I generally steer clear of LifeSite News because, in my opinion, their angle is often incendiary and their reporting biased, but this article about a New Zealand cardinal who feels it is up to him to tinker with the Mass is disturbing.
The cardinal archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand, ordered a change in the Mass recently that is “completely contrary” to the governing document for all celebrations of the Catholic Mass in the Ordinary Form, a “creative initiative” the cardinal said was inspired by Pope Francis.
Cardinal John Dew called for churches to divert from liturgical protocol of the Gospel reading conducted by ordained clergy with a Lectio Divina reading of the day’s Gospel performed by a layperson.
Lectio Divina — Latin for divine reading — is an ancient Benedictine practice of prayer involving reading and reflection of Scripture, followed by prayer and contemplation. It’s generally done individually, but can be done in a group, and it is not included in the Mass rubrics.
I can remember being a bit shocked when reading Pope Benedict’s Spirit of the Liturgy that he wrote that the liturgy was not the place for one to be creative. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that because, as an Anglican, I always thought one should do everything possible to make the liturgy accessible and relevant for the people.
Then I realized what he was getting at. The liturgy is a great gift from the ages to the world today. It is a masterpiece of culture, spirituality, worship and ritual. It is not up to us to be creative with it. Being creative with the liturgy is like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
Of course, within the liturgy there is room for plenty of creativity properly expressed. The sacred arts, architecture, music and craftsmanship all accent the liturgy, but this is not the same as being “creative” with the liturgy and messing about with it.
To examine the cardinal’s actions further is to be even more worried. He wants to replace the gospel reading with Lectio Divina conducted by a layperson. There are two problems here. First is the idea that Lectio Divina is appropriate for the liturgy. It is not. Teachers in the Benedictine tradition say it is a form of prayer for use in private devotion, or at most, in a group retreat setting. Lectio Divina is not a form of public worship.
Therefore we have to ask, what on earth does a cardinal in the church actually believe about the liturgy? Does he really think it is some kind of touchy feely retreat experience? Of course the Holy Spirit speaks to us individually within the readings of Scripture, but a Catholic who has prepared properly for Mass–read the readings in advance, arrived early for prayer and listens and follows the readings carefully will have this inner experience anyway.
Does the cardinal really not understand the formal and ritualistic function of the liturgy, and that to personalize it too much takes away the corporate, ritualistic aspect of the Mass which touches people more deeply than a conscious meditation session? It would seem not.
Then there is his insistence that the lectio divina be conducted by a layperson. Let’s be honest. This is simply a ruse to bring women into roles reserved to the clergy. Whatever one may think of the possibility of women deacons and the impossibility of women priests, this is a step to erode the male only priestly and diaconal role in the liturgy.
The final worry about this news item is that being “creative” in the liturgy continues the trend of team Francis to insinuate ambiguity into the church wherever possible, and for ambiguity it is ok to read “relativism.”
Maybe to be even more creative the cardinal will use a famous tune by another Francis as the processional hymn and have somebody croon out, “I’ll do it my way!”