The Liturgical Industrial Complex

Dear Readers,

A well-known phenomenon that began shortly before the Second Vatican Council, becoming more visible afterward and still seen today, is what is known by some liturgists today as the “liturgical-industrical complex.” While this might sound like a complete joke, there have been real journal articles written about this phenomenon (if I’m not too lazy and some interest is expressed in the comment box, I would be willing to post links to some).

After the 1960s, places and people like vestment manufacturers began making entirely new types of vestments or styles of vestments that were unknown in any other point in Christian history. These began to be foisted on the populace at large by being hawked at parish priests, marketed in vestment magazines, and showcased at “liturgical fashion shows” as examples of the new liturgical reform that Vatican II would usher in (an interesting view of this in the Felli movie Roma). Interestingly, almost all of these “new” vestments were created whole cloth (pun!) by the vestment manufacturers rather than having any liturgical history whatsoever. In fact, many kinds of these new vestments were condemned as illegitimate by Rome; they often messed up whatever traditional significance there was to something like a chasuble or an alb. Often, sadly, as with some other abuses that crept in after the Council, the Church caved in to widespread abuses by granting limited permissions in an attempt to stem the tide. As a consequence, some of these have stuck around for no good reason; thus, vestment manufacturers continue to push them and they create a whole artificial cycle of demand and supply. The same was true of all sorts of other innovations, pushed by the manufacturer and creating artificial demand cycles.

What follows are some examples:


This chasuble-alb is a stellar example. Invented, condemned, and then - because of widespread use - approved ex post facto by the bishops conference in the Phillipines.

These psychedelic kinds of chasubles are just fantastic:

I've seen these used - have you? Ordination present for that very special Fr. Tony Soprano in your life?

While chasubles certainly were highly affected (only God the Father knows how many rainbow chasubles, or chasubles made from things Lady Gaga wouldn’t wear, or macramé chasubles were created in this era), stoles in particular suffered significantly from the liturgical-industrial complex.

Overlay stoles are a prime example of this. While a relatively minor abuse, they are often rather of bad taste (as these examples are, in my humble opinion) but, more importantly, they destroy the traditional significance to the stole being placed under the chasuble. The chasuble represents the fullness of God’s love and the stole is an adapted Roman magistrate’s juridical garment representing the priest’s authority to judge sins (his power); one places the chasuble over the stole at Mass to signify that the power of the priest is at the service of God’s overwhelming mercy and love. Putting it on top of the chasuble seems to indicate a primacy being placed on the priest’s power and authority; a sort of liturgical clericalism. But, whatever reason is assigned to the practice, it just comes off looking odd.

These remind me of something you'd find at Discount Home Furnishings R Us.

A sight I knew you were itching to see - the chas-alb and overlay stole together at last....

Chalices too have been so regulated by liturgical artisans over the past years that still in some mainstream catalogues one can be faced with a more-or-less exclusive choice between variations on these two options:

The "Conservative" option

Just kidding!

The "Avant Garde" Option.

Thankfully, times – they are a changin’.

*My* version of "avant garde"

More fun before then, though!

Unity candles are a money-making racket if there ever was one. In all fairness, these were invented by the Hallmark Store or someone rather than vestment or liturgical manufacturers per se. I still count them as an example of liturgical-industrial complex, though.

The final element or step is the control that has been exerted over both Mass settings, liturgical music, and Mass or biblical texts. After the reforms of VII, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops gave copyright over all three of those areas exclusively to a small number of music companies or affiliated liturgical music publishing houses. The legacy of this was to create, again, an artificial demand cycle for folk music that – while mildly popular at some time in the past – was passe even before it hit the choir loft. The control of these same publishing houses persists to this day, controlling printing of liturgical texts and hampering the efforts of those who want to create new styles of contemporary Catholic hymnody. It’s also the reason one cannot use freely the liturgical texts of the Mass or of the Catholic New American Bible without violating copyright.

By contrast, the Latin texts are free for all peoples!

Vivat Rex Aeternus!

As for the rest, we can only hope, pray, and work in charitable small ways to reinvigorate the love of liturgy that so characterized the saints. Liturgy should be our prayer, in a way beyond lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief). Liturgy visibly represents belief, but should not merely represent it – it should be something we can enter into with the mind of the Church so that it becomes an expression of our belief and love. While we might want to say, instinctively, that the liturgy is not the be-all-end-all of life, that’s not the whole story. There is certainly a sense in which liturgy alone, in a church building, cannot be everything life is about; Jesus certainly evaluated the sheep and the goats according to whether they loved people, not whether they swung the thurible according to the appropriate number of ducti for the Blessed Sacrament (my own pet peeve :).

On the other hand, the Mass is the Sacrifice of God on the Cross and can’t be anything other than what life is all about. The liturgy is not merely a teaching moment, or merely a community building moment,  or merely an aesthetically beautiful break in a life of dreariness, or merely something intended for utilitarian ends. The liturgy is, mystically and eternally, an end in itself because it is liturgy that we will be doing forever in heaven. Jesus tells us to pray always – we are always to participate in liturgy. We do so by prayer and by loving our neighbor. Mystically, it’s the same kind of motive that prompts us to care for the other person as should prompt us to be at Mass – love of Jesus reflected in the Mass or reflected in the face of the poor. These are not by any means exclusive. The poor person is not being cared for by the Christian to further some political programme or to look good before others or to achieve psychological satisfaction. Rather, we care for the poor as an end in itself. That’s because it partakes in that same eternal liturgy of heaven that shines in the Mass and in the other sacraments of the Church. If you never attend Mass and claim to help the poor, you’re probably as deluded as the person who spends all their time in church without lifting a finger to help the people around them. Without love of God, mere love of neighbor is fundamentally meaningless – instead of love of a true neighbor, it can only drift into more abstract terms like love of “humanity” that, in the end, lead to selfishness and callousness. Similarly, the loss of a sense of respect, reverence, and gift at liturgy in the church building has a similar cause and a similar effect; one is often led to it by a spirit of pride, desiring to create something of one’s own making rather than see the liturgy as a gift of God, and this pride often leads to a liturgy that ceases to become divine, becoming solely human and corrupted. This “liturgical-industrial complex” arises in seeing the liturgy as something to be fit to our categories and so debases it by making it merely human and utilitarian.

This is why the Second Vatican Council stressed “full, active, and conscious participation” in the liturgy as the remedy for these kinds of corrupt mindsets. It is true of priests, religious, laymen, and all others involved in the liturgy that they should exemplify each of these aspects in their liturgical participation:

It should be full – encompassing everything about their person, their demeanor, their mindset, their action – so that God becomes all in all. It isn’t merely an hour on Sunday, but participation in eternal liturgy – the very life of God.

It should be active, but not their activity as such. It should be the activity of God working in them, with their active cooperation in His grace.

It should be conscious, so that their mind is no longer their own, but becomes entirely the mind of Christ and His Church as expressed by Her hierarchical ministers.

The liturgy will save the world. Let liturgy save the world in you, not despite you.

Yours in Christ,

Br. James Dominic, OP

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