Friday, October 11, 2013

Vigor, Unity, Adaptation and Strength

Last night I was privileged to address several hundred folks in the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, at the invitation of Bishop David Malloy. 


Eight weeks from today will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the first document of the Second Vatican Council: The Constitution on the Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.  

And whenever I think of that document, I think of the Council Father who laid hands on me and ordained me as a Priest 33 years ago, Bishop Bernard Flanagan, a solid piece of Vermont granite.  I can picture him sitting in the nave of Saint Peter's basilica as the Council began. 

I once asked him about his experience at the Council and what, in those opening days, most of the Bishops thought it was all about.  He smiled at me, reached behind his desk and opened a worn paperback copy of Flannery. Flipping through the opening pages he opened to the Constitution on the Liturgy, that same first document which was promulgated a half century ago, and pointed to the opening words of the Sacrosanctum Concilium which stated a fourfold purpose:

to impart an ever-increasing vigor to the Christian life;

to adapt more closely to the needs of our age ;

to foster whatever can promote union among Christians;

to strengthen whatever needs to be fortified to bring all men and women to Christ's Church.

Vigor, Strength, Change, and Unity. An ambitious agenda, which I will suggest to you, my friends, as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of this document, we have just begun to understand.

1. Vigor

I remember where first I heard the word vigor. It was in those innocent pre-tabloidian days of my Massachusetts youth, when the word was pronounced vi-gah, and was used to describe all the bright-eyed hopes of the first Catholic president. I remember my grandmother, putting a Kennedy for President bumper sticker on my bicycle, and one thing I knew about it was that this name in blue letters: KENNEDY stood for hope, for growth, for newness and for all things bright and beautiful.

The Council calls for "a new vigor to meet present-day circumstances and needs" and that we are to "undertake with vigor the task of renewal and reform.” They call for synods and councils, gatherings of Bishops to coordinate this reform, in order that the renewal of Church life might “flourish with renewed vigor." The soul of every Christian can know this renewed vigor through silence and meditation, for the Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures are the "support and vigor" of the Church through which men and women are called to live a life of Christian witness and "a leaven in the world." (cf. SC 106)

Vigor is something which belongs to youth. Like the Psalmist's words I learned to pray as an altar boy at the foot of the altar: ad Deum qui laetificat iuvetentum meum.

And for all the criticism to which we may be liable, my friends, we set out in those postconciliar years sowing vigor with abandon. With a joy that's like the rain we sought to envigorate the liturgy like nobody's business. Not even a funeral was allowed to be sad—for we took Augustine at his word—there is no room for sadness here!!

Examples of joy
All this was rooted, albeit somewhat precariously at times, in the words of the Council Father, who told us that the Lord’s Day was do be observed as “a day of joy.' Religious were to advance in a life of holiness "with the joy of a hope that does not deceive,"  and what drives every Christian life should be an openness to "divine joy,"...the joy of always belonging to God...Filled with the joy which Christ will preserve in you even in the midst of trial, learn to face the future with confidence.” 

But listen more closely to these texts for just a moment if you will. Joy, vigor and unmitigated exaltation—they're all there. But what is their aim and what is their cause? Their source and summit, like the liturgy they characterize, is Christ. Without Christ there is no joy. Without Christ there is no center.  Article 9 of the Constitution on the Liturgy:

For the goal of apostolic endeavor is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the Sacrifice and to eat the Lord's Supper.

Yet the joy we so often pursued in those post-conciliar years was, like the rain, here for a moment and then gone...a momentary pleasure, born of self-actualization and liturgy planning.  The joy of the well staged liturgy that moved people to tears. The vigorous joy of a choir on key or a reading well proclaimed or (even more rarely) a homily well preached!

All these things are very good—but dangerous. For the vigorous joys of youth are seductive. And absent a clear centeredness on Christ can lead us to strange places. 

It is not I who live, Saint Paul says, but Christ who lives in me. It is not I who accomplish all these things because I'm such a wonder, but Christ who does them because I have gotten out of his way. It is he who has (as the preface for the Saints says) "chosen the weak and made them strong" once again in me.

For what does it benefit a liturgy committee that the whole Easter Vigil go well, but I never get to pray in the process? What does it benefit an usher, that the place was hoppin but I was more concerned with finding the missing program than finding Christ. What does it benefit the priest if my whole parish is experiencing exemplary liturgies, but I have forgotten what it is like to pray.

So concerned can I become with imparting vigor and joy in other peoples' lives, that I fail to cultivate a deep and lasting joy it in my own. So concerned can I be at propagating a vigorous joy in my work, that I no longer find it in my life.

