Liturgy is not a theory, nor the tool of a particular ideology - old or new. Liturgy is not simply a field of studies nor even a theology. Liturgy is by its very nature an action, a “doing”. For the liturgy- celebrated - to achieve its full effect in the christian life of individuals and of the community as a whole, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council set down in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy the necessary but essentially simple means called-for. In regard to the people they specify: “it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper disposition, that their thoughts match their words, and that they cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain (cf. 2 Cor 6:1)”. And regarding the clergy they admonish: “pastors ... must realize that when the liturgy is celebrateci, more is required than the observance of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; i t is their duty also to ensure that the faithful can take part knowingly, actively and fruitfully” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 11)1.
If we accept the fact that the liturgy actually “is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true christian spirit’’- as declared in Sacrosanctum Concilium 14, that demands a real effort on the part of celebrants, other ministers, choirs, etc. to ensure that the liturgical rites express their visible and invisible “reality”. That presumes, of course, that the liturgy in its signs and symbols, in its actions, gestures and words express clearly the holy things they signify (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 21). That is the aim of the revised liturgical books. It demands, in turn, on the part of the christian people that they make a real effort to understand the sacramentai signs and take full and active part in them as a community – ekklesia (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 21, 59). Liturgy in itself, in its fitting celebration, “contains much instruction for the faithful” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 33) if carried out according to the mind of the Council, but that alone is not sufficient.
To implement the ideai of the Council we need to follow its call for liturgical formation on all levels. Pastors of souls, teachers and all others engaged in pastoral ministry “must strive zealously” to promote and provide quality liturgical instruction “in ali their pastoral work” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14). A good preparation and a proper “performance” of the rituality and prayers is only the beginning, or better, foundation for liturgical formation. That implies, however, a personal formation in the use of the revised rites, not just a mechanical execution of the rubrics and prayers.
The new liturgical books have ali been provided with Praenotanda or “Instructions” to the respective liturgical rites as mandated by the council fathers. These initial instructions offer a short introduction to the theology of the rite and necessary information on its ceremonial praxis. A thorough acquaintance with them is presupposed for the proper use of the rites. Their importance is evident in the words of the Council that in translations of the liturgical books “the instructions prefixed to the individuai rites in the Roman Ritual, whether they be pastoral and rubrical or whether they have special social import, are never to be omitted” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 63b). This requirement is not always followed in translations into local languages in some missionary lands according to informai research I have clone among my students in the Liturgical Institute.
There seems to be a generai neglect as well of the generai instructions elsewhere. Although they give clear information on how the rituals are to be carried out “ideally”, on the choice of the alternate prayers and other liturgical texts and on the legitimate variations and adaptations to local circumstances in the administration of the sacraments and the use of the sacramentals, they are seldom even read. I have clone informai surveys with various groups to whom I have spoken on the liturgy and on the various rites and the number of those w ho are familiar with or w ho even have looked at the Praenotanda is unfortunately minimal.
It is a serious mistake for celebrants and others to skip over the required introductions to arrive at the “actions and prayers” of the ritual itself. A truly pastoral approach to liturgy demands, in the mind of the Church, a familiarity with the introductory material as well. Otherwise the use of the ritual alone can be haphazard as well as uninformed. Such an approach leaves one unfamiliar with the possible variety, flexibility, local and cultural adaptation that are built into the rites. It often leads to the temptation to “improve” the gestures, symbols and prayers in an eccentric way from a very one-sided and mdividuahstic view that is not aware of the actual richness and possibilities in the rites themselves. That has not been a rare occurrence in the time since the appearance of the official editions of the revised liturgical books. It has also to some extent fed the dissatisfaction with,the “new” liturgy and the demand on the part of some to return to “the good old days” and bury the changes of the past fifty years.
The Praenotanda, however, are only one part of liturgical formation. The aspect of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that has been largely disregarded, and that from the beginning, is its insistence on the need for liturgical catechesis for the laity, for liturgical education for pastors and clergy in general, and for liturgical education and formation for seminarians and young religious. This desire of the council fathers has never been fully realized.
An adequate formation is fundamental for the faithful to take their part in the liturgical action actively, knowledgeably and fruitfully. The Constitution insists on preparatory liturgical catechesis: “Instruction which is explicitly liturgical should be imparted in a variety of ways; if necessary, in the rites themselves short explanations could be provided” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 35 § 3). In my home parish in the 60’s the liturgical changes were introduced with no preparation of the faithful. It is no wonder that the people were confused.
To realize formation of the faithful, first of all, the formation of the clergy in liturgy is absolutely necessary so they “become thoroughly penetrated with the spiri t and power of the liturgy and become masters of it” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14).
This in turn requires the preparation of professors of liturgy properly trained for their work in specialized institutes (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 15). Liturgy is to rank among the compulsory principal subjects in seminaries and theological faculties and other professors should clearly bring out the connection between their subjects and liturgy (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 16).
Unfortunately, often enough professors who teach liturgy do not have the needed specialized degree mandated by the council. In my experience of teaching in various seminaries and theological faculties, the “Sacred Liturgy” rarely has the position of material that is “potior” or “principalis” in the curriculum. Can one course of only one semester in the three years of theology constitute a main subject that is very important? I have my doubts that this satisfies the role of liturgy foreseen by the Council and by the documents promulgated by the Congregations of the Papal Curia in regard to liturgy.
If we are to arrive a t a true and authentic spirit of the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium 37, 17), the call for a truly liturgical formation by way of catechesis and education as well as by participation must be better implemented at all levels. Their neglect has notably diminished the fruitful realization of liturgical reform. If there is a grave sin that has been committed against the Second Vatican Council, it is in this area.
1 The English translation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (December 4, 1963), have been taken from The Documents of Vatican II, ed. tr. W.M. Abbott - J. Gallagher, Guild Press, New York 1966.