by Mary Kearns

pope-massIn many parishes the majority of people are quite happy and at home with the liturgy which is understood to be a “community meal” or some sort of memorial celebration of the Last Supper. Sacrosanctum Concilium or The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 4th 1963 and published along with the other fifteen documents that make up the Constitutions, Decrees and Declarations of the Second Vatican Council.  

 Most lay people did not read Sacrosanctum Concilium. It was filtered down to us gradually over the next years when we attended retreats or lectures or did a course in Catholic doctrine. Perhaps more significantly, this document was used by some in order to progressively introduce many changes into the Mass. By degrees we came to accept Catholic liturgy as no longer the same the world over, but something that could be different from parish to parish and even from church to church within the same parish. Many people including priests had no problem with that. 

Sacrosanctum Concilium is often wrongly blamed for abuses in the sacred liturgy. It is due not to the document itself, but to its misunderstanding and misinterpretation that some liturgical irregularities and even abuses have occurred and continue to occur. 

The heart of the Mass is the paschal mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is his offering of himself to the Father for the redemption of humanity. The purpose of the liturgy is directed towards this “summit and source.” We focus wronglywhen we allow the artificial multiplication of external actions to distract to the extent that the liturgy lapses almost into parody. Much has been written about this problem.

Let us look at it from another angle. It surely cannot be denied that for most Catholics before the changes brought about in the wake of Vatican II, the heart of their worship was always the Mass. If we strip away all the things that people say are wrong or right in the liturgy we are left with one astounding fact. Mass is not “ours” – it is an action of God himself.

Much of the confusion centres on the phrase “full, conscious, active participation” which was used to describe the ideal involvement of the laity in liturgical celebrations. In The Spirit of the Liturgy the present Holy Father deals in detail with how these words should be interpreted.

The real “action” in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God himself…God himself acts and does what is essential. He inaugurates the new creation, makes himself accessible to us, so that through the things of the earth, through our gifts, we can communicate with him in a personal way.

The irony is that while the Council Fathers’ intention was the make the Mass more meaningful to the faithful, the reality experienced is often quite the opposite and many lay people would admit they can no longer find the heart of the Mass. How then do they find the heart of their worship? 

Those who assist at Mass have different ways of dealing with this. Some feel deep grief and a sense of loss. Nevertheless, their faith tells them that the no matter what way liturgy is celebrated, the heart of Mass is and always has been the same. 

In many parishes however the majority of people are quite happy and at home with the liturgy which is understood to be a “community meal” or some sort of memorial celebration of the Last Supper. These people are often involved with the parish, for example providing special liturgies for children or for special events. A general sense of well-being is sought and this is often to be found in the music and songs chosen to which the congregation often responds with applause.