To understand liturgical changes, study meaning of liturgy
By Bishop Robert Vasa
BEND — I wrote very briefly last week about the presentation at our presbyteral assembly on the upcoming revised translation of the Roman Missal and I want to reflect a bit more on this topic. It will undoubtedly be a bit difficult for some to accept with peace and tranquility the changes and amendments which are forthcoming for the Sacred Liturgy. The possibility that there may be some difficulty understanding and accepting the changes is understandable. Unfortunately, it can often happen that the reason why we anticipate such a difficulty has less to do with the Sacred Liturgy than it does with our own attitudes. It will indeed be the case that the Church in approving changes to the texts for the Sacred Liturgy will also be asking that we change. In looking at myself, I must admit that I am much less affected by the fact that the sacred language may change than I am by the fact that this change affects me and perhaps, in some ways, also challenges me.
If there is one factor for the laity, in my estimation, which will impact on the ease with which changes are accepted or the strength with which they are resisted it is our fundamental understanding of the nature and purpose of the Sacred Liturgy. The frequency with which comments are heard such as, “I really like Father X’s Mass,” or “I find it very difficult to go to Father Y’s Mass,” or “That Mass did not do anything for me,” or the most common, “I don’t get anything out of the Mass” are all indicators of a certain understanding of the nature and purpose of the Sacred Liturgy. Underlying these comments, and many more variations thereof, is a certain concept of the liturgy. The proposed changes present us an opportunity to reflect, even in a significantly self critical way, on our understanding, or misunderstanding, of the meaning and purpose of the Sacred Liturgy.
In order to begin to reform or reshape our understanding of the Sacred Liturgy we need to go to the Church and to the catechism which she has given us. There we read and hear that: “Sunday is the pre-eminent day for the liturgical assembly, when the faithful gather ‘to listen to the word of God and take part in the Eucharist, thus calling to mind the Passion, Resurrection, and glory of the Lord Jesus, and giving thanks to God who ‘has begotten them again, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ unto a living hope.’” (CCC, 1167) Admittedly, the paragraph addresses the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass rather than Liturgy as a whole but the paragraph is instructive. On Sunday, when we gather for Mass, we do so to listen to the Word of God. While there are a number of other ceremonies which accompany the Liturgy of the Word, the reason we gather is to “listen to the Word of God.” There is thus an importance placed on what God gives to us, His Word. We gather to hear it. We also gather to “take part in the Eucharist.” This involves much more than simply being present and receiving Holy Communion. Centrally, it involves “calling to mind the Passion, Resurrection and glory of the Lord Jesus” and giving thanks to God for the salvation which Jesus has won for us.
These are participatory activities which include everyone without exception. Thus it is not only the reader or the servers or the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion who participate in the Mass but rather everyone is able to fulfill the mandate of the council about “full, active and conscious participation.” This is so because an essential part of the “activity” is listening, offering, remembering, rejoicing, thanking. These are all interior actions. Without a doubt the participation also includes responding, singing, standing, kneeling, et cetera but these are to be external manifestations of the fact that we are participating interiorly because simply doing these things is not necessarily the same thing as actively participating.
“The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch. The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Finally, by the eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all. In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.” (CCC 1324-27)
I am particularly struck by the reminder that the Eucharist is the culmination of “God’s action sanctifying the world.” This is what we are called to participate in and belong to when we come to Holy Mass. It is, at the same time, the culmination of the “worship men offer to Christ.” I like to think of our participation in worship as being drawn up into the saving actions of God, being a part of them, remembering and experiencing them and coming away from them knowing that we have been in contact with Him Who is all holy. Ideally, the Eucharist changes us because we celebrate who God is and what he has done and is doing in our midst. As the catechism notes, “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist,” not vice versa.
The proposed linguistic enrichments of the Sacred Liturgy, or if you prefer, changes, give us the opportunity to reflect upon the Eucharist anew. They certainly give us the opportunity to listen with new ears to new language, to refresh our interior and reflective participation, and to enter more consciously into that which God is doing. If necessary, it provides the occasion for each of us to align our understanding and expectation of the Holy Mysteries more closely with the vision of the Church expressed in the Catechism.