US Archbishop: how to reform the Liturgy

US Archbishop: how to reform the Liturgy

Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis has been one of the most generous US bishops in regard to celebrations of the Latin Mass in his archdiocese. The following comments have been extracted from a recent interview with Archbishop Burke by Brian Mershon, a commentator on cultural issues from a classical Catholic perspective.

In many ways, in my mind, the liturgical reform that was asked for by the Second Vatican Council is still very much needed, especially in terms of the New Evangelisation. In other words, the liturgical rites should express as fully, as beautifully, and as richly as possible the mystery of the faith - the doctrine of the faith - according to the ancient maxim that "the law of praying is the law of believing."

I have great hope there will be restoration of the sacred liturgy along those lines absolutely faithful to the Second Vatican Council, but underlining more the continuity in the celebration of the sacred rites.

I have found in this regard the writings of Pope Benedict XVI - when he was a cardinal of the Church - including works like The Spirit of the Liturgy, to be most instructive and helpful. I certainly have shared his mind very much in this. In that regard he is expressing the mind of the Church.

As a priest, he took part in the sessions of the Second Vatican Council. He studied so deeply those teachings, but also in the context of the whole Tradition of the Church. I have taken to heart very much what he has written.

What happened with the reform of the liturgy after the Council was a dramatic simplification of the rites, and then an opening to a kind of experimentation, which if one reads carefully Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Pastoral Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was really not warranted. And with that came a loss of the transcendent dimension of the liturgy - a loss of the sense that these are actions of Christ.

In the liturgy, indeed, really and truly, earth meets heaven and they are joined. These are sacred rites. But somehow during the reform, there was a loss of the sense of the sacred rites, and there developed in some people's minds that the liturgy was our creation, and was our tool for self-expression.

This is not the case. The liturgy is the action of Christ safeguarded and handed down in the Church for the sanctification of the people. You could only call it self-expression in the sense that we express Christ's life within us. But that happens by the grace of Christ and by our fidelity in the celebration of the Holy Mass or one of the sacraments or any of the sacred rites we may be celebrating.

From the time I was a young priest, one thing that always disturbed me greatly was how often priests, when celebrating the Mass, would either make up the Eucharistic Prayer, or tamper with it. It always struck me that here is the most sacred action, the most treasured gift we have in the Church handed down from Christ and the apostles faithfully in an unbroken line. How could I ever suppose I could improve on that? Or that somehow I had to make it my creation instead of this most treasured gift received in the Church with gratitude and with the highest respect, care, and attention?

Younger priests

After the Council there developed a reaction against the rite of Mass as it had been celebrated. It was as if it had to be banned from the face of the earth, or the reform could not take place.

The young seminarians and priests today don't have that attitude. Even though they normally celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass, they don't see the older rite as some kind of contradiction.

One of the great blessings of Gregorian chant and the Latin language is their universality and the way in which they can draw us together.

In particular, if one sees the celebration of the pontifical liturgies in Rome - the liturgies of our Holy Father - if we are able to sing some of the responses in Gregorian chant, and some of the responses, it is clear Latin is the language that draws us all together.

I remember when I was a boy - we were farmers, so we didn't travel very much - that people who had travelled to other countries would occasionally visit our home. They said that everywhere they travelled, wherever they went to Mass, it was the same. You could be in Hong Kong or New York City or Paris, and Mass was always the same.

If there could be recovery of at least some standard elements - in terms of the music such as the use of Gregorian chant and Latin texts in communities that are diverse - this would be a wonderful development.

[The 1962 Missal] is the rite of the Mass that I grew up with until I was in high school and it inspired my vocation to the priesthood. It was an essential part of my own spiritual formation and growth. That would be true for a number of people.

Some younger people who didn't know the former rite, but who have become acquainted with it, now find it very spiritually enriching.

With a greater appreciation of the older rite, now more widely celebrated, and the enrichment which that will bring, under the direction, of course, of our Holy Father, to the whole areas of sacred architecture, sacred vesture, sacred vessels, I hope that a great enrichment will take place in that regard [along with] a recovery of something that was lost.

© Copyright 2006 by Brian Mershon

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