Sacred Liturgy: Great Mystery, Great Mercy | Bishop Peter J. Elliott | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick Lecture, Kenrick Glennon Seminary, St Louis, MO, October 8, 2015
Reflecting on the state of divine worship in the Church, I believe that this is a good time for Catholics of the Roman Rite, a very good time. Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council initiated a liturgical reform in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, we now inherit the eucharistic project of the last years of Saint John Paul II, and the liturgical project and “pax liturgica” of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Pope Francis respects this inheritance. His liturgical style may be simpler than his predecessor, but he has maintained what he achieved. Benedict and Francis both revere the German scholar Romano Guardini, a deep influence on sound liturgical renewal.1
CATHOLIC WORSHIP TODAY
The papal projects are gradually correcting a misapplication of the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, discontinuity, or rupture from our tradition, with many errors and abuses. However, in surveying where we are, I do not wish to dwell on poor liturgy. I emphasize examples of how the situation is improving, leading into my major themes, mystery and mercy.
Liturgy, Made or Given
One major misinterpretation of Sacrosanctum Concilium is that we make the liturgy, that worship is something we fabricate or put together, not a gift of the Church handed on to us within a living tradition. To all of us is entrusted this gift of liturgical worship, with its own patterns, plan, laws, logic, and cultural qualities.
In this context, myths linger such as the “gathering rite,” implying that we gather ourselves for worship. Pope Benedict insisted that God gathers us for worship, just as he called his Chosen People out of Egypt, to assemble in the wilderness, there to learn how to worship, through sacrifice to the true God, and how to live justly, following the Commandments of God’s Law.2 In the Third Eucharistic Prayer, we address God the Father: “You never cease to gather a people to yourself,” a people later described as “this family, whom you have summoned before you.”
In not a few parishes, the liturgical reform drifted away from worship, to teaching and edifying instruction, to didacticism. The church became an auditorium for imparting messages—and doing what you are told. This was underlined by an irritating commentator, a histrionic cantor (she of the upraised arm and the glinting eyes) and, especially, when the celebrant acted like a television compere, or an earnest coach giving his team a pep talk. This liturgical decadence is fading, even if not everywhere.