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Mahony’s liturgy pastoral as personal experience


People like to see themselves, especially on television. So it was no surprise that a video machine was the focus of much attention at the Dec. 4-5 Los Angeles Archdiocesan Liturgy Conference.

Among the 1,400 attendees from 38 dioceses and archdioceses who overflowed the downtown Omni Hotel were many of the 600 people who participated in last summer’s filming of a video guide to Cardinal Roger Mahony’s year-old pastoral letter on liturgy, “Gather Faithfully Together.” Liturgy Training Publications created the video with funding from the Catholic Communications Campaign.

Though Mahony’s pastoral drew criticism from EWTN’s Mother Angelica last year for its alleged deficiencies in eucharistic doctrine, that controversy was not in evidence here. The Liturgy Training Publications booth ran the videotape continually for the two days, and there was always a small, excited crowd seeing how the video turned out and looking for themselves.

This desire to spot oneself in the liturgy is actually good theology. Finding ourselves as the worshiping assembly who “know and love and do our parish liturgy,” as Mahony put it, has been the central theme in the renewal of the liturgy since Vatican II.

The fate of that renewal was very much on the minds of those at the Los Angeles conference. In his prophetic speech, Precious Blood Fr. Lucien Deiss was alternately humorous and deeply serious as he reminded the whole church of its commitment to perennis renovatio, begged the American church to continue the liturgical renewal and unveiled from many angles the “necessary and amazing beauty of the Lord.” Some attendees were offended at Deiss’ tweaking of the establishment; many more seemed encouraged; I remain grateful for Deiss’ pointing to our beautiful Lord.

In her plenary, Franciscan Sr. Ann Rehrauer belied any expectation that she would be only a cautious spokesperson for the secretariat of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, which she serves as associate director. She delivered a poised, intense and very pastoral appeal to implement the cardinal’s letter.

Rehrauer listed just a few of the kinds of people we need to include in our effort:

  • the person who disagrees with me about how to spend the parish budget;
  • the woman who prefers to pray in Latin and who makes that very clear;
  • the member of Generation X who wants not just guitars and a bass but a synthesizer and a sitar;
  • the person who wants the tabernacle in a different spot.

The challenge, she said, is to recognize that all of us are trying to protect the same values.

Most effectively, Rehrauer pondered the consequences of fully implementing “Gather Faithfully Together” -- its consequences for renovation committees, catechesis, evangelization, social action, parish budgets, the use of authority in the church, the sacrament of reconciliation and interchurch families, to give just eight categories. She concluded:

“If we really implemented the pastoral, we would come back next Sunday to the table and bring new cares and concerns to prayer and offer ourselves again -- perhaps the piece we’ve been holding back -- startled again by the Word, surrendering more of our agenda, better ready to be community in Christ and being willing to be sent again.”

We stood to applaud.

Thus we were well prepared for the highlight of the meeting, the premier showings of the 24-minute video (available in English and Spanish, and closed-captioned in English for the hearing-impaired). Mahony introduced the video both in person and on tape as “part of the pastoral letter.” (Will the National Conference of Catholic Bishops adopt this way of communicating?)

We Angelenos saw ourselves, adults and children from 68 of our parishes, gathered at St. Gertrude Church in Bell Gardens to become the people of a fictional Our Lady of the Angels Parish and to celebrate the liturgy our cardinal envisioned. We saw a good place of worship with effective ministering by ushers, lectors, communion ministers and presider.

We saw a multicultural assembly thatknows well how to gather and give heed to the word, how to sing psalms and alleluias and intercessions, how to give thanks and praise to God in the eucharistic prayer and then come to the table in procession to partake of real bread and real wine become for us the Body and Blood of Christ.

We heard Mahony sum up the experience by asking: “What is the most wonderful thing you see? Los Angeles Catholics who know and love and do their parish liturgy.” And we heard his challenge to “Go and do likewise.”

I was moved by Neita Varona’s excellent narration of just 1,300 words carefully chosen from Mahony’s letter. The musician in me loved the variety of the selections and the high quality of the renditions of the English, Spanish and Latin psalms, songs and hymns.

The video opened with Richard Proulx’s lovely responsorial antiphon, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord” (overlooked in the credits); this inspired choice by the editors seemed to place the entire effort of the video and of the cardinal’s pastoral into the context of Psalm 63’s longing for God.

One suggestion: Using a deacon with a book of the gospels might have spared the awkwardness of conveying the one lectionary from altar to ambo to presider to ambo to dismissal.

We gathered to see ourselves. We liked what we saw. We left to make the liturgy work in our parishes.

Paul Ford teaches at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, Calif.

National Catholic Reporter, January 8, 1999