Friday, June 4, 2010

Reading Vatican II: the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

The other day, following the sound advice of those ‘traditionalists’ who like Vatican II (yes, they do exist), I decided to read the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from Vatican II. Allow me to go over some highlights from the text and several of my thoughts on the matter.

1. “The liturgy, then, is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. It involves the presentation of man’s sanctification under the guise of signs perceptible by the senses and its accomplishment in ways appropriate to each of these signs. In it full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members.” [Chapter 1 number 7]

This paragraph is particularly interesting because it is a great summation of several Theological principles in relation to the sacred liturgy: the Mystical Body of Christ, the fittingness of the Incarnation and the proper understanding of sacraments. I will not delve into each of these now, but I will say that this paragraph perfectly reflects a dictum I have heard. The dictum is this: the Mass is a grace filled sensual experience. This dictum has helped me understand such things as why we use incense, why we ring the bells and why we must ‘eat’ God in order to receive His graces. As ‘signs,’ these sensual experiences confer (in some cases—the sacraments) and inform us of the workings of God’s graces. The incense reminds us of the sweetness of God’s love present to us through the Holy Spirit. The bells remind us of the glory and majesty of the coming of our King, the Incarnation. And the accidents of bread and wine—the taste, the feel, the smell, the sight, and sound—allow us to realize our earthly existence and our calling to something greater, something beyond beyond our senses and this natural realm. In this way, all the senses are contained in the sacrament of all sacraments, the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith—see next highlight.

2. “Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows. For the goal of apostolic endeavor is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the Sacrifice and to eat the Lord’s Supper.” [Chapter 1 number 10]

Just as the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, the liturgy where the Eucharist is present is the source and summit of the Church’s activities. In other words, we come together as the Mystical Body of Christ in the Liturgy in order to be nourished and renewed by the Eucharist. And the Church spreads the message of Christ, the Gospel, in order to bring others to Christ who is present in the Liturgy.

3. “In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy the full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else, for it is the primary and indispensable source fro which the faithful are to desire the true Christian spirit. Therefore, in all their apostolic activity, pastors of souls should energetically set about achieving it through the requisite pedagogy.” [Chapter 1 number 4]

I think the last clause of this paragraph is particularly important. There exists a sentiment that some of the liturgy was ‘dumbed down’ after Vatican II. I do not see this to be the case. In fact, here the Council sees it to be quite the opposite, saying that in order to include everyone in the liturgy, as is the goal of liturgy, everyone should be given “the requisite pedagogy” by the “pastor of souls”, i.e. a priest. The Church does not make things ‘easier’. No, she reforms and teaches her faithful zealously so that they can be better disciples of Christ.

4. “(3) Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” [Chapter 1 number 22]

I just thought I would add that one for good measure.

All quotations taken from the Vatican Council II: Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents translated by Austin Flannery, O.P. and published by Scholarly Resources Inc. in Wilmington, Delaware: 1975.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Some have asked...

I have been asked on several different occasions lately what I think (being a seminarian) of all the sex abuse scandal in the Church, and how I continue to hope in a better Church. In each case, I gave a different answer. In fact, there are an innumerable amount of answers one could give to such a question. I guess that is why I hesitate so often before I answer such a question.

One could cite numbers and statistics showing how although the Church has a problem it is not any worse (in fact much better) than many other organizations such as the public school system. One could also attack and refute such bias reporting and slander and libel from other organizations such as the New York Times. One could even argue that is it just a sign of the times and the continual degradation of the morals of our society. But ultimately all of these have to fall short of a sufficient explanation. Why? In short, they are all natural or secular explanations for the Mystical Body of Christ, a supernatural thing.

So how do I keep hope? What explanation do I hold onto? Frankly put, whether you like it or not, Judas was one of the first disciples chosen by God to follow Him. Judas failed and betrayed our Lord, of course, but he was part of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Most people do not like to talk about Judas, and frankly I do not either. His partial presence at the Lords table is confusing and difficult to swallow. How could someone so close to Christ commit such a horrible offense against Him? If this does not seem like much to hold onto for hope, let us not forget the rest of the story. For from Judas’ grave sin, handing over our Lord to His passion and death came His resurrection, our salvation. That is the mystery of grace and God’s will, working itself out in our lives. There is no resurrection without the passion.

In the end, the Church will suffer. She is the Body of Christ after all, continuing on His mission. And, as we are seeing vividly now, the Church will suffer by the sins of her own members. So let us continue to hope and trust in the Lord, that he will bring ultimate goodness from this evil. And let us remember humility, asking not how does one commit such sins, but how does one keep oneself from committing such sins.