The Jargon of Liturgists: Brain-Washing the Faithful
  • Here are two different ways of describing the beginning of holy Mass:

    1. "Before the Eucharistic celebration begins, the assembly gathers in the
    worship space. As the assembly sings the gathering song, the presider and
    other ministers enter. The presider greets the assembly and, in preparation
    for liturgy of Word and Eucharist, invites them to reflect on their

    2. "Before Mass, the congregation enters the church. As the introit or the
    processional hymn is sung, the celebrant, deacon, lector and servers enter
    in procession. The celebrant, having made the sign of the cross, greets the
    congregation and, in preparation for the sacred mysteries, exhorts the
    faithful to call to mind their sins:"

    It may seem that these descriptions are essentially the same, distinguished
    from each other only by more-or-less arbitrary differences of terminology.
    The first description is a fairly typical specimen of modern liturgical
    jargon, the second a straightforward exposition in more traditional
    nomenclature. It seems to me that in imposing the first kind of language on
    the Church through missalettes, hymnals, orders of worship, articles,
    homilies, and any other means available, the liturgists of a certain school
    are really seeking to impose notions of the sacred liturgy, the sacraments,
    and the Church which are quite different from those which are in fact held
    by the ecclesia docens.

    Let us examine some of these common liturgical catchwords so beloved by
    modern liturgists, and seek to account for the insistence with which they
    are pressed upon us.

    Eucharistic celebration, Eucharistic liturgy, etc. Any term may be used
    except "Mass." Mass, of course, is the word which most Catholics have used
    for centuries to designate the principal service of their Church. To call
    holy Mass a "Eucharistic celebration" may be to imply (more or less subtly)
    that a different service is really in prospect-or, at least, a
    transformation of our conception of that service. The term "celebration,"
    though venerable in the liturgical lexicon, is often used now in a rather
    different sense from its traditional meaning. The connotation is that we
    are going to have something very like a party, and that the Mass is an
    action which we who "celebrate" perform (indeed, liturgists often talk of
    our "doing Eucharist"), rather than a sacrifice which Christ offers. It is
    not many steps from this notion to the idea of the "community" celebrating

    Assembly. This is meant as a somewhat tendentious translation of gahal
    or ecclesia: the coming together of the faithful. As opposed to
    "congregation" (the more common term until recently), it is designed to
    include all who "assemble," including the priest. The intention is to
    eradicate the distinction between the celebrant, acting in persona
    Christi, and the faithful who participate in the sacrifice analogically.
    (See Pius XII, encyclical Mediator Dei, and many other conciliar and
    papal pronouncements giving the Church's view.)

    Worship space. A "space" is just a space; a church (building) is a
    symbolic, visible expression of the Church (the Body of Christ).

    Gathering. This idea-really just the fact of people being present at the
    same time and place-has been elevated by modern liturgists to the level of
    sacred action. As a "gathering rite," the opening prayers and hymns of the
    Mass (introit, penitential rite, Gloria, collect) become entirely a matter
    of people "gathering." The emphasis shifts from prayer and praise to such
    concerns as "hospitality:" This is the trivialization of worship. We also,
    of course, gather for club meetings, sporting events, and virtually every
    other human enterprise involving more than one person in the same vicinity.

    Song. The constant use of this term for many sung parts of the liturgy is
    particularly exasperating to the faithful church musician, to him whom
    Father Robert Skeris calls "the competent Kapellmeister." "Song" (as
    unfortunately enshrined in the ICEL sacramentary) seems to be a
    mistranslation of cantus (chant) as in cantus ad introitum (entrance
    song) or, worse, "gathering song." It is used to refer to hymns, proper
    chants (e.g., introit, offertory or communion, when these are acknowledged
    at all), and any miscellaneous musical elements with the exception of the
    ordinary parts of the Mass. At least, I have not yet encountered terms such
    as "glory song" (Gloria,) "holy song" (Sanctus), or "bread-breaking song"
    (Agnus Dei). The implication in contemporary culture is that these sung
    items are the musical equivalent of pop tunes, and of course in practice
    they frequently are. I remain committed to the use of specific terms such
    as "hymn," "antiphon," "psalm," "canticle," and the like.

