Thoughts On The Liturgy This Sunday

The bishops recently approved a new translation of the Liturgy.  It is my understanding that we will begin using it in Advent.  Recently, in speaking to priest of his archdiocese, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster made a number of points worth considering:

1.    My first conviction is this: Liturgy is never my own possession, or my creation.  It is something we are given,  from the Father.  Therefore my own tastes, my own preferences, my own personality, my own view of ecclesiology, are marginal, of little importance, when it comes to the celebration of the Mass.  We don vestments to minimise our personal preferences, not to express or emphasise them.  Liturgy is not ours. It is never to be used as a form of self-expression.  Indeed the opposite is the truth. Within the diocese, when the priests of a parish change there should be clear continuity in the manner in which Mass is celebrated. The Mass is the action of the Church.  That’s what matters, not my opinion.  I once heard that Blessed Pope John Paul never commented on a Mass he had celebrated.  It’s the Mass.  My task is to be faithful.

2.    My second point flows from this: the Liturgy forms us, not us the Liturgy.  The words of the Mass form our faith and our prayer.  They are better than my spontaneous creativity.  At Mass my place is very clear: I am an instrument in the hand of the Lord.  I am not a conductor, still less a composer.  Ordained into the person of Christ the Head, I am just an instrumental cause of this great mystery.  This is so important.  My celebration of the Mass each morning shapes my heart for the day ahead.  At Mass I am the Lord’s instrument just as I hope to be in the day that follows.  In all the events of the day, in the decisions I make, the words I speak, my greatest, safest hope is that the Lord will use me and that I, personally, will not get in His way.  We are servants of the Liturgy through which God opens to us His saving life.

These are very important points.  The Liturgy is not ours nor the Church’s.  It is a gift from the Father.  Understanding Mass that way changes a lot for me.  It causes me to have fewer opinions – if the Liturgy is God’s gift to us, then my response in faith is to accept.  What a fool I would be to carp about a gift from the Almighty Master of the Universe!  The ingratitude is breathtaking.  It would be like saying, “God, you are the Supreme Being; perfect in knowledge, perfect in power, and perfect in love.  But, I, finite creature that I am, think you got it wrong with the Liturgy stuff.  So I guess you’re not all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-loving.  Maybe next time; I will let you know if I approve.”  Absurd, but very, very common.

The second point is important, too.  “The Liturgy forms us; not us the Liturgy.”  God gave us the Liturgy to help form us so that we could join Him in Heaven.  This point is similar to the first.  The Liturgy is not ours to shape and manipulate as we please.  It is a gift from the Father intended to bring us to greater holiness.  We are changed by the Liturgy, not the other way around.

Archbishop Nichols concludes with a beautiful point:

[W]henever the Liturgy of the Church, the celebration of the Mass, truly enters our heart and soul, then the result is a vibrant sense of mission. When we meet the Lord in all His love for us, then we are ready to respond, especially in the care we give to the poorest and those most in need, those closest to the Heart of our Saviour.

Although the degree to which we will feel this sense of mission will differ according to each person’s spiritual development, the Liturgy strengthens it.  Although directed toward his priests, pondering Archbishop Nichols’ thoughts would be worthwhile for all.