Mgr Edwin Barnes – Liturgy: the work of the People

“We do not come to the Church to celebrate what we have done or who we are. Rather, we come to celebrate and give thanks for all that Almighty God has done, and continues in His love and mercy to do, for us. What He does in the liturgy is what is essential; what we do is to present our ‘first fruits’—the best that we can—in worship and adoration. When the modern liturgy is celebrated in the vernacular with the priest ‘facing the people’ there is a danger of man, even of the priest himself and of his personality, becoming too central.”

cardinal-sarahOf course Cardinal Sarah is right. There are these dangers in vernacular liturgy celebrated facing the people. I could wish though that the good Cardinal had also pointed up some of the dangers in a liturgy not “understanded of the people” (Cranmer, I believe) and also in ‘ad orientem’ celebrations.

It is possible for a mass to become so liturgically correct, so observant of every foot-note in Fortescue and O’Connell, that those celebrating (not least, but not only, the Servers) can lose sight of what they are about. I have witnessed ‘North end’ celebrations in the Church of England which were deeply devout and prayerful. Equally I have seen priests celebrating Mass facing the apse who have been quite switched off – and certainly inattentive to the needs of the worshippers as they gabbled the Latin and dropped into supposedly pious inaudibility, while self-important servers fussed about the altar.

When we began to adopt the westward facing Eucharist in my CofE days I tried, with my curates, to recognise some of the pitfalls of that change. We spent time together with members of the congregation working out how best to introduce liturgical change. Yes, one could become too informal, more a ringmaster than a celebrant. It was more important than ever to focus on the sacred elements rather than on one’s fellow worshippers. Those dangers are still present now that I am a Catholic. Attentiveness, attention to the text, clarity of speaking, refusal to rush, all these and more are needed to give the Mass its proper dignity. There is no place for idiosyncratic modes of speech, or elaborate gestures.

The Ordinariate, I hope, brings with it as part of its patrimony a reverence for “the beauty of holiness”. But this does not depend on choreography of Byzantine complexity, Latin vestments more suited to the Knave in a pack of cards than to the reality of the human body, or language from fourth century Rome or sixteenth century England. Repeatedly through history there have needed to be reforms, usually of over-elaboration and clericalism in worship which have treated the laity as mere pew-fodder. We should be grateful to Cardinal Sarah for reminding us that all our worship ought to be focus on the Almighty. Perhaps, though, his particular remedies are only suitable for relatively few Cathedrals and greater churches. More important by far is to get the music sorted out. Drop the meaningless ditties of the 20th Century or the maudlin attention to death of the 19th. Restore to the Catholic Church some of the treasures of hymnody and psalmody from previous generations [and our own], and there is a chance that the people will discover something of God in the Church’s worship. For where two or three are gathered together in his name (and no advice in scripture on which way they should be facing) there is the Lord in the midst of them. (Matt.xviii 20)

(This is reposted from the blog “Antique Richborough” at the specific request of Monsignor Barnes, hoping that it might encourage comment.)

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6 Responses to Mgr Edwin Barnes – Liturgy: the work of the People

  1. Edwin Barnes says:

    Thank you for reposting this; I hope it might get a response or two.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      Reverend monsignor,

      When I read this article on your blog shortly after you posted it, my immediate reaction was a resounding “Amen! You positively hit the proverbial nail on the head with analysis that is awesomely accurate. In particular, your comment about “becom[ing] so liturgically correct, so observant of every foot-note in Fortescue and O’Connell, that those celebrating (not least, but not only, the Servers) can lose sight of what they are about.” Indeed, the Second Vatican Council addressed this in the sacred constitution Sacrosantum concillium on divine worship (internal citation removed; boldface added).

      11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.

      Of course, the extreme of the principal celebrant becoming a ringmaster also is worthy of condemnation!

      The bottom line is that there is no substitute for proper training of those involved in the liturgy every any capacity, including the congregation. The proper celebration of the liturgy requires prayerful discernment, planning, and preparation by individuals who understand not only the rubrics but also the theology behind them, proper selection and rehearsal of music based on liturgical principles, the pastoral situation of the parish or congregation, and the musical abilities of the musicians, cantors, choir, congregation, and clergy, and a spirit of reverence and prayer throughout the entire celebration. The rubrics pertaining to liturgical silence after each reading, after the homily, and after communion are particularly important: the participants need time to reflect on what they have heard if the liturgy is to realize its full potential.