    Presider. This term, which connotes to Americans the chairman of a
    meeting, is another attempt, when used in place of "celebrant," to
    eradicate the distinction between the priest and the faithful. Anyone can
    preside, and indeed, one has heard of celebrations over which non-ordained
    persons have presided. The aim is to desupernaturalize holy orders. Some
    years ago the preferred term was "president," which seems, mercifully, to
    have disappeared-perhaps as a side-effect of many liturgists' strong
    reactions to a succession of Republican administrations.

    Minister. This title once referred to the celebrant, deacon and subdeacon
    at solemn Mass (sacred ministers) or to those authorized to administer the
    sacraments. Now it simply includes anyone who does anything noticeable in
    the liturgy, from the ushers (ministers of hospitality) to the organist
    (minister of music). Again as in the case of "song," one notices a lack of
    specificity. Anyone can be a "minister" of anything.

    Word. Eucharist. Church. Liturgy. These terms become jargon when used
    without the definite article, "the." A dependable rule of thumb is never to
    trust anyone who drops his articles, as in "to do Eucharist" or "to be
    Church." The idea seems to be to eliminate (along with capitalization) the
    notion of the Eucharist or the Church as a specific definable entity.
    Whatever the user of the term would like "Eucharist" or "Church" to mean
    becomes its meaning.

    Sinfulness. Of course, we are all sinful, but that (apart from original
    sin) is because we commit sins. "Sinfulness," as habitually used in place
    of "sin(s)," seems to remove the concern with specific sinful action and to
    replace it with a wistful feeling of regret that we, as a society, are so
    "sinful" (particularly, of course, in our "structures of oppression").


    Preparation of the gifts. Banishing the word "offertory" in favor of
    "preparation of the gifts" implies quite a different relationship between
    ourselves and the oblata. "Preparing" the gifts is hardly the same as
    offering them. A whole devotional tradition of offering ourselves with the
    bread and wine on the corporal, to be transformed with them by the action
    of Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, is here obliterated by a simple
    substitution of words. The Missale Romanum and the Graduale Romanum
    still refer to the cantus ad offertorium. What is good enough for the
    editio normativa should, one would think, be good enough for us.

    Who has not, in discussing the sacred liturgy with a diocesan or parish
    liturgy director, seen the wince of fastidious pain and the subsequent
    condescending smile when a term such as "hymn," "offertory," "Sanctus,"
    or "celebrant" has been used? Who has not felt the gently scornful reproach
    with which the functionary has quickly pronounced the current jargon term
    in response, with almost audible italicization? The clear message is that
    one is a hopeless reactionary, or at least pitiably ignorant of the
    politically correct liturgical worldview at the moment.

    No doubt, many who use and promulgate "litjargon" are simply passing on
    what they have been told is the preferred usage of the Church. But someone,
    somewhere, had to have originated these deceptively innocent sounding
    expressions. Whether intended or not, the net effect of their constant use
    is to brain-wash the faithful, to persuade them that the process of
    desacramentalizing and desupernaturalizing the worship of the Church has
    somehow been officially mandated, and that they must adjust their thinking

    What can be done? Perhaps little beyond insistently, constantly, habitually
    using terms which express unequivocally the Church's real theology of
    worship, and banishing the jargon terms entirely from our own speaking and
    writing. Perhaps we must wait for a new generation of "legitimate
    liturgists" (to use another of Father Skeris' felicitous coinages),
    nurtured in the real teaching of Vatican Council II and the post-conciliar
    popes, to restore sanity and Catholicity to the common liturgical practice
    of the ecclesia orans.

  • Francine,

    Could you tidy up the spots where terms appear to be missing?

    I really like the article, but struggle to fill in missing terms now and again.


