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Waiting in Joyful Hope

The mystery of Christ

Continuing our examination of paragraph 2 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, we see that the first sentence (with the subordinate clause now removed) can be rephrased into two sentences:

The liturgy is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ.

The liturgy is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives and manifest to others the real nature of the true Church.

Each of these statements is huge, so we will take them one at a time, with this article looking at the dimension of the mystery of Christ.

Obviously, however, the "mystery of Christ" is a huge concept. The word "mystery" doesn't mean that it is unknowable, but simply that we can never exhast its full contents of the mystery — not unknowable, but "ever-knowable". It is a bit like a map: we start by looking at the mystery at a very large scale, with only the main features illustrated, and gradually zoom in. For this article the "map of the mystery of Christ" that we will use is this passage from the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfilment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

I placed a division in the block of text to highlight that through these words we see that the "mystery of Christ" has two dimensions: the being of Christ (the first portion) and the action of Christ (the second portion). If, as the Constitution states, the liturgy helps us to "express in their lives and manifest to others", it will do so in both of these dimensions.

Regarding the "action" of Christ, we see this quite clearly fairly quickly, particularly through the celebrations present in the liturgical year. As I mention in article #1, all the liturgy bathes in the context of the liturgical year, and the liturgical year defines certain days when we celebrate elements of Christ's action:

  • "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven" — March 25, the feast of the Annunciation
  • "By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man" — December 25, the feast of the Nativity (Christmas)
  • "For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfilment of the Scriptures" — Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday
  • "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father" — the feast of the Ascension, 40 days after Easter
  • "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead" — the whole season of Advent
  • "His kingdom will have no end" — the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday before Advent

There are many more things about the "action" of Jesus that we celebrate than these few mentioned here, but I think the idea is clear. The liturgy offers us many ways to connect our earthly life to the heavenly kingdom. Think of Christmas — at its best, isn't it a way to "express in our lives and manifest to others" something about the mystery of Christ? Think of other liturgical actions, like baptisms, weddings, and funerals — they are attempts to connect significant moments in our lives to Christ, and they can only be understood in their fullness when seen in the light of Christ, so it should be no surprise that they involve liturgy. Every time I do a house blessing, I recognize that for many people this is not just an occasion to toss some holy water on their walls: the visit of the priest, bringing this blessing, is an occasion for Christ, in a sense, to come and visit them — and please note that this blessing takes place within a liturgy.

Regarding the "being" of Christ, this is a bit more subtle. For Jesus, before he *was* Jesus, was the eternal Word of God, eternally "springing forth" from the Father. How does the liturgy allow us to express *this* in our lives, and to manifest it to others? In a nutshell, through beauty.

When we are in the presence of something that is truly beautiful, it provokes a reaction in us called the "aesthetic experience". It "takes our breath away", it causes us to be "beside ourselves". The Greek word for this experience is ekstasis, related to the English word "ecstasy", which literally means "to stand outside yourself". Ecstasy can be experienced in many forms. There is a physical ecstasy, which brings us a certain delight and comfort to the body and the emotions; there is an ecstasy of the intellect, such as the joy that comes from some sort of discovery (the kind of joy that cause Archimedes to leap from his bathtub shouting "Eureka!"); and there can be a spiritual ecstasy, which comes from the encounter with love in its highest forms, the greatest of which is the mystical encounter with God, who *IS* Love itself.

Now consider the Trinity. The higher forms of aesthetic experience are drawn out of us when we encounter the higher kinds of objects of beauty — the greatest of which is love. Love draws us out of ourselves to be at the service of others. But if God is not only one who loves, if God really *is* Love, then God *is* Beauty itself. This means that God, as the Lover-who-is-Love, is not just supremely beautiful, but is Beauty-contemplating-Beauty. God, therefore, must always be in a state of supreme "ecstatic experience": he is a God-in-ekstasis, "standing outside himself," as it were, through all eternity. And what is the name of this "God-outside-himself"? The Word, a.k.a. the Son of God, who is not separate from God, but who possess all that God is in a perfect union of Being with God. He is "eternally begotten of the Father" from the overflowing of Being that comes from the very perfection of God-as-Love. (The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as part of the same reality of the God-in-ekstasis).

