Recently, it was confirmed that I am going to be heading up the Liturgy Committee for our little chapel. This position normally lasts two years, although so far we've had one person hold it for three years, and another for one year.
I guess we'll see what happens.
I have a background in Liturgy, as I took a course in Pastoral Liturgy at an almost local university.
The course, although rather more creative in some areas than would seem appropriate if one is familiar with the documents of the Church, reinforced my love for liturgy.
So, just what is liturgy? Liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia and I hope I spelled that correctly. This word means something like 'public work'. Liturgy is our public form of prayer...work for God. Peter Kreeft, a Catholic writer also points out that it is God's public work for us, too. Funny no one mentioned this even once in my hearing when I was taking the course, but it makes a lot of sense.
During the Liturgy, and here I"m primarily speaking of the Mass, our "work" is the praise and worship of God. God's work, is acting during the Consecration to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
It was stressed, when I was studying and in everything related that I've read, except for Kreeft, that liturgy is OUR public work. That is fine. But when the added dimension of God's work is considered, it makes the guidelines the Church gives us for liturgy a lot more palatable. This work is a shared effort. We the people cannot call all the shots.
The Sacramentary, which is the big red book the priest uses during the Mass, has instructions throughout it written in red (Latin: rubrus). From this we get the word 'rubrics'. The rubrics are like stage directions. They remind the priest what is to happen next. When do we stand, when do we kneel?
Rubrics can be used as a club...but they can also be used in love. They are there to be followed if at all possible. This gives a conformity to the Mass that allows the people a level of comfort which makes possible the experience of Mass as prayer, which is what it most certainly is!
If Mass were to change frequently at the whim of a Bishop, Priest, or dare I say Liturgy Director, one would be so busy trying to figure out what was coming next that the possibility of Mass as prayer would be lost. Rubrics exist also to ensure that the faithful receive and participate in a valid Mass.
Within the framework presented by the rubrics is much room for creativity. The Homily, Music choices, choices of certain prayers (where options exist), decoration for the sanctuary and the rest of the church building, all add a particular flavour to a Mass. Of course there is also the cycle of readings. This is not a choice of the priest, but fixed by the Church. Different readings are read each Sunday in a three year cycle. Most of the Bible is covered in this time. Having this lectionary cycle prevents the priest or deacon reading and re-reading passages which are personal favourites.
In the early 1970s, just after the close of the Second Vatican Council, liturgy nearly disappeared in some places. "The Spirit of Vatican II" as it was called by many who found 'rules' restricting and inhibiting, found licence for such travesties as Clown Masses, where ministers were dressed as clowns and processed in accompanied by balloons and bubbles, and 'Liturgies of the Eucharist' where the 'matter' presented for consecration was the likes of potato chips and soda pop (which I will add would have rendered the sacrament invalid).
Although we can be thankful that such ridiculous practice has ALMOST died out (I did hear of a clown mass about three years ago...sigh), vestiges remain. I cringe when I hear of lay people giving 'homilies', or wearing stoles (both practices are the domain of priests and deacons) and when I hear of people trying to make the Mass 'relevent' to a particular group.
In my experience, seeking relevence discovers a path to extinction, where religious practice is concerned.
Liberal institutions of education often present options for liturgy that do not seem to reflect the mind of the Church. This is seen in much of the 'liturgical' music that is published in North America. It is also seen in books and periodicals for liturgy that seem to disregard liturgical direction as it comes from Magisterial (teaching) bodies within the Church itself.
This can be intensely frustrating and divisive. Some believe that if it's in print it must be so...
I am sure I will have more to say on all this another time. This has been long enough for now!