Fr. J. D. Crichton has been active in pastoral work for more than 40 years. Liturgical enfant terrible turned eminence grise, he has seen ideas which he and many others struggled to preach for a long time accepted recently with a startling swiftness.
His book "The Church-'s Worship" became this country's definitive guide to the Constitution on the Liturgy, and he has recently completed a major guide to the revised rites, "Christian Celebration". Its second volume, "The Sacraments", is now published by Geoffrey Chapman.
In Pershore, Worcestershire, where he continues his work as parish priest, Fr. Crichton talked to me about the present state of the liturgy.
At this moment ten years ago, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council were debating the Constitution on the Liturgy. Have we seen a liturgical revolution take place since then?
Yes we have, but it has been a revolution very firmly grounded in the past. Ten years ago almost everything was in doubt about the contents of the draft Constitution: we hoped that we might get the readings at Mass and some of the sacramental rites and not a great deal else in the vernacular.
In fact the Constitution opened the way for an extensive revision of the whole Roman liturgy. However we evaluate this, it is an enormous change which would hardly have seemed possible ten years ago.
Some would say that this revolution had exceeded all the bounds intended by the Constitution . . .
The reason I said "opened the way" is that the Church, as the people of God throughout the world, took this matter up and with the impetus of the Council made it grow. It is the Congregation for Worship that has been in charge of this: it has shown itself very open to the needs of the Church and has simply responded to people's needs in adapting the liturgical rites.
Have these new rites in fact come close enough to people's needs?
There are two sides to this. On the one hand, pastoral experience shows that rites such as those for baptism and marriage are a real success they are comprehensible, and they involve people fully in these crucial moments of their lives.
But on the other hand, the rites have inevitably been the result of an international body working in Latin. They often say things and suggest that we should do things in a way which is foreign to English people.
'these rites should be regarded as points of departure for further developments. Nations and regions will, through the use of the rites, discover their individual needs, and the rites may then be altered in accordance with these needs.
This ties in with the end of your new book, where you call the rites "open-ended", and talk of "quite radical adaptation". But how radical? What if there was a desire to change the sacramental symbol itself?
Well, to bc brutal, I cannot conceive of baptism without water. The basic symbols of the sacraments arc either biblical or based on the very early life of the Church.
But words are a different matter, and we might notice that the formula for Confirmation has been changed by Apostolic Constitution, and that the form for the anointing of the sick is almost entirely different from what it was.
It's evidently within the competence of the Church to do this. Further insight into the meaning of a sacrament might produce more change.
But there is a big difference betvieen any rite (however flexible) which is given from above, and one which emerges from a group of people. . . Of course. Sacraments of their nature are ecclesial. If a rite, as it were, "emerged", it would be impossible to maintain that this was a sacrament of the Church. But I can envisage a degree of adaptation whereby the rite of baptism in Polynesia would be almost completely different from the rite of baptism in England.
How does this affect the Mass? How much room for adaptation is there here?
It's extremely important to distinguish between forms of words and structures. Forms of words may change but the structures are permanent,
I cannot myself see a Eucharist as authentic which does not respect the basic structure of ministry of the word ministry of the Eucharist.
And within this there are elements such as the Eucharistic Prayer which also has its structure through which the very meaning of the rite is conveyed. So whatever the variations in which the Eucharist may be clothed, these things in my view are fixed.
. Do you see dangers ahead on this path of adaptation?
Oh yes I mean one hears of groups whose celebration of the Eucharist is so rudimentary as to be unrecognisable. There is unfortunately no substitute for a real understanding of the liturgy and of tradition, and without this quite horrific things will be done.
Why, if liturgical reform has brought the rites so much closer to the people, is there still so much dissatisfaction?
Exactly because on the whole this principle of freedom and adaptation has .not been grasped. One cannot possibly endorse the dull and unimaginitive way in which the new liturgy is being handled in this country. The new rite of Mass isn't just another rulebook ; it's a basis for a celebration.
You mean that the new Mass needs good celebration to work?
I do mean that both clergy and people have to learn the art of worship. To take a small example. the third form of the penitential rite offers complete flexibility in the words used: they can change from week to week and still include the fixed Kyries, thus lightening what can be a very cumbersome entrance rite.
Is there perhaps a fear of changing whatever is in the nearest missalette?
Yes. Missalettes have their uses but their weakness is that they offer a programmed liturgy with all the options closed. The General Instruction on the Mass says that the organisation of the celebration -and that includes the selection of texts-is to be done jointly by the local clergy and people. And this is simply not happening in most places. What of the totally reliable, impressive liturgy of the past? Well, the Mass retains its structure and I don't see that it is any less reliable than in the past. And a remote and majestic liturgy by and large does not seem to be what people are looking for these days. The emphasis of the new liturg■ is that it is personal. Of
course one understands with older people, but this is what younger people want isn't that so?
Yes it is, but even younger people of my generation seem to regret that we have lost an artform.
It must be admitted that we have indeed lost an art-form which took about a thousand years to create. We can't hope to replace this in ten years.
But in any case the question has to be asked: Is an art-form, however impressive to some, the pastoral means through which the majority of people can worship God? For that is what the whole thing is about. I do believe that the liturgy must of its nature involve people.
In a phrase of St. Iraneus: Gloria Dei vivens homo. it is the living, believing, worshipping, serving man who is the glory of God. For me, pieces of ritual that are divorced from life and breathe no humanity cannot be said to be giving glory to God.
Does the new liturgy. then, give us the means and the will to carry out our pastoral mission to become "The Church 2000"?
It gives us the means, but I am not at all sure about the will. After all, apart from small pockets of activity, Church life in this country is stagnant. It lacks a sense of adventure. It is terrified of experimentation in any department. It has an extremely weak sense of mission.
Now liturgy and life must go together, and our liturgy must bear fruit in the world. If we do not go out from our liturgy into the world to live the life of Christ to the full, then whether we are in 1973 or 2000 or 3000, that liturgy will be irrelevant.