Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sacrosanctum Concilium: The Renewal of the Liturgy has a Long Way to Go

Last night, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Timothy O'Malley of the University of Notre Dame Center for Liturgy speak on "The Work of Our Redemption: A Liturgical Theology of Sacrosanctum Concilium" wherein he noted that this Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was aimed not so much at "reform" but "renewal" of the liturgy.

He noted two important things in particular about that infamous "full, conscious and active participation" mentioned in SC that I will have to spend more time with: that the combined voices of the people at Mass are the voice of Christ, lifting up the prayer of the Mass to the Father and that the people are there to offer their lives, along with Christ, to the Father with the sacrifice of the Mass - to become a sacrifice of "self-giving love," as O'Malley emphasizes in his book.

Certainly, neither concept is new to me. However, in reflection on what I heard last night, I am even more convinced that these are two areas in which we have almost completely failed  in typical parish catechesis. Many of our young people leave behind  practice of the Mass after Confirmation (current stats are that only 22% of young adults regularly attend). Why? They think Mass is boring and repetitive. They don't see the point in going. This is not just true of young people, but of many in previous generations as well. Even those in the pews tell me that they really don't fully understand the role of the Assembly (the people in the pews) at Mass.

Most parish catechesis does a reasonably benign job of helping people understand the missional actions of love which Christ calls us to - those works of mercy expressed so well in the words of St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
What's missing from this equation?  Christ has no voice but yours - no voice to lift his sacrifice of praise to the Father. We don't teach people that their voice, in word and song at Mass, is integral to their identity as members of the Body of Christ.  Why else would people attend Mass passively, not singing or responding, only mimicking the postures and gestures of everyone else in the room? (Yes, I see that - as a cantor, facing the people. I see parents not participating and kids beside them, learning by example not to participate.)

Parish leaders and catechists think that preparation for lifelong participation in the Mass is complete after they prepare someone for their First Eucharist. We have, often, a congregation of people who have not progressed a whole lot in their level of appreciation or participation beyond a second-grade level. They sit, stand and kneel on cue, and most at least stumble through the Creed and say the "Our Father" but may do little else. Why?  Because they have never seen their "job description" for full participation in the Mass. This needs to change. Want to look at that "job description?" This might help.

That second point, offering their lives to God at the Mass, is key, but it, too, has gotten little attention. When I tell people about paragraph 901 in the Catechism, it is often the first time they have heard that when the bread and wine are offered on the altar, they are to offer their lives:
 "Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvellously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit maybe produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit - indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born - all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. and so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives."  (CCC 901)
That consecration of the world is the real goal of the work of the people that is the liturgy. Growing in holiness themselves through participation in the sacrifice and taking it beyond the church doors to sanctify the world through their actions of self-giving love - none of that happens if they are simply sleepwalking through the Mass.  We have work to do!

If you have been reading this blog or know the book project I just completed with Liturgy TraininPublications, you know it has long been a passion of mine to help people understand their role in the Mass. What I heard last night confirmed that this is crucially important work - something all church leaders need to be about. If we continue to fail to help people see why the Mass is important to them - and they are important to the Mass, we will continue to see a decline in the Church. The time to wake up to the need for good liturgical catechesis at all age levels in parishes is now. The very life of the Church depends on it.

No comments:

Post a Comment