Ramblings on Liturgical Rules

An old traditionalist Benedictine monk told me many years ago that, “A Liturgist is a scourge sent by God to ravage the common Christian when there are no outright persecutions.” It’s as true today as it was in 100 a.d. But what about some rules of thumb for Catholic liturgies that aren’t printed in seminary books or proclaimed as Gospel by a seminary professor who hasn’t seen the inside of a parish church in 30 years? Such unwritten laws do exist and so the need for a priest to reveal them to the person in the pew.

  1. Don’t walk around with a naked baby up for all to see after a baptism. This is a particular problem with permanent deacons who were no good at playing catch as children. Babies don’t bounce too well and walking around a church with an exposed kid in hand will not help your image.
  2. At a wedding, the deacon, priest or bishop should not out dress the bride. With silk, brocaded and damask vestments coming back into vogue the tendency to be spectacular at the altar is alluring. However Pope Francis calls this “spiritual worldliness.” Plus no bride wants to be out dressed at the nuptials. The news coverage the next day, “The bride wore a white gown with silver veil; the officiant stood out in a beautiful gold vestment with red piping and maroon galoons. The alb underneath appeared to be a hand tatted lace pattern of floral tracery with just a hint of silver thread among the amethyst sequins.”
  3. Priests have to enforce “no drinking beer” in the confessional. Some years ago a gentleman who was down on his luck entered my place of penance, he proceeded to pull out a beer and began sipping. He was shocked to hear he shouldn’t be sucking on suds during reconciliation. Now maybe if he offered me a cold one…
  4. The reconciliation room must not be used for live streaming baseball games or listening to football on the radio between penitents. This is an especially hard rule for the priests of Nebraska, after all this is Nebraska football. One young priest was busted on a Saturday afternoon during the absolution after shouting Go Big Red three times in a row.
  5. Clown and balloon Masses are a thing of the past; don’t even think about it. This tacit rubric really jerks the chains of priests in their 60s and 70s. “After the halcyon days of Vatican II we could do anything and did.” This is not so much a statement as an admission of buffoonery. It was an age of experimentation; the experiment failed.
  6. Not many of us have the preaching skills of the Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen or Billy Graham; keep that in mind as you write, “The homily that will change hearts and convert the sinners to God.” People prefer homilies that make a point and they can remember. Preaching for 20 or 30 minutes makes the angels cry; do you want to make the angels cry?
  7. The use of incense during Mass is usually a choice for the celebrant, bishop or priest, but use it correctly. There should never be less than three charcoal in the thurible (for the laity, that’s the swingy thing that lets out the smoke); this stands for the Holy Trinity. Five is the recommended number of charcoal to use (by me) in memory of the five wounds of Christ. If your parish budget can handle it, seven is the perfect number, and sacramental besides. Don’t be stingy with the incense! You should have a regular order of five kilos of your preferred scent and smokiness coming in monthly. Remember, if you can see the sanctuary, there is not enough incense.

This brings to mind a saying of the Lord Jesus, “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The ritual itself is not more important than the people of God. The liturgy is the “work of the people.” Put your people first and you will always have inspiring liturgies.

Excuse me, I need my incense fix.

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