(Warning: This is a long post!)
Bishop Nickless is addressing two fundamental aspects of the life of the Church: her inward identity as the Body of Christ called to holiness, and her outward mission to evangelize the whole world and sanctify it. Let us turn our attention to Section IV, Pastoral Priorities for the Diocese of Sioux City. There are five priorities given, all of which are meant to first turn our discerning gaze inward (to measure ourselves against the full stature of our Lord) and then outward (to take up our vocations in sincerity and faithfulness). Each of the five priorities will be given a separate post. The first is:
1. We must renew our reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, within and outside of Mass. A renewal of Eucharistic Spirituality necessarily entails an ongoing implementation of the Second Vatican Council's reform of the liturgy as authoritatively taught by the Church's Magisterium, the promotion of Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass, regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist and our Mother.Each of these points (liturgical reform, Eucharistic adoration, regular Confession, devotion to the Mother of God, with the addition of one other, the Divine Office) will be covered individually in the following paragraphs, after a lengthy introduction to the liturgy in general. Remember that the core of these five points is renewed Eucharistic spirituality.
The Eucharist is the "source and summit" of the Christian life because it contains our entire spiritual good, namely, Jesus Christ himself. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10; Lumen Gentium 11) His "once and for all" sacrifice is made present on our altars, offered to the Father on our behalf and received as food for our pilgrim journey. (Heb. 7:27; cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia 11) All that we are and do should flow from our participation in the Eucharist and lead back to it. It is absolutely central to our identity and faith as Catholics. It enables us to engage in our mission. Without a proper reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Eucharist and the liturgy, we are lost.Drawing on the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and using what is probably the most well-known phrase from the Council — surpassing "full, conscious, and active participation" and even "the People of God" — Bishop Nickless explains briefly what the Eucharist is: it is the making-present of Christ's perfect sacrifice which is then offered to the Father (something often overlooked) before it is given to us in the Paschal banquet. ("The Eucharist is not a meal among friends," said Pope Benedict in his homily at the close of the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress, but rather "a mystery of covenant.")
As our source and summit, everything we are and do as Catholics (identity and mission) flows from our participation in the Eucharist (whether by reception or offering or contemplation) and leads us (and others!) back to the Eucharist.
That being said about the Eucharist, Bishop Nickless now turns his attention more generally to the liturgy and its purpose and object:
The primary purpose of all liturgy, and especially of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is the worship of God. We sometimes forget this. We go to Mass to worship God, simply because He deserves to be worshiped, and we, his creatures, ought to worship him. Too often we forget that God is transcendent and ineffable, incomprehensibly greater than we can imagine. He is infinite truth and goodness shining forth in radiant beauty. He has created us, keeps us in existence, and redeems us from our sins. In short, He is worthy of our worship.That first sentence should be memorized by every Catholic, period. Liturgies (and Mass in particular) are not occasions of socializing. We do not go to Mass to hear parish announcements. We do not go to Vespers to hear the choir. We do not go Eucharistic benediction so we can be somewhere quiet for a change. We might hear announcements at Mass, we might hear the choir at Vespers, and we might be somewhere quiet for a change at benediction, but those are not the reasons we participate in these liturgies. The liturgy is meant first and foremost for the worship of the Triune God.
Bishop Nickless points out some particular characteristics of God: transcendent, ineffable (i.e. indescribable); truth, goodness, beauty. It is God who made us in the first place, Who sustains us even now, and Who redeemed and redeems and will redeem us. Why do we worship God? Because He deserves it! After describing Who God is, he continues by describing how God comes to us:
He comes to us at Mass as a Father through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. He makes Himself tangibly present to us in the assembly, the ordained ministers, and the proclaimed Word of God. He is also present most especially and immediately in the Eucharist, which has a perfect and infinite value before His eyes. He graciously comes to us, not only to be with us, but also to raise us up to Heaven, to the Heavenly liturgy, where we worship in union with all the angels and saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the eternal offering of Jesus Christ to the Father on our behalf. Thus we enter the heavenly sanctuary while still on earth, and worship God in the full manner that He laid out for us!Here we find a condensation of the liturgical catechesis contained in Pope Pius XII's Mediator Dei and Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium. First, he gives a simple Trinitarian understanding of the Mass: God the Father comes to us through His Son (cf. Matt. 21:37; John 20:21) in the power of the Holy Spirit. (cf. Matt. 1:18; Luke 3:22; Acts 10:38) Second, he explains the modes by which God is present at Mass: in the assembly, in the ordained ministers (especially the priest who celebrates Mass in persona Christi), in the Word, and most importantly and wondrously in the Blessed Sacrament. Third, he explains that God comes down to us to raise us up to Himself, to Heaven, to the eternal liturgy with all the angels and saints (portrayed in the book of Revelation).
