Priests and people must be soaked in the mystery of the liturgy, says Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ardinal Francis Arinze's visit to London this weekend to take part in a Westminster diocese conference on liturgy is a good chance to take stock of the way we celebrate Mass. By "we", I mean all of us not just the clergy. Mass is as much the congregation's as the celebrant's responsibility, as Sacrosanctum Conciliam • the first document of the Second Vatican Council, made clear. Liturgy invites us not so much to hear but to participate. We are called on to pray the Mass, to be soaked in its mystery, and to respond wholeheartedly. How can we better do this?
In 2003 Pope John Paul II emphasised the importance of the Council, noting that "with the passing of time and in the light of its fruits the importance of Sacrosanc7 tum Cmrcilitun has become increasingly clear". Looking back on the liturgical reforms spelled out in that document. it seems clear that this work of renewal was not always readily accepted or well understood. In some cases, the changes were rushed through without proper training or formation, on the part either of priests or of congregations. Sometimes they were resisted, or put in place halfheartedly. Over the decades, indeed, it has become clear that while liturgy has hugely improved, it has often not received the emphasis it deserves. The impact of this neglect has been felt more widely than just at Mass, for the "Eucharist makes the Church". The Church comes into being through the Eucharist; in our response to the mystery, we make real our baptismal initiation into the Body of Christ. If that response is weak or halfhearted, the whole Body suffers.
That is why, when earlier this year I
published my five pastoral priorities for Westminster entitled "Communion and Mission", I put the call to holiness, prayer and the Eucharist first. I spoke of the need for our parishes to become schools of prayer. and how "each one of us must allow our hearts to be seized and saturated by the Gospel". That prayer has to be rooted, as the recent Synod taught us, in a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Holy Eucharist, the "source and summit" of the Church's life. To enable this. I suggested, we needed a more thorough catechesis on the meaning of the Eucharist, so that we take more care in understanding it and preparing for it. And I said I wanted all those involved in preparing and assisting in the Eucharist priests, deacons. altar servers, readers, Eucharistic ministers, musicians, choirs to take courses arranged by deaneries and parishes, so that we build up a dedicated liturgical ministry of people. Those who assist at Mass set the tone for the rest of the congregation, and their example is essential.
Courses and resources these are a major part of grasping the invitation of Sacrosanctunt Concilium. But as a Church we need a better understanding of what liturgy is, and what it is for. The Congregation for the Divine Worship in Rome, of which Cardinal Arinze is the president, has helped bishops in recent years to focus on what is essential to good liturgy, and what can undermine it. The revised General Instruction of the ROltilln Missal and Redemptionis Sacramenrum have contributed to liturgical formation in England and Wales by showing how to enable liturgy to be an effective channel of God's grace rather than simply some thing we do. The Mass is God's work in us, before it is our response to God in prayer and praise. He calls us together, He speaks: we are invited to listen deeply and to respond. Whatever we are doing at Mass, we are resprniding to the Mystery. to God redeeming us through the sacrifice of His Son, and we must clear as many obstacles to receiving that Grace as We can.
Our priests have made enormous efforts to respond to the new demands made of them by the developments in the Roman Rite. But many feel that there has not been enough time to consider everything in sufficient depth. or to understand the consequences or implications of change. Forty years ago, there were very few priests with liturgical formation, and it is hardly surprising that many felt inadequate to the task which the Council entrusted to them. Our congregations were not used to singing the liturgical texts in the vernacular, with a choice of settings; music was often chosen because it was easy to sing, without considering too much its quality and how long it could serve us. We made much of hymnody. even in the Mass, rather than singing the psalms and chants which are integral to the Liturgy itself. We have made great progress over the past 40 years, but sometimes we have picked up habits that it would be good to learn to live without.
The priest has a key role in this as a teacher of the faithful in the way of liturgical prayer. Seminary training in liturgy is now standard, and has much improved from the time when I was preparing for the priesthood. But just as no one pretends that a priest knows everything when he leaves the seminary, but must continue to study theology and Scripture. we should not pretend that liturgy can be "learned" at seminary in the way that we can learn, say, how to use a computer. The schooling of the priest for his ministry needs to continue throughout his time of service, helping him to respond faithfully to the particular circumstances and needs of the community entrusted to his care.
The way a priest prays and presides at the Mass is vital. He cannot dolt without the active collaboration of the whole Body, but his role cannot be replaced by that of others. If the priest himself is seen to be deeply engaged by the Mystery being celebrated. then in itself this sets a most important example before the people gathered with him. He sets the tone by his intimate knowledge and 'bye for what he is doing, inviting others to join him in drawing life from liturgy.
The priest also catechises. Such catechesis cannot be reduced to teaching people about the liturgy and the sacraments. It must help them to encounter God in our worship, and to deepen their relationship with him. It must help them, in the Lord Jesus and in his Spirit. to make of the whole of their lives "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1).
My prayer is that the Holy Eucharist, as the Vatican Council declared it should be, is celebrated ever more worthily: liturgy is the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church. We must never . forget that.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is the Archbishop of Westminster