How, then, do we liturgically express and manifest, not just Christ's action, but his "being"? Through beauty and through love. "Through beauty" means that the liturgy itself, in its every dimension, must be a true work of art, touching us in every way that we encounter beauty: physically, through the 5 senses; mentally; through the encounter with Truth; and spiritually, through the sense of awe and reverence and wonder and mystery that tells us we truly are in the presence of God. "Through love" means that the experience of liturgy should empower us to always seek the good of others, and to seek to respond to God's loving will for ourselves by obedience: as Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). The liturgy, at its best, is a "challenge to love", and love fully.

The work of our Redemption

For the next few articles I am going to focus on paragraph 2 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which reads as follows:

2. For the liturgy, "through which the work of our redemption is accomplished," (1) most of all in the divine sacrifice of the eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church. It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek (2). While the liturgy daily builds up those who are within into a holy temple of the Lord, into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit (3), to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (4), at the same time it marvelously strengthens their power to preach Christ, and thus shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the nations (5) under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together (6), until there is one sheepfold and one shepherd (7).

Footnote 1: Secret of the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, which reads "Grant us, we beseech You, O Lord, worthily to frequent these mysteries; since as often as the remembrance of this Victim is celebrated, so often is the work of our Redemption carried on. Through our Lord, etc."

As you can see, there is a lot here! We will need to take it one step at a time. In this article we will focus on the subordinate clause found in the first sentence, which can be re-phrased as follows:

The liturgy is (a/the)* means by which the work of our redemption is accomplished, most of all in the divine sacrifice of the eucharist.

What is this "work of our Redemption"? It is the work of Christ on the cross. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches as much:

601 The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of "the righteous one, my Servant" as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. Citing a confession of faith that he himself had "received", St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures." In particular Jesus' redemptive death fulfils Isaiah's prophecy of the suffering Servant. Indeed Jesus himself explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God's suffering Servant. After his Resurrection he gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles. (paragraph 601)

Christ died "once for all", as Scripture says, so that there is no more sacrifice for sin. If this is true, though, why does the Council say that the liturgy "accomplishes" the work of our Redemption? Wasn't that done already on Calvary?

Well, yes. But there is one small problem, you see: those of us alive today were not yet born. We did not even exist. Jesus therefore chose to establish a mechanism to carry forward the grace of the cross through time, to us. The liturgy is this mechanism. All of the liturgy is part of this transmission of grace, but (as the Council itself points out) how this works is clearest in the liturgy of the Eucharist, as particularly evident in the circumstances surrounding its institution.

Let us recall that Jesus instituted the liturgy during a Passover meal. This was not a neutral choice. The Passover possesses the sense that all who eat the Passover meal pass participate in the redemption of their ancestors from Egypt. Take, for example, this prayer from the haggadah:

Thus how much more so should we be grateful to the Omnipresent One for the doubled and redoubled goodness that He has bestowed upon us; for He has brought us out of Egypt, and carried out judgments against them, and against their idols, and smote their first-born, and gave us their wealth, and split the sea for us, and took us through it on dry land, and drowned our oppressors in it, and supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and fed us the manna, and gave us the Shabbat, and brought us before Mount Sinai, and gave us the Torah, and brought us into the land of Israel and built for us the Beit Habechirah to atone for all our sins.

Note the use of the present tense! By being part of the liturgical Seder meal the participants become part of the "us" which passed through the Red Sea. This is the Hebrew sense of a "memorial", which is not just a turning towards the past, but a transcending of time so that the fruits of the past become part of our present.

Now think of the words we hear at every Mass:

Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body, which will be given up for you.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.

Do this in memory of me.

Through these words Jesus is instituting a new liturgical sign of memorial within the context of a rite which is already a memorial, and he directly connects those signs (the bread and wine) to his sacrifice on the cross. In other words, he is telling those gathered at the Last Supper, "When you participate in this new liturgical meal, it is the power of my sacrifice which will now be carried forward in time as the memorial."

