Breaking Bad Liturgical Habits


The long-awaited introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal on November 27, the First Sunday of Advent, offers the Church in the Anglophere an opportunity to reflect on the riches of the liturgy, its biblical vocabulary, and its virtually inexhaustible storehouse of images. Much of that vocabulary, and a great many of those images, were lost under the “dynamic equivalence” theory of translation; they have now been restored under the “formal equivalence” method of translating. Over the next years and decades, the Catholic Church will be reminded of just what a treasure-house of wonders the liturgy is.

At the same time, the “changes in the words” offer the Church a golden opportunity to confront, and then break, some bad liturgical habits that have accumulated, like unlovely barnacles on the barque of Peter, over the past several decades.

For example:

1. Holy Mass should never begin with a greeting or an injunction that is not in the Roman Missal. The first words the congregation hears from the celebrant should be the liturgical words of greeting prescribed in the Sacramentary. At Masses where there is no sung entrance hymn, the admonition “please stand” should never be heard; if the priest-celebrant (or lector) recites the Entrance Antiphon in an audible voice before processing to the altar, everyone will get the message that Mass has begun, and will stand without being told to do so.

2. Far too many lectors, including many of the best, begin the responsorial psalm inappropriately, saying, “The responsorial psalm is….” – and then reciting the antiphon to the psalm, which is not “the responsorial psalm” but its antiphon. The phrase “The responsorial psalm is….” should thus be put under the ban. Forty-plus years into the liturgical renewal, there is no need to do anything except intone or recite the antiphon that begins the responsorial psalm: by now, the congregation surely knows that their next task is to repeat the antiphon, either in song or by recitation.

3. Fully aware that I shall be accused by some of crankiness bordering on misanthropy, let me repeat a point made in this space before: the exchange of peace is not meant to be the occasion for a chat with the neighbors, but for the greetings of those closest to us in church with a simple, evangelical salutation: “the peace of the Lord be with you;” “peace be with you;” “the peace of Christ.” The longer conversations can be saved for the narthex or vestibule (not “gathering space”).

4. The Communion antiphon, typically linked to the Gospel of the day, is just as typically AWOL at Mass. If it is not sung by the choir, it should be recited prior to the distribution of Holy Communion, not afterwards, as if it were some sort of afterthought.

5. Then there is silence. The rubrics prescribe various periods of silent reflection at Mass, particularly after the reception of Holy Communion, so that the “still, small voice” of 1 Kings 19.12 (butchered by the New American Bible into “tiny whispering sound”) might be heard. This is not a matter of doing something differently just to do something differently; it is a recognition that, in the liturgy, God speaks to us through silence as well as through vocal prayer and Scripture. Reintroducing periods of silence into the liturgy will require explanation from the pulpit; but while priests and deacons are explaining the “new words,” why not explain why the Church chooses silence over words at some points in its worship?

The re-sacralization of the English used in the liturgy affords all of us an opportunity to ponder just what it is we are doing at Holy Mass: we are participating, here and now, in the liturgy of angels and saints that goes on constantly around the Throne of Grace where the Holy Trinity lives in a communion of radical self-gift and receptivity. This is, in short, serious business, even as it is joyful business. We should do it well, as the grace of God has empowered us to do it well.

George Weigel’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver.

George Weigel


George Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the author, most recently, of The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II⎯The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy.

  • Cord Hamrick

    Re: Item 1: Why?

    Re: Item 2: Are Catholic churches so supremely confident in their utter inability to evangelize that they are certain no-one will attend Mass other than cradle Catholics?

    Re: Item 3: Granted. It seems to me that any form of mutual greeting should be elsewhere entirely in the Mass, and that the sign (kiss) of peace should therefore have a liturgical and solemn flavor rather than a jarringly casual and convivial flavor, at that moment of all times.

    Re: Item 4: Okay.

    Re: Item 5: Sounds excellent.

    • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

      1. Because Mass is an action by the people of God directed towards “worship” of God.

      Not a weekly get together for people to become familiar with each other.

