The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta  

From Archbishop Hallinan

Presentation to National Liturgical Conference
August 21-24, 1967
Kansas City, Missouri


A time to create... a time to recover

We have in this country a liturgical underworld. Since its citizens defy statistics, it is impossible to estimate how far-flung and effective it is. Whether the majority comprise earnest, imaginative priests and laymen, or a generation of novelty-seekers is equally obscure. When its spirit is a true zeal, it rises out of the ‘ providential dispositions of God in our times’, as the Council said. When it is born of impatience with rules and frustration with delay, the purity of the motives is more suspect.

Is this underworld of the unauthorized experiment a phenomenon only of our times? Is it an heir to the Frankish adaptations of the Roman rite when the Empire was coming apart? Or of the Jesuit missioner, Matteo Ricci, whose fresh experiments almost made Christ and His Church come alive in China - until Benedict XIV ended the experiments in 1742?

A pioneer trail can even be traced back to the reforms brought from central Europe in our own century by Virgil Michel, Gerard Ellard, Matthias and Martin Hellriegel. Was their lonely experimentation, while bishops frowned and Rome cautioned, the American forerunner of the underworld that now stretches across a hundred colleges, seminaries and parishes?

There is a time to create, Cardinal Lercaro wrote recently, and a time to ‘fully uncover and live by all the riches of our liturgical heritage’. He was speaking of translations but his words are applicable to the entire reform. The difficult choice is ours today. The task of discovery of the Mass, its scriptural and patristic core, is complex and long. The creative task is more challenging and vibrant. It is suited to the young, to contemporary needs, to the people’s voice. It is not fitted to the old-time sacramentaries, the exhausting work of scholars, the dust of the past.

The Cardinal, who is the president of the Consilium, the Church’s primary instrument of the liturgy, is writing of the problems of reform. His own dynamic will to create and recover are coupled with a profound love of divine worship, but he knows well that liturgy has a social, pastoral dimension. Is it of rubrics or pastoral needs he is speaking when he states ‘It is not opportune to "jump the gun"?’ The question at issue is simply this: how best will the community of God’s people be pastorally served?

‘Liturgy is for men, and not men for the liturgy’, was the Key of the Vatican Council’s reform. It was the call of Cardinal Montini on the fourth day of the Council, October 22, 1962. During the debates of 1962-63, the conflicting words of the traditionalists and the progressives were often heard, but Montini’s phrase was still ringing at the end of the second session. All but four council fathers voted the new historic direction for the liturgy. Then it hit the Catholic world with a mighty impact. It proved dramatic for those who wanted a scriptural, pastoral shape suited to modern man. And it has almost proved traumatic for those whose faith was locked and secure in the old rigidity.

Unlike collegiality and ecumenism, the new liturgy touches every Catholic. The effects have been strikingly diverse. Letters to most bishops blasted the changes, and hurled such unkempt slogans as ‘throw the ironing-board altar out!’. But gradually, the Consilium in Rome settled down, and the diocesan and parish commissions began to reach the people. This new climate was especially noted in those parishes which had begun moving with Pius XII’s Mediator Dei in 1947, and now linked learning by instruction to learning by doing.

The road of the Consilium has been rocky. During a meeting of the Council’s Commission, one very high Roman prelate (deeply offended at the idea of local bishops making liturgical decisions) cried out, ‘Impossible! Every change must be approved by the Congregation of Rites.’ The old cardinal-chairman, hardly a liberal himself, demurred:

‘You forget, Excellenza, that the Vatican Council is above even the Congregation of Rites.’

But the intransigents held on, and their brand of heavy centralization is still a rigorous weed stifling the growing tree of a vital liturgy.

Meanwhile, back at the parish, four years have brought many changes in Catholic worship. Too often they are one-dimensional (vernacular, gestures, novelties like the Offertory procession) and lack the depth of understanding and involvement that the Constitution requires. One of today’s myths is that resisters are the Curia and the bishops, while the reformers are the young priests, religious and laity. There are eager experimenters in every sector. And from the new generation, bishops often receive letters of protest about the Kiss of peace, the presence of the lector, and the use of guitars that would curl the hair of the most reactionary prelate.

This is not the place to defend the American bishops. But the snide comment, ‘the bishops were brave in Rome, but timid back home’ can leave an unpleasant error for history to devour. This group of men helped to prepare, and spoke out forcefully for the liturgy schema. They voted in November, 1963 and April, 1964 to use all the vernacular possible, and continued to press for more English and further reforms. The hierarchy helped to launch and finance the gigantic task of preparing a fine international text for the ten English-speaking nations. They put a Music Advisory Board to work. The bishops were the first large hierarchy to obtain the vernacular canon, and then approved by a 95% majority the new text. This is hardly the picture of a group of bishops ‘blighted with conservatism, slavishly submissive to the Roman Curia’, as one critic recently termed them.

In 1963, the liturgical constitution ordered a revision of the entire rite. Minor refinements of gestures were effective June 29 this year, but a more far-reaching revision is due this year for the Whole Eucharistic rite. The prayers at the foot of the altar will be cut out, probably the Kyrie and Gloria will be rearranged, the Offertory prayer shortened. Most significant will be the inclusion of more than one form of the Canon. These changes will go far to produce the ‘clean liturgy’ called for by the council fathers:

‘A noble simplicity... short, clear and unencumbered by useless repetition... within the people’s power of comprehension... normally not requiring much explanation.... with an intimate connection between words and rites.’

