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The Liturgy: Essence and Issues

J. Jacob Tawney

The following is the full-length version of a talk given at Ohio Wesleyan


University on March 25, 2009. The talk itself was an abbreviated version of
what follows.

While it doesn’t always make headlines in the secular newspapers, if one were to
listen carefully to what is actually being said by the Church in recent years, one
would certainly conclude topic receiving and increasing amount of attention is
the Liturgy. This of course should come as no surprise, for as Vatican II said, the
Liturgy is both the source and the summit of the Christian life. Then again, while
Vatican II stated this principle in concise and eloquent terms, the principle itself
is not new. The Liturgy has always been at the center of our faith. So the question
remains, why now? At this point in the history of our Church, why is there such a
growing interest in the Liturgy? Is it because we have been blessed with a Pope
who is arguably one of the leading academics in liturgical theology? Perhaps.
Though I think the issue goes deeper than just the leadership in the Church. I
think it is essentially a question of timing. We are seeing the first generation now
coming into adulthood of those who have only ever experienced what the Church
calls the Novus Ordo, or the new form of the Mass, the form promulgated by
Pope Paul VI in 1969. Those who are forty years and younger have known
nothing else except this form of the Sacred Liturgy. On top of that, the manner in
which this Liturgy is often celebrated is done so in a way that emphasizes the
people as participants at the expense of the transcendent actio Dei, the action of
God. This generation is hungering for the transcendent, much as they are
hungering for authentic Catholic orthodoxy. Because of the growing popularity of
this topic, I have titled my talk “The Liturgy: Essence and Issues.” While it is
always tempting to jump right into specific issues (which way the priest should
face during the Eucharistic Canon, how much Latin should be in the Mass, or
what type of music is appropriate) addressing such questions without a proper
background would be putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Before taking
up specific Liturgical issues, we must first try to understand the essence of the
Liturgy itself. The bulk of this talk will attempt, in the short amount of time we
have, to do just that, to try to hammer out the essence, and hence the purpose, of
the Liturgy. To do so, I have three important points.

Important point number one: the Liturgy is a cosmic event. In the Old
Testament, we see the idea of worship, in the Ten Commandments, as tied to the
Sabbath Day. On this seventh day, man is to rest from work and give worship to
his Creator. However, the Sabbath being the seventh day of rest immediately
harkens back to the creation story itself. The Sabbath Day is precisely that
seventh day on which God Himself rested after the creation of the world. Thus,
we can see from the first book of Scripture that the act of worship, or at least the
day set aside for worship, is part of the fabric of the cosmic act of creation. To
make this clearer, let us take up the very term “worship.” What do we mean by
worship? Worship itself, according to the Fathers of the Church, is nothing other
than giving to God what is due to God. St. Thomas Aquinas designed his entire
Summa Theologica around this principle. It is the principle of exitus-reditus (exit
and return). Simply put, from God all of creation comes, and to God it must
return. God holds all of creation in existence out of an act of pure generosity. The
great Christian distinction is that God is not part of the world, but is outside of
the world. Moreover, God does not need the world. He freely chose to create it,
and he freely chooses to hold it in creation. The world does nothing to add to the
greatness of God.

Because God has given existence to all of creation, the only gift that any aspect of
creation can possibly hope to give back to God is itself. Every being in the created
world has its fulfillment in God. From God it has come, and to God it must return
(exitus-reditus). Its perfection as being is found nowhere if not in its very source
of being. It is precisely to this act of giving back to God what is rightfully His that
we give the name “worship.” All of creation worships insofar as it tends towards
its fulfillment in God. This is why worship is a cosmic event. However, mankind
is unique in the world. Every being except for man cannot help but tend towards
its perfection in God. Only people can actively ignore their destiny; only people
can deliberately head away from God. In doing so, mankind fails to worship, or
perhaps said differently, mankind worships incorrectly. The very act of sin is an
act of incorrect worship. The most obvious example of this is using the Lord’s
name in vain, an “incorrect prayer” if you will.

