In my second post on this year’s CMAA colloquium I touched briefly on the importance of the ars celebrandi of the Priest-celebrant as one of the necessary features of a renewal in the authentic participation of the faithful in the sacred liturgy. Today I want to develop that and say, the art of properly celebrating the liturgy – from the perspective of the sacred ministers, of music, of art and architecture and vesture – is necessary not only for a more profound participation of the faithful in an active or external way, but for the spiritual and interior communion with Christ for which every Christian longs.
The essence and implementation of the participatio actuosa of the faithful in the celebration of the liturgy, has been a source of unfortunate division since its inclusion in the conciliar constitution on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. At almost every level of the Church’s life, the ‘active participation’ of the faithful has been understood less as the interior conformity of the self – the intellect and the heart of the person – with the chief protagonist of the liturgy, that is Jesus Christ, and more with the vocal or physical involvement of individuals (more often token individuals) in roles previously reserved to ordained ministers.
Far from a new concept at the time of the council, however, this renewed and positive effort to encourage the participation of the faithful in the liturgy, was already well known when it was include in the conciliar constitution in 1965. Inspired by the earlier work of the liturgical movement, in 1903 Pope Saint Pius X used these exact words in his Instruction on Sacred Music, Tra le Sollecitudini, whilst Pope Pius XI spoke in 1928 of the restoration of the Church’s chant tradition (already well under way in the monasteries) as a means for the faithful to “participate in divine worship more actively (actuosa)”. The Venerable Pope Pius XII, too, spoke of this participation in both Mystici Corporis (1943) and Mediator Dei (1947), in the latter clarifying that:
‘The conclusion that the people offer the sacrifice with the priest himself is not based on the fact that, being members of the Church no less than the priest himself, they perform a visible liturgical rite; for this is the privilege only of the minister who has been divinely appointed to this office: rather it is based on the fact that the people unite their hearts in praise, impetration, expiation and thanksgiving with prayers or intention of the priest, even of the High Priest himself, so that in the one and same offering of the victim and according to a visible sacerdotal rite, they may be presented to God the Father. It is obviously necessary that the external sacrificial rite should, of its very nature, signify the internal worship of the heart’.
In his apostolic letter on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the promulgation of the constitution on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Saint John Paul II wrote, ‘the Liturgy is the privileged place for the encounter of Christians with God and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ’. In the sacred liturgy, then, the praying Church on earth encounters her Lord and God in a unique way as she is caught up in the eternal worship of heaven – the selfless love-giving relationship between the persons of the Most Blessed Trinity.
It is for this reason that we can describe the sacred liturgy, in the words of Father Faber of the Oratory, as ‘the most beautiful thing this side of heaven’. And it is to emphasize this reality that the sacred liturgy bids us join the singing of the Sanctus, together with the saints and angels in the Church’s hymn of praise, a Church present both in earth and in heaven. Thus we can say that the worship of the New Jerusalem is, in the authentic celebration of the sacred liturgy, presented to us who still labour below. In the sacred liturgy, we say, the curtain between heaven and earth is pulled back for us to see into the fullness of the life to which we are called.
For the past several years I have looked with some considerable envy at the various photos and videos that have emerged from the Church Music Association of America’s annual colloquium. Last week I was able to attend the twenty-fourth conference, in Indianapolis, IN, and as I return to Washington to prepare for the new academic year I want to share a few reflections that flow from the excellent lectures given in the first part of the conference week. We were treated to presentations by Denis McNamara, an architect and Assistant Director of the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary, my good friend Fr Christopher Smith, Parochial Administrator of the parish of Prince of Peace, Taylors, SC, and Professor William Mahrt, Associate Professor of Music at Stanford University and author of The Musical Shape of the Liturgy. Rather than looking at each lecture individually, simply regurgitating what others more capable than I have espoused, I would prefer to focus on three themes that emerged and that were – at least to me – new, refreshing, and/or worth a renewed consideration.
These posts will appear over the next few days. In the meantime, I simply want to record my initial sense of encouragement. Being surrounded by so many young, capable, and committed Catholics – with a genuine and profound love for the sacred liturgy and the music which is so integral to it – is an invigorating reminder of the central importance of Christian prayer in the life of the Church. Our celebration of the sacred liturgy is never a mere expression of the faith we profess, but the very fullness of it. It is not simply a sign of what we desire, but it is itself the very goal of our deepest longings, because it is in the authentic celebration of the sacred liturgy that we most fervently and clearly encounter Christ – he the head and we the members – in the sacrifice of praise offered by him to the eternal Father, in and through the Holy Spirit. This trinitarian encounter is the essence of the baptismal vocation of all Christians, and so it is the first and most fundamental element of the Christian life. It is not the preserve of experts or the pious, but for each and every Christian soul to experience the fullness of the Church’s liturgy, so that they might be called into a deeper communal and personal-passionate relationship with Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good liturgy – beautiful, true, authentic and faithful liturgy – is the first and most effective pastoral and evangelical tool, because it is not reliant on our preferences or our weak and humble prayers, but rather presents Man with God, and God with Man, in a wonderful exchange in which we cannot but be transformed.
Thanks be to God for the graces of this past week, and the friendships renewed and begun. May God continue to bless us as we seek to bring him, and him alone, to our parishes and homes.
You can view reports and photos from the colloquium at the New Liturgical Movement here.