It is increasingly the case in the recent past that liturgy is becoming surrounded by regulations and bureaucracy on the part of officialdom to guard against “lack of reverence” in the celebration of the Mass or the sacraments. The phenomenon is reminiscent of the effort and effect of the Hebrew Oral Law or Talmud to build protective fences around the Law or Torah to prevent any even possible offence against the Law.
The sacraments, like the Sabbath are meant for the people and not the people minutely controlled for the sacraments. Liturgy should be in human measure of the people, for the people and by the people of God who celebrate. The sacraments were constituted by the Lord for his people; they do not exist mainly to be formed and reformed frequently by their official regulators.
Is it really helpful – with apologies to Irenaeus of Lyons – to “detect and eradicate” all the foibles of incorrect liturgical practices of some? May it not in fact detract from the very things it is supposed to be defending? A “syllabus of errors” can often suggest to the unimaginative deviances that they might never have produced on their own. On the other hand liturgical police of any sort who report on the misdeeds of celebrants and communities in worship hardly seem necessary or conducive to the real edification or “up-building” of the people of God.
Liturgical rubrics and regulations run the risk of placing the greater or even the greatest emphasis on what is visible and outwardly ascertainable and therefore able to be controlled to the neglect of the, in fact, weightier matters which are hidden from human sight.
The things that can be established by means of laws and regulations receive, almost automatically, an overwhelming importance. Organizational matters, customs and external piety can, however, degenerate into purely external observances giving a sense of specific obligations fulfilled. The external forms and proper words have been observed!
Spiritual matters, though not forgotten, often do not receive the consideration which they deserve. The ceremonial side of worship seems to capture the lion’s share of the attention of all concerned. Liturgists surely need to concentrate more broadly on the full range of “worship in Spirit and in truth”.
While there may be dissention concerning the outward forms of worship, the faithful are ali hungering for its spiritual fruitfulness.
The sacred longing for the inner sense of liturgical celebrations – often expressed in terms of sense “mystery” – cannot be left to or satisfìed by the “mysterious”. The latter too frequently is simply identifìed with the incomprehensible. The celebration of liturgy must attract those present by its simplicity and solemnity to full, active and conscious participation in the liturgical actions, but it must also draw them on to spend time to get to know and love the words and fìnally to open themselves to grace and contemplation of the God encountered in the actions and words. Only thus can the liturgy come to its true fruition in the Spirit.
Genuine liturgy depends on both Spirit and Truth. Truth certainly implies right worship and right faith – the two senses of orthodoxy. Anxious concentration on ritual without the inner spirit, however, can devolve into a hollow action that does not accomplish its inner purpose. Ceremonial in the fullest sense (ritus et preces) has been too long in people’s minds the last forty years. It is time to concentrate more on the spiritual side – the authentic “mystery” of God’s presence and action in midst of liturgica! celebration and in each and every one of those present. The lack of this emphasis has hurt the fruitfulness and even the reception of the liturgical reform.
The recent funeral of the late Pope John Paul II has provided a prime example of good liturgy – worship in Spirit and truth – in which the simple but solemn celebration evoked in participants in St. Peter’s Square and elsewhere a truly, and hopefully lasting, inner spiritual experience of divine grace and renewal. May the memory of that event inspire imitation and thanksgiving for some time to come.
EPHREM CARR, osb