Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Liturgical Stuff to Recall

From the Bishop of Tulsa, OK., some wisdom and authoritative commentary on the Sacred Liturgy:

I do not consider fidelity to the General Instruction of the
Roman Missal as a legalistic imposition, nor as simply
“following the rubrics.”Rather, our obedience here is an open,
public profession that the Eucharist is something which we
have received and not something which we ourselves make. It
is something which we must hand on in its entirety to our
children and grandchildren.

This is the same over-riding concern which prompted St.
Paul to write to the Corinthians: “For I myself have received
from the Lord that which I in turn handed on to you, that the
Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread and
giving thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is
given up for you.’”(1 Corinthians 11:23)

Our fidelity to the General Instruction is also a daily
reminder that the Eucharist is not a “thing” which can be
manipulated or played with. The Eucharist is not subject to
the whims of those who celebrate it nor those who derive
their life from it. The Eucharist is a Person, Jesus Christ, who
gives Himself to us that we might participate in His selfsurrender


There are periods in the liturgy into which silence naturally
fits, periods in which silence allows the worshipper to dispose
himself or herself to participate in the saving action of the
Mass by listening for the voice of God Who speaks to the
heart in silence.

These periods are specified in the GIRM, and
I am asking our pastors and priests to respect the
congregation’s need for reflective space in the penitential rite,
in the Liturgy of the Word after the first reading and again
after the homily and, finally, after Communion.

At the same time, I am asking choir directors, musicians
and liturgy coordinators not to fill those open spaces with
music for music’s sake. Let there be silence so that God’s
creative and redeeming Word can be heard. Let the Word
penetrate the heart and the mind of the pray-er.


Since it is important to guard this sense of silence, this
sense of the sacred, even at times of great joy and after
celebrations involving the whole parish, I am asking that
pastors exercise reasonable caution after baptisms,
confirmations and weddings to ensure that a family’s desire
for keepsake photographs does not give way to an attitude
which disregards the sacredness of our churches and the
Presence - after Mass as well as during Communion - of Him
who is the Author of the Sacraments we celebrate.


I would like to ask all those concerned with
the music of our liturgical celebrations,
that is, priests, deacons, cantors, musicians, organists and
liturgical planners, to review the musical programs which
they present in the light of their careful and complete
rereading of the Vatican Council’s document on the liturgy
Sacrosanctum Concilium.

I ask them to pay special attention to the sections devoted
to Sacred Music (Chapter 6, ß112 - 121) that those who share
responsibility in a parish for the implementation of the
Council’s liturgical norms might reacquaint themselves with
what the Council Fathers actually wrote concerning the
requirements of proper liturgical music, and in particular the
principle which places the text in importance over the
thus acknowledging the primacy
of Gregorian Chant among the Church’s
musical traditions
, not merely from the
position of its great venerability and
beauty, but also because chant, having no
rhythm, never forces the text to be
rewritten to fit a specific meter. Chant
allows us a certain sacred space within
which that Word which God spoke in
ancient times can be heard today with
greater clarity and fidelity.

At this point, too, some mention must be
made of the great dis-ease I feel when I see
the celebrant at the altar while the cantor or
the choir stands arrayed either to his right
or to his left
. I am uncomfortable when I
watch the congregation forced to shift their
focus from the celebrant to the singers, and
from the singers back to the celebrant, over
and over again during the course of the
liturgy. This greatly upsets the balance of
the Mass between proclamation and
response (when our song is our response to
what has been proclaimed) by making the
response itself something that we have to
respond to.

Our focus should always remain on
Christ, and it is the priest who celebrates
the Mass with the deacon who assists him
who are the living image, the true icons, of
Christ the High Priest and Christ the true

This problem has been confounded in
some communities by a further
distraction. In my travels around the
Diocese, I have noted certain communities
where the music at Mass has tended more
toward entertainment than toward prayer.
The choir or cantors consciously draw the
attention of the congregation to their
performance and really stirring
performances are rewarded by the
congregation’s grateful applause. In this
case, the placement of the choir, cantor or
musicians in the most visible and
prominent part of the sanctuary not only
proves to be a distraction to the
congregation, but provides a kind of center
stage for a concert of religious music.
When this happens, the music becomes
the center of the experience, and the
sacramental transformation of the
worshipper is reduced to his or her being
merely inspired
, the liturgical action of the
Mass becoming itself a distraction.

This Bishop, Edward Slattery, is very well-schooled on Liturgy and music; the excerpts presented here are packed full of theological verities in plain English. It is ironic in the extreme that Milwaukee, an Archdiocese known for the quality of its music and liturgy prior to 1975, would need to import its liturgical instruction from Tulsa.

But it would be entirely fitting were Bp. Slattery's letter to be circulated here by the Chancery.

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