Rethinking the reform
His main theme is that the time has come to rethink the Novus Ordo:
"Now is the time, the Spirit is saying to the Church, to take stock of the liturgical renewal of the last forty years, to discern as clearly as possible what has succeeded and what has failed, and to make adjustments in the light of that discernment."
He points to the need to restore the sense of Churches as a place to pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, to restore the sense of liturgy as formal liturgy rather than something informal or casual, and to focus on beauty in the worship of God.
He points to some changes already in train (particularly the new lectionary and Missal translations, changes to posture at mass), and suggests that there is a lot more to come.
What active participation really means
There is also some good stuff there on what active participation does (and doesn't) mean:
"Without changing anything, we are to bring as much prayer, intelligence, imagination and sensitivity as we can to the act of worship. Creativity concerns the quality of our participation, not an adaptation of the ritual in an attempt to improve it or to make it more relevant.
To speak of participation is to raise the question of what the Council meant when it stressed the need for "full, conscious and active" participation in the liturgy. At times, this is taken to mean that everyone has to do everything all the time. But this is not the Church’s understanding. The Roman Rite presumes that everyone has his or her particular role in the liturgy and that participation means that each performs his or her own role as well as possible. To listen in silence to the Readings is certainly "active" participation, as are all the great silences that are built into the liturgy. To speak of "conscious" participation does not mean that every word, gesture and action needs to be immediately and easily accessible to all, since much of the symbolism of the liturgy moves at a more than conscious level. Creativity in the liturgy respects the different levels at which the language, actions and symbols move and the way in which they gather up the whole human person. "
What can one say but Alleluia!
What can be done now
As well as speaking of a broader discernment process for the future, his letter contains some 'suggestions' (let's hope they are taken as strong ones) and instructions to priests and laity in his diocese.
The list is a mix of reminders about things that are outright abuses, as well as constructive measures on things that can be done now, within the limits of the rubrics, to improve the liturgy, such as making sure that appropriate silences are observed.
There are some odd omissions in view of some of the debates (in blogdom at least!) and moves going on around the world: he doesn't see much call for increased use of Latin beyond a few parts of the ordinary (though he acknowledges its normative role), and doesn't mention the Extraordinary Form at all; ad orientem worship doesn't crack a mention and neither does the 'Benedictine' altar arrangement; and he simply notes that those who wish to receive kneeling and on the tongue can, rather than encouraging this practice. Although interestingly, on the last point, he does suggest that consideration be given to the people standing around the sanctuary (i.e. where the altar rails used to be???) rather than in a single line queue.
There is a clear 'read the black, do the red' message: 'People coming to Mass have a right to a celebration of the liturgy according to the norms set down by the Church; anything else can be unsettling and distracting.'
On liturgical abuses
And on the abuses front, particularly noteworthy is the no liturgical dancing clause ('Ritual means on the one hand that we worship not just in spirit but in body; it means on the other hand that we avoid theatricality. Theatricality can be a problem with liturgical movement or dance, especially at school liturgies...'). I hope the priest who conducted the confirmation I attended a few days ago is takeing due note (http://australiaincognita.blogspot.com/2008/05/happy-pentecost.html)! And a statement that extraordinary ministers should only be used where they are really and truly necessary.
His list of things that can be done now includes:
- reviewing whether Sunday celebrations without a priest should continue (apparently an initiative of the Australian Bishop's meeting last week). I'd add Monday (priest day off) Holy Communion celebrations to that process;
- emphasizing the opportunities for silence in the mass and in the Church building generally;
- keeping introductions and commentaries as short as possible (i.e. no 'good morning father' routines and mini-homilies);
- encouragement to drop the sign of peace in mid-week masses, and to restrict the enthusiasm often involved in this;
- focusing on using good music, including chant;
- increased use of Eucharistic Prayer One (the Roman Canon); and
- a programme of prudent investment in beautiful vestments, altar vessels, and beautification of churches.
The sign of peace - let it go!
I'd have to admit, my favourite lines were about the sign of peace, one of my pet hates (my comments in blue):
"The Sign of Peace can be a problem in its current position, especially when it involves a lot of noise and movement. It was never intended to disrupt the sense of silence and prayer appropriate to this sacred moment of the liturgy as the assembly prepares for Communion. [Yet it always does!]
Noise and movement therefore should be kept to a minimum. The Sign of Peace is not just a hearty "G’day" to the world [!]; it is a ritual action, expressing something different and deeper. The General Instruction asks that, except for unusual circumstances, the celebrant not leave the sanctuary to give the Sign of Peace.[Yes! No more being mugged by the priest....you know what I mean - this brand never just leave the sanctuary, they leap; they never just shake your hand, they hug] At weekday Masses, especially when a smaller congregation is scattered throughout the church, the Sign of Peace is not mandatory. [so just drop it, go on!]
In Australia, the usual gesture is the hand-shake, which is understandable. However, the ancient gesture of the Roman Rite is the amplex – the restrained and formal greeting where the celebrant places his arms on the arms of the other and speaks the word of peace as he moves his head towards the other. This would hardly be acceptable in the body of most congregations, but it could perhaps be used on the sanctuary among the celebrant(s) and ministers."
So OK the sign of peace is relatively minor issue - but it really really disrupts the flow of the mass for me at least.
There is a lot more in the letter, all good stuff, and offering a ray of hope to those of us who for one reason or another occasionally or regularly attend the Ordinary Form. Let's hope the other Australian bishops follow his lead....