I am back from Costa Rica and back in the blogosphere. I want to thank all of you who may have prayed for me while I was away. They helped immensely. I hope to post a reflection or two later.
But in the meantime I continue my march through liturgical documents, trying to educate myself such that I can be a more knowledgeable sacristan. My last post was on the Vatican II liturgical documents and this one will be over my findings in the GIRM—that is General Instruction for the Roman Missal. It is a bit of a doozy so I will be posting a little bit at a time. Thank you and I hope you enjoy.
I began my reading of the GIRM today and found some real gems. Following the prompting of the Second Vatican Council, the Missal sets out to deepen the Church’s understanding of the liturgy in light of a more complete ecclesiology. I will post the passages and add my comments afterwards. Citations will be the paragraph number.
I) “[B]ut the Council [The Council of Trent], weighing the conditions of that age, considered it a duty to answer this request with a reaffirmation of the Church’s traditional teaching, according to which the Eucharistic Sacrifice is, first and foremost, the action of Christ himself, and therefore its proper efficacy is unaffected by the manner in which the faithful take part in it. The Council for this reason stated in firm but measured words, “Although the Mass contains much instruction for people of faith, nevertheless it did not seem expedient to the Fathers that it be celebrated everywhere in the vernacular.” (11)
In this passage, the GIRM is over viewing the ‘old’ or better said ‘less complete’ understanding of the relationship between minister and congregation in the liturgy. This passage, as can be seen, is taking place within a discussion on the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, something prohibited until Vatican II. Although the Council of Trent got it right in its understanding of the validity and the “proper efficacy” of the Mass, the GIRM explains that the Council Father’s did not deem it “expedient” to allow the use of the vernacular. This was, one could say, a decision based on the times, not wrong, but not pertaining to the Church at the time of the Second Vatican Council, several hundred years later. After the Second Vatican Council, importance was still to be placed on the “proper efficacy” of the Mass, but with a greater understanding of what the laity in the congregation added to this efficacy, and the instructive role the liturgy could and should play in the lives of the faithful. Something not totally lost in the hearts and minds of the Fathers of the Council of Trent, for they said, “Lest Christ’s flock go hungry . . . the Holy Synod commands pastors and all others having the care of souls to give frequent instructions during the celebration of Mass, either personally or through others…” (11). In many ways, this is an example of how the Second Vatican Council fulfilled many of the ideas brought fourth in the Council of Trent—a completion not an undoing. Cementing that continuity is this quote: “the Second Vatican Council also ordered that certain prescriptions of the Council of Trent that had not been followed everywhere be brought to fruition, such as the homily to be given on Sundays and holy days and the faculty to interject certain explanations during the sacred rites themselves” (11).
II) “This will best be accomplished if, with due regard for the nature and the particular circumstances of each liturgical assembly, the entire celebration is planned in such a way that it leads to a conscious, active, and full participation of the faithful both in body and in mind, a participation burning with faith, hope, and charity, of the sort which is desired by the Church and demanded by the very nature of the celebration, and to which the Christian people have a right and duty by reason of their Baptism.” (18)
This quote is particularly riveting. Demand good liturgy people. It is your right and duty by reason of you Baptism.
III) “[T]he priest must remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.” (24)
Much like the post on the Vatican II documents, I though I would add this quote in for good measure. I think this quote captures the essence of the priest’s relation to the Sacred Liturgy. The priest is servant, meaning the Sacred Liturgy through which the Faithful are feed and nourished by the Eucharist is above him and more important than he is. For, it is by its nature an act of the Church herself through the sacrifice of Christ, of whom the priest is standing in place.
IV) “For in the celebration of Mass, in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated, Christ is really present in the very liturgical assembly gathered in his name, in the person of the minister, in his word, and indeed substantially and continuously under the Eucharistic species.” (27)
Going back to the first quote, here can be seen the new understanding of the laity set forth in Vatican II, especially in their role in the Liturgy. Note the order of the ways in which Christ is present in the Mass and their corresponding importance, Christ is most certainly present in each and every one of these ways, yet in increasing rank and importance, ending with His substantial presence in the Eucharist. See also paragraph 11, and 19.
V) “All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.” (41)
Okay, so I am a fan of Gregorian chant.
VI) “Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to the simpler melodies.” (41)
This passage is from the same paragraph as the proceeding passage and works to highlight the desire of the Second Vatican Council to maintain the Universality of the Church in her practical functions even amidst the introduction of the vernacular. In the same vain, such an idea actually requires more education and responsibility of the faithful, not less—a very popular accusation of Vatican II that it ‘dumbed things down’. This passage is dear to my heart because I have traveled so much and although the Mass is universal it sure is nice to be able to pray in the same language all together. In moments such as these, there is a more complete manifestation of our universal Catholic faith.
VII) “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.” (42)
This passage struck me as one of the most surprising. And I think it works to highlight the extent to which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council tried to unify the faithful in their worship. Contrary to both extremes, it seems to me that the Church is balancing a middle rode, highlighting and incorporating differences in culture into the Liturgy, while maintaining the universality of the Church’s worship—a beautiful combination.