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Musical Musings: Liturgy

The Dignity of the Liturgy

Fitting, Devout, Respectful

by The Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, STD
Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh

The following is an excerpt from the address given by Bishop Wuerl on August 8, 2003, at the Knights of Columbus Eucharistic Congress held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC.

Chapter 5 of Ecclesia de Eucharistia entitled, "The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration," reminds us that we should celebrate the Eucharist "in a setting worthy of so great a mystery" [#48]. The order of the Mass and the ritual that surrounds the celebration of the Eucharist are intended to provide a setting worthy of so great a mystery. While it is true that the Eucharist can be celebrated in a very simple and unadorned manner, it is also true that the human spirit cries out for a proper setting worthy of so great a mystery.

The Mass becomes for the whole Church an event of solemnity, recollection, prayer and beauty. All that we have to enhance our comprehension of the mystery we bring to the eucharistic liturgy.

The Church celebrates the liturgy using an abundance of signs, symbols and rituals. We celebrate the sacraments with Scripture readings, homilies, music, processions, blessings, bread, wine, oil, arms outstretched in prayer, gestures of peace, bowed heads, kneeling, standing, sitting, incense, holy water, candles, colors, ritual vestments, choirs, organ and other instruments.

We do this in a holy environment in which the architecture, sculpture, paintings, icons, and stained glass lend an ambience that speaks of mystery and divine transcendence on the one hand and the intimacy of the worshipping community on the other. Since the Son of God honored us by becoming incarnate — the true visible image of the invisible God — we have felt confident in using these signs and symbols to help us experience God's invisible presence.

Varying circumstances will determine the different types of enhancement, but the ritual already defines their basic characteristics. The priest in the person of Christ is vested to show that this is no ordinary action but a sacred celebration of the Church. The faithful gather in reverence and recollection for they too recognize that they are entering the extraordinary mystery of God with us. The altar, the ambo, the vessels all need to reflect the sacredness of the event unfolding as the Church conducts her public worship — her liturgy.

The Liturgy of the Word requires of everyone involved a profound respect for the word of God. Those who proclaim it should prepare themselves so that they can deliver it with clarity and with the respect it deserves as the word of God. All who hear should be truly inspired by their reading.

One important pastoral implication of this section [of the pope's encyclical] is the reminder that we are not free to change the ritual for the celebration of the Eucharist according to our own preferences. The Holy Father notes, "There have been a number of abuses which have been a source of suffering for many." Thus he appeals "urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be obeyed with great fidelity" [#52].

For this reason the rubrics — the red print in the missal that guides us through the celebration of the mystery — are meant to maintain a sense of unity and solidarity with the whole Church in the celebration of the same mystery. No one can take it upon himself to redirect what is the patrimony of the Church and the heritage of God's people.

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