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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Building Pastoral Liturgy through Ministry

This is the second talk I gave to the Student Liturgy Committee of Franciscan University.  Again, the same caveats apply to this text as to the first of the two talks, which can basically be summed up as: Don't flip out if you differ in opinion.  I don't need the grief! ;-)


Building Pastoral Liturgy through Ministry

I realize that the title of this particular talk may seem to be a bit on the soft and fluffy side, given our encounters up to this point.  However, my words are intentional.  In this talk, I want to examine the liturgy from a pastoral and practical standpoint.  We will explore briefly the questions I posed in my previous talk: the who, what, where, how of the Mass, if you will; we will look at the true nature of ministry, a nuanced understanding of pastoral ministry, and we will touch on two of the more popular phrases in liturgy today: the hermeneutic of continuity and mutual enrichment.

I.  Orientation of the Liturgy

When one uses the word “orientation” in terms of the Mass, most people’s minds immediately jump to images of a priest “with his back to the people,” or “facing the same direction,” or “everyone facing east.”  Books like Cardinal Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy and Michael Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord have made compelling arguments for this type of liturgical orientation from historical, theological, and spiritual points of view.  I do not intend to repeat everything that they have said or written. 
Instead, I want to focus on a more basic aspect of liturgical orientation, namely the focal point of liturgical worship.  In the postmodern age, liturgical worship is often relegated to being thought of as a “communal act” that focuses on, emphasizes, and even centers around the gathering of the congregation.  Songs like “Gather us in,” “We are the Church,” etc., have solidified this in the minds of so many Catholics.  We have lost touch with the true purpose for the sacred liturgy, which is worship of God, and of God alone.
It seems that I find myself going off on a diatribe with my own parishioners on a fairly regular basis, trying to make them understand the reason we celebrate Mass, and why it is important.  And I say the same thing over and over again:  There is nothing more sublime or profound than the sacred action in which we worship the one God, living and true.  I repeat: There is nothing more sublime or profound than the sacred action in which we worship the one God, living and true.  All our efforts, and the disposition of our minds and hearts must be singularly focused on this reality.  The Mass is for God, not for us. 
This is not a popular sentence.  But allow me to explain.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, insofar as it is the re-presentation of the unbloody sacrifice of Christ on Calvary for the salvation of the world, makes real for us time and time again the salvation into which we have been baptized, and in which we share as members of the Christian Faithful.  The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, made present in the Mass, is—like all Sacraments—for the sanctification and edification of the People of God.  But at its essence, the Mass remains our act of worshipping God—the new sacrifice of the Temple, the spotless lamb slain by the priest in the Holy of Holies for the expiation of sin—an offering to God, that He might be pleased with His people.  It is how we worship!  Plain and simple! 
Yet, it is easy to see how this is often glossed over, diminished, or even outrightly rejected in favor of a more protestantized, post-modern, community-centered understanding that strips from the Mass any sense of worship aimed at the Divine, and leaves it a hollowed-out shell of a gathering that celebrates human beings and their relationship with God (which is always perfect—have you ever noticed that?!).  This lack of orientation is what I’m speaking of. 
Now, so as not to sound one-sided, there is a “we” aspect to the Mass.  Msgr. Guido Marini, in addressing Adoratio 2011, the First International Conference on Eucharistic Adoration held in Rome this past June, speaks of the necessary relationality of the Mass.  He states:
we are recalled to some of the typical and indispensable dimensions of the liturgy.  I refer, first, to the dimension of catholicity, which has been constitutive of the Church since the beginning.  In that catholicity, unity and variety come together in harmony so as to form a substantially united reality, despite the legitimate diversity of forms.  And then there is the dimension of historical continuity, in virtue of which the auspicious development appears to be that of a living organism that does not renounce its past, progressing through the present and oriented toward the future.  And, again, there is the dimension of participation in the liturgy of Heaven, for which it has been appropriate to speak of the liturgy of the Church as that of human and spiritual space in which Heaven comes down to earth.  Consider, only for example, the passage of the first Eucharistic Prayer, in which we ask: “…grant that this offering, by the hands of your holy Angel, may be taken to the altar of Heaven…”[1]
And, finally, there is the dimension of non-arbitrariness, which avoids the subjectivity of the individual or of the group: that which instead appertains to all as a received gift, to be guarded and transmitted.  The liturgy is not a sort of entertainment, where everyone can feel right away to add and subtract according to his own taste in order to satisfy more or less his own happy creativity.  The liturgy is not a party in which must always be found something new to excite the interests of the participants.  The liturgy is the celebration of the Mystery of Christ, given to the Church, in which we are called always to enter with great intensity, especially in virtue of the providential and always-new repetition of the rite.
To enter into the “we” of the Church from the Eucharist means also being transformed in the logic of that catholicity that is love, or the opening of the heart, according to the measure of the Heart of Christ: it embraces all, it bends its own selfishness to the demands of true love, and it is disposed to give its life without reservation.  The Eucharist is the true source of love of the Church, and it is in the heart of everyone.  From the Eucharist the Church takes shape daily in the love that is the evangelical style to which we are all called.

