Nov 15, 2002

The Liturgy and "Unbridled Capitalism"

Online Edition

– Vol. VIII, No. 8: November 2002

The Liturgy and "Unbridled Capitalism"

Today’s Liturgy

, a quarterly liturgy planning guide published by

Oregon Catholic Press

(OCP), is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The current issue (Vol 25:1, Adv/Christmas/Epiphany 2002-03) features an article on the pre-conciliar liturgical movement by

Nathan Mitchell

of the Center for Pastoral Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, the first of a four-part series.

Mitchell recounts the early liturgical movement’s relation to social justice, especially in the ideas of

Father Virgil Michel, OSB

, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and a founder of the liturgical journal now known as


(for which Mitchell, a former Benedictine priest, writes a regular column).

In a 1937 essay, Father Michel wrote that the characteristics of "unbridled capitalism" are in conflict with a true vision of the liturgy: "hence the constant urge for more and greater profit, the constant expansion of industry, its absorption of competitors, etc." He concludes that "unbridled capitalism" leads to a social life in direct conflict with that envisioned in the liturgy. Because capitalism concentrates success in the hands of a few, he says, "it leads to the increasing helplessness, even despair, of the masses. In growing numbers the latter feel the futility of initiative and effort … to improve their lot".

In the same issue of

Today’s Liturgy

is a history of OCP, the liturgical publishing company owned by the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon.

Originally called the Catholic Truth Society, OCP began publishing a small pamphlet "missalette" in 1934; gradually adding a number of missals and hymnals to its list over the years. In the 1990’s OCP acquired other liturgical publishing houses: in 1994, North American Liturgy Resources (publishers of

Glory & Praise

); and Pastoral Press in 1998. Last year OCP became exclusive distributors for publications of the

Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions


OCP has also developed partnerships with international distributors, and administers thousands of music copyrights which it "rents" to parishes. "Currently, almost two-thirds of the parishes in the United States subscribe to one of OCP’s missal programs", the article states. OCP also "facilitates over 400 workshops" annually in parishes and dioceses.

OCP’s aggressive marketing to parishes includes its thick catalog and frequent promotional mailings of its products, including the annual "Breaking Bread" edition of Mass texts-plus-music, various hymnals, recordings, etc. Although as part of the Archdiocese of Portland it is "non-profit", OCP has garnered a greater and greater market share. (Another giant of the liturgical publishing industry is

Liturgy Training Publications

, of the Archdiocese of Chicago.)

Father Michel’s views seem prophetic. The liturgy in this country is influenced far more by the "liturgical-industrial complex" — by publishing companies and bureaucracies like the FDLC — than by the bishops or the Holy See. Authoritative documents, such as the Instruction on sacred music,

Musicam Sacram

, are scarcely known and widely ignored, while two-thirds of the Catholics in America have their ideas of liturgical music formed by the Oregon Catholic Press. Parish liturgy planners are far more likely to get their notion of proper liturgical practice from one of the 400 OCP workshops and LTP’s "Sourcebooks" and lectors’ workbooks than from a careful reading of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy or the Roman Missal’s rules for the celebration of Mass.

What has liturgy to do with the pursuit of profit? Should the market govern Catholic worship?

As Father Michel predicted nearly 65 years ago, the virtual monopolies in the liturgical publishing industry, and its "unbridled capitalism", has


, not promoted, the true reform of the liturgy and Catholic music for worship. And "in growing numbers [the masses] feel the futility of initiative and effort to improve their lot".



The Editors