Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Pastoral Liturgy" Re-considered

On his blog, Fr. James DeViese runs a very interesting article I've been meaning to share with our readers: Building Pastoral Liturgy through Ministry.

Now I suspect that titling might bring some of our readers to mind of something that might have been written in the 1970's, but before you judge an article by its title, read on:

Building Pastoral Liturgy through Ministry

I realize that the title of this particular talk may seem to be a bit on the soft and fluffy side, given our encounters up to this point. However, my words are intentional. In this talk, I want to examine the liturgy from a pastoral and practical standpoint. We will explore briefly the questions I posed in my previous talk: the who, what, where, how of the Mass, if you will; we will look at the true nature of ministry, a nuanced understanding of pastoral ministry, and we will touch on two of the more popular phrases in liturgy today: the hermeneutic of continuity and mutual enrichment.

I. Orientation of the Liturgy

When one uses the word “orientation” in terms of the Mass, most people’s minds immediately jump to images of a priest “with his back to the people,” or “facing the same direction,” or “everyone facing east.” Books like Cardinal Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy and Michael Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord have made compelling arguments for this type of liturgical orientation from historical, theological, and spiritual points of view. I do not intend to repeat everything that they have said or written.

Instead, I want to focus on a more basic aspect of liturgical orientation, namely the focal point of liturgical worship. In the postmodern age, liturgical worship is often relegated to being thought of as a “communal act” that focuses on, emphasizes, and even centers around the gathering of the congregation. Songs like “Gather us in,” “We are the Church,” etc., have solidified this in the minds of so many Catholics. We have lost touch with the true purpose for the sacred liturgy, which is worship of God, and of God alone.

It seems that I find myself going off on a diatribe with my own parishioners on a fairly regular basis, trying to make them understand the reason we celebrate Mass, and why it is important. And I say the same thing over and over again: There is nothing more sublime or profound than the sacred action in which we worship the one God, living and true. I repeat: There is nothing more sublime or profound than the sacred action in which we worship the one God, living and true. All our efforts, and the disposition of our minds and hearts must be singularly focused on this reality. The Mass is for God, not for us.

This is not a popular sentence. But allow me to explain. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, insofar as it is the re-presentation of the unbloody sacrifice of Christ on Calvary for the salvation of the world, makes real for us time and time again the salvation into which we have been baptized, and in which we share as members of the Christian Faithful. The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, made present in the Mass, is—like all Sacraments—for the sanctification and edification of the People of God. But at its essence, the Mass remains our act of worshipping God—the new sacrifice of the Temple, the spotless lamb slain by the priest in the Holy of Holies for the expiation of sin—an offering to God, that He might be pleased with His people. It is how we worship! Plain and simple!

Yet, it is easy to see how this is often glossed over, diminished, or even outrightly rejected in favor of a more protestantized, post-modern, community-centered understanding that strips from the Mass any sense of worship aimed at the Divine, and leaves it a hollowed-out shell of a gathering that celebrates human beings and their relationship with God (which is always perfect—have you ever noticed that?!). This lack of orientation is what I’m speaking of...

Read the rest of the article here: Pastor Montanus

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: