robbed of the framework that helped their forebears make sense of the world. As a result, they are starving for ritual, tradition, mystery, and consistency.

The Church’s hierarchy has only to put away the guitars, break out the incense, and stop beclowning ancient liturgy if they want to succeed in the new evangelization.

a way out of the filth and nihilism that seems to plague so much of modern fiction

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