Sunday, November 29, 2009

Have we been experiencing a liturgical drought?

When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars. When peace guides the planets and love will steer the stars...

The year was 1969 and it was the Age of Aquarius. Dare I say the Church as well got caught up in the "Kum-ba-ya" of the day. It was on this day forty years ago, November 30, 1969, the 1st Sunday of Advent new liturgical reforms were implemented to the Mass. It was called the Novus Ordo, the 'new order' to the liturgy. The new reforms were implemented for several reasons, to foster an increase in the liturgical participation at the Mass and to try and encourage an ecumenical participation of those that had left the Church. I read a surprisingly spot-on article in the New York Times that addressed this exact issue. I then went and looked at some not too surprising statistics that reflect those changes in our liturgy today.

What caught my attention immediately was the number of years since the reform. For biblical scholars and those theologians attuned to the numbers, the number forty will not be lost. It was forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert and it was forty days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and praying before beginning His ministry. We spend forty days in Lent fasting and praying for our own spiritual conversion as we come out of the darkness of our sinfulness and into the light of Christ as an Easter people. Coincidence, I don't think so. I encourage everyone who reads this post to read some history on how the reform came to pass. It is sad in a way how a Pope of our faith can be taken advantage of and duped in such a way, yet duped he was. It was reported that after the reforms had been implemented he noticed his vestments that were laid out were the wrong color, when he questioned his Master of Ceremonies about this, the MC told him the week long celebration of Pentecost were no longer celebrated with the reform that he had signed and implemented. It was witnessed that when Paul VI heard this he broke down and wept, not realizing the impact and subsequent consequences the reform would incur.

Thankfully, Pope Benedict XVI has a few reforms up his sleeve and has been instrumental in bringing us out of our liturgical darkness and into the light once again. Why did he feel compelled to do this to begin with? The fact that he is a liturgist is a big part of it, whereas Paul VI was not. He recognized that with the loss of the Latin and other liturgical reforms this had done more harm than good and he planned to do something about it. Statistics have shown that before Vatican Council II and the reforms that were implemented 52 percent of all Catholics attended Mass on a weekly basis. Today only 21 percent of all Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis. Interestingly enough those protestants that the reformers were trying to bring back into the fold, attend a liturgy that is celebrated in the Latin and in the pre-Vatican format, that being with the priest facing the east and leading the people in the act of worship.

With the issue of Pope Benedict's Summorum Pontificate, he has lifted what was seen as a ban on the old Latin Mass. It was never banned to begin with but because of overzealous liturgical reformers the Latin in the Mass was considered outdated and the vernacular was the language of the day. It was felt that with the vernacular people would have a better understanding of the Mass and that this would foster a better and more fuller participation. The Blessed Eucharist was to be made so available to everyone it could be placed on anyone's hand while standing and the priest turned to the people so as to see and be seen. Pope Benedict has said that this immediately closed in a circle that just as immediately closed out God. The Pope has begun implementing receiving Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, and he has renewed a significant amount of Latin back into the prayers of the Mass.

Our Liturgy is getting ready to take on another reform soon. Recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to accept new translations for our Mass. You have heard the phrase "lost in translation". That is exactly what happened with the translation of the Mass after Vatican Council II implemented changes from the Latin to the vernacular. We lost so much of the richness to the prayers and the Scriptural translation. These changes will take some getting used to but the translations will be so much more accurate bringing a fuller meaning to what we are saying and witnessing. I hope as well more of the Latin will be used and the true meaning of liturgical east for priest and congregation alike will be implemented. My biggest hope is that once again we will kneel before our Lord and receive Him on our tongue. I firmly believe that with a more reverent appreciation of our Lord there will be a more reverent appreciation for the Mass and our liturgy in general.

A blog I follow by a very learned priest has as its motto, "Save the Liturgy, Save the World". I am beginning to see the point and find myself repeating that motto often as I attend some poorly celebrated liturgies. For I notice that with a poor liturgy there follows a poor and very lax following in the parish. There are many reasons for this and that will have to be a subject for another time. In the meantime, I encourage Catholics to embrace the changes and to also learn the meaning behind the reasons. It will all be worth it, all for the glory of God.

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