Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Monday, September 26, 2011

Liturgical Renewal

There has been a deep divide among Catholics over the past fifty years. Some people use political terms like conservative or liberal to describe this division. On the one hand, there are the “conservative” radical traditionalists (often called RadTrads for short) who believe the Church must reject the novus ordo Mass and return to the Latin Tridentine Mass prior to Vatican II. On the other hand, the “liberal” peace and justice, inclusive Catholics believe we have not gone far enough and thus the Church should change her dogmas, ordain priestesses, and reduce the moral teachings of the Church to feelings.

Finding themselves between these two groups, many bishops have attempted to walk a middle path – but often this path meant pandering to the “progressives” while seemingly punishing the traditionalists. This itself has occurred in large part because the bishops know traditionalists within the Church will do as they’re told out of some sense of piety while the liberals simply do not accept the authority of the Church, especially a Church led by an all-male clergy. Sadly this middle path has left many faithful Catholics feeling betrayed or scandalized as the bishops practice a policy of appeasement in order to keep the liberals from staging a revolt. In 2010, Archbishop Nienstedt witnessed such a revolt at St. John’s University over his public explanation of homosexuality, an explanation faithful to Church teaching and natural law.

Some bishops have declared themselves catechetical bishops, social justice bishops, or evangelical bishops – but this emphasis on what they seek to accomplish during their episcopate is rather like describing the Trinity in terms of job titles: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier rather than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The real power of the bishops is in liturgy, for it is in the liturgy where the faithful are catechized (both in body and spirit); it is in the liturgy where the faithful are taught social justice; it is in the liturgy where the faithful are evangelized, becoming more the Body of Christ by receiving the Body of Christ.

With this understanding of the profundity of the liturgy, here are some ways we can renew the Mass, and by doing so better catechize, evangelize, and produce real social justice:

1. Renew the Language of the Mass

On the first Sunday of Advent, the Church will do just this by implementing the translation of the Roman Missal into English. Generally speaking, the words are a vast improvement on what has been used for several decades. The new words act to re-inject sacral language into the Mass, helping Catholics to realize that a greatest prayer of the Church requires language far above the idle words of street talk. Click here for a comparison of the old and new translations.

2. Reserve the chalice for the priest

A recent talk I attended on the new translation included a discussion on the change of the word cup to chalice during the consecration. The speaker preferred the current translation over the new translation because Jesus would have used a simple cup at the Last Supper instead of a gold chalice. But this overly historical approach sadly overlooked the Biblical and theological understanding of the word chalice. The chalice is a specific kind of cup used for sacrifice. Indeed the passion and death of Christ was the chalice of sacrifice which the Father gave to Jesus for the good of our salvation – and priests, configured to Christ through Holy Orders, are the ones who offer up the one sacrifice of Christ to the Father in the liturgy. Because of this, it is proper to ordinarily reserve the chalice for the priest. This idea is now taking traction in the Archdiocese of Phoenix where Archbishop Olmsted has drawn on the new translation of the Roman Missal and new norms for reception of Communion to do just this. Reserving the chalice to the priest will also work to limit the number of unnecessary extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Feel free to check out this Q&A on the matter from the Archdiocese of Phoenix.

3. Reinstate boy servers and acolytes

Studies show that when boys and girls work on projects, tasks, and assignments, boys will often times sit back and let the girls do the work for them. Sadly this has discouraged many boys from serving at Mass – and in effect, having boys and girls serve is the best way to reduce the numbers of priestly vocations. Canon law speaks of acolytes as a specific form of server for boys only and a full acolyte is also an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. Reinstating an acolyte program for high school boys would be a great way to teach young men the Mass while providing them with additional opportunities to prayerfully consider their vocation.

4. Restore the ad orientem posture of the priest

In a society caught up with sexual disorientation, the faithful have much to learn from liturgical orientation. The priest, sacramentally configured to Christ, represents us to God at Mass – and as our representative the priest and people face the same way: toward God. This is known as the ad orientem posture, a posture derided as the priest turning his back on the people. But we must remember that the Mass is spiritual warfare and the priest, like Christ, stands ready to take the first spiritual bullet for our salvation. The priest goes to war at the altar and makes present the blow dealt to Satan at the cross. When the priest stands and represents us, we should cheer him on and thank God we have a warrior there to protect us.

5. Deepen Eucharistic Reverence

The second point of renewal focused on reserving the chalice for the priest, but another way to deepen Eucharistic devotion would be to reinstate the norm of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue in a kneeling posture. This the norm Pope Benedict XVI uses in his Masses and it is one which would certainly be more reverent than the “lunch line” Communion we have now where almost no one makes a sign of reverence before receiving the Eucharist. Furthermore, if this point is combined with point two, the long lines at Communion will be drastically reduced and it would enable the priest and deacon to be the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist while limiting the need of 5-10 extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.

None of these points of renewal is a repudiation of the novus order Mass. Instead, these are simple ways to make the novus order what the Fathers of Vatican II intended it to be. Indeed, this is the true middle path our bishops should follow. It is a path that will catechize, evangelize, and enliven the laity to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The key to any successful episcopacy is not in pandering to the politically correct, but rather in allowing the liturgy to be what it is – because the real power of the bishops is truly found in the Paschal Mystery made present in the liturgy.

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