So the liturgy *does* "accomplish our Redemption", by connecting us to the saving mystery of Christ, not by doing something apart from Christ, but by "bringing forward" that saving work through time. Each liturgical rite is meant to bring us grace by mysteriously connecting us to Christ, in some aspect of his life and ministry, with each rite doing this in its own way, and with the Eucharist doing it par excellence. Indeed, the Eucharist is the truest form of liturgy, with all the others pointing to it in some manner. All grace flows from Calvary.

Each time we attend Mass we stand at the foot of the cross, taking in the grace of Jesus' sacrifice, and we have this chance thanks to the liturgy he founded. Let's think about that the next time we celebrate Mass — it really does take things to a whole new level.


*You will note that I have not chosen which article ("a" or "the") belongs before the word "means", because the original text of the Constitution is itself ambiguous on this point. I suspect this is by design, and not simply due to the fact that Latin does not have articles. In a sense, both apply: the traditional teaching of the Church is the God saves us first and foremost through the liturgy (particulaly the sacraments), but that he is not limited to it. We will explore the connection between liturgical and extra-liturgical means of salvation in a later article.

Why did Vatican II change the liturgy?

As a priest in a parish I can tell you that one of the most delicate things to change is the liturgy. Enormous conflicts can start over things as simple as whether or not the eucharistic ministers should wear robes. Any small change is noticed, and must be explained. And yet, the Catholic Church in the 20th century made HUGE changes in the outward forms of her liturgical celebrations. Why? If things had been going well before with only minor changes here and there, why make such changes? Let's take a look at paragraph 1 of Sacrosanctum Concilium:

1. This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy.

The reforms to the liturgy, therefore, are being presented as one part of a larger strategy to accomplish 4 things:

  1. To impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful.
  2. To adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change.
  3. To foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ.
  4. To strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church.

Let's unpack each of these in turn.

The spiritual goal: "To impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful."

The key terms in this passage are "vigour" and "life". The Christian life is all about virtue, about acquiring new habits of life which truly become a stable part of who we are. These virtues, the stronger they become, slowly cause us to become more and more like the one whose name we bear as Christians. In a sense, every Christian is meant to become "configured to Christ" through baptism and to show the face of Christ to the world.

As we know, however, this path is not easy. Because of original sin we find ourselves with a long road to follow to attain this perfection. Receiving the Holy Spirit in baptism gives us this new potential, and infuses in us the God-oriented virtues of faith, hope, and love, but these virtues must be strengthened over time. It's a bit like learning to play a musical instrument: a truly accomplished pianist, for example, is called a virtuoso because he possess the virtue of being able to play the instrument well — but it only comes with a repetition of efforts to develop the habits of that virtue.

The liturgy plays an important part in helping a person become more and more Christ-like. How this happens is specific to each particular liturgical rite, but it involves two elements: the objective efficaciousness of the rites themselves, and the subjective efficaciousness that comes from participating in the rituals in a fruitful manner. The Council sought to both reform AND promote the liturgy, the goal being to make the whole "liturgical economy" an even more effective way to grow in our configuration to Christ.

This, then, is one of the key elements of evaluating the current status of our liturgies: is the Christian life of the people growing with an "ever increasing vigour" because of them? If not, why? Is it because the liturgies are objectively not very edifying? Is it because the people are not subjectively prepared to benefit fully from them? Is it perhaps both? These are questions we need to be willing to ask ourselves.

The pastoral goal: "To adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change."

This passage contains both a wish and a caveat. The wish is for a new adaptation to "the needs of our times". The caveat is that not just anything can be changed as part of that adaptation. For example, the Eucharist uses bread and wine as the matter of the sacrament. I know of some unauthorized "experiments" done in the 1970's with masses in which these elements were replaced by other things, like chips and Coke, in an attempt to be more "adapated". The Council wants to put us on guard against an imprudent enthusiasm for reform, which could spill over into the elements of Catholic tradition which are *not* subject to change.

