Sunday, June 29, 2008

The link between St. Paul and the Pope's call to revisit the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

At the close of the International Eucharistic Congress, the Pope called the Church (individually and in groups) to revisit Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Today (or last night, starting with vespers) marks the beginning of the Pauline year, celebrating the 2000th anniversary of his birth.

And there's a link between them.

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, reminded them of the traditions he had handed onto them, which he had received from the Lord. (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2,23). He gives them a reminder of the liturgical tradition (as it were) of the universal Church of which the church in Corinth is a member. The reason he felt urged to do so was because the celebration of the Eucharist was falling prey to abuses, and was becoming an occasion of division and sacrilege! (cf. 1 Cor. 11:18ff)

Sacrosanctum Concilium, which described the ways in which the Roman liturgy should be reformed and revised, speaks highly of the tradition the Church has received from the Apostles:
4. Lastly, in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigor to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.

23. That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress Careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. Also the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.

106. By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ's resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day; with good reason this, then, bears the name of the Lord's day or Sunday. For on this day Christ's faithful are bound to come together into one place so that; by hearing the word of God and taking part in the Eucharist, they may call to mind the Passion, the Resurrection and the glorification of the Lord Jesus, and may thank God who "has begotten them again, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto a living hope" (1 Pet. 1:3). ...

107. The liturgical year is to be revised so that the traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons shall be preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times; their specific character is to be retained, so that they duly nourish the piety of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of Christian redemption, and above all the paschal mystery. ...

111. The saints have been traditionally honored in the Church and their authentic relics and images held in veneration. ...

112. 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 united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy. ...

120. In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things. But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority, as laid down in Art. 22, 52, 37, and 40. This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful.
Now, there has been no little debate over the past 40 years (since the publication of that Constitution) about the "organic" nature of the reform of the Roman Rite that followed the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul VI hoped that the 1969 reform of the Roman Rite would "[put] an end to uncertainties, to discussions, to arbitrary abuses." But it appears that was not the case.

Many changes were introduced that were never mentioned in the Constitution. Some practices were illegally introduced and legalized (via indult in some occasions) after the fact. Elements traditional to the Roman Rite (such as Latin, chant, and worship ad orientem) were silently lost. And abuses crept in; some abuses barged in.

Consider the words of the late Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003):
10. In some places the practice of Eucharistic adoration has been almost completely abandoned. In various parts of the Church abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament. At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet. Furthermore, the necessity of the ministerial priesthood, grounded in apostolic succession, is at times obscured and the sacramental nature of the Eucharist is reduced to its mere effectiveness as a form of proclamation. This has led here and there to ecumenical initiatives which, albeit well-intentioned, indulge in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith. How can we not express profound grief at all this? The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation.

It must be lamented that, especially in the years following the post-conciliar liturgical reform, as a result of a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation there have been a number of abuses which have been a source of suffering for many. A certain reaction against "formalism" has led some, especially in certain regions, to consider the "forms" chosen by the Church's great liturgical tradition and her Magisterium as non-binding and to introduce unauthorized innovations which are often completely inappropriate.

52. ... I consider it my duty, therefore to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated. The Apostle Paul had to address fiery words to the community of Corinth because of grave shortcomings in their celebration of the Eucharist resulting in divisions (schismata) and the emergence of factions (haireseis) (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church.
This letter was followed by the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, one of the documents against liturgical abuses which, in the words of Bishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith, "unfortunately have remained a dead letter, forgotten in libraries full of dust, or even worse, thrown into the waste basket."

The cry of the Church against these liturgical abuses has been going up for many years:
  • 2007: Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis: nn. 3, 54
  • 2004: Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Redemptionis Sacramentum
  • 2003: Pope John Paul II, Spiritus et Sponsa: n. 15
  • 1997: Congregation for the Clergy, Ecclesia de Mysterio: n. 4; Art. 6, n. 2
  • 1993: Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Applications of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism: n. 6
  • 1988: Pope John Paul II, Vicesimus Quintus Annus: n. 13
  • 1988: Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Paschale Solemnitatis: nn. 49, 78
  • 1980: Pope John Paul II, Inaestimabile Donum: preface; nn. 1, 4, 5
  • 1976: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inter Insigniores: n. 4
  • 1973: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Mysterium Ecclesiae: n. 6
Even before the Council, Pope Pius warned against abuses (and doctrinal errors creeping in because of them) in his encyclical Mediator Dei (in 1947).

The Pope liberated the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (also called the "Gregorian Rite"). He celebrated Mass ad orientem (well, ad Dominum, anyway!) and has re-introduced the placement of candles and crucifix on the altar. He has been distributing Communion to people on the tongue as they kneel recently (including today). He has restored the organic development of the Papal pallium (and has been restoring to use many traditional vestments and liturgical objects). There is a call from the Pope to revisit the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, to re-examine that tradition which was handed down to us through the centuries by the Church, by Her Apostles, and ultimately by the Lord himself. He hinted at this two and a half years ago, speaking to the Roman Curia at Christmas. The Pope is trying to tell us something. Perhaps it is time to recall the whole of our Catholic identity.

Let us pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to settle upon the Church and Her leaders and all the faithful, that we might again receive the sacred tradition and pass it on uncorrupted to the future of the Church.

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