In this second-part of his commentary on liturgical renewal, Fr Patrick Collins, outlines a series of developments which he believes will help make the liturgy more accessible to the ordinary church goer and which also take us closer to what the prime objectives are in our conducting liturgies. Driving his own thinking are the thoughts of Thomas Merton.
"I think the whole thing needs to be changed, the whole idea of the priesthood has to be changed. I think we need to develop a whole new style of worship in which there is no need for one hierarchical person to have a big central place, a form of worship in which everyone is involved." (Thomas Merton, The Springs of Contemplation, pp. 134-135)
A proposed approach to the continuing evolution of ritual form...
I propose to approach this continuing evolution of ritual forms by discussing the current structure of the Roman Rite in terms of verbs rather than nouns, action taking precedence over form. The verbs indicate the experience the assembly is meant to create and have as they actively engage the ritual structure. Interestingly in John's Gospel the sense of love is always expressed in verbs whereas in the Pauline corpus love is expressed as nouns.
The verbs of the Roman Rite are these:
In this approach the creative ritual question shifts from filling "slots" on an unchanging liturgical planning page with a fixed structure. The new question becomes this: how to energize a more fluid ritual structure into an energized celebration which enables all of the celebrating participants to experience the above mentioned verbs? It means aesthetically composing, creating and choreographing the structure so that the verbs actually are experienced by the Assembly who are the proper celebrants of the ritual. What is happening matters most!
The general structure of the rite remains: Gathering Rite, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist and Dismissal Rite. But there is more flexibility in the way in which the celebration is lifted off its pages and created into an energized celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery. And the focus is not on the single presiding priest but on the celebrating Assembly.
THE SPACE FOR WORSHIP: This restructuring and refocusing would also involve re-imagining the space in which the ritual takes place in such a way that the focus is not on the places of ambo, altar and presider's chair as much as on the way the Assembly is center "stage" — situated around more than in front of those three foci of the ritual action. The places for the assembly would not face forward as in a theater or in the traditional church arrangement. The people would be facing one another — either across from one another in choir stall arrangement or in a circle or semi-circle. The presider would be seated in an appropriate chair within the assembly from which the presiding role could be exercised when the presiding role is called for.
MUSIC: Re-thinking the role of music and the appropriate kinds of music for ritual would also be involved. Experience shows that the assembly sings best when the music is simple, engaging, and familiar and they do not have to find pages in the song book. Hymns which have never been innate to the Roman Rite would largely be eliminated except perhaps as music of praise or mediation after communion. The proper music of the Roman Rite is psalmody and service music.
THE ENTRANCE RITE: Gather, open, quiet in reverent hospitality. An example of such re-thinking would mean that the processional chant would be antiphonal psalmody. An example would be the Joseph Gelineau antiphon "Arise, come to your God. Sing him your songs of rejoicing".
If the assembly is not too large in numbers the entire assembly could gather in one space and process into the worship space. This would make it clear that the focus is not on the presiding priest coming in the prominent place at the end of the procession. Too often it seems the processional song is there to welcome the priest! If the assembly is too large for all to enter together singing, then the people including the priest could gather in their proper seats and begin the liturgy with several minutes of meditative silence followed by the presider's formal greeting: "The Lord be with you". This would lead into a Song of Gathering. This period of sacred silence would help to restore the contemplative dimension which Merton feared would be lost in the renewed ritual.
There would be freedom exercised in the ways in which Gathering Rite is expressed and experienced. For example, the presiding priest would welcome the Assembly – before or after the Song of Gathering – and incorporate the sign of the cross and "The Lord be with you" greeting – preferably sung on solemn occasions. Then choices would be made based upon the season and the occasion whether to use either some form of the Penitential Rite or the Gloria or the Sprinkling Rite. This rite would conclude with an Opening Prayer by the priest, observing a significant silence between the invitation to pray and the body of the prayer.
THE LITURGY OF THE WORD: listen and respond. Prior to the first reading the one preaching would introduce the scriptures of the day with words that open the ears of the listeners to questions and situations in life which the Word will address. It would be a kind of tuning of the ears, waking up consciousness to really hear God's Word in relation to life. There would be significant silence between all of the parts of the Liturgy of the Word so that members can assimilate the Word into their own consciousness and lives. In that way listening would more readily flow into responding – not just with responses and songs but with a challenge to one's own existence and way of living. The Responsorial Psalm and heightened and intensified form of the Gospel Acclamation would always be sung. The proclamation of the Gospel would be experienced as the climax of the Liturgy of the Word. At times the entire psalm could be sung by the Assembly rather than using a responsorial verse only.
Much more prayer and study is needed in the preachers' preparation of the homily. Studies by the National Pastoral Music Association have shown that the parts of the liturgy most of the Assembly find most important for their liturgical experience is first the homily and secondly the music. For example, the preacher might begin his prayer and study on Monday for the following Sunday. By Wednesday he might gather with parish staff and select parishioners to prayerfully reflect on the scriptural texts in relation to the life of that community and the world. By Friday he would be ready to put pen to paper to create the structure and text of the homily.
THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: take, bless, break and share.
The Preparation of the Gifts and the Altar: There would be no assembly song at the Preparation of Gifts – only silence or perhaps soft instrumental or quiet choral music. The General Intercessions would be performed with brief intentions read by the intercessor, a moment of silence would follow each intention and then a sung invitation to prayer by the cantor (We pray to the Lord) and a sung prayer by the Assembly (Lord, hear our prayer). There would then be a brief silence before the next intercession.
