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Liturgical Vision and Evolution in the Catholic Church

Liturgical Vision and Evolution in the Catholic Church

 

a) Restoration of the mystery-filled presence of God in the church building and in the celebration of the Eucharist.

As already exposed in 1994 in my “Interreligious Dialogue Guidelines” (see my website), it has become my personal opinion that one of the negative side effects of the new liturgy since Vatican II is the disappearance in the church building of the mystery which surrounds the Divine. This mystery of the Divine Presence in our former church buildings was formerly expressed and sustained by the central place of the head altar, the crucifix, the Eucharist kept in the head altar and the red twinkling light of the sanctuary lamp.

       In the temples and prayer buildings of the old Egypt, in Judaism and in the Eastern religions, we always find in the depth of the temples a ceremonial room with the images and representations of the gods or saints, a place which is immersed in semi-darkness and where only the celebrants have access to. More and more it is now being accepted that even in the Egyptian way of believing (1) and in the Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism the so-called ‘gods’ or ‘saints’ (Bodhisattva’s) can be considered as representations of the One Ultimate Spiritual Reality, objects of veneration but not of adoration. What is adored, consciously or unconsciously, is not the image but the Divine hidden behind the image(s).

        In the Roman Catholic, Anglican and some Protestant Faith Communities, and this in particular since Vatican II, the Eucharist has been defrocked of its sacredness and its mystery-filled image by the current handling of the Eucharist by non-consecrated ministers and other assistants of the celebrant. As another good result of Vatican II, the Bible has now also in Catholic churches been placed in a place of honour, which however is seemingly not enough to create a feeling of the mystery of the Divine. The aim of bringing the Eucharist nearer to the faithful has surely been attained because instead of the former small minority, the great majority of the attendants now go to communion. The putting of the main altar nearer to the attending congregation has brought with it the current keeping of the Eucharist in the tabernacle of a side-altar with also in many places a disappearance of the sanctuary lamp.

      A re-evaluation of the former main altar by keeping the Eucharist in the tabernacle of the main altar would be perfectly in line with the centuries old tradition of the “the holy of holies” in the depth of the sanctuary and would be also a re-creation of a feeling of the ‘sacred’ presence of the Divine in the church building. It would make the reverence gesture by bowing of kneeling when entering or leaving the churchbuilding more meaningful. While it is fully acceptable that the distribution of the Eucharist is also done by lay people, the taking out from and the replacing in the tabernacle should be reserved exclusively to the celebrant.

Testimonies from different countries on the location of the Tabernacle on the head-altar of the church building:

Belgium:

In the Catholic weekly of the Church in Belgium “Kerk+Leven” of February 18, 2004, we read on p. 3 in the article “Geen zondagsviering meer”(No more Sunday celebration): “The Anglican Church is thinking of not concentrating any more its church celebrations on Sundays. This was reported in the Australian newspaper ‘The West Australian’. With this radical new regulations the church leadership wishes to jump on the bandwagon of the changes in society.”.

      In the same above mentioned weekly of March 7, 2007 is this taken up again in an article “Minder eucharistie”(Less Eucharist) by Erik de Smet who says: “In different place in the Flemish country is it the policy of the Church to promote strong liturgical times (Ash Wednesday, Christmas night, Holy Week). This offers more possibilities to come to a more carefully carried out liturgy with a choir, lectors, acolytes…What’s more, a filled church makes the participants enthusiast and offers them a stronger church community experience.”

As “strong liturgical times” I would prefer to name them the high days of the liturgical year, Christmas, Easter with the Holy Week, Pentecost, All Saints/All Souls Day (as one feast .day).

United Kingdom; On occasion of one of the latest synods of the Church of England, a report lay on the table in which some remarkable recommendations. It states a/o that the average believer has barely time on his weekends to participate in the Eucharist celebration. Sunday is no more considered as a church day, but as a family day, an entertainment  day or a sport day. The Church is no more on the list of priorities of modern families who stand more and more under time pressure.

Australia: According to the Australian Anglican bishop Murray is the situation in his country not much different from that in Great Britain. He is convinced that the Churches have to look for new ways to get people involved in Church life, They have therefore to anticipate on the needs of the faithful and dare to break with old formulas, although the parishes, in his view, continue to play an essential role in the faith perception of the common church goer. “We must sell ourselves better” is how he expresses himself “Within a quarter of a century the situation will be completely different, and I can imagine that then there will be no more Sunday celebrations.”.

USA: In 2003, in a series of essays on the liturgy in the Catholic Reflections & Reports  (TCRNews) under the title The Tabernacle and Catholic Worship: Simplicity vs. False Minimalism, Deacon Keith A. Fournier states in his article “Bring the Tabernacle Back into the Sanctuary”, as follows: “I have become convinced that the move of the Tabernacle out of the center of the sanctuary was an over- reaction against a privatized piety that some worried was distracting from the experience of the community nature of Eucharistic worship. Well, having now seen its bad fruit, I have joined the ranks of many, traditionalists included, in concluding that it has been an abysmal failure. The cure was worse than the perceived problem.

