Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The essence of Catholicism
by Father Jan Larson
(From the Dec. 16, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
A common question sooner or later asked by all parish liturgy committees is, “What is it that we are supposed to do?”
So many committees find themselves dedicating most, if not all, of their valuable volunteer time organizing the liturgies for the next Christmas or Easter seasons, and little time getting at “the heart” of the matter. The heart of the matter, of course, is the liturgy itself, what is absolutely essential to Catholicism, and what constitutes the Church of Christ. It is one thing to prepare and organize liturgies. It is quite another to understand liturgy.
Time and sufficient personnel are the usual culprits in parish life. After seeing that the rituals are prepared and the music planned, there is little time left to talk about the principles of good liturgy and their proper application. On the level of the diocese, bishops may provide funding for a department or office for liturgy, but bishops do not always assure sufficient funding to provide for more than just preparing liturgies at which the bishop presides. Thus, the opportunity is missed to offer parishes workshops and training sessions on topics like the principles of good liturgy, or the theology of ministry, or how to establish a viable parish liturgy committee.
The ideal in a parish is that the liturgy committee would have as its primary task to find out just what liturgy is, and what good liturgy looks like. Every parish should have “specialists” in liturgy. They don’t need advanced degrees in liturgical studies; just the determination to learn about liturgy, to explore the essential liturgical documents and principles, and then to evaluate the state of liturgical celebration in the parish and make pertinent recommendations. That is all they would do. They would be a liturgical “think tank.”
Other liturgy groups would do the planning for future liturgies. It is critical that someone in the parish knows the principles of good liturgy. If we think that the parish priest is always such a person, we may be living in a dream world. There are priests who have never read the General Instruction on the Roman Missal – the official rules and principles for the proper celebration of the liturgy.
The media today offer us various distractions from what is at the essence of Catholicism. In the newspapers, Catholicism is often, and not always fairly, associated with religious apparitions, with shameful clerical misconduct, even with the performance of exorcisms. Such reports have their sensational side, and easily find their way into print. But these things, as important as they may or may not be, are at the margins of Catholic life. The essence of Catholicism lies elsewhere. The essence is discovered each weekend when Catholic Christians gather for the celebration of the Eucharist.
What happens then in ritual, in these countless churches, is what the good bishops of Vatican II proclaimed to be “the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; at the same time, it is the font from which all the church’s power flows.”
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle. This article originally appeared in the Dec. 21, 2006 edition of the Inland Register.)