Liturgical abuse and syncretism as multiculturalism

Liturgical abuse and syncretism as multiculturalism

Remember yesterday when I mentioned that the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, had a survey on its website asking if people wanted more/any Tridentine Masses in the diocese? Yesterday we got the other extreme during the installation of the new auxiliary bishop.

Tuesday’s ceremony underscored the diocese’s cultural diversity. It opened with an American Indian blessing as three men circled the altar, using eagle feathers to fan wisps of smoldering sage during a prayer.

Tongan, black and Mexican dancers joined other performers who surrounded the dais during an uplifting hymn. The congregation heard gospel readings and songs in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Why am I not surprised that Cardinal Mahony was presiding?

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
  • They do believe it themselves.  As Mark Shea says, sin makes you stupid.  And St. Paul said basically the same thing.

  • Some are just blind to the truth.  A professor at Penn State, Phillip Benjiman set the issue straight 3 years ago in his book.  Why aren’t we listening.

  • “Itthor_url>
    2005-09-21 13:05:44
    2005-09-21 17:05:44
    Homosexuality and pedophilia could be apples and oranges. They can be mutually exclusive. But..

    The “church problem” was a problem w/ men and boys, so the Church has to ask, “Is there a homosexual component?” to this mess. That’s only fair, I think.

    What the Church can’t convey to the media at-large is that in her traditional wisdom she knows the sins of the flesh always have a progressive character to greater and greater perversity. Ask anybody that’s been involved w/ pornography. The Playboy Bunnies say that Hef would masturbate to gay porn while they “got it on.”

    And he had the pipe and the smoking jacket and everything.


  • I bet it was good entertainment, though.  Sounds like it had no resemblance to the representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, but it was probably quite a spectacle.  Mahony is good at production numbers when the audience promises to be important.

    I wonder who appointed the new aux. bishop?  Levada?  And what do you suppose the new bishop thought of the spectacle?

  • As I’ve noted before, in comments on this blog, I’m a non-Catholic struggling to discern whether or not I belong in the Catholic Church.

    This kind of behavior in the Sanctuary is exactly the kind of thing that screams the Catholic Church is not for me.

  • As a priest, I often circle the altar with a thurible wafting scented smoke to honor the Lord’s table and crucifix – a fairly traditional practice.  Sage or frankincese – I’m not sure the source of the scent is that important.  The point is that a pleasing fragrance rises before God as a sign of our prayer.

    It was only in the 1960’s that Pope Paul VI did away with the flabelli – large ceremonial fans made of ostrich feathers, carried in processions at St. Peter’s in Rome when the Pope himself was carried in, seated in his chair on a platform on the shoulders of bearers who, if I recall correctly, were in formal wear. (Anyone want to discuss the theatrics of that chorus line?)

    At least the eagle feathers put me in mind of the symbol for John the evengelist, while ostrich feathers make me think of birds thought to put their heads in the sand.

  • That other religions have practices that are outwardly similar to Catholic liturgical practices does not mean that the practices of other religions are suitable for Catholic worship. That way lies both syncretism and blasphemy.

  • That other religions have practices that are outwardly similar to Catholic liturgical practices does not mean that the practices of other religions are suitable for Catholic worship. That way lies both syncretism and blasphemy.

    I do appreciate reading those words from a Catholic editor!

    Aplman, I’ve always wanted to ask what is the symbolism when the celebrant incenses the congregation? 

    I think the correct response from the laity is to bow to the celebrant after being incensed, but people seem to respond in a variety of ways at my church, including making the sign of the cross. I presume the meaning when the deacon incenses the priest is that the priest is acting in personna Christi?

  • Daniel,
    The decision of whether or not to become Catholic should be about whether what the Church teaches is true or not.
    Also, you should ask whether what happened at that mass is representative of the Church’s teachings.
    The point of Dom’s blogging about this incident is that it is in fact not representative of the traditions of the Catholic Church.
    The fact is that the Church is a Church of sinners, of fallible human beings, and some of these individuals will err. However the teaching of the Church have not changed and are not in error.
    Is it possible to have a perfect Church here on earth? Or do we rather anticipate the perfect worship we will experience in heaven?

