Sunday, August 04, 2013

“Christ, not the priest and not anyone else, is the centre”

Dom Alcuin Reid was a lecturer in Ad fontes 2013, the 12th annual conference on sacred liturgy and Gregorian chant, which took place in Kražiai, Lithuania, on July 27-August 4. Here is a translation of the interview with Dom Alcuin Reid which was published in the Lithuanian news website

Several years ago at least in one Lithuanian diocese, Archdiocese of Kaunas, crucifixes appeared in the middle of altars of all the churches. At that time, similar happened in many dioceses and churches around the world. Why?

That is an idea that was expressed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy”, where he talks about the importance of orientation in liturgical prayer. He reminds that it is Christ who is the centre of the liturgy, not the priest, not the community itself. He says that in many churches that have been reordered, where a new altar is put in, it is not possible to celebrate facing eastward, ad orientem, one solution might be to place crucifix in the centre of the altar as a focus of the entire liturgical celebration.

Naturally enough, once he was elected Pope in 2005, his ideas received more attention. Once Msgr. Guido Marini became papal master of ceremonies this started to happen in the papal liturgical celebrations which everybody could see through the media. Many people imitated this very good practice which helps in the modern rite to remind us that it is Christ, not the priest and not anyone else, is the centre of what we are doing.

During the pontificate of Benedict XVI many things changed in the papal liturgies – not only he celebrated either towards the East or with a crucifix put in the middle of the altar, but also he distributed Holy Communion to the faithful only on the tongue and kneeling, Latin was used for the most parts of the Masses. What was wrong with the liturgy as celebrated last 40 years that such changes were deemed necessary by the Pope?

Papal liturgy is in many occasions very international. It is very rare for the Pope to celebrate simply in a parish or in the small context. As Pope Benedict explained in Sacramentum Caritatis, it is quite appropriate that in major international celebrations the language of the Church is used, so that instead of everybody listening to Italian and trying to understand that, you can sing and pray in Latin, with which there is possibly more familiarity across the globe, especially in terms of ordinary parts of the Mass like Creed, Gloria and so on.

Kneeling for Holy Communion was, as I understand it from the interview that Msgr. Guido Marini gave shortly after that practice was reintroduced, to remind us that kneeling for the reception of Holy Communion, and reception on the tongue, is the norm in the Roman rite, even in the modern rite. Permission was given for the reception of Communion in the hand in many countries – this never happened here in Lithuania – and it seems to have become the norm.

I think it is true to say from my own experience that it is very easy for people to receive Communion in the hand and standing without enough recollection or reflection of what they are doing. Communion kneeling and on the tongue reminds us that it is an act of adoration, an act of worship.

It also reminds that the Church feeds us as the mother would feed us. We don’t take Holy Communion ourselves, we are given that by the Church, it is ministered to us, it is something we are fed as spiritual children. That is why those bodily gestures are more than appropriate. I think Pope Benedict wished to remind people not through any great document or imposing something, but by his own example that this is a valid and valuable ritual gesture in our tradition which is of importance today.

But why are bodily gestures or, generally, the way in which a priest celebrates the Mass important for the life of the Church? Isn’t Faith, aren’t good works more important?

Faith and good works are not disembodied. We are body and soul together in this life and we discipline and train our bodies for so many things, for sport, athletics, and so on.

We must discipline and train our bodies also spiritually. As in certain circumstances we would behave with our bodies with respect and attention towards other people, so when we come for Christ in the liturgy, we too have certain bodily gestures.

It is very unusual for us in our modern culture to kneel. But to kneel in the presence of Christ in the liturgy tells us that we are doing something not usual, it speaks to us. To genuflect, to bow profoundly, to sing the Church’s chant in a disciplined way, all these things remind us physically that we are doing something different to a normal way of behaving, relaxing. So, too, the Church’s liturgical vesture reminds us that this is not a priest, a human person that is doing his thing. He is doing Church’s thing, he is putting on Christ, which is symbolised by the vestments.

These things are not part of Divine Law themselves, they are human traditions coming out of love and worship for the Church. They are not absolute, but they are tried and tested means of expressing our Faith and worship.

In one of your lectures here in Kražiai you said that people sometimes complain the Mass is boring to them. What should be done in order that it isn’t so? Some priests try to encourage young people to bring their guitars, drums, play the music they like to listen in concerts. Is it the way to make Mass more interesting?

It’s absolutely the wrong way, because if we try to entertain people at Mass, we simply run out of ideas to entertain them. We run out of stimuli. The Mass is not entertainment, it’s worship, so what we need to do for young people is not provide an imitation of the culture we think they might like, but to introduce them to the person of Christ active in the liturgy. The Mass is boring if I look at it as some form of stimulation which must keep me entertained. The Mass is not boring if I enter into it as encounter with, communication with the person of Christ to whom I give all that I can and who gives me all that I need.

Your monastery chose as its rite the usus antiquior. Why such a decision?

The usus antiquior, the older Roman rite, is very rich. When we were looking at the commencement of our monastic community this is what we believed is most sustaining for the monastic life. It is a rich spiritual diet for every day. The rites, the chants are, as Summorum Pontificum says, a treasure for the whole Church, of today and of tomorrow. We wish to preserve that treasure, to share it with others and to make it available as much as possible.

What should the Catholics who don’t have access to the Traditional Latin Mass or to any reverently celebrated Mass do?

I think this is, first and foremost, the question for the pastors of the Church. All of the Christ’s faithful – lay faithful, clerics and religious – have a right to the liturgy of the Church celebrated with that ars celebrandi that Pope Benedict spoke of in Sacramentum Caritatis.

