Wednesday 1 January 2014

Christmas and The Liturgy

All parishes will have taken their Christmas liturgy seriously and prepared it well. It struck me that of all the parishes I have been in over the years, that Christmas and Easter Liturgies are always well planned and practiced but that this is not the same for the week-to-week Sunday liturgies where, generally speaking (readings and Proper being excepted) only what is being sung is changed.

Liturgy, we were told, should be “Incarnational” since it is God coming down to earth to be intimately united to men. On the basis of “Incarnational liturgy” I know several priests who distribute Holy Communion from outside the sanctuary. This is not given in the rubrics and, since it is illicit for the celebrant to leave the sanctuary during the sign of peace (Redemptionis Sacramentum#72) should probably be regarded as illicit -especially since the General Instruction (#295) states that “the sanctuary is the place....where the priest, deacon and other ministers exercise their offices”. Yet “Incarnational liturgy” still seems to rule. Huge outdoor Masses have created a problem here (as they have for concelebrating priests who are often so far away from the altar that to say “This [here] is my Body” makes little sense; the best they can say is “That [over there] is My Body”).

I suggest that the idea of “Incarnational liturgy” predisposes to liturgical error, since while the Incarnation is God’s initiative it was not the final end (goal) of God. Rather the Incarnation -though beyond comprehension and of supreme wonder- has as its goal the raising of man up to God and to heaven. Liturgy must reflect this transcendent goal, and not take the Incarnation as its stopping point. As Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium reminds us, the Church is “present in this world and yet not at home in it” (SC#2); that in Her liturgy the Church’s members “take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where...we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army” (SC#8). The question is how to achieve the sense of transcendence in the liturgy.

A solid ars celebrandi reverence and care in speech, movement and ritual acts- is one part of the answer. But we must look to Sacrosantcum Concilium too, for it is not by use of hymns (which are music added to the Liturgy of the Mass) that this can be achieved; rather, it is by singing the Mass texts themselves: the Introit; Gloria, Kyrie, Credo, Offertorium, Sanctus, Mysterium Fidei, Pater Noster, Angnus Dei and Communion antiphon, as well as the dialogues (such as the Preface). Vatican II had something to say about this, as did the Congregation for Divine Worship very soon after the Council in Musicam Sacram (1967).

The Council decreed that, “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song [read music?] united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy” (SC#112) -note that the tradition of the Church to which the Council is referring can only be Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony, its only musical heritage. Indeed, “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (SC#116). The Council thus stated that this “treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches; but bishops and other pastors of souls must be at pains to ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs...” (SC#114). The import of this is that the people should be able to sing the chant, supported by but not replaced by, a choir.

Is anything said in Sacrosanctum Concilium on hymns? Yes, but in the context of the Divine Office, not the Mass. Certainly “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes” (SC#30) but Musicam Sacram clarifies this text in the following words (emphasis added):

#28. “The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n.3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation. These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.

#29. The following belong to the first degree:
(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.
(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.
(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord's prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

#30. The following belong to the second degree:
(a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;
(b) the Creed;
(c) the prayer of the faithful.

31. The following belong to the third degree:
(a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;
(b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;
(c) the Alleluia before the Gospel;
(d) the song at the Offertory;
(e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.

Note that the second or third degrees cannot be used either in part or wholly unless those of the first degree are sung. This means that unless the parish sings the dialogues between priest and people, as well as the Opening Prayer and Pater Noster, nothing else should be sung. In most parishes a sung Mass in the Ordinary Form generally means the Kyrie, Gloria and Sanctus with hymns at the Entrance, Offertory, Communion and (incongruently since no song is envisaged here) the Recessional, yet none of these are of the First Degree. Indeed hymns are only added as a kind of occasional measure as clarified by Musicam Sacram: “some other song can also, on occasions, be sung at the beginning, at the Offertory, at the Communion and at the end of Mass.” (MS#36). Thus the so-called ‘sung Mass’ in most parishes is out of synch with the decrees of the Council.

