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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Rubrics and Relevance

At this morning's Mass, our celebrant preached an impassioned homily regarding the beauty of the sacred liturgy.  He stressed how important it is that we follow the rubrics as handed down to us by the Church.  In fact, he read to us an account by St. Justin Martyr on the liturgical practices, circa 150 AD.

This is not the first time that the celebrant has preached on the importance of rubrics.  Yet, this time, there was a sense of urgency to his words.  He touched on the themes of obedience and propriety of music.  I found his words both comforting and encouraging, as he tries to live up to what he professes.  Since Advent, he has been celebrating Mass Ad Orientem and he has encouraged us to be more reverential before, during and after Mass to the point of admonishing us not to applaud the choir and to be mindful of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

He reminded us that, after the Resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with the surviving 11 Apostles, teaching them and stressing to them that He would remain with them through the Eucharist.  What He did at the Last Supper and at Emmaus, Jesus now wanted the Apostles to learn to do.  Through their words and actions, Jesus would continue His real Presence; however, they had to understand the Eucharist and what they were supposed to do.

Fast forward to 2015.  Although the format of the liturgy has evolved (somewhat), the Mass still resembles what St. Justin Martyr wrote about nearly 1950 years ago.  However, lamentably, it seems that our collective understanding has changed, and not for the better.  For whatever reasons, we seem to have taken it upon ourselves to make "improvements" to the Mass, on what we perceive to be our own authority.  We want to make the Mass more relevant to our youth by using insipid, commercially-produced music that we believe to be more "meaningful" to our young people.  As Benedict XVI rightly pointed out, we have attempted to cobble up for ourselves our own version of the Mass.  It is almost as though we were committing the sin of Adam and Eve.  We "know" better than the Church as to how our Lord is to be worshipped.  We, rather than the Church, have become the masters of the liturgy, treating it as our own personal property.

We choose substandard, catchy music that is theologically poor because we believe that it will appeal to the youth, never minding that young people hunger for something real, something transcendent.  We believe that our own efforts will help make the Mass more relevant, forgetting that the Lord, Himself, is the author and master of the liturgy.  It seems as though, liturgically, we have fallen prey to the "dictatorship of relativism" that the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger warned us about in the homily he preached at the Conclave Mass 10 years ago.

The celebrant's homily seemed to have touched a nerve on some, especially when he spoke of the music.  He stressed how important it was to expose the youth to what the sacred liturgy should be.  They need to spend quiet moments with Our Lord in contemplation during Holy Hour.  They need to be exposed to music that enhances the sacred nature of the Holy Sacrifice, not detract from it.

Interestingly enough, late this afternoon, when I was checking my Facebook feed, I found that someone had posted a picture of the homilist at her Mass taking a "selfie" with the CCD kids.  She tagged a Facebook friend of mine and thus, all of the mutual friends were able to see it.  A newly ordained priest opined that he had hoped that this wasn't taken during Mass.  Sadly, the person who originally posted it confirmed it.  I explained to the person, not a Facebook friend, that while the intentions were good, it was not the most appropriate thing to do.   Her response was that she and her CCD teachers make it a point to reach out to the youth and try to make the Mass more relevant to the kids.  In my response, I wrote to her that if we are looking to make the Mass more relevant to the kids, then we have lost the real meaning of the sacred liturgy.  It seems to me that we no longer believe that what the Church gives us is good enough and that we have to invent something for ourselves.

To this, the morning homilist said that we are not being obsessed with liturgical law.  Liturgical law helps ground us on the sacred.  It is akin to the liturgical law that no less than God the Father gave to Ancient Israel, wherein He dictated to His people just how He was to worshipped.  Whenever Ancient Israel deviated from what God had ordained, they were punished. In fact, some met with fatal results.   This is not to say that we advocate engaging in such measures for the New Israel, although Francis Cardinal Arinze was quick to make the comparison some 11 years ago in an address he delivered.  Nonetheless, just as Ancient Israel was obligated to obey the Lord in all things, especially where worship was concerned, so to are we, the New Israel, obligated to obey the Lord.

Maybe what the good CCD coordinator could do is to study the liturgy more thoroughly and allow herself and her team to be enriched and imbued with the supernatural graces that are enhanced when the Holy Sacrifice is celebrated properly and reverently with the tools given to us by the Church, including sacred music.  Maybe if all of us study the Mass and allow ourselves to be enveloped in its beauty, we can begin to understand what it means to offer fitting worship.

The Mass doesn't need to become relevant; rather, we need to change ourselves.  The rubrics can help us reach that end.