The contents of Mass booklets recently to hand underline persistent problems Australia's bishops need to address in the vital area of liturgy. AD2000 continues to receive verbal and documented complaints from around Australia, which indicate liturgical abuses remain prevalent.
Directions in this regard are set out in the Statement of Conclusions, but visible signs of their implementation, after the passing of two years, are not in evidence.
A typical instance - apart from common use of unauthorised 'inclusive' language Scripture readings - was an "End Of Year Mass 2000" at a Brisbane girls college titled "Look to the Stars - Follow Our Dreams". The booklet's contents seemed guided as much by New Age ideas and political correctness as the Catholic Church's liturgical directives.
The Entrance Song consisted of "Under Southern Skies," as sung by Nikki Webster at the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, while at the Penitential Rite, the celebrant said, "O God, you who are Mother and Father to us all". At the time when the Nicene Creed would normally be recited, all were invited to remain seated and "pray this statement of beliefs":
"I believe in God who created man and woman in God's image who created the world and gave both sexes the care of the earth. I believe in Jesus child of God chosen of God born of the woman Mary, who listened to women and liked them, who stayed in their homes, who discussed the kingdom with them, who was followed and financed by women and disciples.
"I believe in Jesus who received anointing from a woman at Simon's house, who rebuked the male guests who scorned her. I believe in Jesus who spoke of himself as a mother hen who would gather her chicks under her wing."
Then followed what was described as an "adapted" Lord's Prayer:
"God, our provider and creator, you are bigger than our little world. You call us beyond our everyday limits to higher things. Your presence in our lives gives us a sense of wonder and awe. We long for the dream of creating a new and better earth. May we live and act in harmony with your will in helping to create a happier world. We ask you, God, for what we need each day - food, drink, love, challenge, a sense of community - may all of us experience the fulfilment of these needs. We ask for reconciliation with you, our God, and with others. We ask you, God, to shelter and care for us always."
During the Sign of Peace, a poem was read, titled "You are Special", including references to "hopes and dreams" and "beams" from shooting stars. The Reflection after Communion continued the New Age flavour with a song titled "Just One Star": "Shining sun of a far off moon, Hear my heart and answer soon, Glimmer bright so far away, Awake the dawn and light a bright new day ...".
The Recessional Song consisted of "Dare to Dream" as performed by John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John at the Sydney Olympics.
Further liturgical "creativity" was evident in a booklet for a "Dzintari Earth Care Outdoor Mass" celebrated on a Sunday in a parish of the Adelaide Archdiocese. The booklet acknowledged help from the Diocesan Earth Team, Raywood Nursery, Normanville Liturgy Group and St Luke's Folk Group.
The Opening Hymn began with the words "Hear the humpback singing from the sea, With the message for you and me: The dolphins and the coral reef, the fishes in the ocean deep, They won't survive Unless we hear their plea ...".
The Nicene Creed was replaced, this time by an "Australian Prayer", which included: "We believe in Australians, in their courage and spirit of adventure, in their perseverence and hard work, in their ordinariness and at homeness, in their black Aboriginal beauty, in their migrant struggles, in their search for identity ...".
Such examples of misguided thinking indicate that as far as some liturgists, teachers and clergy are concerned, the Mass is an appropriate vehicle for promoting particular secular causes. By superimposing their chosen political agenda on the Holy Sacrifice, it is hoped, presumably, to invest it with an air of the sacred.
The more likely result is a demeaning and trivialising of the Mass and sacraments - not helped by the fact that many Catholic students leave school still ignorant of the basics of their faith.
Such a situation cries out for concerted and determined episcopal action if the Church is not eventually to self-destruct in this country. Weekly or regular Mass attendances have fallen since Vatican II from around 50-60 percent of all Catholics to between 15-20 percent in most dioceses - and continue to decline. Barely five percent of school-leavers attend Mass according to the Catholic Church Life Survey.
While there are many factors that might account for this situation - family breakdown, poor religion teaching and the "cultural revolution" - it is undeniable that liturgical abuses have aggravated the situation, with Eucharistic faith progressively undermined by irreverence, secular, politically correct, intrusions and a casual, informal approach to the sacred mysteries.
The episcopal authors of the Statement of Conclusions were no doubt aware of this when they included in its section 12:
"The bishop is the guardian of the sacraments, the means of sanctification for the faithful, particularly the Holy Eucharist, which is 'the source and summit of the Christian life' (Lumen Gentium 11). The bishop is called upon to exercise vigilance over the celebration and administration of the sacraments in his diocese. He ensures the sacraments are administered according to the proper liturgical norms set forth by the Church. If he discovers these norms are not being followed properly, with integrity and reverence, he acts quickly to correct the error or abuse.
"The Australian bishops realise that the sacred Liturgy is at the heart of their pastoral responsibilities. In promoting authentic sacred Liturgy, they have to provide against the introduction of spurious elements ...".
The overall liturgical picture is no doubt improving - and will further improve - in dioceses where seminary reforms have been occurring, with future priests receiving a sound liturgical education. Many recently ordained priests are noticeably more reverent and conscious of the correct rubrics when celebrating Masses than some of their older confreres, who experienced a more 'progressive' liturgical formation.
Many of the latter priests could need periodic reminders from their bishops about proper observation of the rubrics and a reverent demeanour during Mass celebrations - not to mention excluding "spurious elements" such as secular songs and readings and the promotion of fashionable secular causes.
All of those involved in liturgy planning, including members of diocesan and parish liturgy bodies and teachers in Catholic schools and colleges, clearly need a solid education according to the terms of the recently revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the Statement. Too much appears taken for granted with so much at stake.
Meanwhile the erosion of practice continues.
More external evidence of episcopal "vigilance", "quick action" and "pastoral responsibility" would be welcomed by Catholics concerned at the present state of the liturgy and the overall future of the Church in Australia.