Bishop Edward Slattery is the Bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma
From Bishop Edward Slattery's interview with the National Catholic Register, published on October 28, 2011: Bishop Slattery on Prayer, the Mass and New Vocations.
You’ve made public statements about problems with the liturgy. What changes would you like to see?
I would like to see the liturgy become what Vatican II intended it to be. That’s not something that can happen overnight. The bishops who were the fathers of the council from the United States came home and made changes too quickly. They shouldn’t have viewed the old liturgy, what we call the Tridentine Mass or Missal of Pope John XXIII, as something that needed to be fixed. Nothing was broken. There was an attitude that we had to implement Vatican II in a way that radically affects the liturgy.
What we lost in a short period of time was continuity. The new liturgy should be clearly identifiable as the liturgy of the pre-Vatican II Church. Changes, like turning the altar around, were too sudden and too radical. There is nothing in the Vatican II documents that justifies such changes. We’ve always had Mass facing the people as well as Mass ad orientem [“to the east,” with priest and people facing the same direction]. However, Mass ad orientem was the norm. These changes did not come from Vatican II.
Also, it was not a wise decision to do away with Latin in the Mass. How that happened, I don’t know; but the fathers of the Council never intended us to drop Latin. They wanted us to hold on to it and, at the same time, to make room for the vernacular, primarily so that the people could understand the Scriptures.
You yourself have begun celebrating Mass ad orientem.
Yes, in our cathedral and a few parishes where the priests ask me to. Most of the time, I say Mass facing the people when I travel around the diocese or when I have a large number of priests concelebrating, because it works better that way.
A few priests have followed my example and celebrate ad orientem as well. I have not requested they change. I prefer to lead by example and let the priests think about it, pray about it, study it, and then look at their churches and see if it’s feasible to do.
And it’s positive when people are thinking about and talking about the liturgy.
When people make the liturgy part of their conversation, it is a good thing. As priests and laypeople discuss the liturgy, they’ll see how important it is and how it is a work of God and not our own.
But we must approach the liturgy on bended knee with tremendous humility, recognizing that it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to God. It is a gift. We worship God not by creating our own liturgies, but by receiving the liturgy as it comes to us from the Church. The liturgy should be formed and shaped by the Church itself to help people pray better. And we all pray better when we are disposed to receive what God has offered, rather than creating something of our own.
My Comments about leading by example: I'm not entirely comfortable with it. This is what Pope Benedict has been doing in terms of the Benedictine Altar arrangement and on occasion, but very rare occasions, celebrating Mass ad orientem, such as in the Pauline Chapel at the Vatican or the Sistine Chapel. The Pauline Chapel Altar allows for Mass facing the people while the Sistine Chapel main altar does not, although in the past a free standing portable altar was placed in front of it.
Bishop Slattery says in the last sentence above: "The liturgy should be formed and shaped by the Church itself to help people pray better. And we all pray better when we are disposed to receive what God has offered, rather than creating something of our own." But isn't that exactly what he is doing when he models something but does not mandate it or make it the norm.
I feel the same way about what Pope Benedict does. He's modeling things, but not making anything the norm. Are both these bishops, one the Pope of course, "...creating something of our own"?
If the bishop modeling for his priests how liturgy should be celebrated is the norm to be applauded, then what if you have a bishop who likes what he was taught about liturgy in the 1970's and how he experienced it back then? Nostalgia can go many ways you know. Should we throw caution to the wind to allow that to happen?
Those who are tradition-oriented will applaud Bishop Slattery for modeling what he likes and allowing his priests to do it if they request it.
But that then opens the door to priests modeling things other bishops do that might not be so much to their liking. Some bishops have very long introductory statements prior to the penitential act. In fact they ask people to sit for it. Is that something that should be modeled (it is also done at major papal Masses on the road).
Some bishops improvise the words of the liturgy. It remains to be seen if they will do so with the corrected English translation. But if they do, do we applaud them for doing it and modeling it for priests as an option?
I say, "say the black and do the red." If that needs to be reformed or expanded, then put it into writing so that bishops and priests do not act in idiosyncratic ways--there's way to much of that out there.
Would you want your bishop modeling this for your priests?