Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Future of the Roman Rite

The Sacred Liturgy is at the heart of the Catholic experience. It is the source of divine grace and the summit of activity for the entire life of the Church. In the Liturgy, the Church’s public worship, the entire Mystical Body of Christ is caught up in a common act of adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication, in which the Body receives nourishment from communion with the Head, Jesus Christ. Sent forth from worship of the Divine Presence, the members of Christ's Body engage the mundane and transform the world. Precisely because of its impact and significance for the Church, the Liturgy is often the topic of much discussion. Liturgy is where we meet God. So, it’s no wonder that it means so much to so many, and that it becomes a passionate crusade for some.
Liturgy was the most visible and recognizable change initiated by the Second Vatican Council. Everyone who lived through it can describe their human experience of the change and the effect it had on them, both positive and negative. Since that time, Catholics have not ceased evaluating and discussing the impact of conciliar liturgical reform and questioning certain aspects of that reform.
In this post-conciliar era, disparate camps have attempted to take the Liturgy under their own control. Radical traditionalists have dug in their heels and insisted on a calcified rite with no openness to organic development. Extreme progressives have also rejected organic development, fabricating knee-jerk changes – everything from re-arranging the Good Friday Liturgy to writing their own Eucharistic Prayers – on their own initiative. The first approach ignores the guidance of the Holy Spirit and legitimate liturgical development; the latter rejects Vatican II’s clear statement in Sacrocanctum Concilium that “no one, not even a priest, may add, subtract, or change” the Church’s ritual. Both are incomplete.
Ted Rosean caricatures these divergent positions in an editorial in the August issue of U. S. Catholic. He contrasts the “bowing down to God in fear” traditionalists with the “back-slapping brother Jesus” progressives, calling the liturgical expressions of both camps a “scandal.” The author has a certain bias in favor of the modern, claiming that “the progressive, alternative Masses are much less troubling than the return of the Tridentine Mass” because “folk” liturgies and the like tend in the direction of the Council’s intent. I contend that the documents of the Council, and those of the Church since the Council, present a different picture. The discontinuous rupture, which led to casual liturgy, is not supported by the documents of the Church or the words of the Holy Fathers. Still, Rosean’s desire for one, unified rite is a proper expression of faith. His conclusion that “[w]e need to get more people to celebrate the existing rite well” is one that I can wholeheartedly stand behind. The question remains: what needs to happen to insure that the Roman Rite of Vatican II is celebrated well so that it will sustain the faith of the Church for generations to come?
For this answer, there is no better place to turn than the rich liturgical treasure of the Roman Rite. We can look to our history to discover the tools we need to form our future. If we consider the Mass of 1962, or of John XXIII, we might identify four obvious themes that exemplify distinction from our current experience of the Mass: the language of the ritual, the complexity of ritual, the use of Sacred Scripture, and the direction of prayer. The reforms initiated by Vatican II certainly called for the use of the vernacular, while preserving the use of Latin; the streamlining of ritual according to principles of noble simplicity and progressive solemnity and the elimination of excess and repetition; and a wider and more varied use of Scripture.
Arguably the most significant (in terms of positive impact on the faithful) liturgical reform of the Council was the expansion of readings from the Bible and the allowance for those readings to be proclaimed by lay persons in the vernacular, thus opening up greater possibilities for forming the faithful in the Word of God. Two of the other notable reforms have been subject to popular distortion in recent decades. First, the re-organization and simplification of ritual does not mean a shift toward a utilitarian, minimalist and casual approach to the Liturgy. Yet, this has happened in certain places according to the whim of the participants. Second, the use of the vernacular does not mean the abandonment of the Latin language, nor of the Church’s rich patrimony of Gregorian chant. Yet, these have all but vanished from our Catholic memory. The future effectiveness of the Roman Rite in leading the faithful into worship of God depends in large part upon a re-discovery of a sense of sacred ritual and a re-appropriation of the Church’s sacred cultic language and musical treasure.
All this leaves us with the question of the direction of our prayer at Mass. The posture of the priest is perhaps the single most noticeable and controversial liturgical development of the Vatican II era. The previous ritual is often falsely caricatured as “the priest turning his back to the people.” The implications of change are far-reaching. Having the priest facing the people when he is praying to God, particularly for the Eucharistic Prayer, risks taking the focus away from the Theo-Centric nature of divine worship and turning the Liturgy into a closed-in circle of human beings. When the priest and people face together in a common direction (and that is what is really going on in the former ritual practice), the unity of the Church in her worship of God is emphasized and ritually portrayed. In the early Church, Christians faced East, the direction of the rising sun from which they believed Jesus would return on the last day (hence the description for the priest’s posture: “ad orientem” – “toward the East”). A common direction toward the altar or crucifix retains this symbolism. The practice of facing the altar remains an option which a number of priests and parishes are embracing. In my limited experience, I find that it takes the focus of the Liturgy away from ourselves, away from the person of the priest-celebrant, and re-orients our focus on the Lord. It further places all who are gathered for Mass in a unified spirit of prayer. The direction of our prayer changes how we pray, and how we pray transforms our relationship with God. When we pray together with a sense of focusing primarily on God, our prayer forms us to live our whole lives with the same focus on Him. There is nothing so significant for the future of the Roman Rite as the re-discovery of the ancient practice of turning together toward the Lord. The pastoral and prudent consideration of the direction of our prayer ought to occupy the thoughts and prayers of all in the Church in these days.

1 comment:

Mark Moorhead said...

God bless you, Father Albright. Your reflection uses well-chosen words and themes, and if more people could see this (ie. in an Exponent article on the Liturgy?), perhaps the seeds that would be spread in this way, among clergy and laity alike, might begin to germinate. Thank you for being such a holy priest, and thank you for the hope that you offer here to those of us who ache to participate in the proper worship of God - truly according to the mind of the Church.