Apart from this caveat, however, I think the key word in this passage is the word "needs". The Council did not say we needed to adapt the liturgy to "our times", but rather to "the NEEDS of our times". The latter shows the liturgy at its best, as a servant to the men and women of our day, seeking to help them in their most profound needs; the former simply makes the liturgy a slave to the Zeitgeist, the "spirit of the age".

I think this distinction goes quite far to shed light on certain liturgical behaviours which otherwise seem to defy explanation. Take, for example, the increasing interest of people of my generation in the Latin liturgy. Seems odd, don't you think? After all, we grew up with the liturgy in the vernacular language — why would some of us want to return to a tradition that never really was our own? Certainly the Latin liturgy is not "adapted to our times", given that nobody speaks Latin anymore. But perhaps it *IS* adapted to the NEEDS of our times. I look around at the people of my generation, growing up in this post-modern culture of ours, and I see people who have often been cheated of any solid base for their life: moral relativism, family breakdown, and spiritual agnosticism seem rampant. And often these people, these members of my generation, *feel* cheated. They *know* all they've been given upon which to build their lives is shifting sand, and they want something solid. And they look at the Latin liturgy, and they see something timeless, something that connects them to a great Tradition that stretches back centuries. This genuine and legitimate NEED for rootedness is real, and is definitely part of our times. So while I have no personal overriding interest in Latin liturgies, I am very sympathetic to those who see great value in that tradition, and I dislike when such persons are simply written-off as liturgical and spiritual dinosaurs.

If the new Liturgical Movement is to take the high ground in the ongoing renewal of the liturgy, I think the Council is, in this second point, pointing out that this will need to include the very real pastoral dimension of this renewal. What, exactly, are not simply the features, but the NEEDS of our times? Of course, some of these are common to all peoples, but each age seems to present some of those needs in a way more pressing than others. Identify these, and we will have a true roadmap for the ongoing adaptation of the liturgy for the service of our fellow man.

The ecumenical goal: "To foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ."

This passage of the Constitution expressed the wish that the new reformed liturgy be at the service of the great work of Christian unity. The beginning of the 20th century saw the start of an important movement that eventually came to stretch across all of Christianity: the ecumenical movement, whose goal was to work towards the reunification of the various Christian churches in fidelity to the prayer of Christ "that all may be one". The Catholic Church joined this movement in the 1960's, with the promulgation of the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council.

Most importantly, however, this passage expresses the real source of unity among Christians, whether across denominational lines or within the denominations themselves: BELIEF IN CHRIST. The simple fact is that "belief in Christ" means love for Christ, and love for Christ necessarily eventually leads to the worship of Christ. The Council is reminding us that the liturgy is not meant to be focussed on ourselves, but focussed on Christ, and therefore is at the service of all who love Christ and want to worship him.

Much has been accomplished to place the Catholic liturgy at the service of Christian unity, but unfortunately all has not been smooth. Much effort has gone into trying to establish Eucharistic intercommunion with Protestants, for example, without the prerequisite communion of faith being established first. With regards to the Orthodox, on the other hand, the liturgical "craziness" of the 60's and 70's has tended to alientate them — many openly wonder how they could trust that the Catholic Church would respect their traditions when it appeared that it did not even respect its own.

Still, the original intuition of the Council is still valid: that those who truly love Christ and believe in Him can and should worship Christ together, to the extent that their unity in faith permits it. The positive experience of ecumenical Vespers services is but one example of placing the liturgy at the service of unity, in full respect of particular traditions but nevertheless giving all present a chance to worship Christ together. It is time to get past mere "cultural Christianity" and find those who cleave to Christ from the depths of their hearts, and bring them together in worship and praise. And the thing that will start to unite their hearts to each other will be the liturgy.

The missionary goal: "To strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church."

Part of Catholic doctrine is that man is essentially a religious being, with a deep thirst built into him for the Infinite. The liturgy, at its best, is meant to be a place where man can come and have that thirst satisfied. The key word in this 4th goal is the word "call". The liturgy is meant to be a beacon shining forth the light of Christ, whether in word or in sacramental action, summoning all to God. The Council is reminding us that the the liturgy has the powerful function of being a witness to the world: non-believers are supposed to look at the liturgy and be able to say to themselves, "God is there."