When we worship God in this way, He sanctifies us, that is, He makes us holy. This is the second purpose of the Liturgy. We are made holy by Jesus when we participate in His divine Sonship, becoming adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We are changed, transformed from the inside out. This comes about through hearing and acting on His Word and by being strengthened and steadily sanctified by a worthy reception of Holy Communion. This in turn leads to a true communion of saints within the local and universal Church.By worshiping God, we are sanctified. These are the two purposes of the liturgy: glorification of God and the sanctification of His people. At my previous parish, I was a reader (i.e. a "lector", more properly, the substitute in the absence of an instituted lector) and at every liturgy at which I was to proclaim the Scriptures, I made a habit of saying this prayer beforehand: "I beseech You, O Holy Spirit, be in my heart and on my lips, that I may worthily and fittingly proclaim that Word which You inspired in prophets and apostles, unto the glorification of God and the sanctification of His people. Amen." This prayer, based on the prayers of the priest or deacon before proclaiming the Gospel, reminded me of the two purposes for which the Scriptures are read at Mass: to give glory to God and to build His people in holiness.
True participation in the liturgy comes from membership in Christ, sharing His divine Sonship by means of adoption through the sacrament of Baptism. We listen to the Word of God and act on it. (cf. Luke 6:46-49; Luke 8:21; Phil. 4:9; James 1:22-24) We prepare ourselves to receive the Lord in the Eucharist by prayer and penance. You can go through all the motions of the Mass, but without that interior participation which is made possible through Baptism, exterior participation is hollow.
Too often, the purposes of our participation in the liturgy, worship and sanctification, are passed over in a misplaced attempt to "create community," rather than to receive it as a fruit of the Holy Spirit's activity within us.In other words, we do not "create community" with the liturgy. Rather, the Holy Spirit builds community (or better, communion) among us by our participation in the liturgy. The liturgy is not an occasion for creative and often artificially designed community-building exercises. Rather, the liturgy is for the worship of God and the sanctification of His people, and any genuine community must flow from that worship and sanctification. Community — communion — is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in us, which is why one of the greetings used in the Mass is St. Paul's closing words to the Corinthians: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all." (2 Cor. 13:14; cf. 1 John 1:1-3)
Since, in the Church's liturgy, we meet God in a unique way, how we worship – the external rites, gestures, vessels, music, indeed, the building itself – should reflect the grandeur of the Heavenly liturgy. Liturgy is mystical; it is our mysterious encounter with the transcendent God, who comes to sanctify us through the sacrifice of Christ made present in the Eucharist and received in Holy Communion. It should radiate Heavenly truth and goodness. This radiance, the splendor of truth, is called beauty. Our liturgy should radiate true beauty, reflecting the beauty of God Himself and what He does for us in Christ Jesus. It should lift up our soul – first through our intellect and will, but also through our senses and emotions – to adore God as we share already in Heaven's eternal worship.Remember the Bishop's description of God as "infinite truth and goodness shining forth in radiant beauty"? He returns to this description when describing the liturgy. The Church's worship of God must be a vibrant expression of God, a mirror reflecting His majesty, which fittingly conveys our awe in His presence. It must draw our attention to things of Heaven, and so it must be mysterious and mystical.
In this vale of tears, the liturgy should be a lodestar, a transcending place of wonder and comfort in the midst of our day-to-day lives, a place of light and high beauty beyond the reach of worldly shadows.This sentence is footnoted with a reference to p. 901 of The Lord of the Rings. The passage being evoked is: "There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."
A lodestar, in navigation terms, is a star by which one navigates (often associated directly with Polaris, the North Star); lode comes from lead, rather than load. In more general terms, a lodestar is a model, guide, or exemplar; it is a principle that guides one's actions. Because the Eucharist is our source and summit, the liturgy of the Eucharist, through which we participate in the Eucharist most fully and perfectly, should be our compass as we complete our pilgimage here on earth, keeping us on course: growing in holiness (identity) and witnessing Christ to the world (mission).
