PrayTell visits with Archbishop Gregory Aymond, archbishop of New Orleans, during last week’s lay ministry symposium in Collegeville. Archbishop Aymond is a member of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and also the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. Archbishop Aymond begins his term as chairman of the Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship this coming November. PrayTell very much appreciates Archbishop Aymond’s infectious friendliness, his frank honesty, and his spirit of collaboration and reconciliation.
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PrayTell: You begin in November as chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship of the USCCB. What will your duties be?
Archbishop Gregory Aymond: First, continuing to work on the implement of new Rom missal, and working with dioceses and anyone who requests our assistance in implementing the new Roman missal. As of today, no date has been set yet for its implementation yet. Second, continuing the work on our review of the lectionary translation.
PT: What are your hopes for your work on the missal?
GA: I hope that it could be a teachable moment for the People of God and for all of us as Church: to come to a deep understanding of the Eucharist, and to renew our commitment to be people who celebrate the mysteries of our faith with devotion and reverence and joy.
PT: What gifts do you bring to the BCDW? Why do you think your brother bishops elected you?
GA: I have a great love for the liturgy and I take very seriously our priestly commitment to celebrating the liturgy in a way that truly makes present what it signifies. Second, when I was teaching in the seminary, I taught what I call pastoral liturgy – not just theological aspect, but rather, how to celebrate the liturgy. The two have to be brought together. [As much as the archbishop didn’t want to toot his own horn, he later admitted that he is known to be a reconciler, and perhaps this was thought to be an important asset in the area of liturgy today. – Ed.]
PT: Overall, what is your sense of the quality of liturgical renewal in the US today?
GA: It’s quite varied. There are many places where the liturgy is uplifting, it points to the Trinity, it makes good use of various ministries, and it is well prepared. These are liturgies which enable me to be a part of the mystery made present. On the other extreme, I have been to parishes in various dioceses [Laughing: “don’t write that this is just in my diocese!”] where it is more difficult to have a sense of that because the liturgy is not well prepared and the people in the various ministries have not been well prepared. Christ is still present, but it is more difficult to experience that presence. There is a lot in between these two extremes.
PT: Pope Benedict is giving much attention to liturgy. He is implementing some of his own preferences, such as giving Communion on the tongue to communicants who are kneeling, ad orientem position for Mass in the Sistine chapel, more traditional vestments, and more use of Latin at special liturgies such as in the U.K. this fall. Do you think his vision is what the Church needs now? Do you see any possible dangers in it?
GA: There are certainly some in the Church who would favor that kind of more traditional approach, and I think it has a place in the Church. But it’s also clear to me that the Church is very big, and there is room for many different liturgical expressions of faith. The Pope himself has said that the Tridentine Mass is not the norm, it is the extraordinary form. There is a place to take some of the more traditional dimensions of the liturgy and do them well, if they speak to the people to whom we minister. But the local parish community and their needs have to be taken into consideration. It’s not what I as priest or bishop want, but it’s what will best assist the people I am serving to come into a sacramental encounter with Christ.
PT: It is widely reported on the web that Vox Clara has made many changes to the missal text as submitted by the conferences, and has also changed some of the Order of Mass which was approved in 2008. Has this news spread rapidly through the US conference? How are the bishops reacting?
GA: [Laughing] I’m not the chair of the committee yet! When we last had our meeting in the summer, we were still awaiting the final draft. Right now we’re waiting to see what the final text is before we react further.
PT: The Holy See has pretty much taken over the translation process and taken it away from national bishops’ conferences. Do you think that this is necessary this point in time? Or what is the best way forward?
GA: We as a conference submitted hundreds and hundreds of changes and recommendations, and many of them were brought into the Order of Mass in 2008. There are also other changes we suggested where we don’t yet know – until we see the final draft.
PT: Do you wish for stronger role for national conferences in the translation process?
GA: I think it’s important that once the text from Vox Clara is approved, we will then go back and look at the proposals the US bishops suggested for our culture. I would hope that our suggestions were considered seriously. One could ask the question, given so many different English-speaking countries – and I don’t have answer for this question – whether one single English text is helpful to all countries. Or is there a need rather for more national differences? Countries are different and have different expressions. There are differing needs for various cultures and regions.
PT: Mass attendance, especially among young people, is declining. How should the Church respond?
GA: It varies geographically. In some areas it seems it’s not declining, in other areas it is. Nonetheless, it is not what we’d like it to be. I think that we as a Church should make every effort first of all to invite people back to the Church personally. Once we’ve told them there is place at table, we should make sure it is a well-celebrated liturgy. Simple things, like a microphone that works, lectors who are prepared, homilies that directly relate to our everyday experience as disciples, that truly break open the Word to be lived, music that is well done and relates to the liturgy, good participation with diversity of race and age. These are all elements that invite people to be more actively involved and not view Eucharist as a passive experience, as a spectator.
PT: What are your hopes for future of liturgical renewal?
GA: I hope that through new Roman missal and the preparation for it, it is a teachable moment. While it will be an inconvenience that most of the prayers have been changed, it is an opportunity to reflect more intentionally on what we’re saying. I hope that we as clergy, religious, lay leaders, and lay ministers take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to help people grow in their faith, with a better understanding of Eucharist, and with a more personal relationship with Christ.