The Sin of Liturgical Abuse

by Michael Lofton  •  •  May 30, 2015   

Its Nature, Effects and Proper Response

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What Is Liturgical Abuse?

Liturgical abuse is a private alteration to the public worship of the Church. The Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship provides us with several examples of liturgical abuses that are particularly prevalent in the post-conciliar reform of the sacred liturgy.

But these encouraging and positive aspects cannot suppress concern at the varied and frequent abuses being reported from different parts of the Catholic world: the confusion of roles, especially regarding the priestly ministry and the role of the laity (indiscriminate shared recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer, homilies given by lay people, lay people distributing Communion while the priests refrain from doing so); an increasing loss of the sense of the sacred (abandonment of liturgical vestments, the Eucharist celebrated outside church without real need, lack of reverence and respect for the Blessed Sacrament, etc.); misunderstanding of the ecclesial character of the Liturgy (the use of private texts, the proliferation of unapproved Eucharistic Prayers, the manipulation of the liturgical texts for social and political ends).

Is Liturgical Abuse a Serious Matter?

The Church is of the mind that liturgical abuse is, at times, a grave issue:

It is not possible to be silent about the abuses, even quite grave ones, against the nature of the Liturgy and the Sacraments as well as the tradition and the authority of the Church, which in our day not infrequently plague liturgical celebrations in one ecclesial environment or another. In some places the perpetration of liturgical abuses has become almost habitual, a fact which obviously cannot be allowed and must cease.

What Does the Church Say About Liturgical Abuse?

Priests do not have authority to change the liturgy. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments says:

The Mystery of the Eucharist is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured. On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free reign to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved, and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today.

The Church also says, "They ought not to detract from the profound meaning of their own ministry by corrupting the liturgical celebration either through alteration or omission, or through arbitrary additions."

Clearly, priests do not have the authority to change any part of the liturgy in any way whatsoever. Such authority resides in the Pope alone. The Church also teaches that the faithful are entitled to the liturgy as it is prescribed by Holy Mother Church:

The faithful have a right to a true Liturgy, which means the Liturgy desired and laid down by the Church, which has in fact indicated where adaptations may be made as called for by pastoral requirements in different places or by different groups of people.

The Effects of Liturgical Abuse

The Church tells us of some effects of liturgical abuse:

None of these things [liturgical abuses] can bring good results. The consequences are — and cannot fail to be — the impairing of the unity of Faith and worship in the Church, doctrinal uncertainty, scandal and bewilderment among the People of God, and the near inevitability of violent reactions.

Scandal is a result of liturgical abuse. This is why, sadly, many have chosen to leave the Catholic Church and seek refuge in ecclesial communities not in union with the Bishop of Rome, such as the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Should the Laity Correct Liturgical Abuse?

The Church says on this topic:

In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favoritism.

The laity are not permitted to remain silent about liturgical abuses, but have a serious duty to correct them.

What Can the Laity Do About Liturgical Abuse?

The Church answers this question as follows:

Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ's faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.

In other words, speak up! Voice your concerns to the priest engaging in liturgical abuse, in a respectful and charitable way. If the priest persists, contact the local bishop about the matter. If he doesn't correct the situation, write to the Apostolic Nuncio or the Congregation for Divine Worship. Lastly, pray the Rosary as an act of reparation for this grievous sin.

[Editor's note: The original featured image for this article showed a priest holding a "pool Mass" outside. Church Militant has since learned that the priest responsible was reportedly reprimanded by the school he served for, and he's publicly apologized for the act. Therefore, we've replaced the image.]


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