Youth Synod Document: First Thoughts on Liturgy

by Andrea Grillo

The ample final document which closes this synodal phase clearly presents itself as a great synthesis of the work done, marked by a cadence in three parts, modeled on the Gospel of the “Emmaus two.” Here I would like to examine its content, limited to themes that are not so central but yet are very significant. It seems to me that, upon examination of [the subject of] … “liturgy,” … some objective tensions emerge from the text which open up between the section on listening and the section of “final reprise.” Listening invokes an assumption of responsibility and authority which the last section seems on the one hand to confirm and on the other to exclude. I would like to support this impression with some textual data, and I will do it with reference to [a theme] on which I feel I can make some less quick observations.

Dedicated to the liturgy we find, in addition to other fleeting references, two numbers, 51 and 134. The first is in the “first part,” dedicated to listening, while the second is in the “third part.” It is very striking that the first number is substantially linear and well-structured, while the second appears twisted, labored, and shot through with unresolved tensions.

No. 51 (titled The desire for a living liturgy) begins by affirming the desire of the young for a “fresh, authentic and joyful liturgy.” This is a question of both prayer and sacraments – indirectly confirming some effort, perhaps not only of the young, to see the sacraments also as prayer. And there are three different attitudes among young people about the liturgy. On the one hand there are those who recognize in it a fundamental mediation of their faith identity. On the other hand, there are those who see Sunday Mass “more as a moral precept than as a joyful encounter with the Risen Lord and the community.” Finally it is said, in general, that it is difficult to be immersed in the sacraments in depth, “to enter into the mysterious wealth of its symbols and its rites.”

How does no. 134 response to these beautiful impulses? With words that are certainly the result of an understandable compromise, but which remain largely below the level posed by the questions. Under the title The centrality of the liturgy ( and it is curious that “center” is used and not “summit and source”), the role of the Eucharistic celebration is again taken up in relation to faith and the Church. The importance of beautiful celebrations and noble simplicity is emphasized, and the promotion of varied ministerial roles is supported. But when it comes to implications, the text appears confused and without orientation. Three things are said:

– Active participation is favored, “but keeping alive wonder for the Mystery.” Here there is a clear regression compared to no. 51. The listening seems clearer than the response. When is wonder for the Mystery ever distinct from active participation? Perhaps the Synod, with all its authority, has limited itself to using a merely functional concept of “actuosa participatio” and not that intended by Sacrosanctum Concilium? If, for the Second Vatican Council, “active participation” is the way of “mystery” for understanding the Eucharist, how can our bishops advise young people to “cultivate participation, but also Mystery”? Here a rather serious confusion is introduced, when no. 51 spoke rather in a very pertinent and elegant way of the “mystery-wealth of its symbols and rites.” Things were rightly held together there which are opposed here.

– Having introduced this split between “mystery” and “participation,” the result as a consequence is that art and music should not be “for themselves,” but are part of the “actions of Christ and of the Church.” But here, without denying possible self-referential deviations of music and art, it would have been necessary to say better, and with greater boldness, not only that the “mystery” is “other” from music and art, but also that music and art are the “original mediation” of “mystery.” Otherwise it will still be easy to access the mystery of Christ and of the Church independently of music and art …

– Lastly, as a final consequence of this “split” introduced by the response, which was absent in the question, it was inevitable that this would come about: if the Mystery is separated from active participation, it can be highly recommended to invest in “Eucharistic adoration” with young people. This way of thinking about liturgy assumes even a prior function for Mystery, as an immediate harmony, contemplative and silent, but this is distinguished from active participation from the get-go. Here, in my opinion, the proposals of the bishops seem to fall short a bit of the aspirations of young people. This must in some way be considered a very significant result of the Synod.

Translated and reprinted with permission of Munera. Rivista Europea di CulturaAndrea Grillo teaches liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. He is the author of Beyond Pius V: Conflicting Interpretations of the Liturgical Reform, published by Liturgical Press.


  1. I would say that the split between mystery and participation is a great theme of the last half century of liturgical reform regardless of Vatican II’s intentions. Therefore, I’m not surprised at how the two are being treated as if they are in tension with one another.

    That adoration is seen as excluding active participation is, to me, indicative that many people consider there to be a split since one must participate in adoration to experience the mystery of it.

  2. When is wonder for the Mystery ever distinct from active participation?

    As I read through the synod documents, I too noticed a shift that is typical with Church liturgy control with youth which would be “Let’s celebrate with a youthful style!” (is that clapping, foot stomping, arm in arming, texting) but then the voice of reason will ask or pronounce ‘within reason’ and then things slow down, raise solemnity, make excuses for using a language very, very few understand, and dress in garments that create a wall between presider and youth, and then after it’s all done the voice of reason pronounces “I think the kids like this.”

    The phrase used by our author the “split between ‘mystery’ and “participation,” could be heard by youth as “we have to act older to get the mystery.”

    Mr. Grillo, I agree with your assessment.

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