The liturgy is also meant to have an additional function, however, of integrating and incorporating men and women into the Body of Christ. In other words, people are not meant to only look from a distance and say "God is there," but also to say to themselves "I want to be part of what is there." The unity of those who are already Christians is already an important goal, as previously discussed, but the liturgy is meant to also be fundamentally open to actively assisting those on the "outside" to come "inside" and truly become part of God's household.

To put this in modern terms, then, we need to always review the way we celebrate the liturgy, to see if there are things which block that light from shining, and to ensure that there are things which in themselves communicate the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty that come from God. The liturgical rites themselves are very powerful, but there is little that they can do in themselves to overcome weak preaching, indifferent communities, and tacky celebrations. Grace, after all, builds on nature.

But just think of those times when we have encountered a Christian community where the Good News was boldly proclaimed without compromise, where people knew one another and cared for one another, and where the beauty of the worship just lifted us out of ourselves. It might be the same Mass book and the same Bible readings, but the spirit is so very different — as though we were already touching a bit of Heaven on Earth. Indeed, that is liturgy at its very best.

A personal reflection

As I reviewed these 4 objectives for the renewal of the liturgy once again, I couldn't help but think that the work of renewal didn't end with Vatican II, but has only just begun. We should not underestimate the power of the liturgy, even in its most simple of forms. I once was undertaking visits to a prison where the prison warden decided to forbid the distribution of communion at Christmas. Her reason? In giving communion to the prisoners we might be seen to possess an "alternative authority" to that of the guards, thus leading to a breakdown of prison discipline. Imagine, the powers of the world being scared of the distribution of a few wafers! Well, there are Powers at work in this world, and they also know of the true power of the liturgy; they have been quite busy of late distracting us with petty concerns, preventing us from unleashing the true power of the liturgy at its best. My prayer is that the continuing Liturgical Movement will see itself guided by these 4 important principles of Vatican II, for the sake of our Church and our world, and all for the glory of God.

What is the liturgy? What is the Liturgical Movement?

The renewal of our liturgical worship has to be one of the key pressing concerns of today's Catholic agenda. Now the most significant Catholic document of recent memory regarding the liturgy has to be Sacrosanctum Concilium, a.k.a. the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II. I plan of doing a running commentary of the various paragraphs of that document, but before doing so I thought I'd cover a few background points about the document itself. After all, what the heck is a church "constitution" anyway? What's Vatican II? And for good measure, what does the word "liturgy" mean?

What is the liturgy?

To put it simply, the word "liturgy" refers to the acts of public worship that the Church, as the Church, offers to God. Obviously there are many forms of prayer which exist in the Church, and many of these (such as the Rosary) are explicitely promoted by the Church as wholesome and good. Not all of them are liturgy, however. We recognize liturgical prayer by its explicit and profound connection to the mystery of the Church. Whether it is because the rite in question is presided by an ordained minister, or simply because the ritual book is published officially by the Church, the liturgy takes a group from being just a bunch of praying individuals to becoming a manifestation of the Body of Christ in our world.

With regards to the specific list of acts of public worship, these are:

  • The sacrament of the Eucharist, which is at the very heart of Christian liturgy, and is even itself called the "Divine Liturgy" in some traditions.
  • The other six sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, Holy Orders), which, while having their own value, are nevertheless oriented to the Eucharist in some way.
  • The various "sacramentals" of the Church, which are instituted by the Church but which are oriented towards the sacraments, whether specifically (such as the use of Holy Water, which is connected to Baptism), or generically (such as the various rites for Blessings, or the rite of Exorcism).
  • The Liturgy of the Hours, a.k.a the "Divine Office", which encapsulates the rest in a process of unceasing prayer which is meant to sanctify, not just moments in time, but time itself.

I should point out that all the rituals of the liturgy "bathe", in a sense, in an overall context called the "Liturgical Calendar", by which the various feast days (like Christmas) and spiritual seasons (like Lent) are defined. The Liturgical Calendar isn't a ritual per se, but it *is* the interface between the rhythms of the liturgy and the rhythms of our daily life.

