HERE IS FREQUENT TENSION and struggle with liturgy: excessive liturgical creativity can lead us to forget that God’s sacred initiative is taking place during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Mass is not something that we do or that we make or that we create. Certainly the Mass takes work on our part (“leitourgia”, from the Greek meaning “the people’s duty/service”), but this should not lead us to the illusion that we are driving the agenda or that we are in charge. For God’s grace works in a very different direction.
As such, many of us have experienced liturgies that are far less than ideal, perhaps where the sanctuary becomes a stage and the congregation becomes an audience. Priests and musicians are guilty of this, often with words, actions, and music that point to ourselves rather than to God. We can easily get caught up in celebrating what we have done, and not what God has done for us.
So when things go badly, it is a good opportunity for catechesis—a teaching moment that can take root when delivered with kindness. With this comes teaching not only what is ideal, but why it is ideal. Read the Black. Do the Red, but with a heart of compassion and as a teacher. This is the work of a lifetime.
In doing so we must truly be mindful that the road to the ideal must travel through the hearts and minds of real flesh and blood. After all, it is human hearts we hope to reach. Therefore, if in our ministry we are not teaching love, then we have failed.
Yet, teaching love does not preclude implementing reform, fraternal correction, or discipline. Any parent or teacher knows that love demands this. A good leader knows this, teaching and leading by example. Implementing reform with love demands a tricky balance of offering leeway with strict “tough love.”
Reform must travel through human hearts and minds in such measure that it does not instill discouragement which often leads to abandonment and rejection of sacred values and principles. Love demands keeping those in our charge on the right course as best we can, for we too are only human. We may not always succeed, and we cannot control how others respond to our best efforts. However, a thoughtful and kind approach usually wins out over time. For navigating the rough uncharted waters of human nature is perhaps the biggest challenge we face as catechists.
We are reminded of Matthew 22:36-40: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Finally, in Blessed John Paul II’s 1998 Ad Limina Address to the Bishops of the United States, On Active Participation in the Liturgy he describes our very real human experience in the context of Divine Worship.:
“The universal Church is united in the one great act of praise; but it is always the worship of a particular community in a particular culture. It is the eternal worship of Heaven, but it is also steeped in time. It gathers and builds a human community, but it is also the worship of the Divine Majesty (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 33). It is subjective in that it depends radically upon what the worshippers bring to it; but it is objective in that it transcends them as the priestly act of Christ himself, to which he associates us but which ultimately does not depend upon us (ibid., 7).”
Here, he explains what is ideal:
“..it is so important that liturgical law be respected. The priest, who is the servant of the liturgy, not its inventor or producer, has a particular responsibility in this regard, lest he empty liturgy of its true meaning or obscure its sacred character.”
Here the Holy Father explains why this is ideal:
“The core of the mystery of Christian worship is the sacrifice of Christ offered to the Father and the work of the Risen Christ who sanctifies his People through the liturgical signs.”
Let us be mindful that it is God who does great things for us. It is Christ who sanctifies us in liturgical signs. It is God whom we bless, praise, adore, and glorify. It is God to whom we give thanks for his great glory!
We do all this because we love God and because we love each other, just as He commands.