Gratitude is due the teams of theologians and liturgists, pastors and missioners who are preparing the revision. But this is experimental only in a very broad sense. It is a process of recovery and of testing. Its scholarly preparation, absolutely necessary, is the task of men concerned with the past and its rich heritage. But such revision does not guarantee a contemporary shape. The living tree must have its trunk and roots. But it is the growing arms that give it strength, the flowering leaves and buds that give it beauty.

These revised forms come to us for a term of testing. The new funeral rite is being used today; the new form of the Mass will be tested soon. But again, testing is not creative. It satisfies the past, but it may not reach out to the present. There is still too much of the formal, the official, the prescribed in this stage of the revision. Is it true that the ‘time to create’ is not here?

A modicum of ‘spontaneous experimentation’ is beginning to appear. Its course is : preparation by local experts, local conference approval, form determined by the Holy See, and a period of testing. In the United States, a very necessary modification has been made: - a Committee on Liturgical Experimentation to examine the proposal and to advise the bishops. Under the direction of Bishop Victor Reed, and Father Charles Riepe a well-qualified committee has been formed. It includes theologians and liturgists like Fathers Bernard Cooke, Godfrey Diekmann, Aidan Kavanagh, and Gerard Sloyan with such ‘practitioners’ as Fathers Paul Byron, Rollins Lambert and Theodore Stone, and the laymen Robert Rambusch, Mary Perkins Ryan and Donald Quinn.

Only progress can be expected with experimentation in such hands. The first proposal, a Mass-form for small groups (home-Masses, university,etc.) is now in the final stage of formation. Others will come.

Why then are the liturgists of the country rising? Is not this two-way avenue of experimentation due to become a very busy street? There are delays and the frustrations. But the underworld’s travail goes deeper. The cry sounds ominously like, ‘ liturgists of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your rubrics.’ Enter the ‘Dutch Canon’, self-communion, new twists with rite and word. Enter, on a lower Key, the new pop art forms described in the New York Times of May 15, 1967: an altar surrounded by 76 oil cans to symbolize ‘Christian involvement in the world’; a maze made out of seven-foot walls of paper boxes labeled ‘Get with the action!’ and ‘I must be what I am’. Enter on a piteously low note, the Mass that features a bottle of drugstore wine and a loaf of grocery bread.

What are these things saying to us? Whether vibrant or relevant, or drained of all meaning, creativity and reverence, they express an unrest with our churchy tradition. We pastors need not feel alone in this. It is no secret that unrest, and not only that of the young, has eroded family life, the university world, business and labor, the old certainties of political life and the sure principles of international polity.

General unrest must have a root. And if the old liturgical forms have lost their meaning for modern man, the root probably is their rigidity, their unintelligibility, their formalism. Today’s dissatisfaction - or worse its apathy is the penalty we pay. Godfrey Diekmann argued persuasively in 1966 the most significant note of the new liturgy is ‘its profound respect for the mysterious, inviolable dignity of the human person’. It pours out in personal participation in the community, the restoration of roles for celebrant, deacon, lector, choir and congregation, the willing engagement of free persons. ‘It seems not improbable that the highlighting of responsible personhood will historically be deemed the council’s most far-reaching overall achievement.’

A more spontaneous liturgical experimentation will not produce a panacea for this unrest, but it will reach out, in the full spirit of the constitution, to creative minds and open hearts. It will amplify the voice of praise and santification beyond the sanctuary to the daily concerns of the inner city, the outer city and suburbia. It will not silence the sounds of undisciplined rites, but it can given an authentic voice to them. The cry of anonymous man, of unsatisfied youth, merits an audience at God’s altar as surely as that of the child, the repentant, or the suffering victim. It is the litugists’ role to see that they all get there.

Leaders of the liturgy - bishops as ‘principal dispensers of the mysteries of God’, and priests as their fellow-workers - must see how Vatican II pushed out the dimensions of their role.

They must listen to the voices, no matter how untrained and undisciplined, of this unrest. Underneath the twanging of the guitars are sounds of hope and haste, sometimes bitterness, and even despair. In their attachment to vintage Gregorian, the old hymns, or even the new chants, the leaders must still catch the rhythms of the new beat. It can speak with the same authenticity as Bach did when he began to write church music that shocked that traditionalists.

It is not enough for the leaders of the liturgy to listen. They must live with, talk with and suffer with those who are caught up in today’s grossness. When a young man rejoices, the liturgist must collaborate with him in the composition of a new hymn or a fresh prayer.

And because he is a leader for the Lord, he must lead. The structuring of Christian life is his, and so are correction and reproof. But a shepherd must lead, a father must take the initiative. Bishop and pastor must stand in the midst of their people, not in a shady corner or a protective cover. He serves by love and compassion, but he must daily serve by seeking out the way.

Bishops, either personally or collegially, today have almost all the means they need to strengthen the liturgical life of the dioceses. They can teach, urge and exemplify. They can prod those who are indifferent to the changes, a more important task than curbing those whose enthusiams outdistance their experience and skill.

In this reaching out to those who lack and unwittingly desire the experience of a living liturgy, bishop and pastor must, of course, be as conscious of the universal need of an orderly, structured worship as of the spontaneous desires of their own local church. Given man’s flair for the novel, an authentic liturgy needs order, norms and competent authority. Few would opt for an anarchy of the altar. But given any institution’s built-in centripetal force, the leaders of the liturgy must find the time to experiment, to change, to adapt - in a word, to create. The last thing renewal needs is a liturgical Pentagon.