To Worship in Spirit and Truth: Liturgy in the Shaping of Catholic Identity

This week I attended the annual meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions along with over 200 other representatives of most of the dioceses of the United States as well as the bishops and staff of the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship. The primary agenda and purpose of the meeting was ongoing preparation for the implementation of the forthcoming revised translation of the Roman Missal. As many have already heard in the news (such as NPR‘s interview with James Martin, SJ), the Roman Missal—the big red Sacramentary or priest’s book of prayers used in the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Mass)—is being revised and sometime in the next few years will change the words both the priest and the faithful say at the Mass. In order for this to make sense, one must first realize that, while the liturgy may be celebrated in English, it remains the Latin liturgy in translation (the Latin texts are the official, authoritative versions, called editio typica). The Latin text of the Roman Missal was revised in continuity with previous editions following the Second Vatican Council and became available in 1969 and was translated into English for publication in 1974. (The implementation of which served as the impetus for the foundation of the FDLC in 1969). Some additions to the Roman Missal were added in Latin in 1975 and those were translated into English for publication as the second edition in 1985, resulting in the precise text in use in English-speaking Roman Catholic liturgies since then. After some twenty years experience of praying the liturgy (not just the Mass, but also the Rites, such as funerals, baptisms, etc.), retranslation was undertaken by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. In 2001 new guidelines governing the translation of official Latin texts into the vernacular were issued as Liturgiam authenticam and so work needed to begin all over. At about the same time, however, a new Latin edition of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia) (third typical edition of the Roman Missal), was published (2002). It is this latter edition whose translation has now been completed by ICEL, using all the previously mentioned work and guidelines, as well as the present Code of Canon Law (1983) and the most recent General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2002). While those more versed in Latin than I have noted that there are only a small number of changes in the Latin text between the second and third typical editions, the use of the new rules for translation means however that a substantially different text will be being used in English. At this time only Ordo Missae, the so-called Ordinary of the Mass (those invariable pieces that do not change by season, feast, or so forth), has been been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and given the subsequent recognitio by the Holy See (the Vatican). The full-text of the English translation of Ordo Missae is available from the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship which, although it is not to be used until officially promulgated along with the remaining texts some time in the future, will be helpful most especially for composers of liturgical music whose previous compositions will, after the new text is promulgated, not be allowed to be used in the liturgy since the texts will be rescinded.

In conjunction with the BCDW and a group convened by Bishop Roche of the Diocese of Leeds, UK, the FDLC is developing resources for catechesis as well as a strategy for implementation of the new Roman Missal when it is promulgated. Like most of my colleagues, many of whom have given their lives in service to the Liturgical Movement during the previous 45 years, I came to the meeting feeling more or less resigned to what many have perceived as a repudiation of the fully conscious and active participation (SC 14) brought about by accessible vernacular translations of the Roman Missal in the late 1960s, a sentiment I noted in a post in early August when the recognitio first came from the Holy See to all English-speaking national conferences. Given that this week’s FDLC meeting both allowed many to grieve the passing of the present translation and grapple with the implications thereof as well as made space for us all to consider how to continue the liturgical apostolate with the new translations serving as a vehicle to deeper connection with scriptural and patristic voices and to further the ennobling of English with a renewal of sacred language, the overall tone with which I and most others left the meeting with was hopeful; we came to embrace the opportunity this new Roman Missal will give for liturgical catechesis to enter even more fully into the liturgy the faithful who have been drawn into and taken up by the liturgy in the last 45 years so that through the sacred liturgy we may all be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all (SC 48).

Working toward this, the FDLC commissioned four papers to serve as theological and historical foundations from which subsequent pastoral materials could be developed in order to communicate to the faithful not only the content of the changes in the liturgy but also and more importantly the rationale for such, the continuity with the organic development of the liturgy throughout the two previous millennia, and the door this opens to an even more conscious celebration of the richness of the Roman Rite. In light of the presentations we heard throughout the week in addition to our shared pastoral and professional experience, we went through these papers over several days, commenting on the insights, challenges, and unanswered questions posed to our ministry. In order to have a common way in which to address these issues, our study included presentations on the state of the Roman Missal project by Bishop Arthur Serratelli, chair of the BCDW, and additional staff of the committee; a report of the survey Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among US Catholics by Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of CARA; an erudite exposition of Temple theology and the foundation of giving to God what belongs to God, namely right praise as the precursor and model for the right ordering of the cosmos by Father Robert Barron, professor at Mundelein; a framework for mystagogical catechesis on truth, beauty, and goodness in the liturgy by Father Jan Michael Joncas, with whom I was fortunate enough to study while at Notre Dame; and a conversation on the pastoral opportunities and implications of the implementation of the Roman Missal by Bishop Blase Cupich, a longtime voice in the liturgical scholarship and celebration in the United States. Though the four study papers developed for FDLC will need some time to be revised in light of the comments received at the meeting, I am confident that pastorally relevant and sound material on participation, translation, implementation, and leadership in the liturgy is forthcoming. The prepared texts delivered at the meeting are available on the FDLC website.

Though generally overshadowed by the prominence of the Roman Missal project, additional agenda items included a resolution to engage with other organizations in a dialogue on the effect on Catholic identity of those communities who regularly or periodically are unable to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Mass) and must make recourse to SCAP. In addition, much conversation was held on how the FDLC can respond to the ever changing identity of Catholics and our ever increasing need to celebrate intercultural liturgies among multicultural communities. A panel discussion that included Brother Rufino Zaragoza, OFM made abundantly clear what was already obvious from our sometimes tension filled business meetings, namely, the demographic divide between the consolidating Church of the northeast and midwest and the expanding Church of the west (and, though not often mentioned, south). While this was something I had noted at the Notre Dame Liturgy Conference I attended last summer, it was odd to be outside the Western regions most concerned with these issues while at the same time having experienced them nearly all my life. All of this, however, gave me confidence in the timeliness of my forthcoming article in LTPPastoral Liturgy (formerly Rite) on celebrating multicultural liturgies. The complete texts of the resolutions passed should be available soon.

Though the days were long, beginning with the celebration of Morning Prayer in one of the ballrooms set aside as a chapel and often presided over by one the bishops present and running into the late evening, not every minute was filled with work. As we were often grouped according the region in which our diocese is located, I enjoyed getting to informally know some of the characters who have helped to give our region a bit of a reputation for what a charitable person would hopefully consider joviality. One of my predecessors at Saint Thomas More is now the Director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Richmond and so it was enjoyable to see her again. I also met others with whom I have corresponded via e-mail. In a very weird collision of worlds, I chatted with the representative of Ministry Scheduler Pro with whom I’d corresponded about technical support and enhancements previously only to learn that both he and and his partner, the original developer of the software, graduated from UCSD, one of them from Warren College with Michelle and me! Of course I also met many other wonderful people doing pastoral work throughout the country. There is great value in coming together with folks who, though not necessarily like minded in all things and by no means all in the same life state, are still all deeply committed to the same ministry. Although I am exhausted, mostly because I got home 18 hours later than scheduled due to screwups by the airline, it was a helpful meeting and I hope I am able to attend next Fall in Detroit.

2 thoughts on “To Worship in Spirit and Truth: Liturgy in the Shaping of Catholic Identity

  1. Thanks for the update. I have memories of previous FDLC meetings in the 1980s and 1990s – and these gatherings are always a time for mutual support and shared hopefulness.

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