BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
THE chronic dullness of most of our parish liturgy was due not to the new rite of Mass itself hut rather to the unimaginative and uninformed way in which the changes had been put into effect. Fr. Geoffrey Preston, 0.P., Blackfriars, told the Oxford University Newman Society last Sunday.
In a symposium on "The Liturgy, Past, Present and Future," Fr. Kevin Donovan, S.J., of Heythrop College. Fr. J. D. Crichton, editor of Life and Worship, and Fr. Preston provided an historical perspective to the present changes and looked forward to the future.
Liturgical reform had not been "imposed from above," Fr. Crichton stressed. It was the result of a strong movement involving all sections of the Church; bishops, priests, laity and ultimately the Pope.
The Vatican Council's Constitution on the Liturgy was only the climax of a process that had been developing through the century, particularly since the encyclical Mediator Del of Pius XII. Its most important aspect was that the Mass should come to be seen once more as the community action of the whole Church.
This involved a. radical change from the attitude of the Council of Trent, where in all the rubrics of the Mass the people were mentioned only twice.
Fr. Donovan, tracing the early years of the liturgy, showed how this situation had come about, as early improvisational liturgies became inevitably more formalised, more effusive, as Roman and Gallic liturgies cross-fertilised, and ultimately more remote from the people. Every action had to have a symbolic reason, and thus a quite unnecessary "sanctity" became attached to purely practical gestures.
It was important to see that the decrees of Trent were a reaction against decadent practices in favour of a return to older simplicity.
Unfortunately there was simply a lack of sufficient historical knowledge for this reform to be effective, and it could be said that the new order of Mass had succeeded in bringing about the very same restoration and simplification of the rites at which Trent had aimed, hut failed,
The danger now was that the liturgy would fossilise again into a new period of rigidity, unless the freedom offered by the new rite was fully explored.
Fr. Preston disliked the idea of experimental liturgy but felt that there was a real need for all to accept pluralism. "If we can't go to Mass in more than one setting, we have no idea of what the prayer of the Catholic Church is about."
We needed not so much to experiment as to let ourselves be taught by the wealtlof the new Mass and sacramental rites. Only thus could dull parish liturgy be brought to life; by a new receptive attitude to the fact that the liturgy mattered.