CNP Logo Home
Online Catalog
Musical Musings
Liturgical Planners
Submit Your Music
Contact Us
Company Description
CanticaNOVA Publications
Bookmark and Share

Obedience to the Gift

by Gary D. Penkala

I. Origins of Liturgy

gift of God There are portions of our current Eucharistic Liturgy (2000) that pre-date even the Last Supper; for example, the Offertory prayers with their texts from Jewish Blessings. In searching for the roots of our modern Liturgy, we have Our Lord's actions and words as prime model. His injunction, "Take and eat … This is my Body," is recorded in the Gospels and in Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. His actions constitute the four-part structure of the Eucharistic Liturgy:

  1. takeOffertory
  2. blessConsecration
  3. breakFraction
  4. distributeCommunion

From the mandate, "Do this in remembrance of me," we mark the apostles' continuance of this ritual sacrifice, repeating the words and actions of Christ himself.

There is evidence from early 3rd-century writings, of Canons [Eucharistic Prayers] being used in Rome. Saint Hippolytus, whose "discipleship" is traced back from Saint Irenæus to Saint Polycarp to Saint John the Beloved, is a source for much of the text of Eucharistic Prayer II in the Roman Missal.

In the late sixth century, Pope Saint Gregory the Great codified what we now know as Eucharistic Prayer I [The Roman Canon]. There are much earlier sources for this canon, though. Saint Clement I, first-century pope and third successor to Saint Peter, has liturgical information in his First Epistle. Saint Justin Martyr (d. 197) described the liturgy of Rome. Pope Saint Damasus I structured a Roman Canon in the fourth century. These texts in Latin are very similar to the words of the current Eucharistic Prayer I. The liturgy was standardized by Pope Saint Pius V in 1570 with the publication of The Roman Missal; with minor changes, these are the texts and rubrics used in the Extraordinary Form, existing in the 1962 Missale Romanum. The Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) remains identical to this even in the Novus Ordo (1970) and the Roman Missal – Third Edition (2000), with its now accurate English translation (2010).

We can see that throughout this evolution, it is the hierarchy, not individual priests or laity, who develop the texts with which the Church worships her God.

II. Liturgy as Gift

Liturgy then is a gift given by God through the Church. This idea of "receiving" the liturgy, and not creating it, was very much abused in the tumultuous years from 1970 to 2000. Priests, trained in ubiquitous liberal seminaries, were taught that liturgy was "the work of the people," and thus was their own territory for innovation, creativity and individualization. Father Nick Schneider, SLL, SLD, Director of Worship for the Diocese of Bismarck ND, has a fresh take on "the work of the people."

There was a popular understanding common for quite a number of years that the word "liturgy" came from two Greek words. One meant "work" and the other, "people." As the popular etymology went, the liturgy is the "work of the people." That is, we gather as a community, we express ourselves as community, we pray together. The focus of this understanding of liturgy is on our activity.

The most common term for liturgy in the Rule of Saint Benedict, on the other hand, is the "Work of God." This is exactly the opposite of claiming that the liturgy is the "work of the people." In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is a discussion of the meaning of the word "liturgy:"

The word liturgy originally meant a "public work" or a "service in the name of/on behalf of the people." In Christian tradition it means the participation of the People of God in "the work of God." Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church.

This seems to be in direct contrast with the notion of the liturgy as "work of the people." Here, the focus is not on the congregation first, but on God.

Within liturgy, and I would add, about liturgy, we should maintain a "primary and fundamental posture … of active receptivity." For years, we've heard from many a soap-box (including my own) that we liturgists and musicians should wake up and see just exactly what the Church has given us as text for liturgy. We need not scramble to find "that perfect Gathering Song" for the First Sunday of Advent — it's already there in the Introit [Entrance Antiphon]. Such is the gift of liturgy, centuries, even millennia, old, that we (dare I say "ungrateful children") are throwing back in the face of history and ecclesiology. "We obviously know better than dusty saints of Latin days." How brazen!

III. Obedience

This brings us to the third topic of my essay, the notion of "obedience." We know that priests, deacons, and religious promise obedience to their bishops and superiors; bishops owe a certain allegiance to the pope. We, the faithful, have a filial relationship (with the requisite obedience) to our pastors. There's a broader sense of obedience we Catholics have to the Magisterium of the Church — in matters of doctrine and morality as an assent of faith; in other matters, by adherence with religious assent.

A disconnect exists here: we all know the nearly universal prevalence of the "four-hymn sandwich" Mass, a moldy leftover from 1975. How can one accept the gift that is liturgy and opt out of the Proper texts for Entrance, Offertory and Communion so routinely? This became even more apparent to me when I was praying part of the Divine Office, Morning Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent. Every psalm and canticle in the Liturgy of the Hours has a specified antiphon that surrounds it in prayer. No one dreams of substittuting "more hip" texts for these ancient Latin translations. Yet this is just what we do in singing "Rain Down" instead of a Proper Entrance Antiphon.

Perhaps, in approaching the mid-point of the second decade of the 21st century, we can make a resolution to be obedient to the Church, following her ideas of liturgy, above our own. Make it a point, at your next liturgical planning session, to chuck one hymn and sing the correct antiphon text (with or without psalm verses, in Latin, English, Spanish, with chant music or modern music). That will be one small — yet one giant — step toward Obedience to the Gift.

Article written 01 January 2014

CanticaNOVA Publications / PO Box 1388 / Charles Town, WV 25414-7388
Send website comments or questions to: