Your Eminences and Dear Bishops:
Grace and peace in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
These initial weeks of the Year of Faith leave much for the Church in the United States to pray about and ponder. The results of last week’s Presidential election may lead many of us to assess the strength of our Catholic identity. It is interesting that while many of our Catholic faithful may know the platforms of particular political parties, not a few are probably unfamiliar with the basic tenets of our Faith.
This should certainly be a cause for genuine concern, not only for you, as our archbishops and bishops, but, for us, as lay Catholic faithful, as well. The question at hand is an urgent one: What do we do to restore our Catholic identity?
The answer that I propose is two-fold: re-infusing the sacred back into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and strengthening our Catechesis. These two go hand in hand.
Sacrosanctum Concilium reminds us that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the “source and summit” of the life of the Church. I humbly submit that the Mass is the most important, most sacred act that the Church engages in because it is her greatest treasure. Yet, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Holy Sacrifice, sadly, is not without its shadows. In 2004, Redemptionis Sacramentum sought to correct these shadows; however, some of them persist.
Perhaps, the USCCB could, I humbly suggest, conduct a survey to gauge the progress our liturgies have made since the promulgation of Redemptionis Sacramentum. If problems persist, maybe the Congregation for Divine Worship could send officials to assist dioceses and parishes that need support. This may take additional resources, but, it is an investment that is well worth it because it involves no less than Christ, Himself.
Along the lines of strengthening our worship, the issue of the music used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass needs serious and dire consideration. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, noted with concern in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, that
“Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129).”
Although the USCCB made a statement on music through the document, Sing to the Lord, problems with the music used in our sacred liturgies remain. Not a few compositions in English and, in many cases, in Spanish, do feature the particular musical genre that the Holy Father warned against. When the new Roman Missal was promulgated last year, there was hope that the music would be elevated to fit the sacred texts of the prayers, but, as I have experienced it, this has not been the case. There is a strong disconnect, in many cases, with the nobility of the prayers and the musical settings that are used. We are also not using the Propers of the Mass; instead, we are making the fourth option, hymns, the default setting. The Church gives us magnificent texts to use, but, in many cases, we are not using them. While independent composers and organizations have taken it upon themselves to set the Propers to chant, it seems to me that the mainstream publishing houses have not seen fit to give these pieces the place they deserve.
The lyrics of many of the songs used at Mass are also problematic in that they emphasize more the horizontal aspect (i.e. social justice) than the vertical (God). Prior to releasing Sing to the Lord, the USCCB had made a Power Point presentation calling attention to this particular problem; however, a review of the music published by the two main publishing companies indicates, at least to me, that the problem persists. Some of the lyrics feature watered-down theology that does not accurately reflect our Faith.
If we hold to the axiom, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”, then how and what we pray at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should reflect our belief, our Faith. This is where Catechesis enters into the discussion. I live in an area in South Texas that identifies itself as Catholic; however, much remains in evangelizing our faithful. Protestant sects, the Jehova Witnesses and the Mormons have, sadly, made inroads. Catholics who are, perhaps, not properly catechized, have strayed into these particular denominations. In many cases, catechesis ends after the Sacrament of Confirmation has been imparted. Along the same lines, my area of South Texas is also heavily Democratic. However, when I have engaged some of my fellow Catholics and Democrats, I have found that, while they know what the party stands for, they are not well-versed in the Faith. They are not aware of the five non-negotiable principles. I believe that catechesis is a life-long process. We can never learn enough about our Faith.
Your Eminence and Excellencies, I am not a degreed theologian; I am just one of the faithful in the pews. I spent much time in prayer and reflection before I put my fingers to the computer keyboard because these are issues that are paramount to our rediscovering our Catholic identity. Too much time has been devoted to social justice matters and other concerns and not enough has been given to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Catechesis. While it is certainly important to have an authentic Catholic voice in the Public Square, we must also give greater importance to the basics of our Faith, the Holy Eucharist and the Church’s Teachings. The Holy Father cannot do this alone. All of us need to collaborate with him, to be co-workers in the Truth. Granted, there are many bishops who have made great strides in the area of restoring the sacred nature of the Liturgy, but, all of us need to work together, hierarchy and laity alike.
In your filial service, I remain,
Michelle Marie Romani