A Few Souls Weep

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Santisimo Sacramento.jpg

Exposition and Adoration

Not long ago, on a Friday evening, while visiting a major international Marian shrine recognized by the Holy See, I attended exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. There are a number of priests on staff at this particular shrine.

The sacristan, a layman who manages to be unfailingly kind and business-like at the same time, emerged from the sacristy; opened the tabernacle; removed from it the monstrance containing the Sacred Host; placed it, rather unceremoniously on the altar; genuflected and left.

Minimalism

There was no singing, no use of incense, and no priest, therefore no use of the humeral veil and none of the marks of reverence and adoration that should accompany such a rite: liturgical minimalism of the most egregious sort.

A Para-Liturgy of the Laity

A couple of devout ladies in the first pew took charge, announcing page numbers and reciting a sequence of vocal prayers at at pace that was more than lively. Their recitation was so fast that I marveled at their ability to crank on without stopping for a breath.

The entire service was conducted by laypersons. At the conclusion there was, given the absence of a priest, no Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The monstrance containing the Sacred Host was summarily removed from the altar, replaced in the tabernacle and . . . well . . . that was it.

A Spiritual Cancer

I found myself grieving over the whole situation. It was an experience of liturgical minimalism such as I have never seen. It was exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament on the cheap. The absence of the priest was symptomatic of a spiritual cancer that, even after the Year of the Eucharist and the Year of the Priest, is metastasizing throughout the Church.

It Was Bound to Happen

What was happening there? The liturgical minimalism and irreverence that have come to characterize the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in so many places have now invaded the rite of exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It was bound to happen. The ethos of Holy Communion received in the hand, of the abusive use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and of the loss of any awareness of sacred space has now overflowed into the cultus of the Most Holy Eucharist outside of Mass.

The rite of exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is fast becoming the exclusive purview of the laity, and often of the sacristan, or of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. A rite that, in the mind of the Church, is to be solemn, festive, and hierarchically ordered has become something sad, bland, and common.

The Priest and the Body of Christ

The practice I witnessed first-hand at the shrine of X. is symptomatic of something grievously wrong. A wedge is being driven between the cultus of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the priest who is ordained not only to confect the adorable Body and precious Blood of Christ, but also to offer the Holy Sacrifice, to handle the Sacred Species, and to present the Body of Christ to the gaze of the faithful and to their adoration.

Foretaste of Heaven

In former times, the authorization of the Ordinary was required for exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. I remember well seeing, as a young lad, a framed and beautifully handwritten document on the sacristy wall listing the days on which exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament were permitted. Exposition and Benediction were privileged moments, anticipated with joy: a foretaste of heaven that passed all too quickly, leaving the fragrance of incense hanging in the air.

Something Has Gone Very Wrong

In fifty years time we have come to quite another scenario: a layman in work clothes (or a lay woman) places the monstrance on the altar and walks away. A few ladies begin a series of devotional prayers. And, here and there, in the semi-darkness of the church, a few souls weep, for they understand that something has gone very wrong. Very wrong indeed.

5 Comments

This soul weeps bitter tears every day. Being a faithful Catholic today is a trial more because of what is done/not done by those in the Church, particularly by priests, Bishops and religious, than by those without.

Dear Father Kirby,
so many of us are suffering from this liturgical minimalism of our time either through an ignorance or because of an awareness of the beauty of all the catholic traditions. Many of us here in Tulsa were fortunate enough to hear you speak about the beauty of all the parts of the Mass. Our eyes and ears were opened to the richness of every detail of the Mass and the joy of being a priest to bring this special sacrament to us, the people! Please continue your teachings! You have a wonderful gift! Maybe you will have the opportunity to present these talks again and then somebody can tape all the talks so we can distribute them to others. Your knowledge of the Mass and the exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament summarized in a booklet would be the best material for teaching RE- and RCIA classes!
Always praying for you and your monastery,
Marion

Dear Father Mark,

In the church I go to, the EMs tend to pop in and out the tiny chapel where the few gather for prayers in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and unceremoniously take the Consecrated Species out of the tabernacle or put it in. A friend of mine happened to witness this -- with a genuine horror. She confronted the priest and deacon about it, and they didn't understand why she was upset, and basically laughed it off, saying that it's just the EMs' job, and nothing to make a big deal about.

