"My contention is that we have not systematically catechized the community about the heart of all our prayer... I believe that we have not yet helped thepeople to understand and love the liturgy" Kathleen Hughes, Saying Amen, xix.



"Pastors of souls must, therefore, realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, their obligation goes further than simply ensuring that the laws governing valid and lawful celebration are observed. They must also ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it." Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 11; (emphasis added.)


"It is very much the wish of the church that all the faithful should be led to take that full, conscious, and active part in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy and to which the Christian people... have a right and to which they are bound by reason of their Baptism." Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 14; (emphasis added.)

An Existential Approach to Liturgy

Part I: The Contemporary Liturgical Scene

A. An Overview: Theologians and liturgiologists have offered a number of reasons why the liturgical renewal of Vatican II has not lived up to the hopes and expectations that accompanied the "New Liturgy."

- Some point to the loss of a sense of ritual among North American Roman Catholics.
- Others describe a broad unfamiliarity among those in the pews with what symbols and metaphors are supposed to do.
- Still others claim that the culture of individualism, consumerism, and racism has rendered large portions of our parishioners content in their isolation from one another.
- Some say that the advent of the "New Liturgy" can be tied to the loss of the sacred, the transcendent, among the people of God.

[For further reflections on the state of the liturgital reform, go to "Liturgy and Common Ground," an article by Archbishop Rembert Weakland that appeared in America magazine on February 20, 1999.]


B. One Theologian's Diagnosis: Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ, offers a diagnosis of the contemporary liturgical scene in her powerful new book, Saying Amen: A Mystagogy of Sacrament.* In the introduction to her book, she highlights the frustration of the disciples in the gospel story of the Road to Emmaus to create a context for her presentation: "Ah, but we had hoped...."She notes several reasons for our contemporary malaise:

1. The haste of the liturgical renewal.

2. A dislocation many experienced "when familiar patters of prayer were replaced."

3. A preoccupation with the outward trappings of worship.

4. The fact that Catholics were now asked to sing at Mass. Taste and style of music varies considerably from parish to parish, and sometimes within a parish.

5. New and idiosyncratic terminology for "Mass"
as well as other familiar Catholic notions.

6. The new and unprecedented demands placed upon the presider.

7. The lack of a thoughtful and sustained catechesis of the people concerning liturgy. (Quotation taken from Saying Amen, "Introduction," pp. xv - xix)

Her final diagnosis of the contemporary liturgical scene
focuses our attention in another direction. It's not about the external rite, it's all about the internal mode of those at worship. She says,

"I have a conviction that we are looking in the wrong place to try to diagnose the disease. We are looking at the liturgy and not at those who gather to celebrate it.

"A malaise of spirit is my diagnosis not attributable to the reform and revision of the books or to the implementation of the rites
- not attributable, in fact, to anything that was done in the last thirty or so years, but rather to what we have failed to do, namely to invite the Christian community into an experience of worship for which they have been inadequately prepared.

"My contention is that we have not systematically catechized the community about the heart of all our prayer... I believe we have not yet helped the people to understand and love the liturgy." (Saying Amen, p. xix, emphases added.)


C. An Existentialist Approach: Following Hughes' lead, this liturgist will claim that we need to "look at those who gather to celebrate" the liturgy under the auspices of our existential relationship to the Sacrifice of Praise and the Paschal Mystery that we celebrate in order to invite people to engage our liturgical prayer more deeply.

In other words, we need to concern ourselves with the "Real Presence" of the congregation at Mass. By doing this, we would take up the call of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that invites us to "full, active, and conscious participation" at liturgy.

This approach, then, will stress the conscious participation of the faithful from an 'existentialist' perspective. It is this aspect of participation that seems to have been notably absent from liturgical discussions for the last thirty-five years.

If you are interested in pursuing this mode of thought, please go on to "Toward Contemplative Liturgical Participation - Mindfulness in Worship," part two of this presentation.

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Copyright © Robert F. O'Connor, S.J., 2000. All Rights Reserved.

*Kathleen Hughes, Saying Amen: A Mystagogy of Sacrament, (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1999), Part II of this section presents key ideas from her first two chapters, "Mystagogy" and "Contemplation." They offer a welcome response to her insightful diagnosis of our contemporary liturgical malaise. This summary of her insights is not meant to serve as a substitute for her fine work. Rather, it invites the reader on to consult the whole of her book.

Copyright © Robert F. O'Connor, S.J., 2000. All Rights Reserved.