“Give us a more beautiful and participatory liturgy…”

“. . . so that through the liturgy we can experience God.”

This was one of two primary requests that emerged from young people at the Synod on Youth and Vocational Discernment, as reported by Avvenire today. The other was “a new education on the body, on affectivity and sexuality.” These requests emerged during a press conference at which reports on the discussions were disseminated.

The Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who is a member of Pope Francis’s council of Cardinal advisers (the “C-9”), said he was surprised.

The report did not say why he was surprised. Perhaps he was surprised because the subject of liturgy was not discussed in the English language groups (I found only one slight reference to liturgy, in group C). Liturgy was, however, a subject discussed according to the reports that were made in German and Italian.

One of the Italian discussion groups, which included not only Italians but also representatives from Egypt, Ethiopia, Hungary, Lebanon, Greece, Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovakia, Iceland, and Korea, included strong statements on this front. I have highlighted, below, the parts that pertain most closely to liturgy: mystagogy of Christian initiation, envisioning the Church as a people “on the way,” full liturgical participation in richness of the signs, and biblical and mission-oriented homiletics:

Following the articulation of the text, many themes were addressed . . . [including] the courage to rethink the paths of initiation not only in cognitive but also and above all mystagogical terms, with the underlining of the gradual entry into a people of believers on the way; the overcoming of a rather anonymous and faded ecclesial face, especially in the West, with the invitation to present a visible and joyful face; the encouragement to propose a catechesis that, without eliminating “private” religiosity, makes people grow in the awareness of being a biblical people on the way; the urge to live a liturgy more and more attractive not in the outward sense, but with a participation full of sign language and the richness of the content; the revival of the homily as an opportunity to touch the hearts of people with the clear reference to the biblical text and the consequent orientation to the personal and community mission.

Seguendo l’articolazione del testo sono stati affrontati molti temi: . . .  il coraggio di ripensare i percorsi di iniziazione non solo in termini conoscitivi ma anche e soprattutto mistagogici, con la sottolineatura dell’ingresso graduale in un popolo di credenti in cammino; il superamento di un volto ecclesiale piuttosto anonimo e sbiadito, specie in Occidente, con l’invito a presentare un volto visibile e gioioso; l’incoraggiamento a proporre una catechesi che, senza eliminare la religiosità “privata”, faccia crescere le persone nella consapevolezza di essere popolo biblico in cammino; lo stimolo a vivere una liturgia sempre più attrattiva non nel senso esteriore, ma con una partecipazione pregna di tutto il linguaggio dei segni e con la ricchezza del contenuto; la riproposta dell’omelia come occasione per toccare il cuore delle persone con il chiaro riferimento al testo biblico e il conseguente orientamento alla missione personale e comunitaria.

The report concluded with a beautiful reference to the Easter Vigil, which is hard to translate, but which praises the “perfume” of Christ that is spread freely on the dreams of new generations of Christians. There were clearly some poets and mystagogues in this group!

L’elenco incompleto dei temi si presenta alla seconda parte del testo con la forte attesa dell’abbondanza del profumo di Cristo, quello che celebriamo nella veglia pasquale e che lo Spirito diffonde liberamente sulle nuove generazioni. Profumo di Cristo nei sogni e nelle inquietudini con cui i giovani ci fanno entrare in un presente che è già futuro.



  1. I don’t know if it was deliberate, but I love the pun in “ingresso graduale in un popolo di credenti in cammino” — an entry ‘step by step’ into a people of faith on the way. (Graduale, like English gradual, coming from Latin gradus, ‘step’). I think, as Latin rite Catholics, we have a wonderful foundation here in our customary ‘step by step’ staggered administration of the sacraments of initiation, and the movement of adult converts through the RCIA. I know JPII wasn’t keen on ‘gradualism’ as a moral philosophy, but I think there’s something profound to recapture in refocusing on the ‘step by step’ nature of God’s working of holiness in us, and our ever-deepening realization of ecclesial membership and participation. I’m interested to see what more might come of this.

    1. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with you. Having lived and worshipped as a Ruthenian Greek Catholic for over 10 years, I came to see just how flawed the separation of the three sacraments of initiation by the Roman ecclesial community is. Especially after the Greek Catholic Churches in America and Canada were essentially forced by the Roman hierarchy to separate and parrot their ordering of these sacraments, which lead to schisms and much dissent and confusion. Thankfully these Churches have returned to the traditional administration of the mysteries. I believe a recent thread here on First Holy Communion further attests to the way the step by step approach is detrimental to formation and retention of children in the faith.

      I will say that I find this statement rather contradictory though: “the urge to live a liturgy more and more attractive not in the outward sense, but with a participation full of sign language and the richness of the content.” Sign language (sic) and richness of content ARE outward manifesting or sensing and do make the ritual more attractive. If they are not outward, then what are they? Unfortunately, much of this sign and rich content are gone or watered down. Obviously young people want more. They just don’t seem to know what to ask for or how to get it back.

