Monday, January 22, 2007

Liturgy and the Holy Father

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, Anita has posted some excerpts from Sacrosanctum Concilium concenring liturgical norms. For updated documentation on liturgical norms for the Latin rite, see the GIRM. You'll notice that even this document, which dates from 2003, doesn't allow many of the aberrations we encounter at Mass.

I've been reading the Holy Father's book The Spirit of the Liturgy during my morning devotional. It's an excellent resource if you want to understand Pope Benedict's take on the current chaos that occurs at some masses.

I mentioned the phrase "active participation" in my post on Lumen Gentium. Although I've heard some people comment on the misuse to which this phrase has been put by liturgical directors, I think the best came from Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers (Aurem Cordis) who explained that the Latin term for "active participation" (or participatio actuosa) actually means engagement, as opposed to the external activity that some liturgists seem to think it means.

The Holy Father underscores this point in his book as well. He covers this topic in part 4, chapter 2. Right off the bat, he identifies the problem:

Unfortunately, the word was very quickly misunderstood to mean something external, enatiling a need for general activity, as if as many people as possible, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action. However, the word "part-icipation" refers to a principal action in which everyone has a "part."


What has happened instead is that various roles that used to be restricted are now open, and new roles have been defined. We haven't had the misfortune to encounter liturgical dancers at St. John's, but there have been enough subtle abuses to rankle some of us. What bothers us is not change. It's indiscriminate novelty for its own sake. Organic change is fine and is part of the natural development of the liturgy. Novelties as matters of personal expression are not. They have no place in a liturgy ordered to our Creator. They turn our worship of Him into a worship of ourselves. The Holy Father even points out that applause turns liturgy into a celebration of human effort rather than a glorification of God. Most of all, it takes us away from our true role:

We should be clearly aware that external actions are quite secondary here. Doing must really stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio [the spoken word of the liturgy]. It must be plainly evident that the oratio is the heart of the matter, but that it is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God. Anyone who grasps this will easily see that it is not now a matter of looking at or toward the priest, but of looking together toward the Lord and going out to meet him. The almost theatrical entrance of different players into the liturgy, which is so common today, especially during the Preparation of the Gifts, quite simply misses the point.


The Spirit of the Liturgy is an excellent explication of the Mass by the Holy Father. If you want to understand the norms and the proper ordering of the liturgy, it's indispensible.

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