On Holy Thursday, Pope John Paul II will release a new encyclical, his first since 1998, which will deal with the centrality of the Mass and Holy Communion in the life of the Church.
The encyclical will bring together issues on which he has spoken recently to bishops conferences and in his weekly audiences. In an address to the Brazilian Bishops last January, he called the Eucharist the "supreme spiritual good of the Church" and its "spiritual strength", but said that "it must always be marked by the worthy and genuine celebration of the mystery according to the doctrine and directives of the Church."
Later, in a weekly audience, he said, "It is necessary to purify worship of deformations, of careless forms of expression, of ill-prepared music and texts, which are not very suited to the grandeur of the act being celebrated."
These problems have been particularly acute in the English-speaking world, despite the intrinsic beauty of the Mass as it is intended to be celebrated.
In some places, the liturgy has suffered from an explosion of experimentation and spontaneity, becoming man-centred rather than God-centred. The resultant alienation has contributed to the emptying of churches, with some people abandoning the practice of the faith altogether, while others have turned to pre-Vatican II ritual.
To address current liturgical concerns, Rome has reformed the leadership of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, and bishops conferences in many parts of the English-speaking world have begun to address these issues.
The new encyclical, together with the revised English translation of the Roman Missal, will help ensure that the vision of Vatican II might at last be achieved.
- Peter Westmore is Publisher of AD2000