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Q & A

What are the causes of liturgical abuse?

Redemptionis Sacramentum identifies 5 causes of liturgical abuse. 


1) A false understanding of liberty (par. 7). True liberty is not to do “what we wish,” but to “do that which is fitting and right.” The paragraph continues, “This is true not only of precepts coming directly from God, but also of laws promulgated by the Church, with appropriate regard for the nature of each norm.” 


2) Ecumenical initiatives (par. 8). While these initiatives may be “well-intentioned,” the document says, the initiatives may “indulge […] in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith.” 


3) Ignorance (par. 9). Abuse may come from rejecting “those elements whose deeper meaning is not understood and whose antiquity is not recognized.” “All these things are wisely safeguarded and protected by the liturgical norms.” 


4) An inauthentic pastoral care and improper liturgical renewal (par. 11). Following one’s own whim or inclination “deprive[s] Christ’s faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. [….] For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal, but are detrimental to the right of Christ’s faithful[….]” 


5) A lack of biblical and liturgical formation (par. 170). This is needed for both “pastors and faithful, […] so that the Church’s faith and discipline concerning the sacred Liturgy may be accurately presented and understood.” 

Other causes of liturgical abuse include human frailty and sin, and a loss of the sense of the sacred.


We all have faults, failings, and weaknesses. We make mistakes. We can be tempted into following false ideas rather than following God though the Church. We sin. The late Fr. Charles Okeke (+2018) in his seminary lecture notes from Eucharistic Theology wrote, "Any intentional deviation from these instructions [to say the black text and do the red text], among many others, becomes an abuse of the liturgy and a personal act of disobedience rooted in pride and vanity...and carelessness." (This was published on the website courageouspriest, however, the website is no longer online.) For more on this cause of liturgical abuse, also see Fr. Vincent Capuano, SJ's article, Bad Habits: Can we correct liturgical abuse in religious communities?  Also see Liturgical Abuse: A Question of Fatherhood by Father Jerry Pokorsky (1999, the liturgical information is out of date).

The loss of the sense of the sacred has deep Biblical roots. Whenever God's People in the Old Testament fell away from their awareness of God and His holiness, there was trouble. Priests in the Old Testament were supposed to teach people about holiness as signified by the idea of the clean and unclean. There were gatekeepers whose liturgical function was to see that holiness was followed regarding the sacredness of the Temple. In our times too, many have lost their sense of the sacred. For more on this cause of liturgical abuse, read A Sobering Reminder on the Liturgy from the Book of Leviticus by Msgr. Charles Pope and Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli's The Loss of the Sacred. For a short excerpt from Bishop Serratelli's piece, go here.

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