Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year
14 October 2012
Dear Friends in Christ,
Why do we pray at St. Mary’s as we do? By this, I do not mean “Why do we pray facing liturgical east?” I explained the reasons for that in my bulletin columns for Lent 2008, and these are still available on the parish website under the title “Turning Together Towards the Lord.” Instead, in asking “Why do we pray at St. Mary’s as we do?” I mean everything else in our prayer: ritual form with dignity and solemnity, sacred music of traditional hymnody with Latin plainchant and polyphony, etc. Why do we pray in this way?
As you quickly discover when visiting other parishes, the liturgy in many places looks and feels quite different than it does here. And Catholics who have no memory of the sacred liturgy before 1970 may never have experienced anything but an endless parade of variety in the shape of the liturgy, leading them understandably but falsely to conclude that these matters are simply questions of taste and local preference. They are not, and they never have been. But sadly, this is precisely how the Church’s prayer is thought of and celebrated in many parishes. And when the sacred liturgy is treated by a priest or a congregation as something they “make” for themselves rather than something they “receive” from the Church, then the result is the deformation of prayer into entertainment which may, for some, be temporarily diverting but which is finally not capable of bearing the weight of glory for anyone.
The Second Vatican Council did command that the Church’s liturgical books and rites be studied and reformed, but the Council did not ask for the transmogrification of the sacred liturgy into something completely alien to the mind of the Church. The Fathers of the Council hoped that the reform of the sacred liturgy would lead to a deep renewal of Catholic faith and life in our time, but in the 50 years since the Council opened, that renewal has barely begun and in many places never happened. And one of the primary reasons, in my judgment, for this failure is that in too many parishes, seminaries, and religious communities, the sacred liturgy became a playground for fads, kitsch, sentimentality, and reckless experimentation that sundered the people and their priests from the roots of the Church’s life, and when that happened, Mass became focused on the congregation being gathered to celebrate itself being gathered rather than on Christ Jesus present among us in the sacred mysteries to teach us how to worship the living God in Spirit and truth.
If you want to understand these matters more deeply, I recommend two books, both of which are available on paper and in ebook format on Amazon. The first is The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger, and the second is The Mass and Modernity by Jonathan Robinson. Next week I will explore some of the practical consequences of celebrating the sacred liturgy according to the mind of the Church and in keeping with Catholic tradition.