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YEAR OF FAITH – Sacrosanctum Concilium and Liturgy

Late in 2012, I found Dan Burke’s article on instances of “liturgical abuse” that he encountered during the Christmas Season interesting – if not a little unfair.

Having been a Pastor and Parochial Administrator at several parishes, I inherit practices, customs and traditions from the previous Pastor. They may be good, bad, appropriate or not but (like it or not) they are there, in place and familiar with the congregation. To try and change any practices quickly will frequently meet with strong resistance. Catechesis is certainly the pat answer to this situation but, unless you have money and people in place who have liturgical and theological background and training (and those are VERY few) “Father” is left to drive this process. Such endeavors takes time (and money again) and involves details and complexities to logistically roll out a quality initiative which can tax limited resources of parishes with limited, and already stretched, resources.

Speaking of personnel resources, quality liturgy also means having a good group of quality, dedicated, well-trained parishioners to fulfill the various ministerial functions. It is not an easy task to coordinate the sign-up, collection and “cleaning up” contact information, contacting volunteers and offering them proper diocesan-approved training. Getting them to commit to a regular schedule especially during Easter and Christmas, when the liturgical demands are at their highest yet many of them are, themselves, away for the holidays also presents scheduling and logistical nightmares.

Oh yes, and I guess you also wanted “Father” to prepare, write out, edit and deliver a high-quality holiday homily, correct? In his “spare time perhaps?” Pray the parish doesn’t get a “white Christmas” so the Pastor doesn’t have to worry about shovels, snow removal, salting sidewalks, and making sure that the year’s largest collection is safely stored away and accounted for.

THAT my friend is the reality.  I am not condoning sloppy, vapid, incorrect, poorly celebrated liturgy. I’ve seen too many of those. But do you want to help? Call your Pastor. Offer to volunteer to be the go-to guy to coordinate an initiative to improve liturgy at your parish (or better yet, find a parish like the ones you mentioned and try there).

In the mean time, in this Year of Faith, let’s take a look at the Vatican II document that was promulgated about the liturgy – “Sacrosanctum Concilium.” I owe the following insights to Father Dennis Gill, head of Worship at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who provided an excellent overview of the document for his fellow priests recently.

One could say that there are five enduring theological values of Sacrosanctum Concilium. But as we examine these, we must realize that Vatican II did not occur within a vacuum. Vatican II occurred at a particular time of history with shifts that included changes within biblical, liturgical, social justice, cultural and historical contexts.  I also offer many of the following thoughts in the forms of questions because, frankly, I’m trying to figure a lot of this out myself for my self and the people whom I serve. Hopefully the questions will lead to further reflection and conversation.

  1. The Divine presence of Christ in the liturgy.
    1. What is the impact in liturgical practice and way we actually live our life? Does it have a measurable and observable impact? Why or why not? How can we determine this?
    2. Liturgy is more than “style” and rubrics.
    3. The liturgy needs to impact, and give a shape, to our daily life.
    4. It is about what the liturgy is saying about who we are and how we are to act. It’s supposed to have “feet on the street.”
  1. Liturgy is the paschal action of Jesus.
    1. The liturgy “is” Jesus. It is not something we “do.”  It is not just something in which we participate.
    2. It is Jesus – a person – with whom we have a relationship.
    3. It is something/someone into which we enter.
  1. Authentic participation in the liturgy.
    1. We’re not just there as spectators.
    2. Its a communion of hearts.
    3. We combine the offering of our lives with the offering of Christ.
  1. Sacramentality of the Word of God.
    1. The liturgy of the Word is not just the words of God.
    2. The Gospel is the actual words of Jesus Christ himself speaking.
    3. It’s not passive. Again, it’s a relationship and thus it’s necessarily interactive.
  1. “Legitimate” Variations.
    1. We must recognize that there are various ways of celebrating the rites.
    2. But this does not allow priests to arbitrarily change parts of the Mass.
    3. Variations are provided by, and instructed by, the Church.

In closing, Fr. Gill offered some musings about the initial hopes of Sacrosanctum Concilium, liturgical practice over the past 50 years, current liturgical practices and the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal.  She mentioned that Sacrosanctum Concilium is not an easy read. It seems somewhat “prescriptive” in nature and perhaps lacking a catechetical/theological context. From my perspective as a Pastor, I am only recently finding good, solid professionally prepared catechetical resources that can assist us in learning more about the liturgy. The materials that were prepared for the new translation of the Roman Missal were very helpful and provided a liturgical “teaching moment” for our congregations.

Thus, we seem to be backtracking in looking at Sacrosanctum Concilium in order to move forward and explain the liturgy. Sacrosanctum Caritatis helps in this and in, hopefully, addressing some of the concerns mentioned in Dan Burke’s article.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Fr. Charles Zlock #

    This is where a candid conversation with the Parish Council is key. Hopefully the pastor can build up some trust so that they’re honest with him. It ALSO presupposes that the pastors ego is a reasonable size and that he realizes its not “his” parish.

    May 3, 2013

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