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Still dreaming of a renewed eucharistic celebration


As the year 2000 approaches, many Catholics find themselves dreaming new dreams for the church. Mine center on the liturgy. I dream that the liturgy might really become what the bishops at Vatican II said it is, “the summit toward which all the activity of the church is directed ... and the fount from which all her power flows” (“Constitution on the Liturgy”).

My ministry of preaching parish missions has had me in a different parish every week for the past 14 years. I’ve seen a lot of parishes and a lot of liturgies. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say we are at about a 3 in the attainment of the ideal for the liturgy expressed at Vatican II.

We have come a little way. The priest and people are a little more a community. The liturgy in the vernacular is more immediately understood. Members of the community are sharing ministries as lectors, eucharistic ministers, greeters, ministers of song, servers. With greater or less success, the entire congregation is being invited to more active and enthusiastic participation in sung and recited prayer.

But we all -- bishops, ordained priests and baptized priests (laity) -- have an even longer way to go.

Few bishops have given the practical liturgical leadership of Cardinal Roger Mahoney, expressed in his pastoral letter on the Sunday Mass, “We Gather Together.” All too many of them as individuals lack much as liturgical presiders. In theory, they are the chief liturgists in their diocese, but their skills behind the desk often outshine those behind the altar.

Their national meetings become jokes, as they discuss capital or lower case letters in the sacramentary. They sow confusion instead of fostering unity when, for example, almost 40 years after Vatican II, they still can’t get their act together and follow the guidance of liturgists who urge that standing is the proper position for worship. Standing shows the dignity of the people of God in union with Jesus, the union of presider and congregation, and the readiness of all for action.

Kneeling is a fine position for penitential prayer or prayer of adoration. But Jesus at the Last Supper did not ask for veneration, but for intimacy, union, friendship, service and sacrifice. The only one kneeling at the Last Supper was Jesus -- to serve and wash the feet of those at table with him. Kneeling did not come into the liturgy until the introduction of customs of reverence, distance and awe from the imperial courts in the fourth century.

I’m sure Jesus did not intend the Eucharist to have the pomp of the imperial court, but the intimacy of the dinner table. This is no small point. A people on its knees hardly shows readiness for action and service.

Under the direction of bishops, diocesan liturgical offices actually continue to insist on building and remodeling churches with kneelers, built like auditoriums, with people passively sitting back looking past the backs of heads at a production taking place up high on a stage. The model should be that of a family, gathered to hear God’s word, to celebrate the saving eucharistic meal and to recommit to go out to continue the saving work of Jesus.

Many bishops haven’t taken the Lord seriously when he says “take and drink” as well as eat at his meal. There is no option. It’s the way Jesus wanted the meal in his memory. Despite the liturgical norms formulated by the bishops, they still allow the use of preconsecrated wafers that don’t even look like real bread. They do not insist on implementing singing as the norm in liturgies.

I dream that bishops, ordained priests and baptized priests might really start celebrating the saving death and resurrection of Jesus instead of just “saying” or “going to Mass.” Over the years, I have at times taken my dreams for the church to Jesus in prayer, asking him to move it along in this or that direction. He answered my prayer very clearly, “Ron, why don’t you pray that my church becomes what I want it to be, not what you want it to be?”

OK, Lord, let it be. Your will be done! But I can still dream, can’t I?

Claretian Fr. Ron Luka writes from Oak Park, Ill.

National Catholic Reporter, November13, 1998