Sunday, November 13, 2011

On Liturgy and Unity

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt recently penned an excellent pastoral letter on the Sacred Liturgy, Do This In Memory of Me. Here is an excerpt that I found particularly relevant for today.
But unity does not mean “going along to get along.” That would be a false unity, and one that cannot endure. True unity, rather, must be rooted in the truth and in our adherence to it. For Catholics, unity means oneness in faith, as enunciated in the Creed and the authoritative teachings of the Church. This unity is manifested in our worthy reception of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of sacraments that is the Holy Eucharist, justly referred to as the “sacrament of unity.” As we are gathered around the one bread and the one cup, we are strengthened and summoned to form an ever greater unity of mind and heart with Christ Himself, so that we might be joined more closely to one another. Our unity with each other comes from this unity in Christ.

I remember as a junior in seminary college being sent to a national seminarians’ conference in Columbia, Missouri. The year was 1964. One evening I was invited to one of the hotel rooms to participate in “the Liturgy.” When I arrived, the room was dark and a number of seminarians were seated with “the presider” on the floor around a small table upon which had been placed a loaf of bread and large glass of wine. As the service began, it became clear to me that this was an experimental liturgy as the words being used were quite unfamiliar to me. I remember being offended at the arbitrary selection of secular readings and home crafted texts. When it came time to share in the one loaf and the one cup, I excused myself and went back to my room.

Recently, I read a quote from Pope Benedict’s earlier writings that reflect what I learned that night. As a Cardinal, the Pontiff wrote that when the Liturgy is “manipulated ever more freely, the faithful feel that, in reality, nothing is celebrated and it is understandable that they desert the Liturgy and with it the Church.”

To avoid such unfortunate results, then, it is necessary that parishes and priests be obedient to the rubrics and the definitive legislation concerning our common liturgical texts, actions and practices. Such obedience serves to better communicate and, in fact, realize that unity which is the heartfelt prayer of Jesus.

The question remains: why have so many in positions of leadership in the Church treated liturgical abuses and improvisations as not particularly important?

Apart from the exceptions like Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, to mention a couple, you'd be hard pressed to find a bishop that takes a strong stance on this important subject. It's not that they encourage or endorse the abuses, but there's really not a muscular effort to stop them, outside of the perfunctory, feckless statement from time to time about following the rules. They don't seem to share the concern of then-Cardinal Ratzinger about the desertion of many Catholics stemming from abuses and the incoherent sentimentalism all too often found in liturgy.

Many of the clumsy "ministry" offices set up by the diocesan bureaucracy, ostensibly to evangelize, would be totally unnecessary if proper attention was given to correcting liturgical abuses. Of course, this diagnosis and recommendation would be seen as too simplistic by diocesan cognoscenti, who always know better. However in this case, the principle lex parsimoniae applies. Beautiful, reverent liturgy is not tangential to the goals of evangelization. It's no surprise that traditional parishes, representing both of the Novus Ordo and Extraordinary Form, are growing by leaps and bounds.

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