Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee is widely regarded as one of the more outspoken of the 'liberal' US bishops. His periodic comments on Church authority and teachings have caused concern both to the Holy See and to orthodox Catholics. In the light of this, his recent analysis of the liturgy, published in a lengthy article in the Jesuit monthly, 'America', has more than usual significance. While his opposition to restoration of the Tridentine Mass and calls to rectify Vatican II's poorly implemented liturgical "renewal" were predictable, his critical comments on practical aspects of the new Mass - largely echoing the sentiments of readers of this journal - were less expected.
Archbishop Rembert Weakland is well known for his outspoken comments and liberal perspectives on various aspects of the contemporary Catholic Church, including that of liturgy. His recent article, "Liturgy and Common Ground", published in the February 1999 edition of America, presents some interesting perspectives and what is arguably a devastating critique of the current state of the liturgy in the Western Rite of the Catholic Church.
His critique is particularly significant because it comes from one who was in the forefront of implementing in the United States the liturgical reforms that followed Vatican II - reforms which he continues to endorse wholeheartedly.
Weakland begins his article with the perceptive observation that disputes about the Church's liturgy are such that "something that should be a point of unity in the church, the Eucharist, has now become the most conspicuous point of disagreement and tension". He advocates dialogue between the various factions, which he divides into three broad categories, each of which he then critiques.
His criticisms of the first two categories - those advocating restoration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy and those who claim the new Mass does not accurately reflect the intentions of Vatican II - are not unexpected.
However, the Archbishop devotes the bulk of his analysis to the third category to which he claims membership - "Those seeking to better the reform". This group, he says, believes that the liturgical reforms that have followed Vatican II are the product of and a true expression of the liturgical reforms which the Council called for.
His critique is divided into two sections: "Questions of a Theological Nature," followed by "Other Less Theological Questions". In the latter section, Weakland raises problems posed by some celebrants. Now that the vast majority of Masses are said facing the people, many celebrants have fallen into what Weakland describes as "a lifeless rubricism" or have "injected so much of their idiosyncratic mannerisms into the liturgy that it became truly disturbing. Many adopted a kind of colloquial style that was and is unbefitting the liturgical movement".
Weakland then acknowledges the divisive nature of the translations of the liturgical texts and seems to concede that many of the translations are defective: "But have these translations consequently fallen into a triteness and at times distorted or made ambiguous the meaning of the [Latin] original?"
Finally, in this section, Weakland points to the poor quality of much contemporary Church music: "Unfortunately, most of the new music created for the liturgy has been and continues to be trite in both musical form and text, more fit for the theatre and the pub than for church ... Children learn no consistent repertoire of liturgical music that belongs to the Catholic tradition and that will serve them for their whole lives".
More damning, though, are Weakland's "Questions of a Theological Nature". He suggests that too many liturgical celebrations emphasise the human element at the expense of the Divine: "Has the reform respected the nature of sacramentality as a free gift from God, as a 'given', or have our people drifted into a more horizontal and purely human activity"?
The Archbishop argues that this "desacrilisation" is caused partially by "creativity", that is, "do it yourself" prayers, readings, etc, which have created the impression that being as creative as possible, rather than the worship of God, is the focus of the liturgy: "Has the community or parish at times distorted the rite by seeking to do its 'own thing' - as creative as it may have seemed to the assembled group or the specialists who guided it - and thus lost contact with the living tradition of the universal Church itself?" He observes further: "Unfortunately, many of these adaptations É are accompanied by little knowledge of liturgy and its essential nature".
Most striking is his following question: "Has the reform at times led to a diminution of respect for and belief in the real presence in the Eucharist?" He points in particular to "the tendency to stand, not kneel, no more genuflections, the placement of the tabernacle in the church away from the central axis [and] the abuses concerning care for the Eucharist after Mass, and so on".
The Archbishop queries, among other things, the role of the sign of peace when it becomes "a moment for greeting everyone in the church - to the detriment of the symbol and breaking the liturgical moment of preparation for Holy Communion." All too many Novus Ordo celebrations, he concludes, "have reduced the sense of the transcendent and an appreciation for God's presence and role in the liturgy".
Does the Novus Ordo of itself convey a lack of transcendence and appreciation of God's presence, as many of those who argue for a "Reform of the Reform" allege; or is this lack of a sense of the transcendent, as Weakland argues, merely the by-product of the manner in which the Novus Ordo is celebrated?
Michael Daniel teaches at an Independent school.