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Home : Faith/Spirituality : Living Faith
11/16/2011 12:24:00 PM
Witnessing the New Roman Missal is watching liturgy in transition
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. Stephen Ryan says a prayer from book held by Deacon Kenneth Boone at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Cottage Grove.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. Stephen Ryan says a prayer from book held by Deacon Kenneth Boone at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Cottage Grove.
Archbishop John Vlazny


Back in the mid-1950s, I was a college seminarian of the Archdiocese of Chicago. During my first year on campus, I heard some of the older seminarians talking about the “movers” in our midst. I wasn’t quite sure what they were moving or where they were moving but I became curious. After all, movement meant action. Life in the seminary back then was rather contained and the activities were repetitious and even at times a bit tedious. I wondered if I could be a “mover.”

Eventually it became clear that the so-called movers were students of our Church’s sacred liturgy and their “bibles” were Louis Bouyer’s classic Liturgical Piety and Pius Parsch’s The Church’s Year of Grace. The movers promoted the use of the vernacular languages in celebrations of the sacraments. They even wanted to turn the altar around so the priest would face the people at Mass and to promote active participation in both word and song during liturgical celebrations. That all sounded great to me.

Once Pope John XXIII convened an ecumenical council, heady days followed for all movers and their friends. During the preparatory days that preceded the Council, I was a student of theology in Rome. One of my professors was Jesuit Father Herman Schmidt, a highly respected professor of liturgical theology, a priest who eventually became a peritus at Vatican II. His lectures at the Gregorian University whet my appetite for the liturgical renewal that would result from the deliberations of the Council Fathers. Father Schmidt was one of the master teachers back in the 20th century who stressed such things as the intrinsic relationship between liturgy and life, to which we all should be attentive.

Implementing the changes put forward by Vatican II now seems a much easier task than the work of transition that has taken place over the last 10 years in preparing our people to receive the new Roman Missal. The task was easy back then because few people were involved in the transition. Priests and people in those days received their marching orders and marched. We followed directions, probably not because we were more docile and obedient, but because we were so enthused and eager to welcome the vitality in worship that was promised as a result of the liturgical changes. Not everyone welcomed the changes. Musicians were frustrated because so many of the Latin chants and motets were banned and new music was not at all of the high quality which sacred worship deserves. Choirs disbanded and it took a while before composers and publishers made music available that was truly worthy of sacred worship. Fortunately we are nowadays blessed with many fine works and the services of publishers truly dedicated to good liturgical praxis.

Looking back over these 50 years, I thank God every day that when I preside at liturgy the full, active, and conscious participation of the assembly is a given in most parishes. If it ever was “my Mass,” it certainly is no longer. I can’t say that all our gathered people have subscribed to this underlying philosophy of Catholic worship. They have their reasons, not always good ones. Let me explain.

Adults who still see value only in getting and not in giving tend to be rather immature participants in the life of a family or society. Frankly, I think that’s the approach to liturgy among too many of our Catholics. They will say, “We don’t get much out of Mass. The sermon is dull. The music isn’t so good. Babies are crying. The old folks are wheezing.” Spending time with God and with fellow believers is valuable only if they get something out of it. They just don’t see the value and importance of coming to worship with the idea that we definitely must first of all give if we are ever going to get. We need to give God our praise and glory, our thanksgiving, our petitions, and our acquiescence to his divine will. Perhaps in the liturgical renewal we have stressed too much what people would get out of all the changes. We forgot to remind people that you get very little if you don’t give something first.

The new Roman Missal that has been presented to the Church is indeed a gift. It is a tool that provides us an opportunity to give our whole heart, soul, mind, and body to the Lord in worship. Yes, the principles of translation have changed. It is no longer dynamic but formal equivalency that rules. The language reflects a kind of reverence that would almost naturally accompany any visit to a person who merits respect and admiration. The new liturgical language also suggests that I be more careful with my own choice of words and expressions in preaching. I am not at a ballgame. I am not a cheerleader. I am a teacher of the faith and proclaimer of the good news, a message of love and care that a good and gracious God wants to share with his people. It deserves an articulation and delivery that is worthy, stylistic, and respectful. After all, it is not just my language. It is the language of the whole Church, the body of Christ here on earth, a gift from God to accompany and guide us on our journey of faith.

Yes, these 50 years of priesthood that I am celebrating with my classmates this year have provided me with an amazing experience of liturgy in transition in our Catholic Church during modern times. The ravages of secularism take their toll on everything in church life, including our liturgical practice. We need to be more vigilant about protecting what is ours and advocating for the highest quality in the life of prayer we share as people of faith.

It has been my privilege to serve as archbishop in a local church that is home to Oregon Catholic Press. I serve as chairman of the OCP board of directors. My enthusiasm for the evangelizing mission of the Church is greatly enhanced by the cooperation I receive from all the wonderful folks at OCP who do their best, as is stated in OCP’s mission statement, “to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all, primarily through the publication of the highest-quality worship programs, spiritually enriching music and the diocesan newspaper.” I am grateful to all who have worked hard to assist our pastors and their people in the implementation of the new Roman Missal.

The worship of the Church is once again in transition. Why? Because the Church is alive and, as any student of biology can tell you, where there is life, there is change.

The writer is Archbishop of Portland.



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