  • Did that fix it?
  • I stand to be corrected, but it seems to me that the 'liturgist', as we know him and her in our time, is another of those inventions of the 'spirit of Vatican II'. I believe that the only person who is historically found in anything like such a role is the master of ceremonies. I have wondered for decades what a priest who knew his business and a choirmaster who knew his or hers needed a 'liturgist' for. These chic, self-appointed (and ridiculously self-important) little functionaries have indeed, as Francine so well relates above, done quite much to blur the realities (to neuter them, really) of the Sacred Mysteries and have made themselves, rather than Holy Church, the voice of liturgical, ritual, and sacramental realities. They should, every one of them, be shown the door.

    (Some of them even have been granted degrees in liturgy. Presumably (judging form their style and antipathy to historically-grounded liturgical practice), their courses were something like 'how to make liturgy as harmless and homey as the Ed Sullivan Show'.)
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Salieri
  • Death of a Liturgist is the name of a murder mystery.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Is it the sequel to Death of the Liturgy?
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,159
    May Cal Shenk (who spent many years in Milwaukee) rest in peace from his labors for the glory of God and sanctification and edification of the Faithful.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,933
    The problem comes when the "Liturgist" becomes a paid "Director of Liturgy" or has some other formal title that puts him/her between the clergy and the music staff.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    What does a "liturgist" even do?

    When there's a question, my boss opens the Roman Missal, and there's the answer.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    I eat liturgists for lunch. They are thoroughly useless functionaries who contribute little of worth to the liturgy. As Ryand said, when there are questions, we consult official sources.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,601
    It should be noted that the OP is quoting from the following EWTN copyrighted text published in 1994:
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,089
    There are LITURGISTS (Palmer, Gueranger, Fortescue, Boyer, Ratzinger, U.M. Lang, Alcuin Ried, ...) and then there are "liturgists"; and ne'er the twain shall meet.

    It seems to me that LITURGISTS maintain Tradition, but study the history of the liturgy to gain a fuller knowledge of the received forms and their meaning. "liturgists", on the contrary, following the spirit of the age, re-create the liturgy in their own image.
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    LOL! Liturgists don't get no respect. Reminds me of something I read recently:

    " . . . Others, on the contrary, used the word liturgical for name-calling. A person who was just odd or "arty" or somehow different in his views was given the stamp: He is a liturgist. You could hardly say anything worse of him under the law of Christian charity. Being liturgical smacked of heresy, stubbornness and a hankering for novelty; it was almost a moral blemish." (Orate Fratres, 1939)
  • Scott_WScott_W
    Posts: 462
    The connotation is that we are going to have something very like a party, and that the Mass is an action which we who "celebrate" perform (indeed, liturgists often talk of our "doing Eucharist"), rather than a sacrifice which Christ offers. It is not many steps from this notion to the idea of the "community" celebrating itself.

    The old "meal vs. sacrifice" controversy which shouldn't be a controversy at all. The Mass is pre-eminently a sacrifice (see Redemptions Sacramentum). There are certainly fraternal meal elements to it, but these are subordinate. Much of modern jargon obscures this and implies the latter is superior or at least equal to the former, but there is a name for that: disordered.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • I would be interested to know whether the two descriptions of the beginning of Mass are direct quotes and if so where they come from, or if they are the author's own words used to approximate the language of the two schools of thought that are referenced here.
  • JonLaird
    Posts: 226
    A long-time priest friend of mine prefers to use the term "liturgeist."

    In practice, the "liturgists" I have known are generally people who are well-versed enough in 20th-century pop theology to apply what they see as the necessary "nuance" to whatever liturgical celebration happens to be in front of them. They (secretly or overtly) despise rubrics and revel in commentary, particularly commentary which reveals the historical origins of liturgical actions, many of which began as rather mundane tasks which were elevated to possess a mystical meaning. This, to them, not only makes such actions more malleable, but undermines the developed meaning of the action -- especially if it has any ascetical implications.

