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Issue Date:  February 27, 2004

Gathering looks at liturgy for the 21st century

Ethnic diversity among challenges, says speaker


As a prelude to establishing a kind of permanent home in the Americas for the Rome-based Pontifical Institute of Liturgy, St. Thomas University here invited two Vatican experts to weigh in on the future of liturgical reform Feb. 7, some 40 years after the publication of the Second Vatican Council’s landmark liturgy document, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

About 200 academics, seminarians, laity and clergy attended the bilingual symposium, “Forty Years of Liturgical Reform: Shaping Liturgy for the 21st Century,” which featured a discussion in Spanish with Benedictine Fr. Juan Javier Flores, from the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy. The English-language presenter was Jesuit Fr. Keith Pecklers of Rome’s Gregorian University.

Pecklers set the stage by putting liturgical renewal in context. He noted that the momentum of liturgical reform and its historical roots can be traced back to German efforts and groundbreaking liturgical studies at least 40 years prior to Vatican II. He said that the first “dialogue Mass” facing the people was celebrated at the German Benedictine abbey of Maria Laach in 1921.

From an overview of the past, Pecklers turned to the future. Sharing in the body and blood of Christ Sunday after Sunday should challenge us to be in solidarity with all who suffer, whether in Haiti, Iraq or on the streets of Miami, he said. “If our liturgy is to be prophetic and indeed credible, as the council desired, then it must be open wide to embrace God’s world in all its needs as Christ would have us do.”

Pecklers offered trends key to liturgy in the 21st century. They include hospitality; prayer and good preaching; multicultural inculturation; the challenge of priestless parishes; a recovery of a sense of mystery and the transcendent; good communications; and ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.

Within the framework of hospitality, Pecklers talked about the challenge of reaching out to marginal Catholics or others not able to receive the Eucharist but in attendance on Sundays, as well as to the alienated and inactive.

“Can they hear a word of welcome, of encouragement and support in our own words and gestures?” he asked. He said that addressing this pastoral reality “much more than we are doing at present” is an ongoing challenge to the church and perhaps will be more so in the future.

On cultural diversity, Pecklers said the situation has become much more complex than in the years of Vatican II. At the beginning of the 20th century, 80 percent of all Christians throughout the world were white and lived in the northern hemispheres, but by 2020, it is projected that 80 percent of all Christians will be people of color who live in the southern hemisphere.

This reality has tremendous implications for liturgical prayer in the 21st century, in which increasing numbers of urban parishes in big cities such as Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto and Vancouver find themselves with numerous ethnic groups sharing membership in the same parishes, Pecklers said.

“Given such ethnic diversity, unity is not necessarily automatic, especially when these different groupings gather today as one liturgical body,” Pecklers said. “Rather, multicultural parishes will need to intentionally desire such unity and commit themselves to it.”

On liturgical symbols and the nonverbal, Pecklers called for conservation of words so that liturgical symbols can communicate “transparently with grace and ease.”

On the topic of ecumenical liturgical cooperation and interreligious dialogue, Pecklers noted that the major Christian churches now read the same three scriptural readings in church each Sunday and share the same translations of prayers held in common. But there is still a long road ahead to fuller communion.

“Each January, liturgical scholars of the major Christian denominations meet together to discuss our common projects and scientific interests,” Pecklers said. “Much more needs to be done in this regard. What we can do together we should be doing together, since there is infinitely more that unites us than divides us. Sadly, we remain divided at the altar, but we need not be divided around common [seasonal] celebrations of the Liturgy of the Word.”

Pecklers is author of a recent book Dynamic Equivalence: The Living Language of Christian Worship (Liturgical Press), which explores the shift from Latin to the vernacular as one of the most hotly debated topics in recent church history.

Flores, who spoke to the symposium’s Spanish-speaking population in a separate auditorium, asserted that the reform of the liturgy has ended. “We are not waiting for anything new, not expecting spectacular changes. The task now is to return to the reform and take advantage of everything it contained, to make the liturgy the source of spirituality for the church,” he said.

Flores talked about rediscovering and delving more deeply into the liturgy documents but also about avoiding the temptation to return to the past. “The church of today needs a liturgy for today,” he said.

“My main question is: ‘To what degree has the liturgy penetrated the lives of the faithful?’ ” he said. He added that the liturgy should be “a fully participatory celebration and something that has to hook into the lives of people.” It should be more symbolic than verbal, he said. “Perhaps we priests have to talk less and celebrate better.”

Flores said, “We have to fight hard for the symbolism to be clear, to make the symbols mean something to people. It is the intersection of the divine and the human, so we have to make sure that the transcendent is clear.”

Msgr. Franklyn M. Casale, president of St. Thomas University, told participants he hoped “this conversation would lead to a permanent relationship of the [liturgical] institute with our university as their headquarters for the Americas.” Later this year, the institute and the university are expected to co-host a symposium on baptism.

Tom Tracy writes from West Palm Beach, Fla.

Priestless parishes, Communion services worry liturgical expert

As the number of resident priests decreases, use of Communion services as a substitute for the eucharistic liturgy will become more and more widespread. That worries Jesuit Fr. Keith Pecklers, a liturgical expert from Gregorian University in Rome who was one of the keynote speakers at a recent symposium in Miami, Fla.

The problem of how to provide sacraments in communities that find themselves without a resident priest is a growing problem in much of Western Europe and increasingly in North and South America, Pecklers told about 200 academics, seminarians, parishioners and clergy during the bilingual symposium, “Forty Years of Liturgical Reform: Shaping Liturgy for the 21st Century.”

Pecklers said he is particularly concerned about confusion caused through the special rite, whereby a parish has a Communion service but not an actual eucharistic celebration. The rite was approved by the U.S. bishops in 1989 as a temporary solution to the priest shortage and is outlined in the bishops’ document “Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.”

“I knew one bishop from the Midwest who deliberately spoke out against the proposed liturgical texts at [the 1989] meeting of the bishops’ conference because he told me it was simply a temporary solution to a much greater problem that would not be going away: The problem of denying people what Vatican II called the ‘source and summit of the church’s life, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist itself,’ ” Pecklers said.

If current trends are any indication of the future, Pecklers added, church leaders will need to consider viable long-term solutions to this problem -- or risk becoming a church in which the Eucharist becomes more the exception than the norm.

-- Tom Tracy

National Catholic Reporter, February 27, 2004

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