Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 14, 2003
The Church from the Eucharist
Maintaining the dignity of the Mass is a must
By GLEN ARGAN
By GLEN ARGAN
The fifth chapter in Pope John Paul's new encyclical is called The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration. This issue of the Mass being celebrated in a dignified manner has been a major area of concern since the Second Vatican Council. A genuine love of the Eucharist has sometimes expressed itself in a liturgical puritanism of both conservatives and liberals. The love and joy of the Eucharist has at times been hidden by a stiff-necked insistence on the "right way" to celebrate the Mass.
My own belief is that the dignity of the Eucharist is best expressed in celebrations that are simple, humble and reverent. There is room for prayerful silence as well as congregational singing. I often find that spirit in our weekday Masses at the Catholic Pastoral Centre. The large size of Sunday congregations unfortunately makes such a spirit much harder to achieve.
Still, dignity doesn't have to mean solemn, formal and legalistic. It can be present in a Mass that is small, reverent and which does not take massive planning. Our age loves the big spectacle, but on a day-to-day basis what it most needs is worship that encourages a meditative awareness of the Lord's presence.
What I found in this chapter of the encyclical is a counter-balance to my own enthusiasms. The pope rightly points out that the Mass is the paschal sacrifice, a sacrifice that creates and forms the Church. It is not a devotion or personal prayer time. It is the re-enactment of the central act of our redemption.
The pope begins this chapter by recalling the story of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, pouring a flask of costly ointment over Jesus' head. "Like the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany, the "Sacred art must be outstanding for its ability to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church's faith and in accordance with the pastoral guidelines appropriately laid down by competent authority" (n. 50).
Likewise with what the Church calls enculturation - the adaptation of the Eucharist to the particular society in which it is being celebrated. It is good for the Eucharist to be celebrated in a way close to the local culture's traditional customs. That helps to forge a link between faith and life. But in doing so, one should not treat these customs as superior to the faith. One cannot tinker with the Eucharist.
The liturgy is not an arbitrary form of worship that can be bent to satisfy the desires or customs of any individual or culture. It is a sacred act instituted by the Son of God.
Thus, the pope concludes this chapter saying, "I consider it my duty therefore to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. . . . No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: It is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and universality" (n. 52).