The Liturgy as Therapy


Why is it, I wonder, that for fifty years priests have been able to get away with any number of liturgical abuses, from the simple disregard of a rubric here or there, to radically-disobedient ‘clown masses’ and other such things (see here, for example, and here… if you dare!), yet another priest may seek to guide his community in returning to the practice of the Church from the earliest centuries through to the modern era, in obedience to the liturgicon or missal and following the example of the recent Pope as well as the best liturgical scholars of either East or West, and this is met with bewilderment or even hostility?

For a few years when I had no access to an Eastern Church, I lived through Roman liturgy that was so bad I lost my faith. There were other factors involved in my disintegration, of course, but when I needed the Church to sustain me, all I encountered was a celebration of Mass based on whatever the priest happened to decide that week, or worse, the decisions of the Liturgical Committee. And it hurt. I think it was Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who declared that he was thankful he belonged to a church that recited the Creed, because when he couldn’t believe, the Church did for him. But whoever it was, he was spot on. The Mass or Divine Liturgy faithfully celebrated is, for Catholics and Orthodox, the weekly recitation of the Creed, for it is lex orandi lex credendi. And as such, it has the power to encourage or to undermine faith.

A number of things have knocked me for sixes and nines over the last few weeks, and I sometimes I struggle to find the inner resources to bother getting up in the morning. If I had my way, of course, I would spend my time in the Liturgy, happily touching my head to the floor (as in the Presanctified), or singing the Pater noster with dignified gusto, drawing from these acts the strength they have proffered  the faithful through the ages. Alas, eventually all liturgies come to an end though (yes, even Byzantine ones!), and I am forced to contend with the fact that I must earn my keep, and live among my fellow human beings as a peculiar minority of one.

I turn to the Liturgy, though, because in it I find Christ. He promised that he would be known and encountered there, and I believe it; but I have also experienced it. The Liturgy has the power to transform, as it transcends all human categories and draws its partakers into a cosmic and eternal mystery. Just as our Lord himself became subject to the vulnerabilities of the flesh though, such as when the crowds pressed in and threatened him with death, his mysterious kenosis under the bread and wine is vulnerable to our abuse as well. By de-mystifying and anchoring our celebrations in the here and now, we limit the degree to which they can communicate heavenly realities, and undermine their power to nourish and strengthen.

Ultimately, the Liturgy has therapeutic power. This is because it is not a performance, but an effectual representation of heaven and what goes on before the throne of God. It is also, as our Lord himself promised, an extension not only of his act of Sacrifice, but of his own self for the sake of his people. And this means, in turn, that the entirety of his teaching ministry and the entirety of his healing ministry are manifest there, alongside everything else. It means that when the Liturgy is celebrated objectively and without the undo interference of personality and idiosyncracy, of ego and fleeting taste, then God’s people can be assured of meeting him there, and of receiving his grace and mercies. In light of this, priests and people alike need to pursue the improvement of their liturgies in greater conformity to Tradition with some urgency. The wellbeing of our souls depends on it.


8 responses to “The Liturgy as Therapy

  1. The attached video had a fantastic way of insencsing the altar ! Christ should always be at the centre of mass, in many parishs it can sometime be more like a show, or pantomime, as showed the in videos.

  2. This is a fantastic post Fr! A friend told me about this blog and I am glad they did. God Bless, you1

  3. Thank you for this post. The liturgy is so important, yet so undervalued. I would love to be able to go to the Extraordinary Form or a Byzantine rite but attending the local Novus Ordo Mass is almost an occasion of sin. Last Sunday, I left the church when the First Communicants were escorted up to the altar to ‘help’ with the consecration. Prior to that, Father ad-libbed the Penitential rite, the readings were re-written so as to make them easier for the First Communicants to read and the second reading was skipped entirely. I don’t know if I should have left, but as someone who works in a Catholic school, it makes me so upset to see the children being co-opted into that sort of nonsense. When we take the children to Mass through the school, we always skip the Penitential rite and the creed, and often have sermons devoted to the importance of feminism. I am a convert, and every single member of my family is not only not Catholic, but virulently opposed to the Catholic Church, and I took a lot of flack when I converted (I even had to hide it from my mother until my confirmation was scheduled). It’s hard enough being the only Catholic in my family, but then going to Masses where no reverence is shown and it seems to be made up as it goes along is upsetting almost to the point of despair. I try really hard not to take it too much to heart and to remember that the gates of Hell will not prevail, but when you’re sitting in the pews wondering if it’s even a valid Mass, it is really hard.
    Father, I don’t suppose you know where I could find news/Mass times for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic cathedral in London, do you? Their website seems to have gone down and I always plan to make the trek up to London but then realize I don’t know what time the Masses are.

  4. Dear Elizabeth, thank you for writing. I can sympathise with your plight, and know exactly what you mean as a convert who faced difficulty, yet may now even wonder if it was worth it. I assure you it is, and always will be. In the meantime, I think it is entirely appropriate that you explore and experience those communities that continue to uphold the dignity of the Liturgy, if only to give you the strength of heart to contribute to the life of the Church in other ways.
    As to you question about the Cathedral, I think you will find that the best source of information right now is to be found on their facebook page:
    Do NOT be frightened off by how Ukrainian the Liturgy is. There is no ‘right and wrong’ in the Liturgy, other than the fact that there should be no kneeling on Sundays, and certainly no one will be judging you as a visitor. Indeed, people will be too busy crossing themselves to notice!
    Finally, if you want to read some very good information on the nature of Ukrainian Liturgy and parish life, this website is superb:
    God bless you.

    • Dear Father, thanks for responding! I know you are right, and it is reassuring that others are in similar positions. It would just be nice to meet other Catholics who care about the liturgy and what the Church teaches, even if they (most certainly like myself) fail to live up to it.
      I have been to the Ukrainian Cathedral once actually, it was a beautiful liturgy. The priest was very kind and one of the ladies there kept me following along with everything. Thank you for the tip about not kneeling and the website, I’ll take a good look at that. And thank you for the encouragement; I appreciate it. God bless you, Father, and thank you for all you do for the Church.

  5. Pingback: WEDNESDAY EDITION | Byz Pulpit·

  6. This might be my favorite blog post ever. Thank you and may God bless you, Father.

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