Tuesday, December 03, 2019

“Praying the Liturgy” - A Talk by Dom Alcuin Reid

Last month, St Thomas Aquinas Parish in College Station, Texas, hosted Dom Alcuin Reid, who needs no introduction to our readers, for a talk entitled “Praying the Liturgy”, as part of a liturgical conference. The talk, together with the Q&A session which followed, has been made available on the website of Red-C Catholic Radio; it can also be downloaded for free as an mp3 file. As stated at the beginning of the recording, Dom Alcuin was in Texas as part of the fundraising effort for the community of which he is prior, the Monastère Saint Benoit in La Garde-Freinet, France (diocese of Fréjus-Toulon), to purchase a property which has become available in the area, and which would be very suitable as it’s future home; see the community’s website for more information.

Dom Alcuin was kind enough to offer us a summary of his talk as well. “The sacred liturgy is no ordinary type of activity. It has its own ‘language,’ as it were. But that language is not first and foremost composed of words. It is one of the paradoxes of our times that the introduction of the vernacular languages has resulted in us regarding liturgical rites primarily as a spoken and immediately comprehensible text. Generations have now come to expect everything in the liturgy to be as transparent and immediate as any message or information they encounter from print or electronic media or receive on their own personal devices.

Certainly, the liturgical rites involve words, and they have their meaning which ought ultimately to be within the reach of our understanding (if Latin is used, at least by way of a missal or a translation in a booklet). But in our word-saturated society we have, perhaps, forgotten that the liturgy is primarily an action, not a discourse. The liturgy is not a set of words read at us, or by us, or with us. It is a rite, a complex of actions, gestures and sounds in given places. Yes, it includes words, but the liturgy’s use of them goes beyond the efficient communication of information and ideas to which we are accustomed.

For it is not simply what is said in a liturgical rite that is important; rather, it is what is done that is crucial. And it is not so much what is done by us; no—it is what is done by Almighty God that matters. Something happens in the liturgy which is not of our making. It is into the dynamic of that happening, of that action, that we must place ourselves. That is actual participation in the liturgy.

Mass during the conference.
What is done in the liturgy is done by Christ, not by us. For the liturgy is the worship offered by Christ in His Church through the power of the Holy Spirit to God the Father. It is not something primarily that we do. We certainly, by right of our baptism, are able to participate in that offering. Indeed, it is our baptismal duty to do so to the best of our ability and according to our particular vocation. But the liturgy is first and foremost Christ acting in the world today through the rites of His Church. Because of this, through this, we are able to share in His saving acts—the Redemption He wrought for our sins on the cross, and the hope of eternal life made manifest in His glorious resurrection. In short, the sacred liturgy is Christ’s saving action in our world today. ...

The understanding that the liturgy is an action, not a text, and indeed that it is first and foremost the action of Christ Himself, is crucial if I am to participate in any liturgical rite, if I am truly to engage consciously and actually in that action, if I am in fact to pray the sacred liturgy. Otherwise I shall be a mere spectator, possibly a bored one, or maybe even a well-entertained one. But the liturgy is not a spectacle or entertainment to be watched. It is an action in which I must be engaged. It is worship. And it is prayer. ...

Therefore praying the liturgy, which is simply true or actual (sometimes called ‘active’) participation in the liturgy, is not so much saying the right words, ‘making the responses’ or ‘joining in the singing’ (these are means, not ends) as it is immersing myself in, losing myself in, allowing myself to be caught up in, the action of the liturgy.”

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