  • I’m frequently incensed at the liturgy in my parish.

    but seriously folks….

    The problem w/ liturgical shenanigans is novelty for novelty’s sake. And this multiculturalism becomes the new imperialism. Plus, in the process, we’re forgetting our inherited Catholic culture.

    To answer Carrie about being incensed, we’re uniting ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ. We’re being blessed and sanctified. “Holy things for the holy”, as they say in the East.

    To answer Daniel: the Church hasn’t changed all that much since Jesus ate w/ tax collectors and prostitutes and betrayers.

  • Dom says:  “That other religions have practices that are outwardly similar to Catholic liturgical practices does not mean that the practices of other religions are suitable for Catholic worship. That way lies both syncretism and blasphemy.”

    There is nothing in the original post to suggest that the men honoring the altar with incense were not Catholic.  If, indeed, they were not, then they clearly have no business assuming such a public function in the liturgy.  However, if Catholics from another culture bring their way of doing things to prayer, particularly in a liturgy meant to be especially inclusive, I see no harm in that – and certaily no blasphemy.

    In the liturgy we holy things and holy people with incense:  the altar, the crucifix, the gospel book, the gifts, the paschal candle and the people of God, both dead and alive.  The living might bow or make the sign of the cross at such a time.  The deceased are not expected to respond.

  • Sorry:

    In the liturgy we holy things and holy people with incense,

    should have read,

    In the liturgy we honor holy things and holy people with incense…

  • I didn’t say the people weren’t Catholic. I don’t know if they were or not. But the practices are not Catholic. They are lifted from the worship practices of pagan religions and are thus not appropriate for Catholic worship.

    Your statement that the liturgy was meant to be especially inclusive is instructive. It implies that the Catholic Liturgy is not in and of itself inclusive and thus symbols and signs foreign to Catholic worship need to be imported in order to make it inclusive.

    This is not Catholic eucharistic theology.

  • Dom,

    I am fully in agrement with you on this one.  What next, animal sacrifice in the LA Cathedral?  And if so, would the previous posts supporting inclusiveness in the Mass, draw the line there?  If you can have pagan worship practices within Mass, why not animal sacrifices?
    What next after that? Human sacrifice?

    The Cardinal of Los Angeles, “you can’t have my records and we gather together we will silence Mother Angelica” Mohoney, has never shown even the slightest propensity to teach the Catholic Faith to his flock..The only time he gives it lip service is when he is in Rome.

  • Dom:  know you would agree that honoring the altar with incense is a Catholic thing to do.  Will you acknowledge that what we burn, and what we burn it in are secondary to the burnt offering itself?  That how the smoke reaches the honored object (a wave of a feather or a swing of a thurible) is secondary to the honor being given?  Can you acknowledge that incense was originally “lifted from the worship practices of pagan religions” by our ancestors in the faith, the Jews, and by us Christians from them?  If we deemed inappropriate for Catholic worship everything that has historical roots in other religions (for example: initiation baths,laying on of hands, anointing with oil, sacred meals offered to the deity)then Catholic worship would be rather sparse.

    Of course Catholic liturgy, of its nature, is inclusive – and what I wrote did not imply that the church’s worship is not so.  But inclusive Catholic liturgy will make different and greater demands on a parish with multi-ethnic neighborhoods than one like my own which is rather homogenous. Certainly the liturgy for the installation of a new bishop (or auxiliary)will want to include the languages and customs of the different cultures the bishop will serve.  Such things are not the stuff of creeping syncretism but signs of the universality of the church gathered together from every race and nation to share the one bread and one cup.  And I’m pretty sure that is good Catholic eucharistic theology.

  • Dom,

    I must respectfully take issue with your comment, “Yesterday we got the other extreme…”  This implies that the survey question asking if the faithful would prefer additional Tridentine Masses was somehow extreme to the far right.  It hardly seems fair to infer that taking such a poll is extremism since the bishops have been asked by Rome to be generous in granting the indult.  On the other hand, the bizzare liturgical innovations you cited have never been sanctioned.  I agree that it is ironic, but it is not an example of extremist behavior on the right. 

  • Confessions of a Recovering Choir Director has some articles up today regarding the liturgy. The first one deals w/ the “liturgical magisterium”.

    From Pius XII in Mediator Dei:
    Private individuals, therefore, even though they be clerics, may not be left to decide for themselves in these holy and venerable matters, involving as they do the religious life of Christian society along with the exercise of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and the worship of God.”

    and more clearly:
    Let no one arrogate to himself the right to make regulations and impose them on others at will.”

    And the clincher from Vat II:
    Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority

  • Restoration,

    Don’t assume facts that aren’t in evidence. I wasn’t implying that the request for the Tridentine Mass was extreme. I was saying that on the opposite end of the spectrum from respect for Tradition is extreme modernism. Try not to be so defensive.


    I would argue that the pagan rites resemble the Catholic rites because they are pal imitations of the truth conveyed in Christianity, not that Catholic worship rites were simply lifted at whim from other religions. We sprinkle with water because cleansing with water is a universal sign. Really, I learned this in my first semester sacraments class,

    As Carrie points out, if such things were allowed then the rubrics would not carefully detail what exactly is permissible, including the objects used, who is to use them, what words and gestures they are to use.

    Unless the Indians were deacons or acolytes, that’s a violation in and of itself.

  • Dom,

    Your response to “Restoration” is itself defensive.  It would have been sufficient if you had left off the first and last sentences.

  • If I was defensive it is because I actually was attacked for saying something I hadn’t said, unlike Restoration’s defensiveness which was based on his own presumptions. See the difference?

    The two sentences were necessary to show him the mistake he had made. Not that I need to explain myself.

  • While it may be true as some claim that some of our liturgical practices have pagan roots, the movement down through the centuries is toward Catholicism and the codification of our sacramental rites. 

    Today when we see the incorporation of pagan elements it is a movement away from Catholicism and back toward that paganism.  Not the same thing at all.

  • “…you should ask whether what happened at that mass is representative of the ChurchTA[

    The first sentence of this story on the website of the Boston ABC affiliate about gays in seminaries is as obvious as the side of a barn:

    Researchers have identified a pattern in the molestation crisis afflicting the Roman Catholic Church: most of the victims are older boys.

    You’re kidding! It’s not like we didn’t know this 18 months ago (1, 2).

    But like the Wizard of Oz telling us to ignore the man behind the curtain, we have Fr. Stephen Rossetti decrying the witch hunt for gays. Who’s Fr. Rossetti? He was the guy running the St. Luke Institute to which sexual predators in the priesthood were sent and then given a clean bill of health to be returned to parishes and abuse again. The same institute that practices “satiation therapy,” i.e. exposing perverts to so much pornography that they theoretically get sick of it. The same institute which one eyewitness (being treated for an unrelated problem) said empties out on the same day Washington, DC, holds its gay pride parade. In other words, Fr. Rossetti is not an impartial observer.

    Neither is Fred Berlin, another “no man behind the curtain” apologist for homosexuality, or Richard Sipe or any other of the apologists quoted in the article. In fact, notice that there isn’t a single researcher quoted who disagrees with the line being pushed by all these people: that it’s wrong to connect homosexuality with the Scandal. They’ve said it so often, I think they might even be starting to believe it themselves.


    2005-09-20 15:48:06
    2005-09-20 19:48:06

    2005-09-20 18:56:30
    2005-09-20 22:56:30
    It’s amazing it’s reported. Folks who frequent this ‘blog know the Jay report states the numbers. But the story is not widely reported or the simple fact widely known among the average person in the pew.

    I hope good things result from the seminary visitations. The story will stay local w/ each visit, probably. Giving alot of space to the usual professional whiners.

    (But who’s gonna straighten out the theologians and such in places like Weston? That doesn’t fall under the visitations, I gather. )

    Still, w/ the fracas that rumbled through America Magazine, I have a good feeling about this Benedict pontificate.

    OK, so today I’m an optimist. (for Mr. Powers)