Saturday, April 12, 2008

Abuse of liturgical abuse

The American Papist put together a video making fun of some of the sillier liturgical abuses that have been committed against the Novus Ordo:

For now I'm not going to comment on the grotesqueries of clown masses, but rather the relatively mundane liturgical dance, whose inappropriateness in formal liturgy is not always self-evident. Most of the arguments I've seen against it fall into one of three categories: it's not a natural part of our liturgical culture (i.e. simply grafting it into the rubrics tends to be disruptive on multiple levels), it tends to draw attention to itself and away from God (which confounds the purpose of the mass), and it's often just badly done (which I don't have to explain, do I?).

If someone managed to convince me that dance could be properly integrated into the mass, and then somehow compelled me to reconstruct the liturgy accordingly, I'm sure what I'd do is have the dancers direct the preponderance of their effort and attention toward the altar or tabernacle. Most of the (thankfully little) I've seen seems to have put a premium on engaging the congregation and showing them what the performers are doing, and hardly in the "Hey you, remember that this is all about praising the Eucharist/Incarnation/trendy theological meme" sense.

If it points to us, even in aesthetically inspiring ways, it is not worship. Maybe if it praised God for the great things He has done in and for and through us, but performing art like what we see here is frivolous decoration at best, and turning the liturgy into self-celebration at worst.

I don't mind art for art's sake, but worship is for the glory of God. We can (and should) see God's greatness in all human activity, but the liturgy isn't simply human activity, and any aesthetic element to the liturgy should expressly draw us toward the Eucharist and upward to heaven. With the stuff like what the American Papist is satirizing, the claim that it's well-ordered worship sounds a lot like a storefront church claiming to be rooted deep in history because its unschooled pastor is teaching himself Hebrew to read the Torah.