…Well, I have come to a conclusion; bring Jesus back into the sanctuary. Bring the Tabernacle back into the sanctuary.”

  Stephan Hand, editor TCRNews, in his article “Where the Eternal Light is Burning” puts it as follows:

“…..The ongoing neo-modernist reduction of theology and philosophy to “spirituality” promised to triumph by the time the post-conciliar “spirit of Vatican II” began to trumpet itself to the world. The immediate and most dramatic impact of the revolution was in the liturgy. When, despite Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy promulgated by Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council, the Tabernacle which housed the Blessed Sacrament from ancient times was later theologically displaced from the altar (even if not intrinsically wrong dogmatically), it was an eloquent, if pernicious, metaphor of the theological and spiritual shift which had taken place first in minds of not a few liturgists. Liberals preferred to see God "everywhere" without the most important distinctions. That Tabernacle, which by solemn decree and Tradition held “the most distinguished and honorable place in the Church”, and the altar were always considered inseparable “by origin and [by their very] nature”.

…..Thus the increasingly exaggerated tearing asunder of that which belonged together, which violated that primal unity without justification from the Second Vatican Council, threatened to go directly to the very Heart of Catholic Eucharistic theology! Thankfully, we are seeing some improvements and reversals of this aberration. Note that we are not saying the Tabernacle must necessarily be physically located directly on the altar---which was a late development in the Church---but that theologically and spiritually they cannot be separated. Even in terms of physical location the locus of the Tabernacle should generally be "central," on or near the altar. Adoration and the Eucharist, as Cardinal Ratzinger noted again recently, are inseparable.”

c) The bodily position of the celebrant or acting minister

It is in line with the tradition practized in the major world religions that the role of the consecrated celebrant is of great importance. A replacement by lay ministers can be accepted as a temporary transitional period with as reason the lack of priests as it is the case now in Europe and the USA. The efforts towards a more active part of lay people and even women in the Eucharist celebration and in the administration of the Sacraments mean a wished for democratization of the hierarchical church structures and a more democratic vision on the coming in contact with the Divine. The permanently understood and accepted way of this participation by non-consecrated lay people should be that it is carried out under and with the priest or consecrated person as main ministering actor.

     A development which is liable for discussion in the new liturgy is the bodily position of the celebrant. Up to Vatican II the celebrant was facing the main altar. This has now in a complete turn around been changed in most churches to a position of facing the congregation. The traditions in the Catholic Church as well as in other Christian and non-Christian Faith Communities of facing the main altar or main image in the deep recess of the sanctuary should be taken into full account. While there is no problem in accepting the congregation-directed position of the celebrant for the teaching part of the celebration, let’s say up to the confession of faith, the position of the celebrant should be front-directed for the rest of the celebration up to the communion of the faithful and be again congregation directed for the fare-well benediction at the end of the celebration.

     This may have another non-negligible consequence that it would create a further link with the Buddhist faith community where the main temple image is cloaked in semi-darkness expressing the mystery and the elusiveness of the Divine presence and where the position of the celebrating priest is always a front-directed position.

       Many are trying to understand the background for the ever-increasing interest of the Christian world in the various forms of Buddhism and Hinduism. It is my impression that this trend has a lot to do with a renewed accent on the ungraspable mystery of the Divine, of the Ultimate Spiritual Reality as it comes into prominence in the Holy Scriptures of the Hindu Veda’s and the Buddhist Sutra’s and in their liturgical practices. Hindu Yoga and Buddhist Zen meditation are in the centre of attraction for many people in the West. Including more space for silent meditation should be put into practice in the Eucharist celebrations, also as a response to this trend.

The Setup in Japanese Buddhist temples of the greeting with hands against each other and the contribution box at the entrance of the temple could also be set up in Catholic churches by a bow greeting and a sign of the cfross from the holy water container, the contribution box, and also small greeting candles, all three behind each other in the middle at the entrance of the church. This would mean a revaluation of the special presence of Jesus in the Eucharist in the tabernacle of the central choir.

3. Faith Communities without prescriptions and prohibitions?

From Buddhism, we learn that a faith community without prescriptions and prohibitions is a real way of life for Buddhist believers the world over. Buddhism has a wealth of teaching but has no dogmas nor strict commandments. It is a mystical religion, which leads beyond words and thinking and reasoning to the silence of “transcendental wisdom”. The Dalai Lama, who is admired and even venerated by so many all over the world, never speaks from a pulpit or teaching attitude, he never commands or prohibits. In stead, his advices and counsels are being admired and accepted as emanations of universal profound mystical wisdom. Most of the spiritual movements, like e.g. the Brahma Kumaris, most of the indigenous Faith Communities and the humanist faith community have already this non-commanding but guiding and advising approach as a basic attitude towards their followers and sympathizers.

The Setup in Japanese Buddhist temples of the greeting with handclapping and the contribution box at the entrance of the temple could also be set up in Catholic churches by a bow greeting and a crucifix from the holy water container, the contribution box, and also small greeting candles, all three behind each other in the middle at the entrance of the church. This would mean a revaluation of the special presence of Jesus in the Eucharist in the tabernacle of the central choir.

