I have posted the following in the ‘comments’ section on an earlier post. Here is a link to the original post –


Though the comments are now posted elsewhere, the matters discussed in them are, I think, sufficiently significant, to warrant a separate post.

Father Corey French responded to my post on visiting another church while on holiday with these perceptive comments:

A couple of months ago, an uncle of mine passed away down in Kentucky, so I drove down for the requiem at the local RC parish. I found the extraneous and improvisatory commentary throughout the liturgy utterly distracting. Most of it was didactic in nature: The celebrant felt the need, for instance, to explain briefly what the pall represents as he spread it over the casket. Before censing the bier, he provided a trite disquisition on the meaning of incense in the liturgy.

Some of it gave the liturgy the feel of a variety show. After every choral piece, he offered a brief comment tying the “message” of the song to the next part of the liturgy. There were, of course, the inevitable jokey asides intended, presumably, to show that burying the dead needn’t be too dour and stuffy an affair.

The latter “variety show” aspect I’ve sadly come to expect at almost every RC liturgy I happen to attend (especially, it seems, if the celebrant is over age 45), but the didacticism always jars me. It bespeaks the weakness of the Novus Ordo that its celebrants lack any confidence in the liturgy’s inherent capacity to convey meaning through its own structure, symbols, and “script” without having a verbose running gloss from the celebrant. There is no sense that a symbol—like any good joke—loses a great deal of its power when its reduced to an explanatory paraphrase.

Despite all the modern handwringing about clericalism, the implicit belief that the laity are simply too stupid to understand what’s going on in the liturgy without having someone with an M.Div. explain it to them might be the most clericalist assumption of them all. It saddens me for our lay brethren in the Roman Communion, many of whom probably would just like to go back to the days of hearing Mass without also hearing from father.

Also, thank for the Lytle remark. One of the great regrets of my life is that I was untimely born and was not at Sewanee when he was still about.

To this I replied as follows:

Yes, on all points. Instead of ‘With this ring I thee wed’ (1662, 1928), in the marriage rite in the English ‘Alternative Service Book’ (1980), the priest has the couple (or the man in a one ring wedding) say, ‘I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage’. The Episcopalians since 1979 say, ‘I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow’. I believe it was C.H. Sisson who said that if one has to say ‘this is a sign’, then it is an unsuccessful sign: which is also your point.

Mr. Lytle attended Mass at S. Stephen’s when he visited Marion and Dot Montgomery. He was a pleasure to listen to, both in a formal lecture and in the Montgomery living room with a bourbon. He was even more scathing about the religious left and modernist liturgy when speaking privately.

The modernist liturgies simply do not ‘work’. They are produced by people who mostly are blind to effective symbols, fussily didactic, archaeological in their approach to worship, and deaf to beautiful language. The result is that the most effective evangelical tool Anglicans (and Roman Catholics) possess is blunted. The results are obvious.

One thought on “More on church visiting, Andrew Lytle, ‘symbols’, and chatty clergy

  1. I suppose, and hope, the “laity” are not the same people who clear out the toilet paper from the stores during flares in the pandemic.


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