      1. John, I think you may be talking at cross purposes. What Adam is talking about is not the separation of the three sacraments of initiation into distinct moments celebrated at intervals through childhood, but rather the restored catechumenate, which operates in “steps and stages” as a journey within a community “on the way,” and culminates in the three sacraments, celebrated together in one liturgy, normally at the Easter Vigil.

        I am sure this is the journey that the original statement is referring to. The language of “mystagogy” and joining a people on “the way” is taken straight out of the literature of the catechumenate. It’s unmistakable if you know that background. What you are talking about is something else entirely. And as true and important as your concerns are, this isn’t at all what I hear Adam saying or the quote saying.

        I put in the Italian because I used Google Translate, and it’s an imperfect tool. “Language of signs” (the term usually used) is another big subject area, and I think we could discuss this further, but I also must admit that I am not sure that the statement is well translated as “not external” — “not only external” seems more apt. Mea culpa for using Google Translate. Maybe those with better language skills can help us out.

  2. Thanks Rita, I was reading Father’s statement “we have a wonderful foundation here in our customary ‘step by step’ staggered administration of the sacraments of initiation, and the movement of adult converts through the RCIA” in two parts: the first being “staggered administration of the sacraments of administration” (which could clearly apply to children baptized at birth, confessing and communing at 7/8, and receiving confirmation at 13/14) and the second being “and the movement of adult converts through RCIA.” There is no staggering of the administration of sacraments in RCIA because they’re all received at the Paschal Vigil. That’s what I heard him saying which lead me to beleive that he was speaking of two distinct instances: the formation and growth of children from birth >and< the initiaition of adults through RCIA.

  3. Ah, now I see what you are reacting to, John. Adam will have to tell us if that was what he meant. Thank you for the clarification.

  4. Yes, John has read me correctly. I mean no disrespect to the Eastern way of doing things, and the ‘Western way’ is not without its problems, but I do maintain that spreading the sacraments of initiation over several years can be helpfully understood theologically as a reflection and enactment of precisely the kind of “gradual entry” that the Italian discussants spoke of.

    1. Well, then, I would only remark that the original statement did not seem to me to be going there.

      And I too would have to disagree (kindly) with the notion that the historical practice of the separation of the sacraments is intended to effect a staged incorporation into a people on a journey. I say this because I believe that our theology of baptism does not actually support that idea. Once baptized, you are part of that people. Period. There is no such thing as being “partly Christian”; it would be like being a little bit pregnant. 🙂

      One is obligated to receive the other sacraments, of course, but not in order to become part of the people, which you already are a part of.

      It is true that various questions arise when attempting to define Eucharist and Confirmation as “sacraments of initiation.” Pastoral literature sometimes bends these definitions to try to fit everything together with the inherited practices of childhood sacraments, and make sense of this system. But it’s worth remembering that we didn’t even have the term “sacraments of initiation” until the twentieth century, and the older literature assigned separate functions to Confirmation and Eucharist. And we never jettisoned the Baptismal language pertaining to membership.

      1. Rita, I agree with your disagreement. The historical separation of the celebration of these three sacraments in the West has nothing to do with a staged incorporation to a People on a journey. It is the result of the Western reservation of Confirmation to the bishop (someone, I think David Power, has argued, convincingly to my mind, that this was only made possible by the Roman double post-baptismal anointing with chrism), and later the introduction of unleavened hosts and the disappearance of lay communion under both kinds, which made it impossible to give Communion to infants. “A little bit pregnant” is an excellent reductio ad absurdum!

        I do have one slightly tiresome quibble: the expression “sacraments of initiation”, or more exactly “Christian initiation”, dates from the nineteenth century, used for the first time as the title of a chapter in Louis Duchesne’s “Les origines du culte chrétien”, first published in 1889. So although it’s a little bit older, it’s still a modern term, but I do think it appropriately expresses an ancient and still living reality: our three “separate” sacraments are organically linked in a theologically significant way.

      2. Thank you, Christopher. Not tiresome at all! I am glad to be reminded of the date and origin of that expression.

  5. There must be common ground here. Discovering, singing for, accompanying the Tridentine Mass, celebrated and sung well, as a high schooler, was just what I needed as a young person to broaden my experience of liturgical worship, to gain a sense of historical and musical groundedness, and to discover a language of gesture, posture, symbol, word, and silence that would inform all my liturgical experience and my journey through the cosmic liturgy now unfolding, and to dedicate my life, as I have, to liturgical song.

    Apparently, although they may be on different paths, other young people do not find that inspiration in their average parishes, either, and yet hunger for it.

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