The Liturgy, which is the making concrete of the act of worship, is therefore a
cosmic event. It is not one aspect of our lives, something we do on Sundays. The
inclusion is the other way around. Instead of fitting the Liturgy into what we
think is something bigger, namely our lives, it is in the Liturgy that we are taken
up into something much bigger, the cosmic worship of God. The Liturgy is a great
drama that is being played out on a cosmic scale, and simply by being there, we
are taken up into this drama. This is exactly why having specific rituals in the
liturgy is so important. When there are “lines” that need recited, “actions” or
“stage directions” that need followed, the structure of the Liturgy itself teaches
that the Liturgy is bigger than us; we are taught that it is not something that we
can create, but something that must be received. In contrast, when the Liturgy
becomes the result of the creative efforts of a Liturgy committee, the
congregation is given the impression that the main focus of the action is not on
God but on the people, that we are the creators, not God. How the Liturgy is
presented and the way in which it includes us affects how we come to think of the
essence of the Liturgy and of ourselves as human agents. This is the basic
principle of sacramentality in its most general form. The principle states, “we are
how we act.” In other words, the way in which we act forms the views we hold and
even the type of person we become. If the Mass is presented as a ritual, people are
given the correct impression that it is something bigger than themselves, a sacred
action in which they are taken up. They then come to realize that they are not the
center of reality. If it is presented as self-created, then people come to see
themselves as, well, self-creators.

Contrary to common thought on what happens during the Mass, the Liturgy is
not where God is brought down to us ... we hardly have that amount of power.
Instead, the Liturgy is where we are brought up into God, into the very inner life
of the Blessed Trinity. In this, we come to understand our role in the Liturgy as
primarily passive. The important thing is not what we do, but how we are. This is
certainly contrary to the way in which we have come to experience the Liturgy;
often in our modern experience the entire Mass seems to be about what the
congregation does, what role they play. We must keep in mind however, that God
always works through us; our only role is to be a passive receptacle open to His
presence. Every mystic in the history of the Church that has written a spiritual
classic has always said that the path to God is eventually entirely passive. The
soul simply rests and opens itself up to the action and love of God.

Important point number two: the Liturgy is never created but always received in
a posture of humility. This is an idea that is at the heart of the Pope’s liturgical
theology. He has gone so far as to state that even the Pope himself cannot
arbitrarily change the Liturgy. Another way of saying this is: the Liturgy is the
public worship of the Church. This is what separates a properly Liturgical action
from the more general act of prayer. While our personal prayer should always
find its source in the Liturgy, there is a difference between praying on our own
and praying with the Church in a properly Liturgical setting. When it comes to
the public Liturgy of the Church, we must avoid any attempt to think that we can
improve on what is already, in its essence, perfect. True, there will always be
room for organic growth. After all, the Liturgy is a living reality that will continue
to grow with the changing times, but we must avoid the temptation to arbitrarily
create and re-create the Liturgy with the fickle winds of changing culture.

The Pope, in his 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, spoke of the need
for a “hermeneutic of continuity.” While he meant many things in this statement,
one thing for sure is that, while the Church is a living breathing reality that will
always experience growth and development, it is first and foremost a Church that
is rooted in tradition. Therefore, any and all growth must be, what he and many
others have called “organic.” Any change should be in light of and in continuity
with what comes before. In terms of Church teaching, this can be seen in Cardinal
Newman’s “Development of Doctrine.” Any development must be seen in
continuity with what comes before it, and hence we should be able to find the
roots of the development in the teachings of Christ and the Apostles and to
clearly trace the development throughout history. Likewise, any development in
the Liturgy must be organic; we must be able to find the roots of the Liturgy in
the actions of Christ and the early Church and clearly trace its development
throughout history. This does not, however, exclude development. The Pope says,
in examining the Liturgy, that the Church must avoid two extremes, the first
being the spirit of arbitrary change, of thinking that we can randomly create and
re-create the Liturgy to suit our needs and personal preferences. However, she
must also avoid the extreme of antiquarianism, of trying to canonize any one
period of time as having the perfect Liturgy that is suited for all times,
particularly trying to re-create the Liturgy of the first days of Christianity. After
all, we would expect that Liturgies carried on in times of persecution and
necessary secrecy would be different in their execution from those that are
publicly permitted.

Important point number three: the Liturgy is historical and primarily about the
sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The liturgy re-presents the death and resurrection
of Christ, a historical event. Moreover, it points back to the Last Supper, another
historical event. Moreover, the Last Supper itself takes place in the context of the
Passover Meal, which commemorates yet another historical event, the Exodus of
God’s people from Egypt.