The Eucharistic Prayer: The Eucharistic Prayer Acclamations would be sung with frequent acclamations interspersed in litanic fashion between the words of the presiding priest. Greater variety and shorter texts for the Eucharistic Prayer would be desirable. It must be clear that, as the Rite says, the whole assembly – not just the presider - celebrates the Eucharistic Prayer. The priest's unique role within the Assembly's celebration of the Eucharistic Prayer must be preserved. But more needs to be done so that the Assembly is more actively engaged. Regrettably the present texts and structures do not give that impression. It seems to be a prayer said by the presider while the Assembly waits through it to receive Communion. The assembly might also body forth the gestures used by the priest: the orans posture, the extending of the hands, and some dramatic gesture at the closing Doxology with an extended and energetic Great Amen sung. In this way the body as well as the mouth would be engaged and, as stated in the Magnificat: "My whole being rejoices in God my Savior".
The Communion Rite: Music during Communion would be either instrumental, choral of a simple mantra sung by the Assembly or a refrain or mantra-like chant sung by the Assembly with verses by cantor and/or choir. At the end of the distribution of the Sacrament the Assembly would sing either a Communion meditation or a magnificent hymn of praise depending upon the liturgical season or the occasion.
THE DISMISSAL RITE: The Dismissal Rite as it now exists is too brief. In addition to always including the blessing of the people prayers, some words which summarize the Liturgy of the Word could be added before the Final Blessing and words of dismissal. The liturgy would conclude with the invitation and command: "Go in Peace… Thanks be to God". No congregational song would follow. Instead this dismissal could be followed by an instrumental or choral piece in the mood of the liturgical season or the occasion. The people would move into conversation and interaction within the worship space as the music energizes their return to "the world".
Thomas Merton's suggestion that "the whole idea of the priesthood has to be changed" can be seen sketched out somewhat in his late correspondence. It can be summarized in two words: eliminate clericalism. He stated this specifically in a letter to his friend, Robert Lax in June of 1968 (6.22.68, RJ 185). Clericalism might be described as a kind of attitude of separateness and superiority – both within the priest himself and ascribed to the priesthood by at least some members of the Assembly. It results in a distancing, an aloofness and even a kind of over-against position and attitude of the priest vis-a-vis the celebrating Assembly.
The monk sensed an almost universal problem with priests: too busy to become persons of deep prayer which would yield solid spirituality and preaching. The Acts of the Apostles chose deacons so that the apostles could be free to pray and preach. Priest, Merton judged, needed to get "disengaged from the futile routine and paperwork and 'public relations' gags and all the rest of the trivialities that have entered the life of the priest in America in proportion as he has become a business man and an operator like other business men and operators…" He felt this involved wasted motion and "the burden of nonsense and triviality…" (Roloff, Ronald, OSB, 10.21.62 SC 152).
Merton's advice to a diocesan priest in 1968 reflected his own evolving sense of his monastic and priestly vocation...
"Couldn't you be a sort of 'underground priest' in lay clothes… In other words it seems to me that in this Post-Conciliar period you might be called to a kind of hidden service in the sort of unofficial and informal life you desire. In short, be like a layman, live like a layman, but do some of the priestly work and service along with it… All the more reason to get out of the ordinary patterns and yet to be a priest nevertheless, and work in a quiet, relaxed relationship with people you can relate to without too much difficulty. After all, you are always going to have to relate to people. See your priesthood not as a role or an office, but as just part of your own life and your relation to other persons. You can bring them Christ in some quiet way, and perhaps you will find yourself reaching people that the Church would not otherwise contact." (Father D. 3.14.68 SC 371)
LITURGICAL INCULTURATION AND RITUAL ADAPTATION...
This whole project of ongoing liturgical and ministerial development could well be understood as an experience of inculturation – something affirmed by Vatican II but since honored by the official Church more in the breach. Robert J. Schreiter in "The New Catholicity" addresses questions of reception and nonreception of the preached message of the Gospel. "But if no attention is given to how the Gospel is being received, if no encouragement and generosity are shown toward efforts to inculturate, then communication as intercultural communication has failed... Without this communication has not taken place." (P. 129)
Experimentation with liturgical form must be allowed to proceed with greater generosity toward fluidity with the fundamental structure of the Roman Rite. Church policies which close the door to such ongoing reflection and reshaping must give way to a greater local adaptation. Schreiter asserts: "Failure to communicate in this fashion is more than a flaw in a communication event. It is also a theological flaw, in that not respecting intercultural communication is casting a doubt on the ability of the culture to be able to receive the Gospel." (P. 129)
While there could be some sense of a danger of breaking communion with the Church universal in such local adaptation, Schreiter calls for an appreciation of asymmetry in the communication process. This would be a process honoring both sameness and difference. He claims that.expressions of the Christian message need to show a continuing indeterminacy. "This means that the message can be communicated via a variety of codes and signifiers. Indeterminacy, rather than being a defect, is rather an important aspect of the message's fullness, for without it the message might not be able to be expressed in some cultures." (P. 131)
Many of the suggestions for a more fluid form of the Roman Rite of celebrating Eucharist could be implemented in the rite authorized by Vatican II. These further explorations and experiments would honor and foster the insights of Thomas Merton offered in 1968 – six months before his early and untimely death: "I think the whole thing needs to be changed, the whole idea of the priesthood has to be changed. I think we need to develop a whole new style of worship in which there is no need for one hierarchical person to have a big central place, a form of worship in which everyone is involved." (The Springs of Contemplation, pp 135-135)
Dr Patrick W Collins 27/05/2009
What are your thoughts on this commentary by Dr Collins?
©2009Patrick W Collins