For how can I really give what I no longer possess?

Thus the vision which the Council invites us to embrace is one of vigor–but not the adolescent vigor which takes its joy where it can find it—but the fully formed vigor of the Christifideles laici who have come to know in their very depths that he in whom we live and move and have our being is the only place we can turn for the truly vigorous life.4

And thus the unfinished agenda of this new and very old vision of vigor in the life of the Church begins with an understanding that all worship is directed at and through Christ and that only by growing in relationship with him can we be enlivened and prepared for liturgical celebration and centering on Christ takes place not only on the outside, but most profoundly within.

2. Strength through Participation in the Liturgy

Have you ever heard a liturgist give a talk without mentioning full, conscious and active participation in the Liturgy.

But a vision of participation in the Divine liturgy requires an understanding of who is participating.

Well, it's me, of course–but who am I? I am a mind which must comprehend the prayers and scriptures and rites, a postured body which speaks on a deep and unarticulatable level through smell and movement and sound and sight. I am a heart which aches, rejoices and knows peace unlike the world can ever give. But the whole of me is greater than the sum of these parts. The whole of me is an animus, a soul, a being whom God knew in my mother's womb and who will be seen by him at the end of time. 

And when I bring my gift to the altar, it is always that gift of me, the totality of me, which I must bear. And when I prepare to ascend the mountain of the liturgy, it is me that I must make ready.

This is one boat I fear we have missed in the postconciliar reform of the Liturgy. For while we have spent much time arranging furniture and books and tell people where to stand and what to do—we have seldom spent much time or energy moving souls and hearts and people to be more like Christ, so that they might be joined with him  in the great sacrifice of praise which is the liturgy.

Nor is this an empty pious reflection, for I would suggest it is a vision largely unmet in the postconciliar reform as we have lived it. We have spent so much time on rewriting books and rearranging furniture that we have often forgotten that the business of liturgy is changing human hearts. Yet, it is interesting to note that the shortest article in the entire Constitution on the liturgy is the one dealing with texts. Most of the Constitution deals with the reform of people's hearts!

This is the kind of reform to which the great spiritual writers have called in the Church in various ages. It is the kind of reform described by Saint John of the Cross:

Within my flowering breast
which only for himself entire I save
He sank into his rest
and all my gifts I gave
lulled by the aims with which the cedars wave  

(Saint John of the Cross, translation by Roy Campbell, 1974)

I call you to a vision to make your heart, the heart of every Catholic, resplendent with the love of Christ. I call you to grow in him, to pray, to sacrifice, to become so like him that it is no longer you whom people see, but Christ who lives in you.

Hear article 14:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people" (1 Pet. 2:9, 4—5) have a right and obligation by reason of their baptism.

It goes on:

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy to full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else, for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit. Therefore, in all their apostolic activity, pastors of souls should energetically set about achieving it through the requisite pedagogy.

What have we done concretely to assure that the average person in the pew is "deeply imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, each in his own measure, and they must be trained to perform their functions in a correct and orderly manner."? Have we even given lip service to the one factor the Council fathers rightly indicated could scuttle full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy?

And yet I have hope.  A hope born not of naiveté, but of faith in you who have given your life to the Church and her sacred Liturgy;

I call you to strength—a strength that is born at the heart of things and not on their surface: A vision that knows that for us "the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest." SC 2

3. Adaptation and Change

The third purpose the Council set for itself was to adapt to the needs of our age. 

And we set about adapting with an abandon. With full, conscious and active participation as the goal to be considered before all else, we have vernacularized and accessorized the liturgy at every turn.

We accomplished not only the first systematic reform of the liturgical books in four hundred years, we accomplished the very first reform based upon texts critiqued and contextualized by modern scientific methods. This enterprise met with uneven success (in terms both of the Latin editiones typicae and their vernacularization), yet it has provided us with a liturgy reformed by conscious criteria and not historical accident.

And now, as we near the end of the reform of the Latin typical editions, we take a second look at inculturation, adaptation and change.

How welcome such a mandate has been to us as Americans! We who embrace accessibility as a birthright! How dare they not let me in! It's my right! How dare he not tell me all bout the intern! It's my right to know!

But liturgical adaptation is not like customizing a car. No car is designed to change me—but the liturgy is destined for just such a purpose.

What's more, liturgical adaptation must be different in different cultures. Liturgical adaptation, as the Council fathers told us, must be more radical in non-Western cultures which do not share a "Roman" western European base. Joseph Jungmann understood this more than fifty years ago when he wrote:

The Liturgy itself must be adapted and suited to the people. For divine worship is the Liturgy of the Church, of the Church understood as the Christian people organized under the ecclesiastical hierarchy. 

