At a catechesis I attended during the recent World Youth Day Archbishop Robert Rivas from the Caribbean described himself as a Missionary Bishop. In explaining what he meant he told how his appointment as a bishop to a small group of poor scattered islands had meant he had to leave behind the comfort zones he had built up for himself during his priestly ministry and, entrusting himself fully to the Lord, go into new territory physically, spiritually and pastorally. Using the same terminology the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal encourages us to leave behind some of our liturgical comfort zones and challenges us as worshipping Catholic communities, and priest-celebrants, to take a good look at how we celebrate the Church´s Liturgy and ask ourselves if there is need for improvement. It is both a challenge and a necessity for us all.
We are Catholics of the Roman Rite and, as such, we celebrate a Liturgy which has developed through many centuries – the most recent development being the celebration of the Liturgy in the vernacular. This has meant translating the texts from Latin into the diverse languages of the world´s peoples, in our case into English. We have grown used to our present texts but are being asked by the Church to accept and learn a new translation of these texts. We are now beginning this learning process in our parishes and communities, and we are committed to doing it as best we can, so we will continue to celebrate and pray the Sacred Liturgy as the Church asks us to do.
We are very aware that the Liturgy is the Church´s participation in Christ´s offering of Himself to the Father, and its holiness and worthiness comes from the Lord himself and the mysteries of his saving Passion, Death and Resurrection. In celebrating these mysteries the Church wishes to use all the means we have as humans to express our faith in the Lord Jesus and to make present his saving grace in Word and Sacrament. Not only are the words used meant to express the truth and the depths of our faith, but the actions and gestures of the priest and people, the liturgical books, the musical accompaniment, the vessels, furnishings, vestments and décor help our understanding of the sacred rites being celebrated and our active and fruitful participation in them. It is important therefore that we take a close look at how we celebrate the Liturgy and recommit ourselves to doing so as best we can in accord with the Church´s norms.
These norms are given in full in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and will be printed at the start of the New English Missal. The General Instruction merits our attention and is the guide through which we should examine our own celebrations of the Sacred Liturgy, and is the instrument which will prompt us out of our local or personal “liturgical comfort-zones” towards a more faithful celebration of the Roman Rite. It is difficult at times to change the way we do things but if it is not the right way we should be humble enough to admit this and to re-learn how the Church asks us to celebrate her sacred rites. Yes the Liturgy is ours as members of Christ´s Body, and we participate in the self- offering of Christ Our Head, but it can never be the personal property of any of us, whatever position we hold in the Church. We, therefore, have a corresponding sacred duty to celebrate it as the Church asks of us and not according to our own likes and dislikes. Celebrating the Liturgy in our own language has led to more possibility of variation and diversity, and the introduction of the new English translation affords an opportunity to strive for a celebration of the Eucharist with less of our personal or local additions and omissions. An obvious example is to stop the exchange of “Good Mornings” at the beginning of Mass.
This renewal does mean that bishops, priests and deacons in particular need to know thoroughly the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and have the courage, if necessary, to change some of their own “personal” practices in celebrating Mass. It means also changing habits in parishes, where people like to do things their way, and giving the necessary instruction in what is the right way. It is important also that the lay faithful who carry out ministries at Mass are fully instructed in what is required of them and do it properly – these include altar-servers, readers, musicians, choirs and cantors, extraordinary-ministers of the Eucharist, pass-keepers and collectors.
The ministry of each person, well prepared and well carried out, enhances the quality of the celebration and allows the dignity and beauty of the Sacred Liturgy to be expressed and appreciated by the whole worshipping community. As Catholics we love to see things being done well, and we know too that visitors to our churches greatly appreciate our liturgies when that is the case. It is encouraging to hear those attending funerals, and other liturgies, commenting in this vein. In our worship we want the real thing, the full message, and when the noble simplicity of the Church’s Liturgy is offered, with the full and active participation of the believing community, we feel the Lord’s presence with us and are inspired to carry Him from the Mass into every aspect of our daily lives. We are all missionaries, fed by the Lord’s Word and Sacrament, and ready to witness to Him in all that we do and say.
As we begin our preparation this weekend for the full introduction of the new English Missal on the 1st Sunday of Advent I ask you all to renew your love for the Church and her ancient traditions, and to participate fully and enthusiastically in learning the new words and in undertaking the fuller renewal of liturgical practice expected of us. May the Spirit of the Lord be with us “for our good, and the good of all his holy Church”.
+ Joseph Toal
Bishop of Argyll and the Isles