Making Church Matter

Liturgical Bullies

May 20, 2018

We have just completed a two-week Rebuilt Book Tour, which brought us to Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, and Vienna. Among many other observations we made there, here’s one: most all of our hosts seemed more relaxed about liturgy than many of the churchpeople we encounter here in the States. Not in the sense that they abuse rubrics or disregard rules. Rather, they just struck us as more at ease with the whole subject, it appears to be less polemical.

For example, in all of our conferences, not a single liturgical question was even once raised. That has never happened to us in our own country. Notwithstanding that our conferences aren’t even about liturgy, the subject always comes up, often in a combative way and sometimes in a disruptive one. This was underscored for me on returning home and finding two lengthy letters (written not to me, but to the bishop) from two of our most consistent current critics detailing their most recent allegations of our liturgical crimes (neither of the authors are parishioners, and none of their allegations were substantive, by the way).

Don’t really know if it is an American phenomenon or not, but it seems there are always at least a few people in every parish we’ve encountered who carve out for themselves the role of liturgical bullies. I’m not talking about people who have legitimate concerns about legitimate, substantive liturgical abuses. I’m talking about people who go to Mass looking for something to question or complain about and are never disappointed. Then, they run home and get online to make their comments known to anyone who will listen, or fire off an angry missive to the pastor, or, better yet, to the bishop.

They complain about the liturgy. It’s their apparent contribution to the Body of Christ.

And here’s the thing: liturgical bullies are always abusive, the exercise, in and of itself, is an expression of cruelty. That’s because it shows no consideration for the concerns, cares, or motivation of others, only a personalized view of rules and rule keeping. Here are a few more observations I’ve made over the course of many years on the receiving end of this cruel behavior:

  • Obsessed with rules as this attitude is, it is rarely based in a very solid understanding or appreciation of the Liturgy.
  • It is typically ignorant of the aesthetic of the Liturgy and unconcerned with the beauty or joy or spirit of the celebration.
  • Logic, like charity, is usually not a part of their consideration. Anger, arrogance, condescension and exaggeration are their preferred tools. While abusive to their subjects, the practice is also narcissistic.

Liturgical bullies are divisive and demoralizing in the life of the Church. To grow healthy parishes we need to marginalize their voices and avoid their conversations.

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