So many people only connect with the Church, and sometimes with prayer and God, through Sunday Mass. Should we not offer an experience of beauty and transcendence, compellingly different from our day-to-day lives? Should not every facet of our offering be proportionate to the divine reality? Many small details can make liturgy either beautiful or banal. In recent decades, in place of beauty and "noble simplicity," our main principle for discerning and choosing the "little things" has tended toward utility, ease, and even cheapness. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, before his election as Bishop of Rome, wrote the following about Church music, that is easily applicable to all parts of the liturgy:Vatican II, in describing the liturgical reform it envisioned, spoke of the rites as being "distinguished by a noble simplicity." (SC 34) Furthermore, speaking of sacred art as being "oriented toward the infinite beauty of God" (SC 122), the Council Fathers said the following:
122. ... Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, and for this purpose she has trained artists. In fact, the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use. ...How many of us have walked into churches built since Vatican II which fail to evoke the supernatural world and the infinite beauty of God as did so many churches of the last several centuries? How much traditional art and architecture has been replaced by works which are banal, unbecoming, unbeautiful, mediocre, and lacking in artistic worth? This is an example of the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture which is a false and dissenting interpretation of the Council.
124. Ordinaries, by the encouragement and favor they show to art which is truly sacred, should strive after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display. This principle is to apply also in the matter of sacred vestments and ornaments. Let bishops carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense. ...
The words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger on music, from Feast of Faith, p. 126:
Bishop Nickless continues, quoting Pope John Paul II on the state of the liturgical reform in 1998:A Church which only makes use of "utility" music has fallen for what is, in fact, useless. She [the Church] too becomes ineffectual. For her mission is a far higher one. As the Old Testament speaks of the Temple, the Church is to be the place of "glory," and as such, too, the place where mankind's cry of distress is brought to the ear of God. The Church must not settle down with what is merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level; she must arouse the voice of the cosmos, and by glorifying the Creator, elicit the glory of the cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable and beloved.... The Church is to transform, improve, "humanize" the world – but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection
Pope John Paul the Great, addressing some bishops of the United States on October 9, 1998, recognized the same urgent spiritual needs:Many liturgical abuses are the result of a failure to acknowledge what the liturgy truly is, an encounter with the mystery of God. Catechesis about the nature of the liturgy, especially its contemplative dimension, is necessary to fix the root of the liturgical abuse problem.
To look back over what has been done in the field of liturgical renewal in the years since the Council is, first, to see many reasons for giving heartfelt thanks and praise to the Most Holy Trinity for the marvelous awareness which has developed among the faithful of their role and responsibility in this priestly work of Christ and his Church. It is also to realize that not all changes have always and everywhere been accompanied by the necessary explanation and catechesis; as a result, in some cases there has been a misunderstanding of the very nature of the liturgy, leading to abuses, polarization, and sometimes even grave scandal ... . The challenge now is to move beyond whatever misunderstandings there have been . . . by entering more deeply into the contemplative dimension of worship, which includes the sense of awe, reverence and adoration which are fundamental attitudes in our relationship with God.
From here, Bishop Nickless addresses specifically the five points. Remember that this letter, while pastoral, is an instruction to his diocese; pay close attention to his exhortations and encouragements and statements of support. First he deals with ongoing liturgical reform under the guidance of the authentic Magisterium of the Church. He dwells for some time on the definition of participation in the liturgy:
It is imperative that we recover this wonder, awe, reverence and love for the liturgy and the Eucharist. To do this, we must feel and think with the whole Church in "reforming the reform" of the Second Vatican Council. We must accept and implement the current stream of magisterial liturgical documents coming from the Holy See: Liturgiam Authenticam (2001), the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal, and its new General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2002), Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2002), Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), Spiritus et Sponsa (2003), Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), Sacramentum Caritatis (2007), and Summorum Pontificum (2007).It is refreshing to hear a Bishop of a diocese, as opposed to one sequestered to some arm of the Curia in Rome, speaking of thinking with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia). Even more refreshing is seeing a Bishop providing a list of recent magisterial liturgical documents. Each of the documents listed is significant and important. Liturgiam Authenticam is about improving the translation of the Roman Missal from Latin into the vernacular; it governs the new English translation which will be received in the next year or two. Ecclesia de Eucharistia is Pope John Paul II's encyclical on Eucharistic spirituality, Spiritus et Sponsa is one of his documents on liturgical reform, and Redemptionis Sacramentum is an instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments about the proper celebration of the Eucharist (including plenty of details on particular liturgical abuses). Perhaps the most significant document in the list is the last one, Summorum Pontificum, which was the Apostolic Letter of Pope Benedict XVI which acknowledged the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and promoted its celebration.