And so, our whole mentality of how we approach the Mass and the Eucharist must be changed.  Our orientation must become one not of self-centeredness, but of a true interior turning towards the Lord.

II. Liturgical Ministry

Having a better understanding of the nature of the liturgical act, and the proper end to which it is directed, we can now look at how we function within the sacred action.  And so I pose the question: what is a minister?  The word “minister” comes from the Latin ministrare, which means to serveMinister, in Latin, is a servant.  And so, to understand properly the role of a minister, we must accept that the relationship between the liturgy and the minister is one of subservience, of stewardship.  The servant does not seek to control his master, to subdue him, to make him bend to his own will.  The good and faithful servant is one who derives pleasure from being humble and obedient.  And the reward of the good and faithful servant is the trust and admiration of the master, which leads ultimately to more freedom.
As ministers of the sacred liturgy, we are first and foremost servants of the liturgy, servants of the Church.  Even the word liturgy denotes this relationship.  Its roots in the Greek are commonly said to mean “the work of the people”—this was, and remains, a very common line spewed by progressive pundits to justify the great liberties they take with the Mass.  However, liturgy comes from two Greek words, “leos” meaning people or the public, and “ourgia”, which means service.  Liturgy is not the work of the people, but the service of the people.  Understood in this context, one can see how this dovetails with my previous discussion on antinomian attitudes in the liturgy.
As ministers of the sacred liturgy, we are ultimately servants who ought never presume to impose our own styles, attitudes, ideologies, etc., on the liturgy.  Our mission is not to create liturgy, but to be formed by the liturgy.  As stewards, our mission is to present faithfully to the People of God the liturgy as given to us by the Church for our edification and sanctification.  This can only be done in a spirit of true and humble service. 
And what is our reward for being good and faithful servants?  Well, for starters, it should go without saying that adherence to the Church and faithfulness to her commands pleases God.  And, as importantly, it serves to diminish the sin of Pride in our hearts.  Fidelity and humility in ministry are at the heart of the liturgy.  If we look to the saints, we can see so many who grew in holiness simply by putting the Church before their own needs and desires.  St. Thérese writes beautifully of her love of working in the sacristy, polishing the sacred vessels and laying out the altar linens and vestments, as if there were no place she would rather have been.  While it may seem a bit excessive to some, her love is rooted in being a true, humble servant.  She understood so well the profound nature of the sacred liturgy, and, like the woman suffering from a hemorrhage, wanted merely to touch the hem of Christ’s garment, to derive so much fulfillment from the simplest and humblest of actions.  This is an image that should remain with all of us in how we approach the sacred liturgy as true ministers.

III. To be Pastoral

Without a doubt, the single-most abused and misused term in the post-Conciliar ecclesiastical vocabulary is the word “pastoral.”  For close to fifty years now, this word has been synonymous with an attitude that it is acceptable to break any and every rule, guideline, and norm, at any and every level, in the name of making someone’s life easier.  From my own experience as a canon lawyer, I constantly receive criticism from superiors when I issue a negative sentence in a case of matrimonial nullity.  The reason is always the same: it’s not pastoral not to give people what they want.  Of course, my response is that I have no control over whether or not a person has validly contracted marriage, and my obligation is to the truth, not to avoiding the truth in the interest of letting people “get on with their lives.”  As you might imagine, this has branded me as a horrible, un-pastoral, hard-line conservative who doesn’t care about people.  Go figure!
The word pastoral obviously is an adjective that denotes something being “of or like a shepherd.”  At least that was its original meaning.  And I am here to declare that it is high-time this word be rescued from its antinomian captors and returned to its most basic meaning.  To give a new definition of pastoral, I borrow an idea from Jason Pennington, who originally wrote the essay “The Pastoral Musician: A True Shepherd or a Thief at the Gate?”.  It was published on December 29, 2005 on the blog “Christus Vincit.” 
While Pennington directs all of his remarks toward the concept of a pastoral musician, I borrow his basic paradigm in the hopes of expanding on it and applying in a way that we might rehabilitate this poor, pitiful word.  Pennington writes:
The immediate and simplest answer to [the question of what it means to be pastoral is]: to act like a shepherd, to shepherd the flock. The Western tradition informs our perception of "shepherding." The Roman poet Virgil describes in vivid imagery the pastoral life in the Eclogues. In fact, literature through the ages, both religious and secular, offers descriptions of the pastoral. The pastoral life is gentle and calm. It is peaceful and serene. Lambs frolic as the shepherd plays his pipe beneath a sprawling shade tree. 
And so, an analogy of the 23rd Psalm ensues.  Let’s look at how it lines up.

