Twenty-Ninth Sunday of the Year
21 October 2012
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week I explained that the shape of our common prayer is not, and for Catholics never can be, a matter of taste or personal preference. Instead, when we pray together, we pray with the Church of every time and place, and by receiving the sacred liturgy as something given rather than attempting to make the liturgy as something we create, we unite ourselves to the communion of saints. This is true of every form of liturgical prayer, but it is most especially true of the Most Holy Eucharist. Unfortunately, this timeless truth was all but lost to Catholics who came of age in the years after the Second Vatican Council in what the great Father Richard John Neuhaus called the Season of Silliness. The attempt to implement the liturgical reforms called for by the Council occurred coincidentally at a moment of general cultural upheaval during which the received forms of art, music, architecture, literature and drama were under assault, and the changes taking place outside of the Church could not help but influence the changes taking place inside the Church. Nevertheless, the deformation of the sacred liturgy during the Season of Silliness was caused more by a defective understanding of the nature and purpose of the liturgy inside the Church than by any baleful influences from outside. But that is changing. Indeed, it has been changing since the election of Pope John Paul the Great in 1978, and the restoration of beauty, dignity, transcendence and solemnity to the sacred liturgy has been one of the primary concerns of Pope Benedict XVI for most of his adult life. What remains for priests and people alike is to translate their vision into action. But how?
Well, if you study the shape of the liturgy at St. Mary’s — particularly the Solemn Mass at 11 am — you will see my answer to that question in every dimension of the way we pray together, and what you see is the effort to celebrate the sacred liturgy according to the perennial mind of the Church, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and the personal example of the two popes of my Catholic lifetime. Each facet of the celebration — ritual action; sacred music; comportment of the sacred ministers; use of Latin, plainchant, and polyphony; etc. — is integrated with all other facets of the sacred liturgy to assist each person present to experience our prayer as a participation in the heavenly liturgy of the saints and angels who worship the Lamb once slain. Perhaps of greatest importance in this vision are two complementary principles that are not well understood even after more than forty years of liturgical reform: 1) the priest is not the host or entertainer of those present; he is merely the steward of the sacred mysteries of Christ and to the maximum extent possible his human personality should disappear under the role of celebrant assigned to him by the Church, and 2) the people participate fully, actively, and consciously in divine worship not by doing things like proclaiming the Scriptures or helping to distribute Holy Communion but by worshiping the Father in Spirit and truth which is accomplished by entering into prayer with all their heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. That is why we pray here as we do.