Certainly, Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae established that the faithful have the right to the usus antiqiuor celebrated for them, if they wish. They may request this from their parish priest, if that’s not possible – request their bishop who has a duty to ensure that they receive the spiritual care – that is indeed their right.

If somebody finds that his parish has not just poor liturgy, but actually bad liturgy, liturgical abuses taking place, than, again, it is the question for the pastors of the Church to correct that, and for those who encounter that – to respectfully and charitably, but nonetheless clearly, report that to the pastors responsible, because the liturgy is too important.

The liturgy is the nourishment for our spiritual life, for our Christian life in the world. We all know that we would not feed children bad food because they will grow up malnourished. Spiritually we must not give the people of the Church bad liturgical diet, as it were, otherwise, again, they will be malformed, spiritually malnourished. That means very simply that our Christian life in the world will be much less sustained and that the New Evangelization, which has been called for by several Popes, will be less successful because we will not have the fuel to support us in that important work.

But even if the Church provides us with good liturgy, we still have some work to do ourselves. Since the reign of Saint Pius X there has been a lot of talk about the actual participation in the Mass. What does it mean and what should we do to get as much as we can out of the Mass?

I think the first thing to say is that the liturgy is not the affair of the clergy. Therefore, the lay faithful who are able to assist in the preparation and celebration of the liturgy, whether that be musically, ceremonially, serving at the altar and so on, they should offer their services to priests and I am sure that they find priests and bishops who will be very welcoming all the service.

In terms of actual participation, it means being connected to the action of Christ in the liturgy. It doesn’t mean doing things, it means being connected with what is going on in my mind and my heart. This is an attitude, a disposition and it requires a certain amount of formation, it requires that we understand what the liturgy is.

Again, if I think that liturgy is entertainment or should be entertaining people, then I might be very busy making all sorts of music and doing other things. In some parts of the world the priests are dressed-up in clown outfits to entertain, to stimulate. That’s activity, but it’s not actual participation, it has got nothing to do with what the Second Vatican Council, or the Liturgical Movement, or Pope Pius X wanted. What they wanted and what is so desperately necessary is that we come to the liturgy and draw from its riches, its texts, its rites, its chants, its beauty all that we need for our Christian life and that we meet the person of Christ, and that sustains us.

One month ago in Rome an international conference, Sacra Liturgia 2013, took place. You were one of the persons who organised it, many cardinals and bishops were in attendance, so there certainly was a possibility to discuss the prospects of the Liturgy of the Church. What are the expectations? Is there still any chance that the “reform of the reform” initiated by Pope Benedict will be formalised in some way?

When we planned the conference, obviously, Pope Benedict was reigning, and conference was very much based on his teaching, on initiatives inspired by him. His resignation in February came as something of a shock, but the conference became, if you want, a testimonial to his liturgical principles. But actually I am wrong – they are not his liturgical principles, it’s more his teaching of good liturgical principles, reminding us of the importance of the liturgy and of how to celebrate it correctly and how to have the appropriate internal attitude towards this.

As a cardinal, in “The Spirit of the Liturgy” he spoke of his desire for a new liturgical movement. He described that as a way of finding the proper celebration of the liturgy inwardly and outwardly.
So Sacra Liturgia 2013 became a sort of testimonial to his work and, given his resignation, perhaps it has become something of a stepping stone towards the future of the liturgical movement without, sadly, the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI as Pope.

If you ask about the reform of the reform, it’s difficult to say how or when such things will be formalised. But as people grow in the awareness of what the liturgy is, of the importance of the liturgy in the life of the Church as the necessary foundation for the New Evangelisation, as bishop Dominique Rey often said during the conference, also, as historical scholarship looks again at the Second Vatican Council and the following reform of the liturgy, at the lights and shadows of that reform, to use the phrase of Blessed John Paul II, an awareness is growing that some of the modern rites need enrichment, some of them may need correction. And that the older liturgical rites have so much to offer which is of value.

As I said, it is hard to say exactly when such things will be formalised, but this new liturgical movement, which continues very much today because the principles Benedict XVI laid down were sound liturgical principles and not merely his personal preferences, will in God’s time bear that fruit, I’m sure.

So the Church needs such initiatives as Ad fontes here in Kražiai?

Yes, the new liturgical movement is constituted by many small groups celebrating the liturgy, praying the liturgy, forming people in the liturgy, leading people to discover its riches, and those groups are not by any means groups of old people with grey hair. They are young, many vocations will come from these groups, many of these people will enter into vocation of marriage and raise families.

We are talking here about a movement which is not going to be accomplished in five or ten years, but in decades. I think, it is a happy fact that the worst liturgical abuses that followed the Second Vatican Council are now part of history, many people do not know what you are speaking about if you talk about some of the terrible liturgical abuses that took place in the 1970’s or 1980’s – thanks be to God!

Those who attend Mass now are looking not for gimmicks, but for Christ, and as the new liturgical movement spreads they will discover his splendour, his beauty all that much more in the richness of the liturgy. I think we need to be encouraged by the example Pope Benedict gave us, by his writings as cardinal.

We need to take hard that even though a great liturgical Pope has now retired and is no longer teaching us as Pope, his principles are the Church’s principles, they sustain us still. Perhaps, we need to grow up a little bit and walk on our own two feet, get on and do the work ourselves. He has a right to retire, he has the right to some rest. He has given us a job to do and we should get on and do it.

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