Sunday, November 1, 2009

“Lex orandi, lex credendi.”

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In the last four years, most parishes throughout the world will began implementing at Mass the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Within the next two years, these English speaking parishes throughout the world will implement a retranslated English Mass. Properly understood and respectfully implemented, the revised Roman Missal will enhance the Church’s celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Remember the Latin adage, lex orandi, lex credendi? For those who do not know Latin, the literal translation is “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” How a person worships not only shows what the person really believes, but how a person worships can ultimately decide what that person really believes. When it comes to the celebration of the Holy Mass, how we pray and how we believe are married but not always in the intended blissful union. Thus the revised Roman Missal can be seen as marriage counseling to help get things back on the proper track if true liturgical renewal has been derailed.

One of the hoped-for results of the reform of the Mass after Vatican II was that the Mass in its noble simplicity would show forth the real presence of Christ in an unencumbered and perceptible way. The laity’s active participation, the vernacular, the simplification of rites, the renewal of the Liturgy of the Word and the priest facing the people rather than facing east (away from the laity) would make the faith reality of the Mass abundantly clear. Through the Mass, all the baptized, laity and clergy alike enter the eternal wedding feast of the Jesus Christ, sacrificed for our salvation and risen for our justification. The Mass is our thanksgiving to God for His Son, crucified and risen for our redemption. The reforms of the Mass would make this abundantly clear.

An unfortunate and unintended result of the vernacular is that it gave license to some misguided but well-intentioned priests to take liberty with the language of the liturgy (which in Latin would have been impossible). Facing the people rather than joining the people in facing the same direction also creates a temptation for some priests to impose their own spirituality and piety upon the congregation assembled for Mass. A new “narcissistic clericalism” has emerged since Vatican II placing too much emphasis on the looks, demeanor, spirituality and piety of the particular priest who celebrates the Mass rather than on the essential elements of liturgical law and the noble simplicity required by Vatican II.

Prior to Vatican II, the strength of the Liturgy was that it was universal. The Latin language and the priest facing toward the East (in the same direction as the laity) prevented the priest from assuming a “star-like” (look at me, my theology and my liturgical style) status at Mass. The “old” clericalism of the pre-Vatican II Mass prevented the laity from taking their rightful place in the active participation of the Mass. This clericalism was not based on priestly personality or style, but rather on liturgical customs that had evolved over the centuries that denigrated the role of the laity in the liturgy and life of the Church. The new “clericalism” since Vatican II did not evolve from liturgical law or custom but rather from the idiosyncrasies of certain post Vatican II liturgists. This placed undue emphasis on priestly piety, personality and ability in the celebration of Mass. If one has a narcissistic personality, the new clericalism is liturgical heaven.

Vatican II sought to repair the schism that clericalism had brought between the clergy and laity not only in the Liturgy but also in the life of the church, universal and local. In fact the ecclesiology of the liturgy today is meant to be a reflection of the ecclesiology of the Church in her day to day life where clergy and laity collaborate in being faithful to Jesus’ mandate to bring the Gospel to the entire world.

Today’s liturgical clericalism although different from its predecessor is as much opposed to the spirit of the Liturgy and the nature of the Church as the clericalism of pre-Vatican II times.

The revision of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the revision of the English translation of the Mass will bring about a “reform of the reform” if it is embraced by clergy and laity as a way to eliminate trends or customs that have obscured the true nature of the liturgy. This will allow the liturgy of the Mass with its accompanying laws to show forth the splendor of Christ present among us. Following the letter and spirit of liturgical law will lead to a happy and blissful marriage of “Lex orandi, lex credendi.”

1 comment:

Bryan said...

Father Allan: may your love for the liturgical life of the Church help as we "reform the reform"