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Liturgy: the art of celebrating the faith

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At a meeting of ministries and parish life, a group of lay people complained to the pastor because the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist “was too long, insipid, dull and boring.” The priest, who was the one who always presided, became very upset and replied, “Well, prepare yourselves, because Heaven is a Mass that never ends!”

It was an explanation replete with ambiguity because, although Mass is not a show to entertain believers, the way of celebrating the sacred mysteries of Christ should make use of the language that makes the Church vibrate, and also makes the vital experience of the community vibrate. It’s a language articulated in the deepest Christian conviction, which draws its signs from history and theology, to celebrate and live the faith received from Christ himself, from the founding tradition of the apostles and the enrichment that centuries of reflection have contributed to liturgical forms.

Everything that is the object of faith has its place in the prayer of the Church. We celebrate what we believe, and every celebration is a reaffirmation of our understanding of the truths to which we are called to adhere from within. The liturgy not only celebrates faith within a Church model but also manifests it. It not only celebrates the events (the memory of the past), but also all affirmations that arise from the important experiences that have been and are being lived. The law and the forms of prayer, celebration and worship are not only the laws of faith but also the laws of being and doing of the believing community. There is a direct relationship between the way of understanding the present in which one lives and, from that shared experience, assuming a particular image of God, of Christ, of the Church, and of liturgy and pastoral action, as well.

Since the great renewal of the Second Vatican Council, the ancient language of the liturgy has acquired more current expressions. St. John XXIII warned the Council Fathers that the best way to preserve the treasure of tradition and faith was not by “keeping it in a museum,” but by recovering its vitality and the necessary understanding of the signs and rites by the people of God, who are the authentic and true celebrants of the liturgy.

In the first centuries of the Church, baptism was accessed through a genuine conversion consolidated by the process of the catechumenate, which took as long as necessary. Once the candidate was fully initiated through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist after Lent and on the night of the Easter Vigil, the bishop summoned them during the seven weeks of Easter to initiate them in the understanding of the contents and the sacred language of the liturgy.

These catecheses, called “Mystagogical,” completed the instruction received during the catechumenate and allowed the neophytes to understand the meaning of the rites, signs, and symbols found in community celebrations. The mystagogical catechesis was essential for the believer to achieve an understanding of the liturgical language and to fully understand and enjoy the sacred mysteries of Christ.

These catecheses were abandoned over the centuries and the evolution of the Church. The celebration of the believing assembly became a mysterious rite that had to be attended in silence, without outside participation. It was separated by the barrier of Latin and exempt of visibility, with the altar drowned out by huge altarpieces where the all-important liturgy of the Eucharist appeared as an exclusive affair of the priest or the bishop. It forced us to “hear Mass on Sundays and feast days” with a passive attitude and at least, albeit belatedly, following what happened before us with the help of a bilingual missal.

The liturgical renewal made us leap from the extreme passivity to which we were reduced in the pre-conciliar liturgy, to the extreme exteriorization of full, active and conscious participation in all the rites of Catholic worship, but with the deficiency of the absence of a symbolic catechesis that would help in understanding the rich celebratory tradition of the Church. We have the challenge of understanding the meaning of the rites; the pace of the liturgical year; the value of the festivities; the appropriation of gestures made and words pronounced; of assimilating the texts that are proclaimed, recited and sung; and ultimately letting ourselves be saturated by the images observed and the scents smelled. We are invited to celebrate it well to give the best image of a Church that, nourished by the Spirit, expresses its truth in the quality of the signs.

St. John Paul II reminded us that the liturgical assembly is the sign “that gives hospitality to Christ and to the people he loves.” We must take care of the quality of the liturgy, of the signs, of the people and the place of the celebration of the faith, so that they speak for themselves, catechize, manifest, and lead to Christ. In this way, the assembly of the faithful transforms into the great sign of the Word of God, listened and received, expressed in prayer, song, music, people, colors, vestments, and silence. It is about manifesting the connection between the human and the divine, to make clear the presence of Christ in the beautiful center of the liturgy.

