Changes to the interior of Toowoomba's St Patrick's Cathedral, recommended by the local Diocesan Liturgical Commission, have been included in a recent Conservation Plan.
Some of the more radical recommendations include bringing forward "the entire sanctuary area ... into the central area between the transepts" and "the establishment of a separate Blessed Sacrament Chapel".
Bishop William Morris has indicated to AD2000 that there will be "discussion and community consultation" before anything is finalised: "No concrete proposals have been put to anyone at this stage, of what, finances permitting, will be a long-term refurbishment of our cathedral."
This is as well since the Liturgical Commission refers extensively, in support of its radical proposals, to an American liturgical document, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship (EACW). This is in process of being replaced by a new document, Domus Dei, which will carry the endorsement of the US Bishops Conference.
EACW was put together in 1978 by a liturgy committee, but never endorsed by the US Bishops' Conference. Yet it has been used repeatedly around the world to justify, as Professor Duncan Stroik of Notre Dame University put it, "theatre-shaped interiors, removal of tabernacles from sanctuaries, removal of religious imagery and a puritannical style."
It would make more sense if the Toowoomba Diocesan Liturgical Commission were to await formal approval of Domus Dei by the US Bishops and then reviewed its recommendations in light of this.
Bishop Morris defends use of EACW by his Liturgical Commission, arguing that it is "still regarded by many as a standard text in this area," adding: "We are unaware of any instruction from either the Australian hierarchy or by Rome itself regarding its unsuitability."
However, there are numerous liturgical publications not officially declared "unsuitable". This fact alone would not necessarily recommend them as reliable authorities to justify radical changes to cathedral interiors.
It is true, as Bishop Morris points out, that the Liturgical Commission also draws upon several official Vatican documents: "We challenge anyone to read either our document or EACW and find them unfaithful to the spirit and letter of the primary source documents of the magisterium! (We would be happy to send our three-page document to anyone who sends a stamped self-addressed envelope to PO Box 7062, Toowoomba, Qld 4350)."
The problem here is that huge numbers of liturgical documents of varying authority and emphasis have emanated from the Holy See since Vatican II. Almost any liturgical position can be "justified" by a careful selection of friendly quotes from among these.
The Vatican II liturgy document, for example, calls for the retention of Latin in the liturgy, "pride of place" for Gregorian Chant, and forbids priests to alter or replace words in official Mass texts.
These are quite clear-cut requirements, but there is little sign of their implementation in Australia.
Yet, Vatican II is silent about such things as Mass being celebrated facing the congregation or Communion being received standing and on the hand; nor is there any mention that "the entire sanctuary area" must be brought forward "into the central area between the transepts" or tabernacles be removed to side chapels.
Those quoting lines from Vatican documents to "justify" radical re-ordering of the interiors of churches and cathedrals should note that an equally strong contrary case can be assembled from other authoritative documents that, for example, urge the retention on sanctuaries of beautiful, historically significant altars and sacred works of art and call for the placement of tabernacles in the most prominent position in churches.
The onus is on those recommending radical alterations to church interiors to cite authoritative, direct and unambiguous directives - as distinct from cautious or implied suggestions - from across the full spectrum of the Church's liturgical documents.
"Authorities" such as EACW hardly fall into this category.
The Commission also places heavy emphasis on "community" and "assembly" to underpin its proposals. It recommends "future use" of the Cathedral be reflective of "the need for churches to be places of community congregation and multipurpose facilities rather than simply places of worship", with adaptations "to facilitate changing social patterns, new forms of worship and liturgical change" (p.17).
The Commission's "philosophical statement on liturgical changes for St Patrick's", identifying "a number of changes to the liturgical space of St Patrick's, which it considers will allow the revised liturgy of the Church to be celebrated more fittingly at the Cathedral", is included in the Conservation Plan as an Appendix (p.33).
The Appendix offers a number of one-sided interpretations of Vatican II - notably in relation to "active participation" and Christ's presence. That this participation should particularly involve a worshipper's interior disposition and that Christ "is present ... most especially in the Eucharistic species" (Vatican II, quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1373), as compared with His presence in an "assembly", is not noted by the Commission.
Msgr M. Francis Mannion, President of the Society for Catholic Liturgy in the US, in an address at Notre Dame University, traced the origin of the principle that "the assembly is the primary symbol of Christian worship" to the EACW document. "The liturgical symbol system," he said, "consequently, is no longer regarded as the revered medium of God's presence and action, but as the subjective creation and self-expression of the worshipping community."
Finally, as if to scotch the idea there is any consensus of opinion favouring removal of tabernacles from sanctuaries to side chapels, during discussions of the replacement document for EACW, not one of the 36 US bishops who spoke advocated such a move. Instead, many urged retention of the tabernacle's prominence. Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, DC, for example, said, "I would like to second the position of those who favour the centrality of the tabernacle in the sanctuary."