      With respect to liturgical music, I agree completely with the sentiment of dropping “the meaningless ditties of the 20th Century or the maudlin attention to death of the 19th” and bringing back liturgical music of profound spirituality from times past — but let’s not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater on either side of the equation! There is a large body of contemporary music that is truly profound, which may engage today’s generations more effectively, which may allow a larger body of musicians to bring their talents to the service of the liturgy by admitting instruments other than the traditional (pipe) organ, and which may be more suitable to the musical abilities of some congregations. On the other hand, there are traditional hymns have endured the test of time precisely because they express profound spiritual truths and thus have fostered the faith of many generations and there are traditional hymns that express spiritual piety of bygone eras that might not be so relevant today. There’s also the possibility, not yet adequately explored, that new arrangements of traditional hymns and contemporary musical settings of traditional lyrics might bring the best of both worlds. In the Catholic Church, there is plenty of room for the best of all of this!

      Finally, you made one comment with which I respectfully disagree — the insertion of a parenthetical remark into a verse of scripture, with which you concluded:

      For where two or three are gathered together in his name (and no advice in scripture on which way they should be facing) there is the Lord in the midst of them. (Matt.xviii 20)

      If the Lord is the focus of the liturgy, should we not face where he is? This verse says that he is in our midst — which seems to me to be pretty clear guidance! In this regard, I invite your attention to the plans for the new cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange (California) here in the States, to be dedicated under the title of Christ Cathedral early next year, and the surrounding campus. The plan for the interior (also, click on the second link to view the interactive map of the campus, then move the mouse cursor over on the button superimposed on the cathedral building and click on “look inside” on the menu that appears above it to view an interactive cutaway of the floorplan for descriptions of the elements) puts the altar at the center of the building, making it truly the center of worship. I wonder how Cardinal Sarah would react to this: a place of worship in which half of the congregation faces eastward and half faces westward! Alas, this arrangement might not be appropriate for the Divine Worship liturgy in spite of the Anglican-sounding name. (By way of background, the campus was a “megachurch” built up by Dr. Robert Schuller, a minister of the Reformed Church in America, who dubbed the current main building “Crystal Cathedral” when he saw the architect’s plans for an all-glass house of worship. The Diocese of Orange acquired the campus for its new cathedral when Dr. Schuller’s organization fell into bankruptcy following his retirement. A nearby Catholic congregation, formerly known as St. Callistus Parish, relocated to the new campus to become the congregation of the new cathedral, with its former facilities, now known as Shepherd’s Grove, going to the remnant of Dr. Schuller’s organization. The video on the “Stations of Mercy” on the “Christ Cathedral” web site is also quite interesting!)

      In conclusion, thank you for your very thoughtful, inspiring, and thought-provoking article!


  2. EPMS says:

    Whether Cardinal Sarah’s call for a return to ad orientem celebrations by Advent 2016 was a directive or a misinterpreted suggestion, it was received enthusiastically by those who like directives, or at least directives about things they are already doing, or would like to do, anyway. “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life,” is not a congenial precept for these people. I do not advance this as just a put-down; T. S. Eliot inverted this saying to good effect in rejecting the vague humanism of Shaw and H. G. Wells, but not everyone has the intellectual depth of T. S. Eliot. Some people just like rules.

    • Rev22:17 says:


      At this point, it’s pretty clear that Cardinal Sarah’s request is nothing more than an expression of his own personal preference. There was no “directive” whatsoever.

      The current ordinary form of the Roman Rite is not inherently any less reverent than the Tridentine form. The fundamental problem that persists in many places is one of poor preparation and shoddy celebration by pastors and liturgical ministers who don’t comprehend the liturgy and who fail to come to the liturgy with a disposition of reverence and awe. Today, most clergy who adhere to the Tridentine form probably care enough to celebrate it in a reverent manner but the celebration of mass according to the Tridentine form in my childhood was rather lacking in many places. “Do the red, say the black” does not guarantee reverence. Rather, one must celebrate the liturgy with a spirit of authentic worship.


  3. EPMS says:

    I entirely agree. I enjoy having the opportunity to say that to Norm. “Ecce quam bonum et quam decorum habitare fratres in uno.”

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