But we must note well: the people who carry out the Liturgy are not in the first place this or that particular people with its peculiarities, its characteristic social tendencies and its national traits. Before anything else, they are the People of God. They are the plebs sancta, a holy people who have emerged form the baptismal waters...Hence the body of people who have been incorporated into the Liturgy is of supra-temporal and supra-national structure. And so the community prayer and the community chant found in the Liturgy contain, as is to be expected, a number of traits which have preference over all specifically national characteristics....In this sense and to this extent the contour of the liturgical forms, by which the Christian community is to live and pray and sing, is predetermined by the very nature of the Church considered in her totality, not of the Church as she appears in a particular time or place...”
Josef A. Jungmann, S.J. Liturgical Worship (Collegeville, 1941) 58-60.

So the second vision I propose embraces inculturation—first, the inculturation of us and our culture into the unique and inspired tradition of the Roman Rite and then, after a period of study and refection, an incorporation of the unique American Cultural forms (whatever they may turn out to be) into Roman liturgical expression as celebrated in our country.

4. Unity

The final purpose of the Council was unity among all Christians.

The disunity we have witnessed even in our Church today. Look at those Christians, see the awful things they write about one another.

And so I call you to a vision of unity. A vision which says that nothing is important save Christ. 

A vision which is humble.

A vision which kneels before the Church and promises true obedience and respect, not just to the bishop, but to every person whom we shall meet.

A vision which sees the bishop and the priesthood as the locus for all unity.`'

A vision which hears Christ's words on the dying lips of one pope and from the pen of another: ut unum sint! That they all might be one!

A vision which sees the bishop as the center of that unity. A vision like that of Ignatius of Antioch: should undertake nothing without the bishop and the presbyters. Do not attempt to persuade yourselves that what you do on your own account is right and proper, but when you meet together there must be one petition, one prayer, one mind, one hope in love and in holy joy, for Jesus Christ is one and perfect before all else.10

At worship, he says. you must be like the string of a lyre, each in harmony with the bishops. Hence it is that in the harmony of your minds and hearts Jesus Christ is hymned. Make of yourselves a choir, so that with one voice and one mind,

That's the vision of the Second Vatican Council in article 31:

The bishop is to be considered as the High Priest of his flock from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and upon whom it in some way depends. Therefore all should hold in the greatest esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church. They must be convinced that the principal manifestation of the Church consists in the full, active participation of all God's holy people in the same liturgical celebrations, especially in the same Eucharist, in one prayer, at one altar, at which the bishop presides, surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers.

So I call you to a vision of unity. But a unity which, like the Roman rite itself, in every age and placed, embraces a certain people in a certain place with a certain hope and eternal tradition enshrined in her rites and prayers.

What does it mean to pray with the words of the Fathers?????

It means that the same Church which evangelized the Gauls and converted the Franks, which spoke the inmost hopes of Iberian pilgrims and Irish monks–this same rite is our heritage and our joy–a rite which we must proudly live and celebrate and treasure.


Vigor, Strength, Change and Unity.

That's a tall order. For it calls us to empty ourselves of all our own solutions and embrace only Christ and the perfect praise he gives to the Father from the wood of the cross. It means we must admit that none of our solutions and little of our work will be the definitive solution for the next generation.

And yet it is just such a faith that God who has chosen the weak and makes them strong will take care of his Church that first called us to be liturgists.

It's hard to be strong enough to be weak. It's doubly hard to admit our mistakes.

Never, ever, be afraid to admit your stupid mistakes. Your excesses, your insensitivity, your selfishness, your sin.

The vision I offer you is one of a church which could only be redeemed by the blood of the lamb. And of a people utterly dependent on his gratuitous mercy.

A vision of Conciliar Catholics—quick to repent and slow to judge, with whom negotiation is an instinct and compassion and hospitality a way of life.

A vision of a people

A people who gather and sing as one, but who sing their hearts out!

A people who gather to pray,
but to pray their deepest fears, hopes and desires.

A people who gather to hear the gospel, but then to live it in their lives.

A people gathered in the strength of the Church fully conscious of their need of God's mercy.

A people ready to change
but proud conservators of their rich heritage.

So, I call you to the vision of the Council Fathers.  It is the vision of innumerable Roman mosaics. It is the vision of Mrs. O'Leary who last month buried her husband. It is the vision of the Council Fathers who defined our vision in article eight of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until he our life shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory.  (Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 8)