HE EUCHARIST is the center of the liturgy. The Eucharist is the center of our lives. Christ reigns supreme. The Real Presence is manifested in the Body and Blood of Christ and in the Word. Hence the Word is preeminent in the Mass. As a result, the Mass is the greatest form of evangelization. It is the center of parish life and of all spiritual life.
Apparently, I talk a good game, but I struggle to remember these things. I struggle when it appears that reverence in the Mass is viewed as suspect and the Word treated carelessly. I’m looking for Christ in the liturgy, but I see more and more of the outside world imposed upon it. That makes me very conservative, does it not? No, it has nothing to do with me. It goes to what is established by Christ and the centrality of worship. It goes to that “necessary link between the lex orandi and the lex credendi.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, §10)
Clearly, much confusion and challenge has faced the Church in the last fifty years. Confronted with declining attendance (quite the opposite in many places), the pressure is palpable to do away with traditional worship hoping this will get (young) people back in the pews with instant results. This is well intended, but fraught with a miscalculation of the nature and intelligence of our youth especially, who long for transcendence when the world offers none. Compounding this misperception are grave misunderstandings surrounding the nature of the Word in worship, the role of the celebrant acting In persona Christi, and the very purpose of sacred music which in large part is to help us pray the words of the Mass.
E’RE HUMAN AND WE’RE NOT PERFECT. But the people deserve better, and it is our pastoral responsibility to expand our knowledge and understanding of the liturgy and sacraments. In the long run, what always seems to work best to get the faithful back in the pews is to evangelize with the truths of the Catholic faith, most effectively spread through the liturgy. Goffredo Boselli asserts there is “an indissoluble link between the liturgy and the transmission of faith. We can say, in fact, that the celebration of the liturgy is the most important act of evangelization.” (pg. 209, The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy)
Therefore, what is said here about clergy also applies to musicians:
“Priests should go to the trouble of properly cultivating their liturgical knowledge and ability, so that through their liturgical ministry, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will be praised in an ever more excellent manner by the Christian communities entrusted to them”. Above all, let them be filled with that wonder and amazement that the Paschal Mystery, in being celebrated, instills in the hearts of the faithful. (Redemptionis Sacramentum, §33)
The Mass is a jewel and our greatest prayer. Strangely, there is a great deal of anxiety in allowing it to speak for itself and therefore shape our spiritual formation. As a result, a pervasive problem is experimentation with the Mass. For example, “These or similar words” — a well intended idea — sometimes devolves into “These or highly dis-similar words” which are often applied in inappropriate places, such as the Eucharistic prayers or during the Gospel reading. This is a common problem that began well before Liturgiam authenticam (LA) and the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Long ago, something well intended went sideways, and the faithful deserve better.
NTERESTINGLY, TWO DOCUMENTS SPEAK QUITE DIRECTLY to the issue of liturgical experimentation and abuse. The first was promulgated by Pope Paul VI from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship: Liturgicae Instaurationes — Instruction on the Orderly Carrying out of the Constitution on the Liturgy. The second is from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: Redemptionis Sacramentum — On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist.
A notable passage from Liturgicae Instaurationes regarding the indulgence of personal preferences:
The effectiveness of liturgy does not lie in experimenting with rites and altering them over and over, nor in a continuous reductionism, but solely in entering more deeply into the word of God and the mystery being celebrated. It is the presence of these two that authenticates the Church’s rites, not what some priest decides, indulging his own preferences.
Keep in mind, then, that the private recasting of ritual introduced by an individual priest insults the dignity of the believer and lays the way open to individual and idiosyncratic forms in celebrations that are in fact the property of the whole Church.
This last paragraph does not mince words that the liturgy belongs to the people! Nor do the final words of the document, which encourages “persistent catechesis”, that we “put aside personal differences” and “repudiates the secular and arbitrary as lethal to itself.” This is an astounding conclusion to the document!
While Redemptionis Sacramentum has a good deal of encouragement, it too speaks plainly about the consequences of individuals imposing personal and arbitrary preferences upon the liturgy:
[6.] For abuses “contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament…
[7.] Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty. Yet God has not granted us in Christ an illusory liberty by which we may do what we wish, but a liberty by which we may do that which is fitting and right.
[8.] It is therefore to be noted with great sadness that “ecumenical initiatives which are well-intentioned, nevertheless indulge at times in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith”. Yet the Eucharist “is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity or depreciation”.
[10.] The Church herself has no power over those things which were established by Christ himself and which constitute an unchangeable part of the Liturgy.…For the Sacred Liturgy is quite intimately connected with principles of doctrine, so that the use of unapproved texts and rites necessarily leads either to the attenuation or to the disappearance of that necessary link between the lex orandiand and the lex credendi.
[11.] The Mystery of the Eucharist “is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured”. On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free reign to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved…”
There is much to digest here. Allow the Mass to speak for itself. Proclaim the Word. Sing the Mass. Serve God and His people. This is what they deserve.
Soli Deo gloria
You can listen to recordings directed by Paul French here.