Jun 14, 2012

A little musing on Liturgy

 A fellow friend commented on a recent happening at our parish having to do with the topic of liturgy, encountered by the Youth. I witnessed it too. Long story short, a parishioner approached the youth choir and said that the lyrics of the new Gloria (the new Mass of Light version by David Haas) they sing during Mass was unliturgical. If you like to know the whole story including my friend’s personal opinion, you may do so here.

I don’t really agree with what my friend has to say about liturgy. While I do agree that “everyone has their right when it comes to professing their faith in God in whatever ways they feel comfortable,” it’s a different story with Liturgy.

I sincerely admit that I’m not liturgically trained, but I know enough of the importance of the liturgy to help me recognise the significance and beauty of the liturgy in the Holy Mass. Here is what my simple mind, with the help of the Holy Spirit, understands it:

Liturgy includes words and texts, gestures, music, colour, vestments, furnishings, etc. – these little details are expressions of our worship. In Liturgical celebrations, the mystery of Christ is made present. Therefore, our worship brings us to encounter this mystery. In other words, liturgy draws us to God.

Here’s a translated excerpt (by VIS) of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech (on sacred liturgy, active participation, inculturation, and the Holy Mass) when he addressed the bishops of Brazil in April 2010 during his ad limina visit:
“Paying less attention at times to the rite of the Most Holy Sacrament constitutes,” he said, “a sign and a cause of the darkening of the Christian sense of mystery, such as when Jesus is not the centre of the Mass, but rather a community preoccupied with other things instead of being taken up and drawn to the only one necessary: their Lord.”

Benedict XVI emphasised that “if the figure of Christ does not emerge from the liturgy ... it is not a Christian liturgy”. This is why, he added, “we find those who, in the name of enculturation, fall into syncretism, introducing rites taken from other religions or cultural particularities into the celebration of the Mass.”


The Pope highlighted that “behind many alleged motives, there exists a mentality that is incapable of accepting the real possibility of divine intervention in this world to assist human beings. ... Admitting God’s redeeming intervention to change our situation of alienation and sin is seen as fundamentalism by those who share a deist vision and the same can be said about the sacramental sign that makes the salvific sacrifice present. For such persons, the celebration of a sign that corresponds to a vague sentiment of community would be more acceptable.”

Worship, however,” he continued, “cannot come from our imagination: that would be a cry in the darkness or mere self-affirmation. True liturgy supposes that God responds and shows us how we can adore Him. ... The Church lives in His presence and its reason for being and existing is to expand His presence in the world.”

Emphasis added.
Thanks to the Second Vatican Council, the faithful have an active part to play in the liturgy. The changes were not made so that the community can worship comfortably or to make us feel good, but rather, that the community joins the priest to celebrate together. In other words, the Mass is about worshipping God in the manner He has prescribed through the Church (i.e. the liturgy or rite). It is not about our relationship with one another in the community. This partly explains why holding hands during the Our Father prayer is liturgically inappropriate. In fact, the prescribed gestures during Mass (e.g. bowing, striking breast, priest extending hands, etc.) have their own significant meaning, which we who are not liturgically trained do not know.

Here's what the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) has to say:

(GIRM 42) [...] A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants.

“All of these prescribed physical gestures help make the act of worship at Mass one which involves our whole being, body and soul, thought, words, and actions. They also help create a spiritual disposition to receive our Lord in Word and Sacrament. Moreover, these gestures are prescribed, just as the readings from Sacred Scripture and the Order of the Mass are, to make the Sacrifice of the Mass a unified act of worship throughout the whole Church — in a sense, every Catholic is doing the same thing, the same way.” (Fr William Saunders, Catholic Culture).
Emphasis added.
Let's look at the above quote again. "These gestures are prescribed... to make the Sacrifice of the Mass a unified act of worship..." If the Mass is a gathering of people where unified worship is taking place, then our profession of faith is no longer just a personal matter. It is this one faith we profess that unites us as a community [common unity] of people. If in the Mass you can do what you like while I do what I'm comfortable with, then where is unity? Without unity, is there still communion?

Taking the practice of hand-holding during Our Father prayer as an example, how is this gesture able to "signify togetherness and unity" when half of the congregation chose to hold hands while the other half wouldn't want to?

We also need to keep in mind that charismatic events such as praise and worship, rallies and seminars are different from the Holy Mass. No other form of worship can supersede the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the highest form of worship. So, introduction of gestures and words etc. into the Mass is considered extraneous. No one, including the priest, has the right to introduce, impose or even remove a rite or practice from the liturgy (Canon 826.1).

Sad but true, a lot of people including the young see the Mass as something very boring and dry. There is a Malay saying "Tidak kenal maka tidak cinta", which literally means "you don't love it because you don't know it." This same saying applies to the Mass and its Liturgy. If we do not understand or see its significance, how can we not feel bored during Mass?

We know that as human, we cannot be perfect when it comes to liturgy. More often than not, we miss out what we should do and do what we should not. Even though so, the least we can still do is try to follow the rubrics (regulation governing the Mass) as much as we can. Otherwise, this highest form of worship will lose its true meaning and purpose. And eventually, we might even lose our identity as Catholics.

Many might see these "liturgical issues" as trivial matters, but little did we realise that it is exactly these matters and our own personal views (that are not in conformity with the teaching of the Church) which are the causes of division.

Having thought the incident over for a few times, perhaps it is a good sign that that parishioner raised the “liturgically incorrect” issue. Looking at the positive side of things, it proved that some people are paying attention and are still concern whether the Mass is celebrated the way it ought to be.
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