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Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Time Is Now

A little over three years ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet then-Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, who, at the time was Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, when he delivered the keynote address at the 2008 Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  He talked about what it means to have a true "ars celebrandi" in our liturgies.  Using the Holy Father's beloved book, "The Spirit of the Liturgy", the archbishop reminded us what it really meant to be active participants in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Nearly three years later, now-Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, reiterates his call for that true "ars celebrandi" in a letter dated August 24, 2011.  In a letter written to the participants of the Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce (which was shared at the group's 20th general assembly held this past November in Rome), his Eminence sends a clear battle cry for true reform.  As shared by our friends at the New Liturgical Movement, Cardinal Ranjith writes:

I wish to express first of all, my gratitude to all of you for the zeal and enthusiasm with which you promote the cause of the restoration of the true liturgical traditions of the Church.

As you know, it is worship that enhances faith and its heroic realization in life. It is the means with which human beings are lifted up to the level of the transcendent and eternal: the place of a profound encounter between God and man.

Liturgy for this reason can never be what man creates. For if we worship the way we want and fix the rules ourselves, then we run the risk of recreating Aaron's golden calf. We ought to constantly insist on worship as participation in what God Himself does, else we run the risk of engaging in idolatry. Liturgical symbolism helps us to rise above what is human to what is divine. In this, it is my firm conviction that the Vetus Ordo represents to a great extent and in the most fulfilling way that mystical and transcendent call to an encounter with God in the liturgy. Hence the time has come for us to not only renew through radical changes the content of the new Liturgy, but also to encourage more and more a return of the Vetus Ordo, as a way for a true renewal of the Church, which was what the Fathers of the Church seated in the Second Vatican Council so desired.

The careful reading of the Conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilum shows that the rash changes introduced to the Liturgy later on, were never in the minds of the Fathers of the Council.

Hence the time has come for us to be courageous in working for a true reform of the reform and also a return to the true liturgy of the Church, which had developed over its bi-millenial history in a continuous flow. I wish and pray that, that would happen.

May God bless your efforts with success.
+Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
Archbishop of Colombo

It seems to me that in his message, Cardinal Ranjith seems to reiterate the Holy Father's call for mutual enrichment between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form.  When Pope Benedict XVI issued the 2007 Motu Propio, Summorum Pontificum, which liberalized the use of the Extrordinary Form of the Mass (known in many circles as the Traditional Latin Mass), he wrote that:

 "(T)he two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. The “Ecclesia Dei” Commission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study the practical possibilities in this regard. The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal."

A year ago, I was privileged to take part in the Society for Catholic Liturgy's annual conference in Houston.  One of the moments of grace that I experienced came in assisting at a low Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form.  Even though we were few in number within the tiny Lady's Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham Anglican-Use Church, the degree of solemnity and beauty was beyond comprehension.  I had the sense that I was totally in the presence of the Other and I found myself deep in prayer.  I did not have to see what the celebrant was doing or listen to every word that came forth from his mouth.  He was leading us in prayer and interceding to God on our behalf.  For our part, we united our prayers to his.

One way that celebrants can employ the mutual enrichment of the Vertus Ordo into the Ordinary Form is to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice ad orientem, turning towards the Lord, so to speak.  This does not mean that he is giving his back to the people, as has been mistakenly interpreted.  Rather, the celebrant is leading us in prayer.  Another form of mutual enrichment can certainly be in the kind of music selected.  Chant is not exclusive to the High Mass of the Extraordinary Form.  As both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have stressed, chant is the proper music of the liturgies of the Roman Rite.  The music should not focus on "celebrating our wonderful selves", as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus aptly put it. 

The revised Roman Missal is already a huge step in this reform of the reform.  While there are some who have complained loudly that the language is too formal, we need to realize that a greater degree of formality, solemnity and dignity is needed in our supreme act of worship, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  When we try to change the words of the Mass to make them better suited to ourselves and our own idiosyncracies, we shift the focus away from God and try to bring Him down to our level.  

Unfortunately, this trend rears its ugly head in the music that is used in the Mass, especially that belonging to the Praise and Worship genre.  I have said this before, but, it bears repeating.  The Praise and Worship genre works for Protestant ecclesial communities because they only have the Word.  The Church has both the Word and the Sacrifice.  In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, heaven and earth intersect and the veil between time and space is lifted.  We find ourselves in the very presence of the majesty of God.  For me, it is very strange that while we have a more elevated and formal text for worship, sadly, publishers tend to pair up these sacred words with musical settings and substandard songs that are incompatible with the beauty of the Roman Missal.

Both Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Ranjith are doing their part to further spread the reform of the reform.  However, they cannot do it alone.  The correct celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass forms an integral component of the New Evangelization that the Holy Father has proclaimed.  If we are to usher in this important endeavor, then, we need to do our part, as faithful children of the Church, we need to do our part.  The time is now.

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