What is the Liturgical Movement?

Prior to the Protestant Reformation, there were many local variations in how divine worship was offered by the Church, without causing any great difficulty. During the Reformation, however, this lack of uniformity opened the door to a number of problems. There is an ancient theological principle called Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, which means that the way the Church prays is a reflection of what the Church believes. The Protestants, as part of their movement, proposed a number of changes to the liturgy of the Church, some of which were cosmetic, but others of which reflected their desire to alter Catholic doctrine.

The Catholic Church developed its response to the Reformation through its own Counter-Reformation, which included clamping down on the permitted local variations to the liturgy. Bishops, for example, were no longer allowed to adapt the liturgy in any way, and a new Roman Congregation (called the Congregation of Rites) was established to supervise the liturgy. All this was necessary to avoid allowing heretical propositions to creep into Catholic worship, but it also had the effect of arresting the natural process of development of that manner of that worship. The world, however, did not stop changing, which meant that over time the liturgy became more and more the specialty of the "professionally religious", with the ordinary people often following things only from afar.

The Liturgical Movement began in the mid-19th century as an attempt to rediscover the richness of the liturgy as a source for Christian life. It began with the Benedictine monks of France and their abbot, Dom Guéranger, who placed liturgical worship and Gregorian chant at the centre of their spirituality. The movement began to spread to parish life through the publication of translations of the liturgical texts in the language of the people, allowing people to understand better what was actually going on. This eventually led here and there to greater participation by the people in the liturgy itself, particularly through offering the various responses (which until then was only done by those around the altar, such as the altar boys).

The Liturgical Movement was encouraged by the leadership of the Church, particularly by Saint Pope Pius X and Pope Pius XII, who undertook certain limited and cautious reforms. But it was the Second Vatican Council, called by Blessed Pope John XXIII, that undertook the task of spreading positive liturgical reform throughout the Church everywhere in the world. Vatican II met from 1962-1965, and gathered over 2000 Catholic bishops from every continent. And its very first published document, promulgated on December 4, 1963, was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which crowned, in a sense, the efforts of the Liturgical Movement up until that time.

This Constitution spurred a reform in almost every liturgy of the Roman Rite, and all in a very short time, which placed enormous pressure on those leading the task of reform. We must also not forget that this was the 1960's, and a spirit of rebellion against any and all authorities, whether political, ecclesiastical, or historical, was in the air. Some problems quickly arose. In anticipation of the expected liturgical changes many people began to change the liturgy on their own, and not always in a way consistent with Catholic teaching or tradition. Once the new liturgical books and instructions did come out, there was great controversy over how to implement them. Many churches, for example, were gutted of their liturgical art: painted ceilings were whitewashed over, vestments were literally thrown into the garbage, liturgical music of an often dubious quality was introduced, and a general cheesiness and bad taste seemed to reign in many places. This extreme produced its opposite: a Traditionalist movement sprung up to re-affirm the value of the pre-conciliar liturgy, but some of the more extreme branches of the movement wound up leaving the Church! Apart from these extremes, however, a whole liturgical cottage industry seemed to spring up, with so-called experts solemnly declaring that certain practices were "wrong" and needed to be replaced by practices which were "right" — until the next batch of experts came along a few years later, declaring the opposite.

Today many people are calling for a renewal of the Liturgical Movement, such as in the Oxford Declaration of 1996, and the foundation of the Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy. Opinions vary as to how far this renewal needs to go, and of what it should consist.

A personal reflection

I was born in 1970, making me a child of the reforms of Vatican II. I did not grow up with the pre-conciliar liturgy, and I have no nostalgia for it. At the same time, I am not sure the goals of the original Liturgical Movement have yet been met. The Liturgical Movement sought to place the riches of liturgical worship of God at the heart of Christian life, and yet statistics show that a large percentage of Catholics stay home on Sunday, preferring their own personal prayers to those of the Church in the liturgy. How can it be, for example, that the percentage of Quebec Catholics attending Mass in French is 1/10 of what it was when the Mass was in Latin? It seems like an odd statistic, given that very few understood the Latin (or, because of the way Mass was celebrated, could even hear most of it!)

As for those who *do* join in our liturgical worship, I am not sure that even they are always doing so fully conscious of the meaning of the liturgical actions. I don't blame them, mind you...I must confess that until I got to the seminary, my own liturgical education was sorely lacking, and I think many if not most people would be quite open to learning and understanding more about the way we pray as Catholics. As a pastor I feel my own responsibility in this area, to help people discover the beauty and joy of what it means to worship God in the heart of the Church. My hope is that these reflections can be just one more contribution to re-discovering a true liturgical dimension to our common Catholic life — even if only for myself. So please stay tuned!

Mixed marriages

People often ask me questions about mixed marriages (i.e. a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic), asking questions like "Does the Catholic Church do those sorts of weddings?" I'd like to just take a moment and clarify a few points.

  1. The Catholic Church *does* do mixed-marriage weddings. However, it requires the special permission of the Bishop (or his delegate) first. Why is this? Well, marriage with a non-Catholic could be interpreted to mean that the Catholic party wants to alter his or her relationship to the Catholic Church. Having recourse to the Bishop is just an additional step that demonstrates that the Catholic party still wants, in essence, to be Catholic, and that this doesn't mean they are leaving the Church. While some people are annoyed they need anyone's "permission" to get married, I think it makes sense once it is explained this way, and with that understanding comes understanding on the part of the couple.
  2. The Catholic Church can and does also occasionally grant permission for the wedding to take place in a non-Catholic ceremony! In other words, the Catholic Church occasionally grants permission for the Catholic to be married in (let's say) a Protestant church, or a Jewish synagogue. This is called a "dispensation from canonical form", and although I've only been a priest a few years I've already had occasion to ask for this on behalf of a couple. The reasons for the request need to be serious, but it *is* possible because the essence of marriage is contained in the exchange of matrimonial consent. If the Church gives permission for that consent to be exchanged in a non-Catholic ceremony, then that marriage is perfectly valid.
  3. The Catholic party to a mixed marriage needs to promise to not abandon their faith and to do all in their power to see the kids are raised Catholic. I always make sure that the non-Catholic party is informed of this obligation, because it is often a factor that later could complicate their relationship. In a sense, the Catholic Church is doing the couple the service of forcing them to explore how they plan to raise their kids — better to explore this question before they get married, than to argue about it once the kids do arrive. I've seen too much strife otherwise.
  4. Normally a mixed marriage is done without the actual celebration of the Eucharist and distribution of communion. Marriage is meant to bring about the union of two persons — it just doesn't make sense to celebrate that union, and then have a public display of disunity when one member of the couple is able to go to communion and the other is not.
  5. Finally, there is the idea many mixed-marriage couples have of doing two weddings, one in each religious tradition. The Catholic Church sees this as wrong, or at least highly irregular. Think about it: as soon as you do a second wedding, you are publicly declaring that the first one somehow wasn't able to be "good enough". That can't be right. What the Catholic Church would normally propose as an alternative would be to either get the dispenation from canonical form and have the wedding in the other religious tradition OR to include cultural elements from the other tradition in the Catholic ceremony (the Catholic ritual is actually quite flexible in this regard). Unfortunately this often still doesn't satisfy people, because the reason they want 2 weddings is to somehow "keep the peace" between them or between their families. This simply avoids the problem, though, when in fact it needs to be tackled head-on. What will happen when it is time to have the children baptised, or to put them in school? It'll be the same all over again. So I personally refuse to let my engaged couples off the hook on this one — *for their own good*.

I hope this clarifies some of the outstanding questions people sometimes have on mixed marriage. Marriage in itself is a good thing, built into our human nature by God, and finding its expression in a multitude of cultural forms. The Catholic Church believes that marriage was elevated by Christ to the level of a sacrament, which can only mean that something special was there in the first place. Whatever these cultural forms might be, then, the key thing is to remember and live the essence of marriage as God himself would want us to.