Once your eyes are opened to the beauty of the sacred liturgy celebrated with its due dignity, solemnity, and reverence, it becomes difficult to participate in Masses where the rubrics are “blown off” as, at best, inconvenient, or at worst, as irrelevant. Of course we know that the rubrics of the liturgy are not an end in themselves, nor are their mere observance a sign of holiness. However, when the rubrics of the Roman Missal are observed with diligence and in the spirit of the “ars celebrandi”, the liturgy is more able to draw us into the sacred mysteries and form our spirit in accordance with the intention of the Christ. The question is, what do we do when at our nearby church the celebration of the Mass is not done with decorum and according to the rubrics and the true spirit of the liturgy?Msgr Andre Mutien Leonard, now Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel and Primate of Belgium, made an intervention at a the Fontgombault Liturgical Conference in 2001, the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, being also one of the speakers. In his intervention, Msgr Leonard, seeing a general renewed interest in the liturgy, hopes for the birth of a Liturgical Movement to promote a greater appreciation for the Sacred Liturgy celebrated more in accord with the mind of the Church. This movement taking shape and changing Catholics would take time, maybe ten, twenty, or thirty years. But, in the short-term what are we to do, especially families with children in need of the Christian formation that comes from participation in liturgies properly celebrated? The Church may have the time to wait for the good effects of a Liturgical Movement to materialize. The archbishop points out that families, however, cannot wait.
“(Families) need quickly, to find the best liturgical environment for their children. This is correct. In the short-term parents can look for those places most beneficial for the growth of a proper sense of the Liturgy for their children. If, unfortunately, they cannot find it in their own parish, they have the right, even the duty, to look elsewhere for celebrations of quality in both the doctrinal and the liturgical sense. It is not a question of running after aesthetically advanced celebrations, but of finding the truth of the Liturgy.”
(Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger: Prodeedings of the July 2011 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference, edited by Alcuin Reid OSB, St Michael’s Abbey Press, Farnborough, 2003, p.34)
As a parish priest, I try to celebrate the sacred liturgy as found and described in the Church’s liturgical books. The Holy Father’s book The Spirit of the Litrugy also gives me inspiration and guidance. However, when a priest reads carefully and thoroughly what the Church asserts in her liturgical documents and attempts to put it into practise in the parish, he encounters grief from some parishioners. It is not uncommon that parishioners will abandon a parish because the liturgy is not performed in the way that they are used to, even if that way goes counter to the authentic practise as expressed in the Church’s official documents. This is very hard for a priest, for if he has the heart of a shepherd after the heart of Our Lord, he is pained to see members of his flock leave, even when their departure also includes some animosity against the priest. In my own case, since coming to my parish I have gradually changed the music at Mass so that it is more in line with the Church’s teaching on Sacred Music as found in her official documents. Check out my earlier post from February 21, 2010 entitled Why We Are Singing Gregorian Chant? This was a letter that I wrote to my parishioners, published in our parish bulletin, that was inspired by some of the negative reactions to the changes I was implementing. The objections came out of an ignorance of the Church’s official teaching on Sacred Music.
It also needs to be said that the improvement of the liturgical music situation was enthusiastically received by many. To know this is a great help to the priest, not to inflate his ego, but to encourage him in the right way. Sometimes the fear of unhappiness among parishioners can stop a priest from doing the right thing.
I would echo what Msgr Leonard would say concerning not only families, but even for the spiritual growth of individuals. You not only need to frequent the places where the Liturgy is celebrated in its fullness with solemnity, decorum, and reverence with fidelity to the rubrics for your own good, but also the laity need to show support to those priests who are zealous for the proper celebration of the Liturgy. Any priest who tries with zeal to put into practise the Church’s teaching in his ministry seems to always encounter opposition from one quarter or another. Priests and laity need to show support for each other.