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Summary: The reform of our liturgy is not a matter of going back to pre-Vatican II forms, but of becoming more faithful to true worship as it has developed over 2000 years

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Monday of 23rd Week in Course

The Spirit of the Liturgy

Sept 6 2010

The stories in chapter 6 of Luke are familiar enough, but we need to understand why the Pharisees were wrong–and not just incorrect, but truly evil. They did not recognize the supreme Good who stood in their midst and worked wonders just as incredible as those of the God of Moses. Jesus saw physical and moral evil and healed it, a miracle just as liberating as parting the waters of the Red Sea. The Pharisees saw it and were furious. You see, they saw observance of the Law as more important than doing good. Somehow they thought that their moral conduct and their worship was something they did for God, that would earn them His friendship. But moral conduct and worship is primarily the gift of God to us weak and sinful humans. It is no coincidence that the centerpiece of Luke chapter 6 is the recitation of the Beatitudes.

Almost exactly eleven years ago, Cardinal Ratzinger, now our Holy Father, issued his little book The Spirit of the Liturgy. This master work had the same title as Romano Guardini’s great work on Catholic worship, issued in 1918 in the ashes of World War I. Cdl Ratzinger wrote of Guardini: “in 1918, . . .the liturgy was rather like a fresco. It had been preserved from damage, but it had been almost completely overlaid with whitewash by later generations. . .the form of the liturgy that had grown from its earliest beginnings was still present, but, as far as the faithful were concerned, it was largely concealed beneath instructions for and forms of private prayer. The fresco was laid bare by the Liturgical Movement and. . .by the Second Vatican Council. For a moment its colors and figures fascinated us [rather like the renewed Sistine Chapel.] But since then the fresco has been endangered by climatic conditions as well as by various restorations and reconstructions. In fact, it is threatened with destruction, if the necessary steps are not taken to stop these damaging influences.”

The simile is apt, because the past fifty years since the Council was called by John XXIII have not been high times for the Church. The sixties and seventies were more of a time of sexual and moral revolution than of liturgical renewal. Sunday Mass attendance is way down. Religious and priestly vocations are inadequate to sustain the traditional structure of the American Church, and this has impacted Catholic health care and Catholic schools in particular. Over 3/4 of Catholic couples ignore the Church’s moral teaching on contraception, and the divorce rate among self-professed Catholics is no better than that of the general population. If we look to the celebration of Sunday Mass for reasons for optimism, we are often disappointed. I’ve been all over the diocese, and have to conclude that much of what we do in worship is way too self-absorbed and frequently loud and ugly. This is not what the Council Fathers intended.

This is not to call for a new whitewash, but, as the Holy Father believes, “a new reverence in the way we treat it, a new understanding of its message and its reality, so that rediscovery does not become the first stage of irreparable loss.” That will be my mission over the next weeks and months, as we prepare for the new translations and for a renewal of our worship here at Holy Spirit.


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