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Yesterday, I wrote about Cardinal Wim Eijk sanctioning a Dominican priest for celebrating a Maundy Thursday Mass that was invalid because of the liberal approach to liturgy. Whereas the Archdiocese of Utrecht has remained silent after announcing the sanctions and the reasons for them, Fr. Huisintveld has not been idle, and the media have been eager to give him a stage.
Father Harry Huisintveld (pictured) has been rather unavoidable in Dutch Catholic (and some generally Christian and secular) media today, sharing the pain of the sanctions imposed upon him, as well as a seeming lack of understanding of what it means to be a Catholic priest. He showcases a highly Protestant view of liturgy and church: not the magisterium, but the individual is the deciding factor in form and content of worship. In an interview today he stated that he felt free to adapt the Maundy Thursday Mass to the perceived needs to the faithful.
By his own words, he has received much support, and that is not surprising. After all, he is curtailed in his freedom to do what he wants and that freedom is, in the eyes of modern man, the highest right of all people, one that trumps all others. By curtailing the exercise of this right, Cardinal Eijk is the legalistic bogey man wielding those mortal enemies of personal freedom: rules and regulations.
This attitude, especially when it is the attitude of an ordained Catholic priest, is a much greater affront than the strict sanctions imposed by the cardinal. Fr. Huisintveld has made himself the arbiter of what can and can not be done in and with the liturgy, thus removing all loyalty to, and even recognition of, the Magisterium of the Church. In essence, he is saying that he is under no obligation to maintain the Mass as it has been handed down for generations, and which has developed like that for good theological and pastoral reasons, when and if he perceives it is not necessary. He knows better.
If that is your attitude, that is bad enough. But to be surprised, even indignant, if the Church you belong to, but whose rules you disregard, calls you out on it (and not for the first time), is a whole other kettle of fish. That is nothing more than pandering to the superficial feelings of people who see a man’s freedom being curtailed. “Help, I’m being repressed, because I only want to be Catholic when it suits me.”
Fr. Huisintveld may be good with people, he may be a beloved priest and have many other skills which are not relevant here (although both he and the Dominican Order in the Netherlands disagree with that – “he is such a nice man, how can you do that to a nice fellow who means no harm?”), but he is a bad liturgist and a worse priest for it.
Priests are not priests for themselves. They are God’s priests for the people. They don’t get to decide what God should and should not desire in the worship that is His due.
As it was revealed today that the liturgy for Fr. Huisintveld’s Mass was drafted by a liturgy committee, I am reminded of a comment made years ago by my own parish priest: “”The first thing you should do as a priest is to get rid of the liturgy committee.” We already have a liturgy committee. It’s called the Roman Missal.
Photo credit: Fr. Harry Huisintveld
The bishops today sent out a memorandum with the adaptations to the Eucharistic Prayers during the sede vacante. Also included are prayers for the success of the conclave and the new Pope. And in the midst of it all, they have introduced a lasting change to the Roman Missal. From now, the sixth Eucharistic Prayer will include the name of the diocesan bishop, in addition to the name of the Pope and a reference to all the bishops, as is standard in the other Eucharistic Prayers. Explaining the decision is a short sentence: “The diocesan bishop should not be left out of the Eucharistic Prayer (cf. Redemptionis sacramentum, 56).”
The document they refer to was and Instruction released in 2004 by the Congregation for Divine Worship “on certain matter to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist”. Paragraph 56 of that document has this to say:
“The mention of the name of the Supreme Pontiff and the diocesan Bishop in the Eucharistic Prayer is not to be omitted, since this is a most ancient tradition to be maintained, and a manifestation of ecclesial communion. For “the coming together of the eucharistic community is at the same time a joining in union with its own Bishop and with the Roman Pontiff”.”
Considering that, the new decision fits well with the desire expressed several years ago by Blessed Pope John Paul II that the various translations of the Missal be brought into better accordance with the Latin original text. Although there is commission, which includes several Dutch and Flemish bishops, tasked with reviewing and improving the Dutch translation, very little has come out of it as yet. But this is a nice start. Now let’s hope that the change takes effect in practice, and can usher in more progress towards a new translation.
Photo credit: Diocese of Lancaster
Late last night I was reading some thoughts about the new English translation of the Missal, and one point in specific made me think about my own introduction to the mysteries of the liturgy. The poll mentioned in Father Z’s post includes the statement “I worry that young people and those considering joining the church will be turned off by a liturgy that sounds esoteric or out of touch to their ears“, to which a vast majority seemingly answered in agreement. I’m not even going to answer the question of whether the new translation really is ‘esoteric and out of touch’ because it uses ‘difficult’ words, but I would like to consider if it is fear grounded in reality, that “young people will be turned off”.
When I first attended Mass, in Advent of 2005, language did not play a big part in my experience. Of course, I noticed that the priest was speaking, and I paid attention (still do) during the homily and the readings, trying to apply them to my own life. But the wording of the Eucharistic Prayer, for example, which also in Dutch includes words that are not used in daily conversation, was not instrumental in my decision to return and attend more Masses. It did not turn me off.
Was that because I didn’t pay attention? Not really, as I indicated above. Rather, the entire structure of the liturgy – rituals, gestures, words – was something to get to know. I did not separate one piece to try and understand before I turned my attention on the next bit. And if I did not understand something immediately (which, in the beginning, was basically all the time) I considered it more of a challenge to learn than a reason to be put off.
The liturgy and its language have nothing to do with quick satisfaction and the lowest common denominator. Rather, it must invite and challenge. The liturgy is, after all, primarily something that is supposed to bring us closer to God, not about making things easy for us. And I think that a correct liturgy will have that effect on people: they will notice that the priest is not there to entertain them, but to commune with God on behalf of, and with, the people.
Difficult words – for a given value of difficult – are really quite secondary to that. And people are smart enough to realise that. The only prerequisite is that the priest knows what he’s doing and performs his liturgical duties correctly. But that goes for many people in many situations.
My point, or perhaps a point, is that the liturgy is always going to be strange and new to people who are first introduced to it, regardless of the language used. Yet people continue to join the Church every year. These people knew that they were not going to understand everything they saw immediately. It is not only okay to use different words in the liturgy, it is even necessary. The liturgy is more than a social gathering or a community meeting, and the language must reflect that. Then it is one of the things that will elevate people, allowing them to join the priest in transcending the mundane practicalities of ink, paper and everyday words. A movement upwards, towards God.