A: In the confusion following the Council, some decisions to make changes at the local level were made more on the “authority” of a journalist’s report than from actual, documented decrees of legitimate Church authorities. All too frequently, the “authenticity” of a change was not checked with those authorities. Sometimes pastors were genuinely confused and did not intend to introduce innovations from “personal penchant.” And most Catholics relied on their pastor’s interpretation.
Regrettably, however, some influential liturgists evidently believed that changes from the “bottom-up” were more “authentic” than those properly authorized and did nothing whatever to discourage the liturgical mistakes which began to occur in the “grassroots.” In fact, the opposite was most often the case. In some circles, this view that “the people,” and not the hierarchy, are the Church, has persisted to the present (as in the “Call to Action” crowd). This view accounts for much of the pervasive liturgical and doctrinal confusion today.
It should be emphasized that no parish priest or liturgist has the right to decide on his own authority to initiate liturgical innovations. The decision about whether a proposed liturgical change does or does not “compromise the faith” is also outside his competence. When people are in doubt about the authenticity of a proposed liturgical innovation, it is surely best that customary practices be continued until the authority for such a change can be definitively determined. Many errors would have been avoided if this had been done.
—Answered by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Editor’s note: During our Silver Anniversary, we’ve been looking back from time to time on the readers, contributors, and mission that has made Adoremus a contributing voice to the English-speaking liturgical apostolate. Perhaps the strongest voice has been that of Adoremus’s 20-year editor, Helen Hull Hitchcock. Over the course of her leadership, Helen had many occasions to propose, address, and clarify liturgical matters. In this Question and Answer, a reprint of a 1996 response to a reader, Helen explains Adoremus’s position on liturgical authority and authenticity.
Helen Hull Hitchcock (1939-2014) was editor of the <em>Adoremus Bulletin</em>, which she co-founded. She was also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She published many articles and essays in a wide range of Catholic journals, and authored and edited <em>The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God</em> (Ignatius Press 1992), a collection of essays on issues involved in translation. She contributed essays to several books, including <em>Spiritual Journeys</em>, a book of “conversion stories” (Daughters of St. Paul). Helen lectured in the US and abroad, and appeared frequently on radio and television, representing Catholic teaching on issues affecting Catholic women, families, and Catholic faith and worship.