Let’s look a bit more carefully at the the historical event of Christ’s sacrifice on
the cross. In fact, let’s begin by looking more generally at the notion of sacrifice.
It is often misunderstood that sacrifice necessarily involves destruction, or pain
of sorts. We naturally tend to think of sacrifice as something that is “hard to do.”
While this certainly resounds with our common experience, it is only true due to
the advent of original sin. In fact, the notion of sacrifice, which exists not only in
Christianity but also in many other religions, is nothing more than rendering to
God what is due to God. Does this sound familiar? This is the exact definition we
offered for worship at the beginning of the talk. Worship and sacrifice are the
process by which we make an offering to God what is due to God, namely
ourselves. Thus, not only is the idea of sacrifice integral to the Liturgy, it is
identical with the Liturgy. In recent decades, there have been attempts to place at
the center of the Liturgy an aspect different from Christ’s sacrifice, most notably
the idea of a communal meal and the idea of a gathering of God’s people. While
these certainly are aspects of the Sacred Liturgy, they are secondary to the notion
of sacrifice.

While sacrifice in its essence does not necessarily include destruction or pain, the
nature of sacrifice was affected by original sin. Recall what sin is: sin is improper
worship, not rendering to God what is due to God. Sin then, ruptures the
authenticity of sacrifice, the authenticity of worship. Said differently, sin, instead
of being an act of giving, is an act of grasping. Because worship/sacrifice/liturgy
is cosmic, the original sin, the original act of anti-worship, itself was a cosmic act,
or rather a cosmic dis-act. Original sin is not merely cosmic, though, but is also a
historical act. It is because of its cosmic and historical nature that (1) original sin
is passed down to all mankind throughout history, and (2) all of creation, all of
the cosmos, is somehow affected by it. This is also why it takes both a cosmic and
historical event to close the rift caused by sin. This becomes a very powerful
argument for the incarnation, for the eternal Second Person of the Trinity
entering history as a man. Because worship has been rent apart by original sin,
sacrifice and worship need the element of healing, and because original sin is
both cosmic and historical, only an event that is both cosmic and historical can
properly redeem worship. Enter Christ’s sacrifice, an actual historical event that,
because it involved God himself, has cosmic ramifications. By his death and
resurrection, Christ accomplished on the Cross what man was unable to do. The
Paschal Mystery, being the most perfect act of sacrifice, redeemed worship.

This occurred not simply because of the external act. External acts are always
manifestations of greater internal realities. The event of Christ’s sacrifice on the
Cross was an external manifestation of the Son’s gift of himself to the Father.
Because he was truly man and truly God, he gives not only himself, but indeed all
of humanity to the Father, an act of authentic worship that man was unable to
make on his own because of the cosmic rift caused by sin. The Paschal Mystery,
the death and resurrection of Christ, is a historical event; it is what Pope Benedict
refers to as the first level of Liturgy. The greater internal reality that was signified
on the Cross, the eternal gift of the Son to the Father, is the third level of Liturgy.
This is the Liturgy of the Angels and Saints in heaven, the eternal act of worship,
the eternal reality of giving of all of creation back to God. We are in the second
level of Liturgy, what the Pope refers to as the “already” but “not yet.” The
historical event is, historically speaking, past. However, we are still in history, so
we are not yet in eternity. This second level is the level of Liturgy proper. Before
the historical event of the Cross, the reality was not yet present. Now that Christ’s
act has been accomplished, the reality is here, but we are not yet completely
brought up into it; it awaits us in heaven. Therefore, we are in the period of signs:
signs that point to a reality that is already present. Only in such a period could we
have anything like the idea of transubstantiation. There is the reality of Christ
fully present: body, blood, soul, and divinity, but it is veiled in under the
accidents of bread and wine.