It seems that all is not well with the Liturgy, and the Church is trying to help us. The pendulum swings, the hermeneutic of discontinuity, and the divisions within our Church have been seen and felt in the Liturgy more than anywhere.When there are liturgical pronouncements from the Church, these are meant to help us celebrate the liturgy better. It is not an intrusion on something private, for the liturgy is the public worship of God by the whole Church. Neither is it an attempt to make things harder or more complicated, although it may present a challenge to us.
The Church's Magisterium, not our private opinions, is our authoritative guide in this ressourcement. The liturgy belongs to the entire Church, and in a special way to the faithful – not to a particular Diocese or parish, and certainly not to individual priests. I exhort everyone, especially our priests, to keep up with the Church. I expect them to read, study, and understand the above documents and their inner logic and place within the ongoing reform of the Church. It is vitally important that we offer resplendent worship to God alone, with understanding and excellence, obedient to the Church. My own liturgies at the Cathedral, though imperfect, are also meant to be exemplary for the whole Diocese.Not only does he provide a list of these documents, but he says he expects the documents to be read and followed! Certainly not every member of the diocese has to sit down and read them, but priests and others responsible for liturgical celebrations should read and be familiar with them and convey the necessary information to the faithful. These documents, not our opinions and whims, govern the celebration of the liturgy.
It is a grave error and a form of clericalism, whether by clergy or lay ministers, to change the liturgy, or even to choose ungenerously among legitimate options, to suit only our own preferences and opinions. This respect for the whole of Tradition is not simply for the sake of "rules and regulations"; this is not legalism, as some have said, but our love for Christ, so that from His Eucharist with all its preeminent beauty and sanctity, He can shine forth for all to see and love.Concerning the liturgy, we have certain rights, one of which is the right to the liturgy celebrated properly! This means a liturgy without illicit changes. When the liturgy is celebrated according to the mind of the Church, it is more clearly about God and His glory, and less likely to be seen as a pageant or performance or display centered on us.
Next Bishop Nickless turns his attention to topic of liturgical participation:
The Council's goal in reforming liturgy was, of course, to facilitate the "fully active and conscious participation" of all the faithful. We have made great strides in this area. In the same address to bishops cited above, the Holy Father said:True participation in the liturgy has both an internal and an external dimension (analogous to the two themes of this letter). To just be "doing" something at Mass without knowing what you're doing and why you're doing it is akin to empty ritualism. Conversely, our participation at Mass does not necessitate a physical act; we do not have to be the ones reading Scripture: listening is part of our participation.
Full participation certainly means that every member of the community has a part to play in the liturgy; and in this respect a great deal has been achieved in parishes and communities across your land. But full participation does not mean that everyone does everything, since this would lead to a clericalizing of the laity and a laicizing of the priesthood; and this was not what the Council had in mind. The liturgy, like the Church, is intended to be hierarchical and polyphonic, respecting the different roles assigned by Christ and allowing all the different voices to blend in one great hymn of praise.Full, active and conscious participation: we have made great strides in this over the years. But often this has happened in a superficial, partial way resulting from a narrow and truncated interpretation of these terms. It is time to dig deeper, "to put out into the deep," into a new and authentic liturgical spirituality that is both old and new, active and contemplative, historical and mystical, Roman and Iowan, familiar and challenging. All of this also applies to our "fully active and conscious participation" in liturgy outside the Holy Mass, especially in Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Marian devotions, and the Liturgy of the Hours.
Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural.
Conscious participation calls for the entire community to be properly instructed in the mysteries of the liturgy, lest the experience of worship degenerate into a form of ritualism. But it does not mean a constant attempt within the liturgy itself to make the implicit explicit, since this often leads to a verbosity and informality which are alien to the Roman Rite and end by trivializing the act of worship. Nor does it mean the suppression of all subconscious experience, which is vital in a liturgy which thrives on symbols that speak to the subconscious just as they speak to the conscious. The use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasures of the liturgy to all who take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman Rite, should be wholly abandoned. If subconscious experience is ignored in worship, an affective and devotional vacuum is created and the liturgy can become not only too verbal but also too cerebral.