      2. Though Mass can be a moment for evangelizing that is not its primary function. That remains the worship of God.

      • Cord Hamrick


        Your first answer (to my first question) does not follow. The fact that the Liturgy is an action, a service of adoration, of the people of God directed towards Him in no way precludes the instruction of the people of God in how to perform this action in an orderly way.

        As for whether the Mass is “a weekly get-together for people to become familiar with each other”: You have mistaken assumptions about the background of my question, ascribing notions to me I do not hold. I would never have claimed that it was. I would have complained, were it treated as such.

        But Weigel’s Item 1, which I asked to have explained, does not make the difference between Mass as adoration and Mass as club-meeting. Weigel’s Item 1, as written, is the difference between Mass as adoration with neophytes and catechumens and visitors confused about what they are doing, and Mass as adoration with less confusion. Is God the author of confusion?

        Your second answer suffers from the same problem. I was not speaking of evangelizing. (Who on earth would become convinced that the Virgin’s son is God, of the nature of Petrine authority, or that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Peter, because someone helped them understand how to participate in the Mass?) I was speaking of participation in the orderly worship of God by someone who, without some assistance, would spend the entire Mass asking the person beside them, “What’s going on? What do I do now?”

        So, your second response is as unrelated to the question as the first. It also, as an assertion in-and-of-itself, is partly in error: The Mass consists of the Liturgies of the Word and of the Eucharist; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist is pure adoration and sacrifice as you say. But the Liturgy of the Word? God is certainly adored therein, but I never heard that He was particularly edified by the readings, or that He could benefit from a particularly insightful homily.

        If the faithful are not to be edified then there would be no Liturgy of the Word: There would be no readings, no homily; the remainder would simply be included among the prefatory material prior to the Eucharist, and that would be that.

        By all means, let us not have Mass led after the fashion of a carnival barker. But, by all means, let us have it led; that is to say, led in a fashion one can follow. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  • Taylor Hughes

    Mr. Weigel, if these are all problems which require correction, why are they not corrected? Is there a misunderstanding about who should correct them? It seems that these problems have been going on for 50 years now…Why?

  • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    Please add to that. Mass facing the people, which is a cancer that only serves to promote confusion as to what the Mass is.

  • Jason

    I will agree with the comments of Giovanni.

    All of these and the laundry list of other abuses are completely absent, 100%, in a properly offered Extraordinary Form liturgy. I realize that not everyone has access to this beautiful liturgy and that in itself is a major problem.

    Since Summorum Pontificum that deplorable situation is geting better and it will continue to do so.

  • I am in agreement with this article and the comments of Giovanni and Jason. I would also like to add clapping after the homily (seriously)…because it actually happens at my parish.

  • Anne

    What about the lectors, before the entrance of the priest, introducing themselves saying” I am so and so and I will be your lector today.” It reminds me of going to an upscale restaurant and the waiter introducing himself. Horrible!

  • I agree that the mass needed a new translation, or perhaps all that was needed was to use a pre-vatican II translation. But the translation is not the biggest problem in my view. The altar needs to be turned around so the priests won’t think they are entertainers; the choir needs to be put back in the choir loft for the same reason. The mass is not a rock concert. Another improvement would be to bring back the organ and put the piano in the concert hall. All of these things would reinforce the sacredness, solemnity, and reverence of the mass.

  • Sarto

    The right wing gloats, but continues to grumble. Actually, I had a great time with the new translation this Sunday. The priest was from Vietnam and you could only understand every third or fourth word he said. Oh, the drama of the new more dignified more spiritualized Latinized liturgy. It was even more compelling in the Vietnam/Latin version. Angels were seen in the rafters. The little kid in the pew in front of me upchucked in ecstasy. And as some people exited, they grumbled, “I don’t know why I still go to Mass.”

  • Charles Lee

    I’m not consubstantial with your thinking, George, except the part where you *nearly* admit you are cranky and a misanthrope.