    If there is a liturgist at my parish, it is the pastor. A "liturgy meeting" consists of him dropping by my office to tell me that there will not be incense on Christmas morning, or that the Salve Regina needs to be faster, or that I should have "On Jordan's Bank" at the Entrance and not at the Offertory because he really wants to be able to sing it.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,933
    You're fortunate, JonLaird. At my parish we have a paid "Director of Liturgy and Music" who pretty much makes all decisions about the choices for music at mass. How much input comes from the pastor or associate pastor isn't clear, but it seems to be rather minimal.
    Thanked by 1JonLaird
  • Depends what you mean - in some large places, it is worthwhile to have a part- or full-time person in charge of scheduling liturgical ministers, lectors, etc., managing wine and hosts and vestments, taking care of seasonal changes to the church, candles, maybe liturgical booklets and guides. There is a lot of work to do behind the scenes, and I have plenty of colleagues who are music directors but just get swamped by all of these other details. However, I would argue that we need a better job title "director of liturgical ministries" or "liturgy coordinator" or something.

    Unfortunately, when you pay someone to be "director of liturgy" they sometimes feel that their job is to invent liturgy itself (words, actions) rather than preparing for the existing liturgy to run smoothly.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    Some of those activities are what we handle through sacristans and altar guilds. I don't think it would be accurate to call them "liturgists." You are certainly correct about the large amount of work behind the scenes,
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,076
    Q. What's the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?

    A. You can negotiate with a terrorist.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW mattebery
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,601
    not no mo'. that hoary joke has passed its sell-by date.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    Yes, but the terrorist kills you quickly. It is not the painful, lingering demise you will get from the liturgist. ;-)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,601
    No, it's more like sand-flea bites: the more you itch them, the worse it gets.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen CharlesW
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,089
    In re Jared's post: Every parish should have:

    1) Director of Music - plans and prepares the music, worship books, etc., and oversees:
    2) Choir Librarian - (preferably the Organist, if separate from D.M., or a member of the choir) helps the Director of Music maintain choir library, and possibly assist in the publication of worship booklets.
    3) Master of Ceremonies - schedules and prepares servers and other liturgical ministers, prepares church for liturgies, and oversees:
    4) Sacristan - keeps stock of candles, vestments, seasonal changes, etc., and oversees:
    5) Altar Guild - help the Sacristan by cleaning and maintaining altar linens, arranging flowers and other decorations, polish brasses, etc.
    6) Parish Secretary - helps everyone get in touch with pastor, and with other dept.s, etc.

    You would have three people in charge, under the Pastor: the Director of Music, the Master of Ceremonies, and the Parish Secretary. No need for a "Director of Liturgical Ministries".
  • johnmann
    Posts: 175
    Judging by what I read on the internet, we're all liturgists now. And we're all theologians, jurists, economists, sociologists, climatologists, immunologists, and nutritionists. Ignorance is no obstacle to holding a firm opinion on any matter.
  • I had an interesting conversation today with a relatively young priest who teaches seminarians about the liturgy, with a focus on the practicalities of being the celebrant of the mass, but with some historical and theological components as well (which are inseparable from the practical, in my opinion, but that's a different matter). He clearly had not himself been infected by the sort of 'liturgist' of whom you speak, and I wonder where and how the infection begins?

    Here was a clue, for me: towards the end of this discussion, he revealed to me a fact that he hopes to change: his course for seminarians is a one-hour course (i.e., 1/3 of a 'normal' course). Hmmm.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • johnmann
    Posts: 175
    Cringe-worthy but for reasons unrelated to this topic. It would've been a cringe-worthy sight at a parish hall celebration as well. Or a G20 summit. Or parent-teacher conference. These are adults.

    Back to the topic at hand, I also had a conversation with a young priest ordained post Summorum Pontificum. Literally the only thing he knew about the EF was that the priest faces the other way and there's more Latin. His concept of liturgical tradition only goes back a couple of decades. A priest!

    [Some comments in this thread became a separate discussion on a different topic. The first paragraph refers to the antics described there. --admin]
  • Ignorance is no obstacle to holding a firm opinion on any matter.

    Opens the door to a lot of argumentum ad ignorantium.