Reform of the reform: a 'shift in liturgical culture'

Reform of the reform: a 'shift in liturgical culture'

Archbishop Mark Coleridge

During a wide-ranging talk on the theme of 'Liturgical renewal past, present and to come' at the National Liturgical Conference in Perth, on 5 February 2010, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn indicated areas where a 'shift in liturgical culture' is needed if Vatican II's reforms are to be realised. The following are some extracts. The full text is accessible on the Internet.

We are more than forty years down the track from Vatican II. That means we are in a good position to assess what has worked well and what has worked less well in that time.

One of the things that we have not done well is the sense of the liturgy as Christ's action, the sense of the liturgy as something received rather than something we do.

Another area where I think we have not done well is in fostering a sense of the transcendent or the sacred, the sense of awe if you prefer. It gets down to basic things like the sense of a church as a sacred place and, tied to that, the sense of the Real Presence which seems to me critical.

Often enough the feel now is more of the church as a hall, little different from a secular space. There is a diminished sense of the church as an oratory and therefore a place of silence. But I refer more generally to the sense of the transcendent as an area where we need to do better.

Another point where I think we have done less well is with the translations. The translations we have grown up with present problems theologically: that is now clear to me.

We need texts that strengthen rather than weaken the sense of God incarnate. The liturgy, however transcendent it is, is also very physical, very bodily. We need therefore to become more bodily, and to understand ritual gesture better in this largely de-ritualised culture.

What about silence? I think this is critical. The Rabbis talk about the Scripture as 'black fire on white fire'. The black fire is the type, the black words; the white fire is the margins and the gaps between the words. It is all fire.

At times in our worship, however, it feels as if we've got words, words, words, the black fire, but we've got too little white fire. If this new moment of liturgical renewal is about new words, it is no less about new silences.

We need a liturgical music that dances with silence, not a noise that replaces silence. Some of what we sing and hear at Mass is a substitution for silence rather than a feeding of the silence of God into which we are drawn.

I'm not sure that we have done well on the score of beauty. It is often claimed that there is a banality about much of our worship. It relates, for instance, to the churches that we've built and Canberra provides plenty of examples. If an atom bomb were dropped on the national capital, how many of the Catholic churches would you want to save? A handful, but no more.

Think of the banalities that we have built and the iconoclasm that we've perpetrated at times. Often enough too the texts that we have produced have a banality about them. The music can have a banal feel to it. The vestments worn can look tawdry at times. Similarly the vessels which can at times look like cheap things picked up at K-Mart.

Another thing that troubles me is a kind of unwitting clericalisation of the Mass. When Vatican II decided to turn the celebrant around (though that was never said explicitly), the Mass became much more dependent upon the celebrant than it ever was in the Tridentine form. In other words when the priest faced ad orientem, there was a kind of impersonality, which may have been excessive.

But now the priest faces the people, the sense of the celebrant as celebrity can become a problem.

We talk endlessly about the new translations, but this moment is about more than words. It implies a shift in liturgical culture, a shift which I would see as an advance.

The cultural change that is upon us must involve the unsettling of bad habits and long-held convictions. In this moment, we are being summoned to an advance in liturgical culture that touches words, touches ritual, touches music, touches silence.

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