Sunday, October 9, 2011
The following is excerpted, paraphrased, and condensed from my article "Liturgical Rights and Liturgical Rites" which appeared in Homiletic and Pastoral Review in December 2007.
[The faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church… (Canon 212, §3, emphasis added)
Because there are documents regulating liturgical matters, and because those documents are readily accessible to the faithful, either in printed form or via the internet, it is becoming increasingly clear to the faithful that current liturgical practice is woefully misinformed about correct procedure. When one reads the documents, one can begin to see that correct practice makes the liturgical actions all the more meaningful, all the more reverent, and all the more beautiful. This is what the “right” to good liturgy is all about.
Although most of us would sympathize with a priest or bishop who is beset by rude and disrespectful complaints about liturgical errors, our pastoral leaders still have a duty to remedy an abuse, if it exists. Even a poorly expressed concern, if it addresses a valid point, must be investigated because “Christ’s faithful have the right that ecclesiastical authority should fully and efficaciously regulate the Sacred Liturgy…”(Redemptionis Sacramentum, §18). The Church charges the diocesan bishop with the role of “moderator, promoter and guardian of [the Church’s] whole liturgical life” (RS, §19), and gives priests the command to “go to the trouble of properly cultivating their liturgical knowledge and ability” (RS, §33) so as to ensure proper worship by the faithful.
It can be very discouraging to the faithful to find that liturgical practice in their parish does not conform to the standards set by the Church, After all, Redemptionis Sacramentum assures us that:
…it is the right of all of Christ’s faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms. Likewise, the Catholic people have the right that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church’s Magisterium. Finally, it is the Catholic community’s right that the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist should be carried out for it in such a manner that it truly stands out as a sacrament of unity, to the exclusion of all blemishes and actions that might engender divisions and factions in the Church. (RS, §12)
It is even more discouraging to find, as is sometimes the case, that the pastor has little or no inclination to make the necessary changes. Again, Redemptionis Sacramentum speaks to the issue:
The Mystery of the Eucharist “is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured”. On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free reign to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved, and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ’s faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. (RS, §11, emphasis added)
And it is more discouraging yet to find oneself being reproached for being “rigid” and “too ‘by-the-book’” when Redemptionis Sacramentum insists that
…the structures and forms of the sacred celebrations according to each of the Rites of both East and West are in harmony with the practice of the universal Church also as regards practices received universally from apostolic and unbroken tradition, which it is the Church’s task to transmit faithfully and carefully to future generations. All these things are wisely safeguarded and protected by the liturgical norms. (RS, §9, emphasis added)
In other words, there is a “book” and we are required to “go by” it.
Of course, the laity, for all their rights to express their concerns, should do so respectfully and humbly; but there will be times when they don’t. Even at those times, though, our priests and bishops, who are our leaders, are called by the Church to listen:
… Let Bishops, Priests and Deacons, in the exercise of the sacred ministry, examine their consciences as regards the authenticity and fidelity of the actions they have performed in the name of Christ and the Church in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. Let each one of the sacred ministers ask himself, even with severity, whether he has respected the rights of the lay members of Christ’s faithful, who confidently entrust themselves and their children to him, relying on him to fulfill for the faithful those sacred functions that the Church intends to carry out in celebrating the sacred Liturgy at Christ’s command. For each one should always remember that he is a servant of the Sacred Liturgy. (RS, §186, emphasis added)
Let us all strive for and pray for charitable and fruitful exchanges between clergy and laity about liturgical (and other) concerns. Let us pray for leadership from our bishops and priests which will bring unity to groups within the laity who differ in their understanding of the liturgy.
Finally, let us pray for increased understanding among both laity and clergy of the importance and significance of the guidelines and norms established by the Church for protecting the sacred nature of the Mass.