As Pope Paul VI requested at the beginning of the implementation of the liturgical reform: “…dedicate the utmost care ... to knowledge, explanation, application of ... the norms with which the Church desires ... to celebrate the divine worship.” He also recognized in his speech that this “is no easy task; it is a difficult task, it requires direct and methodical attention; it requires your personal, patient, loving and truly pastoral assistance.”

And so, that is where we are...

Comments from readers

Josue Luis Hernandez - 08/02/2019 10:27 AM
Is Susan from the Parish Council the one moderating the comments here? None of my posts are going up...
Gustavo - 07/31/2019 11:28 AM
Let’s see what Pope St Pius V said about changing the liturgy: In Quo primum . in In the bull Pope Pius V declared: "By this present Constitution, which will be valid henceforth, now, and forever, We order and enjoin that nothing must be added to Our recently published Missal, nothing omitted from it, nor anything whatsoever be changed within it." And he concluded: "No one whosoever is permitted to alter this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree, and prohibition. Should anyone dare to contravene it, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul." Many in the episcopate including the Novus Ordo Popes will have much explaining to do when they meet our Blessed Lord on judgement day.
Andrew Meszaros - 07/31/2019 09:21 AM
In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, it is fitting that such liturgies be celebrated in Latin. Similarly, the better-known prayers of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. Speaking more generally, I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant. (Sacramentum Caritatis No. 62, Benedict XVI)
Christopher John Blanco, DPM - 07/31/2019 09:13 AM
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is exactly what it implies, The Holy Sacrifice. There is only One Holy Sacrifice and that is the redemptive sacrifice of Our Lord and redeemer on Calvary, which is exactly what we are witnessing every time we attend mass. We are transported, literally to Calvary, 2000 years ago, standing silent, with Mary, St. John and the other Marys at the foot of the cross. It has nothing to do with the people or the priest it is all about the incruent immolation of our Lord at the sacrificial alter of Calvary and therefore the priest or Alter Christus must face the Cross of Our Lord, after all, did Mary,John, etc, turn their backs to the cross to face those who caused him to willingly hang on it for them? No! They stood silently, Stabat Mater, praying for all of us joining their prayers, in silence to the Holy sacrifice. The Holy sacrifice is not about the faithful but rather for the faithful who should remain in silent prayer before the greatest event ever to take place in human history, facing the cross along with the priest who is, by his majestic office is representing us, in the Holy of Holies, offering the most perfect sacrifice for himself and the faithful. A priest who turns his back to the cross, the alter of sacrifice, is showing a high disrespect to our Lord and will be held accountable. He should know better. As far as Latin, go to a Latin mass for 6 months, pay attention and you will begin to understand it. It's a dead language and therefore meanings and syntax doesn't change with it and therefore brings universality or catholicity to the Mystical Body of Our Lord. I highly recommend the book "Iota Unum,a study of the changes in the Catholic Church in the XX century" by the prominent theologian, Romano Amerio (1905-1997). He was involved in the planning of the original schema of the council which was completely disregarded. Iota Unum makes reference to Matthew 5:18,"Iota Unum aut unus apex non praeteribit( not one dot or tittle).
Ana Rodriguez-Soto - 07/31/2019 08:44 AM
I would just like to clarify that Pope Benedict was in no way opposed to the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. Here are some other quotes from him: The Ratzinger Report, pp. 123-124: “Prior to Trent a multiplicity of rites and liturgies had been allowed within the Church. The Fathers of Trent took the liturgy of the city of Rome and prescribed it for the whole Church; they only retained those Western liturgies which had existed for more than two hundred years. This is what happened, for instance, with the Ambrosian rite of the Diocese of Milan. If it would foster devotion in many believers and encourage respect for piety of particular Catholic groups, I would personally support a return to the ancient situation, i.e. to a certain liturgical pluralism.” Feast of Faith, p. 87 “Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me