Father Paul Cioffi the preeminent late Jesuit liturgist (and no that’s not an oxymoron) in evaluating the last 40 years of liturgical renewal has come to the conclusion that the renewal of the Mass has been a “mixed bag.” He states that the unambiguous successes of the past forty years include the restoration of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the reform of the lectionary and Liturgy of the Word, the development of liturgical ministries, more frequent Holy Communion at Mass and allowing the Chalice to be given to the laity.
But he warns that there have been “unambiguous failures” as well these past forty years. Church leaders have not adequately catechized the laity on the need or the value of the reforms of the Mass and its theological and devotional impact. Priests and seminarians have not been well trained in the area of catechetics, homiletics or presiding at Mass. In fact he states that only 10% of priests are capable of presiding well.
Fr. Cioffi maintains that in the last forty years, apart from a few exceptions, we have only had reform but not renewal of the Mass. He states, “we changed texts and translation and moved furniture without changing minds or moving hearts.” Catechesis concerning the new theology of celebrating the Mass, its spirituality and ecclesiology has been so lacking that very few grasped the meaning of the reforms and thus feel that the reforms seem to be “much ado about nothing.”
For the most part, the Sunday experience of Mass throughout our country fails to nourish our need for mystery and the transcendent. The main culprit in this failure is that many liturgists and liturgical architects rushed to an uncritical horizontal/communitarian approach to celebrating Mass so much so that it has overshadowed the vertical/transcendent. Fr. Cioffi states that new Liturgical forms “did not sufficiently reinforce awareness that we are in another story and on Someone else’s agenda”—God’s agenda. To an outsider the Mass appears to be merely a humanistic feast.
We have forgotten that we are not just a community; we are a forgiven community with a forgiveness, which comes from God’s intervention in the human community and more importantly in the lives of individuals. We have tried to produce at Mass a sense of a fellowship of joy and warm feelings whereas God’s intervention in the gathered community and in the individuals celebrating Mass produces exultation.
Fr. Cioffi states that the “notion of sin was lost” also. We can only appreciate our salvation and justification in Jesus Christ to the extent that we recognize the “wretchedness” of our sinfulness and how our sin is responsible for the one sacrifice of Jesus, his shedding of his blood on the cross, his death and his glorious resurrection. If sin and redemption are trivialized in the celebration of Mass, as they have been over that last few decades, then the central Christian experience of being forgiven and being a “wretch” in need of forgiveness will be trivialized as well. Only the one who truly understands the need for forgiveness will hunger and thirst for the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Cioffi states that “we have carried the principle of variability of ritual and musical forms to a degree which destroys the very concept of ritual whose nature is to be the same.” Without contemplation created by “silence, sameness, repetition, and precision in the ritual,” there is the unfortunate tendency to keep improvising which then destroys the essence of ritual.
For example, many believe that we have too much new music of poor musical and theological quality constantly thrown to congregations today. Paperback hymnals and missalettes, which are replaced on a regular basis with new music constantly added, destroys ritual that needs to be the same. In addition, songs in which Biblical texts are set in a secular musical style reminiscent of musical theater or current pop music violate liturgical guidelines stated by Pope Pius X in 1903 and affirmed by the Second Vatican Council. Many songs composed in the recent past which admittedly have become popular at Catholic Masses unfortunately fall into this category.
Fr. Cioffi also points out that we have failed to “pay enough attention to the non-verbal and non-rational elements of worship, nor to the value of silence, repetition, precision, and music that point to another world. Liturgies became too busy, creative, and wordy.” In other words, our Mass for the most part as well as our art and architecture have failed to inspire and lift us into the eternal heavenly banquet of the Lamb slain for our salvation.
Someone has once said that if we celebrated our Masses as intended by the Church, we would be so caught up in the beauty, splendor and contemplation of mystery that if the Second Coming of Christ were to occur we would not know the difference.
Fr. Cioffi laments the fact that the “liturgical bus stalled. No one will get back on until they are assured it is fixed. We must go back to the original vision that inspired the reform. We must infuse heart into the institutional reform.” We must abandon forever the notion that reform by itself will automatically produce renewal in the lives of our people.
Furthermore, Fr. Cioffi emphasizes that “reform without a renewal of spirituality was a terrible mistake. The original vision was not a mistake. The common enemy is liturgy without a sense of mystery; too variable, sloppy and busy; not yet integrated with subjective piety; lack of leadership and presbyters not capable of presiding and preaching.”
We must begin anew states Fr. Cioffi in bring about reform and renewal in the Mass. It will not be as exciting the second time around, but it must be done. He states, “Let’s do the truth in love.”