31 October 2014

On Reconsidering Liturgy

America, the Jesuit magazine, published an interview with Cardinal Francis George as he prepares to cede pastoral responsibilities for the Archdiocese of Chicago to current Spokane Archbishop Blaise Cupich. The  wide ranging interview touched upon secular hot button political issues, sacerdotal celibacy, clerical sexual abuse and the recent Synod of the Family.  

But Cardinal George's comments about Liturgy have particular as the third anniversary of the implementation of the New (Third) Translation of the Roman Missal approaches. Some priests formed "in the spirit of Vatican II" persist in improvising during the Liturgy or revert to favorite older translations.  

As one of the prominent people in the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), Cardinal Francis George's comments deserve consideration.  Cardinal George does concede that some things can sound "clunky" but can be facilitated by preparation to understand the grammar and intention of the prayers.

Recently, I participated in an challenging colloquy with a cleric who was contemptuous that the 1998 ICEL translation was rejected and who still feels liberated to say: "The Lord IS with you" in antiphons.  I noted that the loosey goosey improv impulse which was allowed under the 1969  Comme le prévoit  was illicit under the new translation. His retort was the aspiration to make liturgy accessible to the youthful masses. That seemed like a jesuitical argument as all Christian denominations have bled worshipers and vocations.  Yet diocese which have more traditional inclinations (e.g. Peoria IL, Lincoln NB, Steubensville OH) seem to be the most vocation rich.  Might there be a correlation? 

One of the pities about the implementation of Vatican II is that the works of the Council were overtaken by "the spirit of Vatican II" which fundamentally misunderstands the Council Fathers work.  Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, had the expectation that priests would educate the faithful. However, according to Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P. who co-authored “Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church”, priests were not properly formed in the new liturgy before it was implemented to the laity.  The logic of  Comme le prévoit  gave great latitude to presiding liturgists.  Thus US Catholics misunderstood Sacrosanctum Concilium as a capitulation to modernity instead of the  "aggorionmento" ("bringing up to date) which Pope St. John XXIII intended when he called for the Council  in 1959.

It would behoove Catholics to become more educated about first things --not just what we do, but why we do them in the Liturgy.  The Liturgy along with Sacred Scripture are the primary means of how we experience Christ.  Our lack of learning on liturgy loses lackluster Catholics and makes mass or mechanical or risks relegation to religious entertainment.

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