      Might it be possible that the interfaith encounter and dialogue between Christian and Buddhist Faith Communities could lead, admittedly in a rather far away future, to religions without commands and prescriptions?!! Could this be in the future the true way of all the Faith Communities of our world? Could the Catholic Church and the other Christian Churches in their actual evolution do without this “Go and Teach” attitude and still uphold their authority in the moral and spiritual guidance of their faithful and as such in the guidance of humanity as a whole? In this context, the image of the Catholic and other Christian Churches as institutions is undergoing a radical change in many aspects of what until now has been considered and believed in as unchangeable tenets of belief. One sees a pronounced change from an attitude of “Go and Teach” to an attitude of “Go and Learn”, of guidance instead of commanding and of testifying instead of proselytizing.

       It can be considered as a matter of course that, against a growing loss of trust in the church as institute, the Churches as institutes must be permanently sustained as entities which are irreplaceable by whatever other organization. Not by commanding or prohibiting, but by giving guiding assistance to the people in their struggle to do good and avoid bad. Their task remains a necessity in the holding up of the essence of the love teaching of Jesus Christ, of the importance of the human person, and of the upholding of the above mentioned global ethic and golden rule.

b) Sense of Community and solidarity

What people in first contacts with new charismatic movements in the Catholic Church such as Opus Dei, Focolare and others, and non-catholic movements such a the Brahma Kumaris and some new religions in Japan, the Risshō Kōsei-Kai and the Sōka Gakkai, strikes most is the feeling of solidarity, of oneness and fellowship, of belonging to a living community. This kind of feeling is greatly lacking or at least not coming sufficiently into expression in liturgical gatherings, and this surely in daily life where e.g. only a limited number of people say hallo to unknown persons. The consciousness of being all brothers and sisters is not alive and surely not practised in daily life and not sufficiently in the liturgical ceremonies. The decreasing attendance to Sunday Mass in the West do of course also not help towards a feeling of belonging to a great community. Most of the now too large church buildings have become oppressive by their emptiness. As a means to reevaluate the Church as a living community and to promote this feeling of solidarity with each other, more attention should be paid to the major feast days such as Easter, Christmas and All Saints/All Souls day, and maybe some others, which are the only days in the year when churches still have plenty of attendants. More attention should be paid to the preparation and the styling of these high days of the ecclesiastical year. All parish organizations and surely the young should take part in the preparation and in an active participation in the Eucharist gathering. Those are the feast days on which the faithful could be invited to participate in Eucharist gatherings on a deaconate level around their deacon in the “mother church” as the Belgian Cardinal Danneels calls it, and even on a diocesan level in the cathedral around their bishop. Such mass gatherings could be enlivened with songs and dances, sociable dining and shopping, which would create among the participants the feeling of joyful and valuable belonging to a living community in solidarity with each other. This could also lead to a renewed faith and to a renewed revaluation of the church community to which they all belong.

3. Faith Communities without prescriptions and prohibitions?

From Buddhism, we learn that a faith community without prescriptions and prohibitions is a real way of life for Buddhist believers the world over. Buddhism has a wealth of teaching but has no dogmas nor strict commandments. It is a mystical religion, which leads beyond words and thinking and reasoning to the silence of “transcendental wisdom”. The Dalai Lama, who is admired and even venerated by so many all over the world, never speaks from a pulpit or teaching attitude, he never commands or prohibits. In stead, his advices and counsels are being admired and accepted as emanations of universal profound mystical wisdom. Most of the spiritual movements, like e.g. the Brahma Kumaris, most of the indigenous Faith Communities and the humanist faith community have already this non-commanding but guiding and advising approach as a basic attitude towards their followers and sympathizers.

       Might it be possible that the interfaith encounter and dialogue between Christian and Buddhist Faith Communities could lead, admittedly in a rather far away future, to religions without commands and prescriptions?!! Could this be in the future the true way of all the Faith Communities of our world? Could the Catholic Church and the other Christian Churches in their actual evolution do without this “Go and Teach” attitude and still uphold their authority in the moral and spiritual guidance of their faithful and as such in the guidance of humanity as a whole? In this context, the image of the Catholic and other Christian Churches as institutions is undergoing a radical change in many aspects of what until now has been considered and believed in as unchangeable tenets of belief. One sees a pronounced change from an attitude of “Go and Teach” to an attitude of “Go and Learn”, of guidance instead of commanding and of testifying instead of proselytizing.

       The task of the Church leaders must have as aim the teaching of the necessity of love as thje main teaching of Jesus Christ, of the importance of the human person, and of the upholding of the above mentioned global ethic and golden rule.

Notes: (1) Marleen Reynders, Onder het oog van de zonnegod, Het Spectrum, Davidsfonds/Leuven, 2003 

Lucien F. Cosijns, Binnensteenweg 240/A26, 2530 Boechout, Belgium
Tel. +32 3 455.6880
lfc.cosijns@gmail.com

www.interfaithdialoguebasics.info

 

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