In conclusion, to make Mass more of an experience of the transcendent (other-worldliness) we need to undertake the restoration of Gregorian Chant and Latin so as to be faithful to the Council and its decrees that the Church’s “use of the Latin language be preserved in the Latin rites”; that traditional chant as a “treasure of inestimable value” be “preserved and fostered”, with “Gregorian chant having pride of place” and “the people able to say or sing in Latin those parts of the Mass that pertain to them”.

I also look for the return of the versus apsidem orientation (to show the Mass is offered to God rather than performed for the people); the reception of Communion kneeling (to stand is to express an equality which does not exist) and on the tongue (to end the taking of the consecrated into un-consecrated hands) and the silent Canon so as to provide sacred silence rather than a pause, thereby synchronising the celebration of Mass with the words of scripture: “God is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him” cf. Hab.2v20. Nothing on earth brings God into His holy temple as does the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


  1. Thank you, Father, for speaking the truth in the face of general compulsion to deny same. What diocese is implementing these liturgical laws? None that I know of. The degradation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has led to the loss of Faith and morals of most Catholics. And still, the destroyers of the liturgy (and hence, the Faith) continue with impunity.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Lynda.
      Sadly there seems to be few who want to follow what the Council actually decreed; why I do not know. I wonder if they are too embarrassed or ashamed to say that they took it all too far, or are afraid of having to say to the people "we got it wrong". Other than these options there seems little left other than "We think we did the right thing". Yet the number of those to whom Holy Mass and Confession are important, and of those willing to trust the Church's moral teaching, are diminishing rapidly. As I have said before, it is a strange renewal that brings decline rather than growth. Only by being humble enough to follow the simple laws that govern the liturgy are we going to show that we respect the authority of the Church -and if we can't follow the simple rules in worship, how can we expect anyone to follow the difficult laws of the moral life?
      God Bless you and yours.

  2. Great article, thanks-should be promulgated.

    1. Thank you for the comment.
      Yes, perhaps re-promulgating Musicam sacram (or reminding the Bishops it is there) would be very useful.
      God bless you and yours.

  3. Well said, Father. All the best for the new year.

    'This is not given in the rubrics and, since it is illicit for the celebrant to leave the sanctuary during the sign of peace (Redemptionis Sacramentum#72)'. the Mass I attend has the celebrant leaving the 'sanctuary' to paw everyone in the front pew at the sign of peace. The sacred, to my ignorant eyes, seems to be mocked because of 'reasons of pastoral usefulness', otherwise known as, the Bishop can't stand all that ceremony and sanctuary. The mass is valid, in that Our humbled Lord deigns to offer Himself to us even in the most casual and appalling 'appeals'; but why is liturgical laziness considered some neo-Catholic virtue? Liturgical abuse is the new virtue.

    1. Thank you for the comment.
      I think leaving the sanctuary is a liturgical error. Certainly we are to be friendly, affirming and caring in our pastoral work, but in our liturgy we act 'in persona Christ' and lead the people in worship of Almighty God, united to all the angels and saints in the heavenly glory of the Father. Leaving the sanctuary demonstrates that the primary focus of the celebrant is on the people, not God: "What will affirm the people? What will they enjoy? How will they feel? What they think?" The development of priests leaving the sanctuary is, in my estimation, a clear demonstration that facing the people for Mass shifts the focus from God to man, at which point liturgy misses the mark.
      I think you are right about liturgical abuse being the new virtue -abiding by the rubrics is often seen as rule-bound and clericalistic, with dismissal of rubrics a demonstration of the freedom we have in Christ and a heart focused on the people. Apparently we cannot be loyal to the Church and loving/affirming of the people at the same time...
      God bless you and yours.

  4. It's a great shame that priests and bishops don't follow the rules. And then they wonder why so few of the laity observe the restored discipline of no meat on Friday. its time they renewed their Faith.

    1. Thank you for the comment.
      'Rules' require us to exercise humility and obedience in the liturgy, and if we can't control these things there, how can we believe we are achieving control over them in any other aspect of life?
      God bless you and yours.


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