add that as far as its content is concerned (apart from a few criticisms), I am very grateful for the new Missal, for the way it has enriched the treasury of prayers and prefaces, for the new eucharistic prayers and the increased number of texts for use on weekdays, etc., quite apart from the availability of the vernacular. But I do regard it as unfortunate that we have been presented with the idea of a new book rather than with that of continuity within a single liturgical history. In my view, a new edition will need to make it quite clear that the so-called Missal of Paul VI is nothing other than a renewed form of the same Missal to which Pius X, Urban VIII, Pius V and their predecessors have contributed, right from the Church’s earliest history.” For those who would like to read more on the liturgy, may I suggest Benedict's Sacramentum Caritatis:
Patrick J Prendergast Sr - 07/30/2019 04:51 PM
Dear Mr. Zelada, I am 55 years of age. Learning more and more of the context of our faith based in the Word. My curiosity in Church Militant led to an explosion of concern that I am also trying to put into context. Knowing the results of Vatican II are far from the intent I remain gravely concerned that we must return to the traditional mass sans the Latin language. I believe the common tongue brings all closer to Christ. I believe the prayer to St. Michael must also return to the mass. We are in desperate times with diminishing members of the faith in attendance at mass let alone receiving the sacred sacraments of our Lord. There must be an accounting and we as the faithful must do more in service and daily prayer.
Josue Luis Hernandez - 07/30/2019 03:56 PM
Dear Mr. Zelada, I appreciate your concern for the current state of the liturgy but, with all due respect, contrary to what you've expressed in your article, the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council have resulted in nothing but tragedy for the Church. The experiment in novelty and aggiornamento was a colossal failure. It's about time we humble ourselves and finally admit that the emperor has no clothes. The Novus Ordo Mass is "a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product", to quote Pope Benedict XVI. Let's face up to the truth and move on already. Sometimes progress means turning back. Respectfully yours in Christ, Josue Luis Hernandez "What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product" -Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Jose Ignacio Ignacio Jimenez - 07/30/2019 01:39 AM
I agree with St.John Paul II ("We must take care of the quality of the liturgy..."); his cautionary warning spoke to the liberties taken post Vatican II. I've discovered this "care" in the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM, Extraordinary Form, or Tridentine Mass) offered in some parishes in the Archdiocese. The use of Latin is not barrier, but rather a unifying element, a common language. In the TLM the Liturgy of the Eucharist is not "the exclusive affair of the priest" but rather the congregation faces the altar along with the priest who is also facing the altar and leading us as we witness the sacrifice the priest is offering in persona Christi. The faithful are not offering the Mass, but we are not passive; we are praying and there is nothing passive in that. The TLM provided me with the "symbolic catechesis" which you correctly point out has been lacking. The beauty of the Gregorian chants, the smell of incense, the reverence of the priest, altar servers, and congregation are a welcome respite from the world and a much needed "slap in the face" to remind me that I am at Mass to pray and witness the Re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calgary and Christ's victory over death. I am not there to be entertained. Anyone that wants to appreciate the rich traditions of the Church and gain a better understanding of the Novus Ordo Mass should experience the TLM. There is a hunger for a more devout and deeper understanding of the Mass and I believe this is why so many young people are attending the Traditional Latin Mass and why vocations in more traditional religious orders are growing dramatically. Hope springs eternal.
Andrew Meszaros - 07/29/2019 12:48 PM
For further reading about this I would strongly recommend reading a superb, short reflection on the subject, titled "The Spirit of the Liturgy" by Benedict XVI.
Osvaldo Riveron - 07/29/2019 11:58 AM
Excelente Rogelio, como siempre, necesitamos muchos articulos como este en las parroquias. Que el Señor te siga bendiciendo y te te de mucha salud para que nos siga instruyendo. Osvaldo Riveron

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