Liturgy 40 Years after Vatican II

Liturgy 40 Years after Vatican II

I read a very interesting article about liturgy this week by Godfried Danneels, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium. As a scholar, Danneels carried out a profound study of the liturgy and he was actively involved in writing Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document which initiated the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council.

The article I read was an excerpt from a lecture Danneels delivered earlier this year in which he analysed the state of Catholic liturgy 40 years after the reforms of the second Vatican Council. Here are a few of his key points.

While the active involvement of the faithful in the liturgy has been an unparalleled gift of the Council, it has led to some people treating the liturgy as if they ‘own’ it and can do with it what they will. Danneels reminds us that the liturgy is God’s work on us before it is our work on God; we are not creators of the liturgy; we are servants and guardians of its mysteries.

He urges those who want to make changes in the liturgy to participate in the celebration of the liturgy as it is and listen attentively to its themes, otherwise their entire liturgical endeavour will turn out to be nothing more than self-expression. “What would we think of a composer who refused to listen to his predecessors or a painter who refused to visit a museum”, Danneels asks.

Someone who has never played hockey should not be asked to coach a hockey team. If they were given the job, however, their first step surely would be to read the rule book, talk to other coaches and attend as many games as possible. In some situations people are given the role of preparing liturgy when they themselves are not regular worshippers. Instead of studying the liturgical books and consulting people with expertise in the area, these people will often ‘make up’ their own liturgies based on personal preferences and drawing on non-liturgical sources.

“The worthy liturgist listens first, meditates, prays and interiorises. Only then can he or she ‘modulate’”, says Danneels.

Danneels bemoans the fact that periods of silence provided for in the liturgy of Vatican II are seldom observed. We need to give the liturgy time to say what it has to say, to listen attentively to its overtones and allow its deeper meaning to unfold. When the liturgy is turned into an unstoppable succession of words there is no time for interiorisation.

Liturgy is an end in itself and should never be used as a ‘warm-up’ for another activity, even a church activity. Liturgy is not a meeting but a celebration. Here! Here! Too often Mass is (mis)used as the preliminary event to a graduation night, installation of office bearers, school reunion, etc.

Liturgy is neither the time nor the place for catechesis nor should liturgy be used as a means for disseminating information, no matter how essential that information might be. Liturgy belongs to the order of the “playful.” The uniqueness of “play” is that one plays for the sake of playing. Danneels exhorts liturgists to engage the senses of sight, smell and touch more in the liturgy because it has become too wordy and intellectual.

The article concludes with a thoughtful reflection on the connection between liturgy and life: “What we do throughout the week in a varied and diluted way we also do in the liturgy but in a more concentrated and purified fashion: we live for God and for others.”


Elizabeth Harrington