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The Lord is ultimately in charge.  He is the Good Shepherd, the true pastor.  And he attends to all my needs.  To be pastoral means to tend to the needs of the flock, to ensure that receive what is best for them.  Notice that there is no mention of what the flock desires.  The true pastor knows what is needed.  He does not concern himself with what is wanted.

In verdant pastures he gives me repose.  Near restful waters he leads me.  He refreshes my soul.
The pastoral minister creates an atmosphere of peace and fulfillment.  He does not overburden the flock, but seeks to rejuvenate their spirits—again, with what they need, not what they want.

Though I should walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are at my side.  Your rod and your staff give me courage.
Here we come to the heart of the matter.  The relationship between shepherd and flock is not all sunshine and lollipops!  There’s the rod and the staff.  Pennington writes the following:
The shepherd's rod and staff have two purposes. They are used by the shepherd as weapons to keep harm from his flock. They also are used to keep the sheep in line. The shepherd's staff after all has a crooked end to restrain a sheep that has gone the wrong way. Sure, the rod and staff give comfort in protection from harm, but they also dispense discipline. The shepherd gives the sheep what they want, but more importantly, he gives them what they need, like it or not. He leads the flock to good grazing land, but he also has to keep them together and on track. If all they received from the shepherd is what they wanted, the flock would splinter and wander in all directions: All we like sheep

The flock wants—and demands—to be pampered, to have everything spoon-fed to them.  But that is not being pastoral.  If anything, it is doing them no favors.

One of my canon law professors in Rome explained the term “pastoral” in the following way: “The true pastoral tool lies in observing the norm, not ignoring it.”  Our obligation at all times is to uphold the rights of everyone.  True Christian justice demands that we uphold the rights of the Christian Faithful.  Whenever a rule is broken in order to be “pastoral” to someone, then the rights of another are violated.  If I alter the words of consecration at Mass because it would be pastoral for the children in the pews, then I am ultimately violating their rights to receive the Sacraments and liturgy of the Church as intended by the Church.  As pastoral ministers, we cannot uphold the rights of the Christian faithful through the breaking of rules, the ignoring of norms, or skirting issues.  True, people may not appreciate what we are doing; they will think that we’re being hard or even arbitrary.  But, again, a pastoral minister is ultimately just what the words describe: a shepherding servant.