Because of the cosmic nature of Christ’s sacrifice, because the Christ event takes
up all of time and history, the Liturgy, being the re-presentation of the Sacrifice,
gives us access to two things. First, it brings us to the foot of the Cross, so that we
can truly participate in the sacrifice of Christ. Remember what we said: the act of
Christ redeemed worship, it allowed for a healing so that man can again give of
himself back to God, to give God what is due to Him. How, in a concrete way,
does Christ’s sacrifice accomplish this? How does it allow us to once again offer
ourselves in authentic worship? It happens precisely through the Liturgy. We are
assured, now, every time we go to Mass, that we are participating in a true act of
worship, because the Mass takes us up into the great drama of the Trinity, which
forever includes the Son’s gift of himself (and of us) to the Father. This is very
powerful ... but dare I say there is something that is even more powerful. Recall
that the Christ-event is a cosmic-eternal event, and thus it is the external
manifestation of the eternal act of worship of God Himself. The event on the
Cross that is now being re-presented at every Mass is also being played out in the
heavenly Liturgy, where the Sacrifice reaches its eternal fulfillment. Therefore,
the Mass not only transports us back to the foot of the Cross, but it also
transports us to heaven itself, to the Liturgy of the Angels and Saints. Now stay
with me here, because we are about to make a tricky theological move. Our
fulfillment, or proper end, like the proper end of all of creation, is union with
God. What is heaven if not the fulfillment of all those who have chosen to
participate in Christ’s sacrifice? In heaven, we find our fulfillment. Recall that the
Liturgy transports us, via the eternal sacrifice of Christ, to the heavenly Liturgy.
Therefore, the Liturgy transports us to our own fulfillment in Christ. This is why
the Holy Father calls the Liturgy “anthropological.” Only in the Liturgy can we
find the answer to the questions that have vexed humanity from time
immemorial. Why are we here? What does God want of me? Why is the purpose
of life? The Liturgy forms us ... it brings about our own fulfillment ... it makes us
fully human.

By allowing ourselves to be taken up into the great mystery of Christ, we allow


God to shape our being. In this we begin to understand St. Paul when he tells the
Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I that live but Christ
that lives in me.” In a way, the Liturgy becomes our own divinization, not in a
pantheistic sense, but in an authentically Christian sense. We put on Christ. In all
of this, we come to understand in a deeper way the idea of sacramentality.
External acts are manifestation of internal realities, but they also bring about
those internal realities. The act of Christ on the Cross was an external
manifestation of the eternal gift of the Son to the Father, yes, but that internal
reality was brought about by the external action. The external and the internal
are inseparable. Likewise, the actions found in the ancient rituals of the Mass are
external manifestation of our internal conversion to Christ, but they also bring
about that conversion. You can now see why the idea of Christ’s sacrifice and the
Liturgy as a re-presentation of the sacrifice is at the heart of the essence of the
Liturgy and of our own salvation. Any conception of the Liturgy that minimizes
the idea of sacrifice is found greatly wanting.

Now that we have clarified the essence of the Liturgy and its purpose, allow me to
address three specific issues. The first is the role of music and its appropriateness
in the Mass. Since even before the Christian Liturgy, the Jewish people
understood the importance of incorporating music into the praise and worship of
God. The Psalms attest to the fact that a prayer that is sung is twice prayed. There
is no question of the necessity of music in the Liturgy. The only question is what
music is appropriate? In answering the question, we must return to the essence
and purpose of the Liturgy. First, recall the importance of ritual. The Liturgy is a
great cosmic drama in which we are taken up.

In the old form of the rite, nearly every musical piece was scripted. Instead of an
entrance hymn, there were specific Introit chants written for every Mass of the
year, and these chants correlated to the readings of the day. A similar structure
governed the Graduale (the Psalm following the first reading), the Offertory
Chant, and the Communion Antiphon, chanted while the faithful received the
Holy Eucharist. In modern liturgies, the music heard at Mass seems more to
model the type of music heard on the radio and less to reflect the transcendence
of the sacred actions taking place. There is something inherently transcendent
about chant. As opposed to hymns, which by their very rhythmic nature tend to
“march forward” to a climatic conclusion, chant allows for the listener to rest in a
state of contemplation. Much like the Liturgy is received in humility, so is God
himself. The soul can only truly pray when it is calm and open, which requires
not a “active” participation, but “actual” participation in silence and
contemplation, and the very structure of chant is conducive to such participation.
Pope after Pope from Gregory the Great through Benedict XVI have proclaimed
the Sacred Chant is the official music of the Church, and in particular of the
Liturgy.
Church teaching has again and again repeated that the more closely a piece of
music resembles Gregorian Chant, the more appropriate it is for use in the Mass.
Conversely, the farther it is in structure and style from Gregorian Chant, the less
appropriate it is for use in the Mass. It is indisputable that the vast majority of
Christians throughout the history of the Church have worshipped with chant as
their primary (or only) mode of liturgical music. For this reason, the Second
Vatican Council specifically called for a primacy of place for Gregorian Chant. In
contrast, the music we hear in most liturgies today is a produced with the specific
intention of modeling modern music, not using the hermeneutic of continuity
with the musical tradition of the Church. If you listen carefully to the lyrics of
some of the more popular songs being employed for liturgical purposes, you will
find that they are centered on man and his efforts, not on the praise and worship
of God. My favorite example is the song that begins, “Sing a new Church into
being,” which is at best self-centered and at worst heretical.

