Not A Special Interest For The Few
BY DOM BERNARD McELLIGOTT, O.S.B.
[In place of the u3uo2 " Week by Week" on political, social and other contemporary topics, this newspaper is publishing for Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday two articles by Dots Bernard McElligott, 0.S.B., on the proper mode of participation on the part of the faithful in the Mass according to the spirit of the Liturgy. Dom Bernard McElligott, whose series of articles, " The Liturgy and the People," made him well known to many of our readers, answers in these columns many of the difficulties that are constantly arising in the minds of Catholics. The instruction contained here may well form a subject of study and meditation during Passiontide.
As Vice-President of the Society of St. Gregory (for promoting and encouraging active participation in the Sacred liturgy as the chief source of sanctification and supernatural life for all Catholics) Dom Bernard writes with authority.—Eorroa.] THE discussion in the Catholic Press on " Hymns and the Liturgy " is never submerged for long. A recurrent theme of this kind at least reveals how deep the question of our worship goes.
But, as is inevitable in series of letters on so large a subject, it soon becomes not one discussion but several. The practical question " What are we to do at Mass? " at once involves us in matters of doctrine like " What is the Mass? " and " Has a Catholic Layman an active part in the Sacrifice? " There are also questions of law, such as " Has the Church given any positive directions about what the faithful are to do at Mass? "
LIKES AND DISLIKES IRRELEVANT
CONSIDERABLE confusion is caused by the way in which personal prejudice or plain ignorance leads us to give the wrong meaning to such words as liturgy, popular, sacrifice, supernatural. Our own taste in the " popular " music of the day, for instance, may lead us to demand unconsciously in church what gives us a " happy feeling " in the cinema or cafe, or on the wireless. The words " Church musk " often come to signify " what / like," rather than " what the Church prescribes as suitable to the public worship of God."
Perhaps the most necessary thing, in considering our attitude to our public Catholic worship, is to recall to ourselves that in this matter our own likes and dislikes are completely irrelevant. We must make a distinction between our private and public worship. In the former, when we speak to God in the silence of our own hearts, what we think about and what we say is entirely for ourselves to decide. It is the reflection of our individual personality; it has the strength of what is Christlike in us, and the weakness of our limitations, prejudices and sins. But our public worship, the Liturgy, is not the creation of ourselves as individual persons or as congregations. It is not made by us at all. It does not reflect our personal or even our collective tastes, good or bad. It certainly does not represent a sort of majority vote, as though the clergy and people got together, pooled their preferences, and decided to have what the greater number wanted.
THE HEART OF THE LITURGY
THE heart of the Liturgy is the Redeeming Activity of Christ, Who in the Mass renews and applies to individual persons now living the redemptive sacrifice of Himself historically consummated on Calvary. The action of the Mass is in three progressive stages, Offering, Consecration and Holy Communion, which last is the completion of the Sacrifice. The Church performs this greatest of all actions with the utmost care. During centuries she has shaped and formed its external presentation, so that every detail of its outward expression may correspond with the tremendous thing which is expressed.
Objective suitability is the standard here, not subjective taste. In other words, the externals of the Liturgy are what the Church, as the Body of Christ, judges appropriate to the Mass, not what we happen to like as individuals. Words, music, gesture, ceremonial are those which, in the mind of the Church, are the best for their special purpose. That purpose is not to please or entertain ourselves, not to give us an emotional thrill nor to remind us of the pleasures of everyday life, but to elevate our thoughts and feelings into the kingdom of the supernatural, to concentrate our attention upon the Sacrificial Act and to lead us to participate fully in that act as living members of Christ.
The Liturgy at its centre, the Mass, is Christ actively offering Himself and us to the Father. For this reason it is greater than the personal thoughts or devotional tastes of any individual, however good these may be.
NOT A MATTER OF EXTERNALS
FOR this reason, too, it would be a grievous misunderstanding to think that " the Liturgy " means merely the externals of public worship. Many of us, perhaps, have had this mistaken notion for years, to the great impoverishment of our Catholic lives. Pius X and Pius XI, in directing us all to return to a full participation in the Liturgy, are not merely recalling us to a decorous observance of externals. We go to church, says Pius X, " for no other object than that of acquiring the true Christian spirit from its first and indispensable source, which is active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayers of the Church." Those words, in his famous Motu Proprio, launched the Liturgical Movement in the Church and still direct its aim. Twenty-five years later Pius XI emphasised the importance of the right view of the Liturgy by reiterating Pius X's statement in almost the same words : " The faithful come to church in order to derive piety from, its chief source, by taking an active part in the sacred mysteries and the public solemn prayers of the Church."
Active participation (which the Pope specifically distinguishes from a mere passive looking-on) in the Sacrifice and prayer of the Church is, then, for us the primary and indispensable source of the growth into Christ which is the aim. and vocation of the Christian.
The Church's life of Sacrifice and prayer, having for its mainspring the redeeming activity of Christ Himself in the Mass, is a life far higher and richer than anything human beings can devise for themselves: The individual who adheres to it, who allows and desires his mind, feelings and life to be formed by it, is caught up into something beyond his natural capacities and above his own personality.
DANGER OF MISINTERPRETATION
I T is possible, of course, to misuse this or any other good thing. .A person here and there may concentrate entirely on the beauty of the purely external side of the Church's prayer-life. He may, for instance, be absorbed in the song or the language of the Liturgy entirely for their own sakes as human sounds or words, and so fail to make contact with the spiritual realities which they embody and of which they are the best expression. This cannot diminish their spiritual value as the Church's chosen vehicle of her divinelytransmitted life.
Preciosity of the kind described is, however, rare. Usually it happens that a person who is struck by the beauty of the Missal prayers or the chant comes under their spiritual influence, and there often follows the gradual turning of the whole life to God.
A much more real and widespread danger lies in the opposite direction—the failure to understand and use the Liturgy as the chief means of sanctification for the man-in-the-nave. It is important to hold the balance rightly and not to claim too much. The Liturgy is not the only means of sanctification and formation of the Christian character. There are, for instance, schools, good reading, instructions, all the influences of family and social life ; most of all the individual's private prayer.
YET it remains true that active participation in the prayer-life of the Church is the principal means of acquiring the spirit of Christ. Pius X and Pius XI have said it, speaking, as Pius X says, " with the fulness of Our Apostolic Authority." We shall enter into the full meaning of this teaching if we remember that the Liturgy is both an interior and an external work ; that " taking an active part " in it means, first of all, entire submission to, and co-operation with, the redeeming activity of Christ in the Mass, in such a way that the whole of life is re-made in accordance with the offering we make of ourselves at Mass.
Prayer that is Liturgical in the full sense and private prayer are both necessary to a Catholic life. Indeed, not the least important effect of private prayer is that it prepares and fits us to enter more fully, and with better dispositions, into the public solemn Sacrifice and prayer of the Body of Christ.
Similarly both the Liturgy and popular devotions are natural to a full Catholic life. There is no quarrel between them. NonLiturgical services, in which the vernacular is freely used, correspond to a real need of the Catholic people. This is so universally recognised that it may be taken for granted.
[In a second article next week Dom Bernard McElligott will give some practical applications of the true understanding of the Liturgy.]