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Musical Musings: Liturgy

Why do we have liturgical norms?

by Chuck Moody
Staff writer
The Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper

This article appeared in the May 21, 2004 edition of The Pittsburgh Catholic and is reprinted with the kind permission of the author, Chuck Moody, and the editor, William Cone.

Some people may ask why there should be liturgical norms at all, Cardinal Francis Arinze said.

The question arose following the release of Redemptionis Sacramentum ("The Sacrament of Redemption"), the Vatican instruction on certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Eucharist, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The instruction was approved by Pope John Paul II and released April 23, 2004.

"Liturgical norms are necessary because 'in liturgy full public worship is performed by the mystical body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the head and by his members,'" Cardinal Arinze, prefect of the congregation, quoted from the document in his letter of introduction. "'From this it follows that every liturgical celebration , because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his body the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others.'"

The summit of the liturgy is the eucharistic celebration, the cardinal said.

"No one should be surprised if, with the passage of time, Holy Mother Church has developed words and actions, and, therefore, directives, for this supreme act of worship," he said. "Eucharistic norms are devised to express and protect the eucharistic mystery and also to manifest that it is the Church that celebrates this august sacrifice and sacrament."

"As Pope John Paul II puts it, 'These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated."

It follows, the cardinal said, that "priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to these norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church."

"Obviously, external conformity is not enough," Cardinal Arinze said. "Faith, hope and charity, which also manifest themselves in acts of solidarity with the needy, are demanded by participation in the holy Eucharist."

"This instruction underlines this dimension in Article 5: 'A merely external observation of norms would obviously be contrary to the nature of the sacred liturgy, in which Christ himself wishes to gather his Church, so that together with himself she will be one body and one spirit. For this reason, external action must be illuminated by faith and charity, which unite us with Christ and with one another and engender love for the poor and the abandoned.'"

It is important to pay attention to abuses, Cardinal Arinze said.

"An allied temptation which has to be resisted is that it is a waste of time to pay attention to liturgical abuses," he said. "Someone wrote that abuses always existed and always will exist, and that, therefore, we should just get on with positive liturgical formation and celebration."

"This objection, true in part, can be rather misleading. All abuses regarding the holy Eucharist are not of the same weight. Some threaten to make the sacrament invalid. Some are manifestations of deficiency in eucharistic faith. Others contribute to confusion among the people of God and to growing desacralization of eucharistic celebrations. They are not banal."

Liturgical formation is necessary for all the Church, the cardinal said.

"'It is vitally necessary,' said the Second Vatican Council, 'that attention be directed, above all, to the liturgical instruction of the clergy,'" Cardinal Arinze said. "But it is also true that 'in various parts of the Church abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament.'"

"'Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty.' 'Arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal' which the Second Vatican Council hoped. 'These abuses have nothing to do with the authentic spirit of the council and must be prudently and firmly corrected by pastors.'"

"As for those who modify liturgical texts on their own authority, it is important to observe with this instruction that 'the sacred liturgy is quite intimately connected with principles of doctrine, so that the use of unapproved texts and rites necessarily leads either to the diminution or to the elimination of that necessary link between the lex orandi and the lex credendi (how we pray influences what we believe).'"

The instruction has an introduction, eight chapters and a conclusion.

"In view of the article of faith that the Mass is a sacramental re-presentation of the sacrifice of the cross and that in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained,' it is clear that liturgical norms regarding the holy Eucharist deserve our attention," the cardinal said.

Reprinted with permission from The Pittsburgh Catholic, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

See another article on Redemptionis Sacramentum

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