As a side note, it is also interesting that the Gregorian melodies were not written
for profit. It was always understood that these melodies would be copied,
reproduced, and distributed widely and at no cost so as to give ever greater and
more widespread glory to God. In contrast, the music often used in Liturgies
today is sold for a profit; essentially it is a business.

The second issue that is receiving a tremendous amount of attention in the


Church today is the use of Latin. In the old form of the rite, everything except the
homily is in Latin. The common objection to the use of Latin is that the laity
cannot understand what is being said, and in order to actively participate in the
Mass, the language needs to be in the vernacular. This argument finds it flaw in
the misunderstanding of the purpose of the Liturgy. Primarily, the Liturgy finds
its purpose in giving praise and worship to God. Yes, the laity are required to
have “actual” participation, but the Church has always taught that this
participation is primarily an internal disposition of sacrifice and worship. We
have, in recent times, mistaken actual participation as active participation. We
feel that everyone at Mass must have a role to play in order to “feel involved.”
More importantly, however, is the observation that in hearing a language that one
cannot translate word-for-word the people naturally (or supernaturally rather)
come to understand the inherent transcendence of the Liturgy. They come to
understand God as a great mystery to be reveled in. With the exception of the last
forty years, both the Christian and Jewish people have always understood the
importance of a sacred language. To demonstrate the effect a sacred language can
have on the way in which a liturgical action is perceived, let us examine the very
reading of Holy Scripture during Mass. In the new form of the rite, the readings
are typically spoken in the vernacular. This gives the impression that purpose of
the readings is for the people, so that they can understand the Word of God. Now,
please don’t get me wrong, it is of the utmost importance that God’s people
understand and internalize God’s Word and learn to apply it to their thoughts
and actions, to allow it to form them from within. In a faith that conceives the
second person of the Trinity as the Word, we can never underestimate the
importance of written Scriptures. However, if we apply the principle of first-
things-first, before we can internalize the Word of God, we must first internalize
it as the Word of God. That is, we must first understand that it is of divine origin.
Without this realization, the Bible becomes merely one of a countless number of
self-help books that we find on the shelves of the local book store.

In contrast to the vernacular reading of Holy Scripture, the old form of the rite
has the readings chanted in the language of the Church: Latin. Instead of
presenting the readings as primarily for the people, the old form of the rite
correctly applies the principle that the Liturgy is primarily an act of worship that
has God as the source and summit. The readings then become a sort of
theophany, an offering to God. They become a prayer properly speaking. Think
about the appropriateness of this. If the Liturgy is a re-presentation of Christ’s
self-offering to God, and if Christ is referred to as the Word of God, should not
the reading of the Word of God be primarily an offering of the Word of God to the
Father. Only in doing so can we begin to understand the connection between the
Liturgy of the Word, in which the Word of God is offered in the readings, and the
Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which the Word of God is offered sacramentally.

Once we have internalized that Holy Scripture is indeed sacred, then we can
begin to understand it and apply it to our lives. This starts with the homily, but it
should continue, dare I say, in our personal reading of those passages that are
proclaimed on Sunday.

The third and final issue that I want to present is one that perhaps has not
garnered the attention by the general laity that the first two have, but is also one
that is of growing interest among particularly the young priests and seminarians.
Until the Mass of Pope Paul VI in 1969, the Church has with little exception
oriented the priest with the people during the Eucharistic Prayer. Of course in the
new form of the rite, we experience the priest facing towards the people at the
alter. The question, as with all questions liturgical, is which direction is more
appropriate to the essence of the Liturgy?

I want to begin with the two general principles that the Liturgy is both a cosmic
and a historical event. Thus, wherever possible, the liturgical actions, particularly
the most important actions, should demonstrate both cosmic and historical
significance. Many of the world’s religions understand the importance of physical
orientation during prayer. The ancient Jews would orient themselves towards the
Temple, in which was found the Arc of the Covenant, understood as the presence
of God on earth. Islam faces Mecca during prayer. Christians, because of their
unique perspective that is both cosmic and historical, always faced East. It used
to be common even in homes to make sure that a crucifix was on the eastern wall
of the house. Why? What is it about facing East that is appropriate to
Christianity? The sun, being obviously a cosmic symbol of life and light, is also
inherently a measure of history, as our time is measured by its rising and setting.
The unique marriage of cosmic and historical significance makes the rising sun
the only truly appropriate symbol for the coming of Christ. (Not to mention the
obvious significance of both the sun and Christ rising.) Scripture abounds with
references about the East being the direction form which the second coming of
Christ will occur.

Because of this, the Christian Liturgy has always emphasized both priest and
people facing towards the East during the most solemn part of the Mass, the
Eucharistic Prayer. For the majority of Christian history it was seen as
appropriate to orient the very Church building during the time of construction so
that during the Eucharistic prayer both priest and people faced towards the East.
In doing so, the priest is seen as (1) offering the victim of Christ to the Father on
behalf of the people (not as presenting the victim of Christ to the people) and (2)
leading the pilgrim people of God on their way to Christ, towards their
eschatological fulfillment. The Latin phrase for this orientation is ad orientem,
translated “towards the East,” and is in practice synonymous with the Latin
phrase ad Dominum, or “toward the Lord.” In fact, the idea of facing East was so
important that even in Churches that were designed facing the opposite way, such
as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, while the priest faced what might be called versus
populum (“facing the people”) during the Eucharistic prayer, the people
themselves, who at the time were seated on the sides of the nave flanking the
altar, would turn towards the East with the priest so that the priest and people
would form a sort of semicircle that opens up towards the front doors of the
Church facing the sun shining in through the stain glassed windows. In the entire
history of the Church until very recent times, there is no evidence whatsoever that
suggests any importance given to “facing the people.” When this happens, the
priest and people form a self-enclosed circle, not a pilgrim people on their way to
Christ and open to the actions of God. Moreover, when the priest faces the
people, he himself becomes the center of attention, the point of reference. When
so much attention is given to the priest, he must struggle tremendously against
the temptation to “put on a show” for the people, to make the Eucharistic Prayer
“entertaining.” It also gives the impression that the priest, in saying the words of
consecration, is speaking to the people. I am sure we have all been at Masses
where the priest has directed both the elevation of the host and the words, “Take
this, this is my Body, which will be given up for you,” to the congregation. I would
encourage you to listen very carefully to the words of the Eucharistic Prayer the
next time you are at Mass. You will find that every word from beginning to end is
directed towards the Father. Even the command to “Take this,” is a quotation in
the context of the prayer as a whole, a re-presenting Christ’s words at the last
supper, not as a dialog between priest and people. The prayer of the Eucharistic
Canon is not for us. It is a prayer, a sacred action no less, that is being offered on
our behalf to the Father by the priest who is standing the in person of Christ. The
orientation of the priest facing with the people towards the East is the external
manifestation of this internal reality.

As a side note, the Eucharistic action of the priest is seen as so sacred and so
solemn in the old rite that the entire Canon was often said in silence. The silence
was pierced only by the ringing of the bells followed by the elevation of the
consecrated Lord. In some of the Eastern liturgies, not only is the Eucharistic
action not heard by the people, it is not even seen, as it takes place behind a
curtain or behind an iconostasis, demonstrating the continuity with the Jewish
tradition of the inner part of the sanctuary (known as the Holy of Holies)
accessible only to the priest.

