I was reading the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, an instruction issued by Pope John Paul II which concerned abuses in the Mass. I was struck by a reference to St. Thomas Aquinas which came in #169; it is from the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologica. On going to the article, I was surprised at how relevant the article is to our contemporary situation, especially with the contentious issue of the new translation of the Mass. I just reproduce the entire first article of q. 93:
Article 1. Whether there can be anything pernicious in the worship of the true God?
Objection 1. It would seem that there cannot be anything pernicious in the worship of the true God. It is written (Joel 2:32): “Everyone that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Now whoeverworships God calls upon His name. Therefore all worship of God is conducive to salvation, and consequently none is pernicious.
Objection 2. Further, it is the same God that is worshiped by the just in any age of the world. Now before the giving of the Law the just worshiped God in whatever manner they pleased, without committing mortalsin: wherefore Jacob bound himself by his own vow to a special kind of worship, as related in Genesis 28. Therefore now also no worship of God is pernicious.
Objection 3. Further, nothing pernicious is tolerated in the Church. Yet the Church tolerates various rites of divine worship: wherefore Gregory, replying to Augustine, bishop of the English (Regist. xi, ep. 64), who stated that there existed in the churches various customs in the celebration of Mass, wrote: “I wish you to choose carefully whatever you find likely to be most pleasing to God, whether in the Roman territory, or in the land of the Gauls, or in any part of the Church.” Therefore no way of worshiping God is pernicious.
On the contrary, Augustine [ Jerome (Ep. lxxv, ad Aug.) See Opp. August. Ep. lxxxii] in a letter to Jerome(and the words are quoted in a gloss on Galatians 2:14) says that “after the Gospel truth had been preached the legal observances became deadly,” and yet these observances belonged to the worship of God. Therefore there can be something deadly in the divine worship.
I answer that, As Augustine states (Cont. Mendac. xiv), “a most pernicious lie is that which is uttered in matters pertaining to Christian religion.” Now it is a lie if one signify outwardly that which is contrary to thetruth. But just as a thing is signified by word, so it is by deed: and it is in this signification by deed that the outward worship of religion consists, as shown above (Question 81, Article 07). Consequently, if anythingfalse is signified by outward worship, this worship will be pernicious.
Now this happens in two ways. On the first place, it happens on the part of the thing signified, through theworship signifying something discordant therefrom: and in this way, at the time of the New Law, themysteries of Christ being already accomplished, it is pernicious to make use of the ceremonies of the Old Law whereby the mysteries of Christ were foreshadowed as things to come: just as it would be pernicious for anyone to declare that Christ has yet to suffer. On the second place, falsehood in outward worshipoccurs on the part of the worshiper, and especially in common worship which is offered by ministersimpersonating the whole Church. For even as he would be guilty of falsehood who would, in the name of another person, proffer things that are not committed to him, so too does a man incur the guilt of falsehoodwho, on the part of the Church, gives worship to God contrary to the manner established by the Church or divine authority, and according to ecclesiastical custom. Hence Ambrose [Comment. in 1 ad Cor. 11:27, quoted in the gloss of Peter Lombard] says: “He is unworthy who celebrates the mystery otherwise thanChrist delivered it.” For this reason, too, a gloss on Colossians 2:23 says that superstition is “the use ofhuman observances under the name of religion.”
Reply to Objection 1. Since God is truth, to invoke God is to worship Him in spirit and truth, according toJohn 4:23. Hence a worship that contains falsehood, is inconsistent with a salutary calling upon God.
Reply to Objection 2. Before the time of the Law the just were instructed by an inward instinct as to the way of worshiping God, and others followed them. But afterwards men were instructed by outward preceptsabout this matter, and it is wicked to disobey them.
Reply to Objection 3. The various customs of the Church in the divine worship are in no way contrary to thetruth: wherefore we must observe them, and to disregard them is unlawful.
As in obj. 3, I think people very often have the idea that any worship of God in the liturgy, as long as it is valid (and often not even that), is a great thing. I’ve heard some people say that “We all commit liturgical abuses at every Mass; it’s always excused, because it’s our interior disposition that counts.” I think St. Thomas clearly wants to disabuse us of that notion, as does Bl. John Paul II and our current Pope (and more and more bishops, these days). It is of course a different story if we acted in excusable ignorance – if I forgot to say the Office correctly because I forgot the feast day. But this is not the only sort of ignorance; there is also a very culpable ignorance and an even more culpable disobedience in regard to liturgical norms.
Liturgy is so important, and our unity with the Church’s rightful governance so critical, that it doesn’t matter what we think liturgy should be. If it doesn’t encourage ecclesial unity with our duly appointed pastors, in keeping with the Church’s liturgical tradition, it can actually be a sin to commit a liturgical abuse. As the saying of Prosper of Aquitane goes: lex orandi, lex credendi – the law of prayer is the law of belief. If I have created a liturgy that is my creation rather than the Church’s, I am saying something about my unity with the Church and with God, who founded the Church and sustains Her (and Her hierarchical ministers, corrupt as they might be – eg, even Judas) by His Holy Spirit. Even if this self-created liturgy starts as doctrinally correct, it obeys the rule that a schismatic spirit often leads to true heresy. One can note the beginning of that schismatic tendency in some of these groups that commit liturgical abuses, as they often degenerate into claiming that God did not found or intend a Church in order to justify their disunity with the instructions of the “oppressive hierarchy in Rome [used pejoratively, of course].” Which saint of the Church, even those attempting to reform a corrupt Papacy or curia, has ever used such terms?
Liturgy is an important issue, not merely aesthetically, but because it concerns our deepest character as the Church of Jesus Christ, as a unified body of people holding the same faith, united under duly instituted pastors, and offering the same public worship. As the Vatican II Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium said, “Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the “sacrament of unity,” namely, the holy people united and ordered under their bishops” (#26). We have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:5); St. Paul himself ranks the unity in creed with a unity in liturgy! It was sinful for the Corinthians to divide themselves as followers of Paul, or Apollos, or Christ, because they were not in union with the pastors of the Church; they had appointed their own pastors, separate from the body of the Church. “Is Christ so divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). We are all called to profess the same faith, to obey the same pastors in union with the successor of St. Peter, and to celebrate the same liturgical rites. Liturgy is nothing to kid around with, because it concerns God Himself.
Let us pray that we can imbue our thoughts with the mind of Christ which we put on in our baptism, drawing more into a unity of will with the Sacred Heart of our Savior, the true and perfect priest. Then our liturgy will truly become the “source and summit” of our lives as Christians, for it will not flow from ourselves, but from the One God and Father by whose Word all things were created and in whose Spirit all things are sustained in existence.
Yours in Christ,
Br. James Dominic, OP