IV. Breaking Free of the 1970s

Over the past few years, new buzz-words and phrases have appeared in our vocabulary.  We speak of a “reform of the reform,” a “new liturgical movement,” a “hermeneutic of continuity,” and the “mutual enrichment” of the two forms of the Roman Rite.  These phrases give vigor to young conservative pundits, and strike fear and frustration into the hearts of old “progressives,” no doubt!  But we must always be careful in how we approach them.
We are ministers of the liturgy in an age where we run the risk of inflicting upon the liturgy the same careless and arbitrary abuses that it has endured from “progressive” liturgists.  Care must be taken to ensure that everything we do in the liturgy is about the liturgy itself, and not about our own ideologies or opinions.  I could list hundreds of changes I’d love to make to my celebration of the Mass in the name of “continuity” or “mutual enrichment.”  Yet, I am bound by a far greater loyalty to the Church than I am to my personal preferences.  The same must be true for all ministers of the liturgy.
So, how do we reconcile the two paths: mutual enrichment and fidelity to the liturgical books?  First of all, clear lines must be drawn.  We have an obligation at all times to be faithful to the liturgical books as they are given to us by the Church.  To that end, modifying the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite to bring it into closer conformity with the Extraordinary Form (or vice versa) is something which ought only to happen where the liturgical books and documents themselves make explicit allowance for innovation, or where the rubrics and norms are tacit, and therefore lend themselves to some enrichment.
“Mutual enrichment” of the two Roman Rites is something that is obviously desired by our Holy Father, as he stated in his cover letter to bishops upon the promulgation of his motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum.”  And what follows logically is a discussion of a “hermeneutic of continuity”—an emphasis on continuity between prior and current rites, as opposed to the “hermeneutic of rupture” that seems to have the predominant focus of punditry over the past 40 years.  The great irony is that this is a great shift in rhetoric from 40 years ago.  When the Novus Ordo Missae was first introduced, it was given credibility by liturgists touting its conformity to sound, historical liturgical principles, saying that this was actually a restoration of a much, much older form of worship.  And the nay-sayers saying that it was a break with tradition were the ones who turned out to be followers of Archbishop Lefebvre and the like.  How times have changed!
Overall, there is a great deal of room for seeking to understand all of these principles better.  What I’ve presented here is but the tip of the iceberg.  There is always room for more discussion, more exploration.  And the examples that can be given are too numerous to begin to list.

V. Conclusion

In conclusion, I’d like to reflect briefly on the bigger picture.  Everything that I’ve discussed in this talk, and in my previous address, has been aimed at a group of dedicated individuals who serve the Church and their community in a very specific way through the sacred liturgy.  Our mission, however, ought not be one of self-service.  Rather, we’ve explored principles today that should be at the forefront of every Catholic’s consciousness: the true orientation of the liturgy, the true nature of being pastoral, the divine underpinnings of authority, the necessity of true fidelity, etc. 
As ministers of the sacred liturgy, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that those whom we serve are better catechized, and more properly disposed to receiving the richness that the Roman Rite has to offer.  So often, we gloss over the Roman Rite and become entranced by the bells and smoke and chants of other rites, and we seek to integrate them (unnecessarily and illicitly) into our own rites as a way of “dressing them up.”  But the Roman Rite is whole and complete.  And I would say that we have a moral obligation to explore our patrimony, to seek to uncover the buried treasures of our own rites, and to restore them within the parameters of our current liturgical paradigms, to the glory of God and the edification of His Holy Church.  This is how we ultimately may be viewed by our Master as being good and faithful servants, stewards, and ministers of that which the Church has entrusted to our care.

[1] The Roman Missal, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation [henceforth ICEL], 2010


  1. Great post. I've often wondered how mutual enrichment can occur when there are always two distinct sets of rubrics to be followed. I think you've more or less nailed it, the enrichment isn't in making the NO look like a TLM (that should be a shallow enrichment indeed), the enrichment occurs via the intangibles of worship - the tone, spiritual disposition, the inner orientation of those saying/assisting at the mass. I suppose in an ideal world, catechesis and preaching gives birth to a spiritual renewal which naturally lends itself toward that inner orientation toward the Lord expressed in the concrete so beautifully by traditional liturgy.

  2. Father, Excellent post. I especially liked the thought on orientation. In my own experience this is one of the greatest areas of misunderstanding and not only among laity but among priests and religious. Priests feel a sense that they are "on stage" and that they need "to perform". I remember reading an article by a priest written after he celebrated the Extraordinary Form for the first time. He entitled it "My Second First Mass" and he spoke about being freed from the sense of having to perform. Your article is truly pastoral and gives much food for thought. Thank you.

  3. I just found your blog...great post...I think I will repost it... I see you are from Follansbee...I spent a lot of time around there jumping in the river etc...I miss that area and the university. God bless!

  4. So often, we gloss over the Roman Rite and become entranced by the bells and smoke and chants of other rites, and we seek to integrate them (unnecessarily and illicitly) into our own rites as a way of “dressing them up.”

    Seems to me that the Roman Rite specifically provides for 'smells and bells' in several instances. You disagree with that?

  5. I don't disagree with that at all, Dad29. What I'm actually saying is that so many Romans completely overlook the inherent beauty of the Roman Rite done well, and immediately flock to practices foreign to our own Rite, thinking that because they seem "archaic" or somehow "more ancient" they must be superior. The Roman Rite not only provides for "smells and bells" demands them, if the Rite is to be experienced as it ought to be. But we must refrain from altering our own Rite in favor of those things which are foreign--and in some cases, contrary--to the Roman Rite.