For the sake of brevity, one more thing that I find very disturbing:
During the last twenty years I have never seen a priest leading the Stations of the Cross, or at least participating -- how can they excuse themselves out of it?

(Agnieszka)

Dear Fr. Mark,

How very apropos this blog post is today. For the past few days, how I have wept interiorly, how I have felt crushed and dismayed because of this very subject - the beauty of the Liturgy.

My parish priest talks quite often about how the Liturgy must be celebrated beautifuly so that people may experience the Mystery, and frequently mentions Paul Claudel's conversion, how it took place within the context of the Liturgy. Having discovered that his conversion took place during Vespers service, I chanced upon a short clip of a Solemn Vespers at a CIEL conference. Those 94 seconds left me in tears of joy, and I decided to share the video with the priest.

Now, while he does truly care for the salvation of souls, he dismissed the video, saying that what is seen in the video does not appeal to all - that it might actually drive certain people away - and that, grosso modo, the celebration of the liturgy must cater somewhat to its audience's tastes as beauty is relative (these were not his exact words, but are an acurate summary of them).

When he speaks of celebrating the Liturgy beautifuly, but then goes and does things which, in my opinion, do not contribute to the beauty of the Liturgy (no chausible at Mass for young adults; laity sitting around the altar in the sanctuary; sugary hymns; adding to the text of the missal - just to list a few things), it pains me so. I sometimes question myself - am I too attached to a particular "style"? Are not the people around me right, and perhaps I in the wrong? This thought has plagued me for the past few days. And then I come upon this post and see that I am not alone.

Our wedding this past May was a Missa cantata. We desired to embark on this new stage of our life in common with a "thing of beauty". We desired to give the Lord a beautiful Mass, to give thanks for all that He has done for us, as well as to offer St. Isabel of Portugal - her body reposes behind the altar in the church where we married - the EF as a thank you (for it seems that she was always popping up along the way during our preparation, and thought that perhaps she was interceding for us); we also desired to give our guests a glimpse of that which has helped us inter into a deeper relationship with Our Lord.

Dear Father, how it pains us - my wife and I - so to live in a country where the EF is mocked, where even attempts to celebrate the OF according to the "Reform of the Reform" are not welcome. Is it wrong for us to desire things to be done correctly? We do not want them because we are stuck on rubrics, or because it happens to agree with our views. Rather, it is the Liturgy - especially the EF - which has shaped our lives in these past few years, when we had the chance to attend regularly in Fátima (which is no longer the case). We wish for others to discover that which we have found; we wish for the Liturgy to change their lives, to open them to the overabundance of the Lord's grace and mercy; that they may truly say "Habemus ad Dominum", and be transformed.

Please forgive me Father, if I have said too much, or have rambled, or have been at fault for revealing things which I should not have about others. It is just that I have been much burdened by this weight on my heart for these past few days, and your post came as a consolation.

We shall be praying for your community.

Pax Christi,
Marco

Dear Dom Mark,

I feel grateful for not having yet witnessed such a lack of love and reverence towards the Most Holy Eucharist here in my traditionally Catholic country. The exposition of the Most Holy Eucharist, throughout all the parishes and monasteries I have been, has always been conducted by a Priest, with all the complete rite and accompanied by the fervent chants and prayers of the faithful.

However, how many times I have bitterly grieved while watching a Priest celebrating the Holy Mass -let alone without any sense of sacredness and transcendence- but in a purely mechanical way!

Is there anything we can do, besides striving to lead an earnest prayer life and bringing that fire into every liturgical celebration we attend?

In Jesus Christ, our Lord,

FD

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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