American priests are forming a new national organization, NCR reported on 9/15. Reasons cited by the leaders of the group include: priests’ senates and councils not providing an adequate forum, isolation, and the pressures of increasing work load because of the priest shortage.

These priests have taken a constructive step. They have decided to support one another. They also hope to exercise leadership. They want to “have a voice” on the national level.

Their most highly-favored objective was named in this way:

Full implementation of the vision and teachings of the Second Vatican Council with special emphasis on the primacy of the individual conscience, the status and participation of all the baptized, and the task of establishing a church where all believers will be treated as equals.

They have announced a plan which sounds promising—to spend the next four years celebrating the Second Vatican Council. They also plan to host a “major convocation” to be held next June at St. Leo University in Tampa, Florida, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The subject of the convocation will be—you guessed it—the liturgy.

No one has asked me for advice. But if they did, I’d suggest that they consider using the seven “essential themes” of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which I developed in my book, Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press, 2007), as a framework. They are:

  1. Paschal Mystery
  2. Liturgy as “Summit and Source” of the Church’s Life
  3. Full, Active, Conscious Participation
  4. Ecclesiology
  5. Inculturation
  6. Renewal of the Books, Music, Art, and Artifacts of the Liturgy
  7. Education and Formation for Liturgy

In my experience, #3 and 5 are generally the source of the liveliest discussion today, with 6 being the focus of the most practical work and painful disagreements. The presence of Christ in the liturgy is key to #2. The theological items on this list, #1 and 4, are very interesting in my view, but #4 is frequently ignored in favor of other sources of commentary on the nature of the Church, specifically Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes. #1 is an oft-affirmed theme which nonetheless could benefit from deeper exploration. In a way, the move toward mystagogy in the area of catechesis on liturgy (or from liturgy) — part of #7 — nods to #1. But I think the centrality of the paschal mystery to liturgy is a great topic. Education and formation issues are very important, and an area of considerable interest today I think.

What I really hope they won’t do is to focus the whole gathering around contentious issues. These focus attention, but they can also drain energy and prove discouraging. Some time spent focussing on problems and controversies is necessary and important, but the liturgy is more than the sum of its controversies.

If you could have input into the agenda, what would you suggest?

I wish them well… And I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!

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