In conclusion, I would like to mentioned the Motu Propio released by the Holy
Father in 2007 called Summorum Pontificum. The primary purpose of this letter
was to give priests the right to say the old form of the rite, the 1962 Missal of
Blessed John XXIII. Until this point, a priest needed the permission of his local
Bishop to do so. Though this was the purpose of the letter, perhaps the most
important statement in the entire document is when the Holy Father expresses
his hope that the wider use of the old form (what he calls the “extraordinary
form” as opposed to the “ordinary form,” or the new form of the rite) will allow
the old rite and the new rite to mutually influence one another. In this, we will
hopefully experience the organic “growing together” of the two forms. I would
suggest that this process begin with three changes to the new form, the Novus
Ordo, three changes that are already allowed for in the current rubrics. (Thus in a
sense they are only changes in the way it is commonly celebrated, but not official
changes to the rite itself.) First, I would advocate for a much more liberal use of
Latin. This is not only in continuity with the tradition of the Church’s Liturgy, but
it also is in continuity with what Vatican II called for. Ideally, we should
investigate allowing for the use of Latin in every aspect of the Mass with the
exception of the Homily, but as a start, I recommend employing the Sacred
language in all the common parts of the Mass, those parts that are said every
Sunday: the Sign of the Cross, the Gloria, the Kyrie (though this is Greek not
Latin), the Confiteor (“I confess to almighty God”), the Creed, the Holy, Holy,
Holy, the Memorial Acclamation, the Our Father, and the Lamb of God, as well as
the entire Eucharistic Prayer. The faithful already know the content of these
common parts, so the issue of “understanding” is really a non-issue.

Second, I would advocate for a return to the tradition of Gregorian Chant in the
Liturgy. Once again, not only is this in continuity with the tradition of the
Church, but it is also mandated by Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy. This would include first and foremost the chants proper to the Mass
itself: the Gloria, the Kyrie, the Creed, the Holy, Holy, Holy, the Memorial
Acclamation, the Our Father, and the Lamb of God. Not only did Paul VI not call
for the removal of Gregorian Chant in the promulgation of his 1969 Missal, but he
himself issued a document which he referred to as a “personal gift” to the Church.
The document is called Jubilate Deo and is a collection of sacred chants that Pope
Paul VI felt that all the faithful should know by heart. The Mass propers can be
easily learned by any congregation. If, however, there is a talented choir at a
parish, this choir could also take up the more complicated Introits (entrance
chants), Graduales (the Psalm that follows the First Reading), Offertory Chants,
and Communion Antiphons.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I would advocate for the priest being
oriented with the people to emphasize both the sacrificial nature of his actions
and their being offered to the Father as well as emphasizing that the priest is
leading the pilgrim people of God on their way to Christ. Not only is this allowed
for in the current form of the Mass, but the rubrics in fact assume it. There are
specific directions in the rubrics, for instance at the “Ecce Agnus Dei” (“Behold
the Lamb of God”) in which the priest is directed to “turn towards the people,”
indicating that before this moment, the priest was not facing the people. In places
where this change might be seen as too dramatic right away, the priest can begin
by placing an upright crucifix at the center of the altar flanked by three
candlesticks on either side. This altar arrangement, quickly becoming known as
the “Benedictine Arrangement” (named after Pope Benedict who employs it at all
his public Masses), emphasizes that both priest and people are oriented ad
Dominum, towards the Lord, and that the priest’s actions are not directed
towards the people. This, however, should only be a temporary solution that
allows for a greater length of time needed to educate the faithful on the proper
orientation of the priest and the people during the Eucharistic Canon.

In fact, all three of these recommendations must be accompanied by proper


catechesis. Without explanations and education, they will be rejected as “going
backwards” instead of seeing them for what they are: organic growth forwards.

In summary, I always like to close talks to college students with the same
challenge. You are pursuing an education, which in its essence is the formation of
the human mind. If there is ever an important time to begin looking at what the
Church is saying on these and other issues, it is now. You should be not only
keeping up with current events in the Church through sources like Zenit.org
(please don’t get your Catholic news from the secular media), but you should be
reading the Scriptures, the Catechism, the documents of Vatican II, and the other
documents that Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II have gifted to the Church.
Moreover, in order to appreciate the continuity the Church has in her Sacred
Liturgy, if it is possible, I would encourage you to attend the extraordinary form,
the Mass of 1962. Experiencing this will at the very least help you to appreciate
the new form of the rite and the significance of its rituals. Learn your faith, and
thereby come to live your faith.