Interpreting Liturgical Documents

In recent weeks The Liturgical Commission has had calls from pastors enquiring about the status of the document Liturgiam Authenticam (“on the use of vernacular languages in the publication of the books of the Roman liturgy”) issued in April this year by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Typical of the calls was the one from a priest who had received a letter from a parishioner demanding that the wording of the Creed at Mass be changed immediately from “We believe …” to “I believe …”, “because this is the exact translation from the Latin and that is what Rome says you have to do!”
Some people reacted in a similar fashion when the new version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal appeared last year. They insisted, for example, that parishes immediately alter existing practices concerning the timing of the special ministers coming forward to the altar.
It seems that some lobby groups see official Church documents – especially those dealing with liturgy – as weapons to browbeat sincere pastors and parishes into their own way of thinking and acting. This is not what they are intended for!
The correct approach to understanding and interpreting such documents involves:

Reading them with an open mind to discover what they are really saying and not relying on media reports or hearsay.
Looking at the overall thrust rather than zeroing in on selective bits that support one’s particular “hobby horse”. For example, with the new General Instruction, did those people who were so concerned about the details of who purifies the sacred vessels after communion exhibit the same passion for ensuring that the assembly always receives communion from what has just been consecrated at that same Mass rather than from previously-consecrated hosts from the tabernacle – a clear instruction of the document?
Putting them in the context of other liturgical and church instructions rather than treating them in isolation. For example, liturgy documents must always be viewed through the lens of those liturgical principals so strongly espoused in the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” from Vatican II.
Waiting for directives from the diocesan Bishop or Office of Worship before acting or expecting others to act upon new directives. Interpreting and implementing documents require the expertise of those with authority and training in theology, liturgy and canon law.
Considering who the document is written for and directed at. For example, Dominus Iesus issued last year caused a lot of misunderstanding and hurt when it became widely circulated. It was intended for the guidance of diocesan bishops, not for the general public. Liturgiam Authenticam is a directive for translators of liturgical rites, not for people in the pews!
Using common sense when it comes to expecting instant compliance. The same people who are demanding immediate changes to long-standing parish practice seem to be those who complained about the speed of post-Vatican II reforms!
Keeping fulling informed about the issues by reading Catholic papers and liturgy journals.
The way that some people use these documents to attack others causes me great concern. “Love one another as I have loved you”. If we’re not prepared to act by this commandment, what good will all the liturgical laws in the world do us?


Elizabeth Harrington