A new document from Canberra's Archbishop Mark Coleridge critiques the present state of the liturgy and sets out strategies for bringing liturgical renewal more into line with the intentions of the Second Vatican Council.
This report can touch only lightly on the content of this wide-ranging document, titled Preparing the Feast, A Pentecost Letter on the Liturgy, To the People of God of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. It can be accessed on the archdiocesan website.
The Archbishop begins by stating that he is 'conscious of my role in the Archdiocese as the moderator of worship, charged with the duty of sanctifying the People of God, especially in the sacred liturgy'.
There are, he observes, 'a number of indications that the Church is moving into a new phase of the ongoing journey of liturgical renewal, the roots of which reach back to the Second Vatican Council and beyond.'
He continues: 'Now is the time, the Spirit is saying to the Church, to take stock of the liturgical renewal of the last forty years, to discern as clearly as possible what has succeeded and what has failed, and to make adjustments in the light of that discernment.
'This means that all of us will have to be open to learn, and that is not always easy. Over recent decades, liturgical habits have taken hold, some of which have been beneficial, others detrimental to the celebration of the liturgy.'
Sense of the sacred
Among the detrimental trends, Archbishop Coleridge notes that in many cases the Mass has become 'too chatty' with 'a noisy and unreflective feel to it'; people tend to talk 'freely in the churches, certainly before and after Mass.'
This has contributed to 'a loss of the sense of the sacred in the Mass - a weakened sense of the presence of God and the deeper resonances of the liturgical words and actions that come with silence.' The Archbishop argues that 'in this new phase of the liturgical renewal, I think we need to work hard at creating a greater sense of silence as that from which the words and actions rise and that to which they return.'
The practice 'for the celebrant to say at the start of Mass, 'Good morning, everyone' and for the people to reply 'Good morning, Father' is an example of 'everyday language' that is 'out of place because it misunderstands ritual and the language' and suggests 'a casual or informal approach to the liturgy which focuses more on the priest and the people than on their common worship of God.'
While noting that the almost universal use of the vernacular has been welcomed, he reminds us that this was not the intention of Vatican II; so there remains a place for Latin in the Mass, including 'some of the great hymns of the Gregorian repertoire' which he is fostering in the Canberra Cathedral - an example he hopes his parishes will follow since 'some modest use of the ancient languages of worship can be enriching.'
The poor calibre of some hymns concerns him, including those which 'tend to replace or disrupt any sense of silence; they add to the sense that the liturgy is 'noisy'.' Moreover, 'some of the texts used are also decidedly feeble and even at times questionable theologically.' A review of hymns in use will be conducted.
Beauty is an important aspect of worship, and this includes church architecture as well as music: 'Some of the older churches in the Archdiocese are beautiful and need only to be respected for what they are. Many of the newer churches are less evocative, and it is worth asking perhaps how they might be made more beautiful without spending a fortune.'
Vestments and vessels also need to be beautiful: 'I would ask that parishes have an audit of the vestments and vessels currently in use to see whether they are worthy of the sacred mysteries. I would also offer a reminder that chalices and patens should not be of glass or pottery but of metal.'
In regard to 'creativity' in the liturgy, this should mean that 'we do as well as possible what the Church sets down in the liturgical books' since 'people coming to Mass have a right to a celebration of the liturgy according to the norms set down by the Church; anything else can be unsettling and distracting.'
The Archbishop then gives detailed directions for each part of the Mass. For example, the homily 'should be given only by those who are ordained' and the Creed 'should never be omitted when it is set down'. The Eucharistic Prayer 'should be chosen from among the ones provided in the Missal' and not be changed 'in an attempt to render it more accessible or acceptable.' The doxology must be 'sung or said by the celebrant alone, with the congregation responding by singing or saying 'Amen'.'
Extraordinary Ministers of Communion should be used 'no more than is necessary' and 'if there are clergy enough to distribute Communion, then Extraordinary Ministers are not required ... It should never happen that clergy are left seated during the distribution of Communion while Extraordinary Ministers attend to the distribution.'
Silent prayer after Communion should be allowed for - 'something not always helped by a Communion reflection hymn'.
The Archbishop concludes: 'Much has been achieved in the journey of liturgical renewal since the Second Vatican Council, but there is still much to be done. Without abandoning the gains of recent decades, now is the time to take stock comprehensively, with our eye firmly fixed on both pastoral need and liturgical tradition in the way presumed by the Council.'