Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of ICEL, recently spoke at St. Mary Magdalen’s in Brighton, East Sussex, England, as part of a parish 150th anniversary celebration. His topic was “The Future of the Liturgy.” Wadsworth stressed at several points that he spoke not as the executive director of ICEL, but in his own name.
A vernacular liturgy has not always led to a deeper understanding of the liturgy itself,
Msgr. Wadsworth observed. He listed both positive and negative developments of the liturgical reform. He noted that another commentator might well consider his positives as negatives and vice versa.
In the category of positive developments, Wadsworth cites the primacy of the Triduum celebration, the wider practice of the Liturgy of the Hours, a wider selection of Scripture readings, the revised rites of Christian Initiation, and renewals in individual confession and worship of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass.
Msgr. Wadsworth also sees negative developments:
…a sense of the communion of the church has become limited to local communities that are in many ways self-selecting. Many Catholics have a poor understanding of what it means to belong to the universal church, but a very highly-developed understanding of what it means to belong to a parish of people like their selves.
Any notion of the shape of the liturgical year has been greatly lessened by an ironing-out of those features which characterize the distinctive seasons of the year.
The transference of Solemnities, which are Holy Days of Obligation, to Sundays destroys the internal dynamics of the liturgical cycle, particularly with the great feasts of the Epiphany and the Ascension.
The frequent tendency to gloss or paraphrase the liturgical text, supplying continuous commentary, has contributed to an improvised or spontaneous character in much liturgical celebration.
The multiplication of liturgical ministries has led to a considerable confusion, and indeed, error, concerning the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of all the baptized.
The liturgy in some places seems to have the quality of a performance, with the priest and liturgical ministers cast in the role of performers, and behaving accordingly. Consequently, congregations are often expecting to be entertained, rather as spectators might be at the theater.
The manner of the distribution and reception of Holy Communion, including the appropriateness of one’s reception of Communion at any particular Mass, has led to a casual disregard of this great Sacrament.
The proliferation of Communion Services presided over by lay people has resulted in a lessening of the sense of the importance of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
The appalling banality of much liturgical music, and the lack of any true liturgical spirit in the use of music in the liturgy, has been a primary generating force in an anti-liturgical culture.”
What are the desirable characteristics of the liturgy of the future? Again Msgr. Wadsworth:
Firstly, a sense of reverence to the text. The unity of the Roman rite is now essentially a textual unity. The Church permits a certain latitude to the interpretation of the liturgical norms that govern the celebration of the liturgy, and hence our unity is essentially textual. We use the same prayers; we meditate on the same Scriptures. This is more clearly evident now with a single English text in universal use.
Secondly, a greater willingness to heed Sacrosanctum Concilium rather than the continual recourse to the rather nebulous concept of “the Spirit of the Council” which generally attempts to legitimize liturgical abuses rather than correct them. Currently, the teachings of Sacrosanctum Concilium are rather more likely to be evidenced in a well-prepared presentation of the Extraordinary Form than in most Ordinary Form celebrations. That’s a great irony.
A re-reading of the encyclical Mediator Dei of Pope Pius XII, in conjunction with more recent magisterial documents. In this way, the light of tradition might be perceived to shine on all of our liturgical celebrations.
The widespread cultivation of a dignified and reverent liturgy that evidences careful preparation and respect for its constituent elements in accordance with the liturgical norms. The reintroduction of ad orientem celebration [and] kneeling for the reception of Holy Communion would be two things that could certainly assist in this regard.
An abandonment of the unofficial notion of the primacy of the ferial lectionary, which would result in Masses for the feast day of a saint in which the readings harmonize with the texts of the proper for Mass.
A recovery of the Latin tradition of the Roman rite that enables us to continue to present elements of our liturgical patrimony from the earliest centuries with understanding. This necessarily requires a far more enthusiastic and widespread commitment to the teaching and learning of Latin, in order that the linguistic culture required for interpreting our texts and chants may be more widely experienced, and that our patrimony enjoy a wider constituency. (What would you expect from a former Latin teacher?) But this point, on which I feel very, very strongly, is essential, regardless of the language of our liturgical celebration. It’s still true, even if we have vernacular celebrations. We will still continue to need insight into a tradition which is essentially coming to us in Latin texts and chants, even if they are being presented to us in vernacular languages.
I would hope to see the exclusion from the liturgy of music which only expresses secular culture, and which is ill-suited to the demands of the liturgy.
A renaissance of interest in and use of chant in both Latin and English, as recognition that this form of music should enjoy first place in our liturgy, and all other musical forms are suitable for liturgical use to the extent that they share the characteristics of chant.
A commitment to the celebration and teaching of the ars celebrandi, the art of celebration, of both forms of the one Roman rite, so that all our priests can perceive more readily how the light of tradition shines on our liturgical life, and how this might be communicated more effectively to all our people.
And lastly, a clearer distinction between devotions – non-liturgical forms of prayer – and the sacred liturgy. A lack of any proper liturgical sense has led to proliferation of devotions as an alternative vehicle to popular fervor. This was a widespread criticism of the liturgy before the Second Vatican Council, and we now have to ask ourselves why the same lacuna has been identified in the newer liturgical forms.
Wadsworth thinks the time for change is ripe:
Having travelled the English-speaking world very widely… and having experienced the sacred liturgy in a wide variety of circumstances and styles, I would conclude that I have generally encountered a very great desire for change – although I would also have to admit that this has not always been among those who are directly responsible for the liturgy.
Watch the video below.
Wadsworth begins dramatically with the dystopia portrayed in the 1907 novel of Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World. Benson imagined a socialist and humanist world a century later where religion has been either suppressed or ignored. There is a “one-world” government that uses Esperanto for its language and ultimately becomes a servant of the anti-Christ. The Catholic Church has been suppressed by the rest of the world, which has turned to a form of “self religion.”
Why do you suppose Msgr. Wadsworth begins there??