Division and Diversity in Liturgy

One of the things we rejoice about in being Catholics is well, being Catholic.

That is to say, being universal. We’re part of the largest ever global gathering and that is really very cool.

With increased mobility and immigration, however, we have to deal with the stresses of this universality, because although we have universality we do not have uniformity.

In our own diocese we have English speaking communities, Vietnamese, Korean, Philippino, Hispanic, Polish, African, African American, Indian, Native American etc. etc. etc.

While some groups are distinguished racially, all are distinguished with their own culture.

What is the best way to celebrate the different cultures strengths while maintaining unity?

What we have at the moment is diversity not only of cultures, but these cultures (and some ideological and social cultures to boot) all seem to have their own ideas of worship.

The Hispanic Catholics have their music, their focus, their style of celebrating Mass–same with the Vietnamese, Koreans, African Americans etc.

We often compare this to the situation at the end of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries when the huge wave of immigrants came to America. The bishops at the time granted them permission to have their own ethnic parishes. that’s why in the big Northern cities you find the Czech parish, the Irish parish, the Italian, the German, the Portuguese and Polish parishes.

But there was a difference.

Although they had many cultural differences, they had the same Mass. I’m not old enough to remember nor was I Catholic at the time, but I suspect if you went into St Patrick’s or St Anthony of Padua or St Stanislaus the Mass would be the Mass. The priest simply said the black and did the red.

The Mass, therefore was a unifying liturgy, and the cultural diversity took place outside of Mass in the parish center, the school or wherever.

Now, however, we feel that we must bring the cultural diversity into the liturgy of the Mass.

Furthermore, the personality of the priests have infected the Mass much more. Celebrating Mass facing the people invariably makes the priest too much the center of attention. With all the choices available the priest’s own preference and style dominates the Mass. So people end up shopping around–if not for their cultural choice of Mass, then for the priest they like best.

That’s not good.

So what if we were to scrap all the cultural clutter that has come into the Mass and every priest simply said the black and did the red? What if the music were just what the second Vatican Council called for–Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony? What if the priest led the people in the great prayer of the church by facing the Lord together with them?

What if we threw out all the garbage hymns about us and our community, chucked out all our cultural interference in the liturgy, weeded out all the ideological clap trap and just focussed on Jesus Christ our Lord and God?

How radical would that be?

Note that I am not calling for the Extraordinary Form to be celebrated everywhere, but if the Ordinary Form were celebrated simply without all the personality and cultural clutter we would once again be moving towards a genuine unity in the midst of our praise worthy diversity.


2018-01-10T15:13:01+00:00January 10th, 2018|Categories: Blog|2 Comments


  1. Frederick Snyder January 10, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    I am not familiar with the phrase, ‘say the black, do the red.’

    I think every Bishop, pastor, and priest needs to ensure that every Mass is well within the limits stated in the GIRM – General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Hardly any Catholic in the pews has ever seen, much less read, or studied the GIRM well enough to counsel a priest to do better if such advice seems warranted. We depend on the priests and Bishops to ensure good Mass discipline.

    I am aware that in medium to large cities we do live in multi-cultural communities. Pleasing each culture at every Mass seems impossible. I know I want to hear the prayers AND the homily in my own language with articulation and volume so I can follow and get the message. And I need to pay attention and not let mind wander. The UN has translators and earphones, local churches do not. I do not care for Mass where every other prayer is in a language different than mine. It breaks the flow. If the populations are large enough, with one or more priests fluent in alternative languages some churches do offer regular Masses in two or more languages.

    • Dwight Longenecker January 10, 2018 at 4:59 pm

      In the priest’s missal the words spoken are printed in black. The rubrics, or directions for gestures and actions, are printed in red. That’s where the phrase “say the black and do the red” comes from. Most of us priests would do well to read back through the GIRM at least once a year.

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