Planning Creative Liturgy


GOOD liturgy does not celebrate itself.
Just saying the words in the book and doing the prescribed gestures is not enough. Turning the texts of the liturgical books into liturgy, which is an action/event, is a process of translation and interpretation. On the one hand we must celebrate the Roman rite, but on the other it must be an appropriate and intelligible celebration for this particular assembly of the people.
In the liturgical reform of the last few decades, the Church has tried to shape the celebration of the liturgy according to principles rather than rubrics. So we now prefer to ask: What is the purpose of the rite? How is it structured? What are the key gestures and symbols of the rite? How then can it be celebrated powerfully and expressively?
This approach recognises that the liturgy will not always be celebrated in the same way, uniformly, because the circumstances will vary. We are, of course, celebrating the one rite following the same liturgical books. But it is always necessary to ask how we turn the liturgical text into an evocative liturgical event for this particular group on this particular occasion. It is here that real creativity comes in.
In Australia, this way of looking at liturgical celebrations began to emerge during the Second World War. Amongst the many things that the Second World War taught us about liturgy, it made us look at liturgical laws a little differently. At this time we were trying to celebrate good liturgy by following the rules. But in extraordinary circumstances like the battlefront, it was not always possible to follow all the rubrics. There was no sanctuary, no altar, no candles, no vestments. Yet the experience of worship in the eucharist was often more powerful and therefore more fruitful than many a "correct" parish liturgy.
In this sense, Australia was well prepared for the liturgical reform of the 1960s. Although we appear to have had little contact with the Liturgical Movement and the liturgical scholarship of Belgium, France and Germany, we have had long experience of adapting the Roman liturgy to the extraordinary conditions of the Australian setting – since the days when our pioneer priests travelled overland on pastoral visitation, celebrating the Mass with what they could carry in a saddle bag. Even today, remote rural churches do not have the facilities of every European or city parish church as presumed by the liturgical books.
Creative liturgy preparation does not mean overloading the liturgy with decorations and mimes, poems and stories, explanations and descriptions. It involves studying the rite to see how it is structured and how one part flows into the other. It is appropriate to use a banner, dance or poem if it helps to make a symbol or moment of the rite expressive, if it leads the people into the liturgical action more deeply, or if it gives the liturgical text a voice.
The consideration above all is the need for adaptation and creativity in using the liturgical books to celebrate our rites so that the sacred mysteries may shine out in the particular situation in which the Church has gathered.

Elizabeth Harrington