Bishop Nickless calls for the both/and approach to the liturgy, rather than an either/or approach. (I thought the "Roman and Iowan" was a nice touch.)
Then he addresses the other four topics he will mention in the next few paragraphs.
Eucharistic Adoration is not, as some have said, a distraction from the central meaning of the Mass, or from the reception of Holy Communion. It is instead a great help and one that I wholeheartedly support and encourage in the parishes of this diocese. Eucharistic Adoration is an extension of our reception of Holy Communion, and brings about a deeper longing and preparation for our next reception. Just as you cannot be exposed to the sun without receiving its rays, neither can you come to Jesus exposed in the Blessed Sacrament without receiving the Divine Rays of His grace, love and peace. I exhort all communities of the diocese to explore ways of making the Eucharist more central in our lives through periods of Exposition, Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and Eucharistic Processions.One of the "some" who recently spoke of Eucharistic Adoration was Fr. Richard McBrien, who called the devotion a step backwards. Also note another one of Bishop Nickless' statements of encouragement and exhortation. When the Eucharist is central to the lives of Catholics (the way it is central to the life of the Church), the Church's mission in the world will be more fruitful.
In far too many places and among too many of our people, the regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation has fallen by the wayside. This must be remedied if we are to grow in humility and holiness, and truly benefit from the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. Without this Sacrament, we lose a sense of sin in our lives, and overlook the obstacles it places in our path. Unless we confess our sins, they fester in our hearts, corrupting our good works and spiritual practices. Indeed, many, without knowledge and unheedingly, now receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin, making their Communion unfruitful at best and damning at worst. Too many parishes only offer one hour of Confessions, and sometimes less, on Saturdays. I exhort and encourage priests to make themselves available in a generous way for this great Sacrament, on days and times convenient for the faithful. If priests set aside time, and preach on the need for repentance and sacramental confession, they will come.The need for Confession is far greater than the apparent demand. The sacrament is necessary for growth in humility and holiness (identity) so that the Church's mission can be genuine. Bishop Nickless draws attention to the problems that arise from not receiving this sacrament; it is refreshing to see a Bishop address the issues of the effects of sin and of the travesty of unworthy reception of Communion. And he again exhorts and encourages his priests to provide greater access to this important sacrament.
Devotion to the Blessed Mother, such an important part of our tradition and spirituality, also leads to a deeper appreciation and love of the Blessed Sacrament. She is the Mother of the Eucharist, the one who gave Jesus Christ to the world. She is also our Mother in the Order of Grace. "Having been Assumed, body and soul, into Heaven, she does not lay aside her saving office," but always and everywhere leads souls to her Son, telling them, "Do whatever He tells you." When we are fervently devoted to the Blessed Mother, especially through the Rosary and Consecration to her, she leads us to her Son, most especially present in the Most Blessed Sacrament.Devotion to Mary cannot be divided from, and in fact is ordered to, devotion to Jesus Christ her son, and especially appreciation and love of His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Her words from John 2:5, which Bishop Nickless has quoted, were the words which convinced me that true devotion to Mary is never about detracting from Christ in any way but in being directed to Him in the best possible company!
The final topic he mentions is the Divine Office (the Liturgy of the Hours) which is the "other" official prayer of the Church, next to the Divine Liturgy (the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass).
The Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the whole Church. By this constant prayer, we consecrate the day and all its activities to our Savior, and offer ourselves in union with His suffering. Priests and deacons are required to pray the office every day. It is and can be a great source of support and help in pastoral ministry and growth in personal holiness. The Church has always desired that the faithful also share in this Liturgy. I encourage all parishes to consider how they might develop such opportunities.The Second Vatican Council, in its document on the liturgy, commended the participation of the faithful in the communal prayer of the Divine Office: "Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually." (Sacrosanctum Concilium 100) Bishop Nickless is simply echoing the Council and expressing his desire to be faithful to the Church and her liturgy: clerics are obligated to pray it, and the laity are encouraged to pray it. Once again, he draws the connection between the gaze inward (growth in holiness) and the gaze outward (effectiveness in pastoral ministry).
The next post will deal with the second of the five priorities for the diocese of Sioux City: to strengthen catechesis.