Fr. Thomas Kocik, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, MA and regularly contributor to the New Liturgical Movement website, spoke to a packed room of students, staff, and friends of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts about the 100-year history of the Liturgical Movement.
Fr. Kocik began his talk by discussing the central role of the liturgy in the life of any Catholic:
“In the liturgy, the events of Christ’s life are made present to us and we live them with him. By ‘liturgy’ is meant the prayer of the whole Church united with Christ her Head. Immediately, the Mass comes to mind, and with good reason: it is the most familiar form of liturgy. At a deeper level, it is also the greatest form of worship, for it is a sacrifice of praise offered to God by Christ and his Church. But the sacred liturgy also includes the celebration of the other sacraments, the official daily prayer of the Church (the Liturgy of the Hours), the funeral rites, the rite of exorcism, and other special rites.”
Fr. Kocik noted that the liturgical landscape of today looks as it does because of the Liturgical Movement, which began more than a century ago:
“In its origins, the Liturgical Movement sought to restore liturgical piety to the very heart of Christian life. The liturgy, with its complex of words and ceremonies, had by and large ceased to be what it was always meant to be: the primary source of instruction and nourishment for the faithful. It was, in the popular imagination, a sacred but mysterious heirloom, having no vital meaning for everyday life. For this reason, the early pioneers of the Liturgical Movement sought to reawaken people’s consciousness, including that of the clergy, to the Church’s traditional spiritual treasury. Years later, the movement began to press for changes in the liturgy itself.”
The Liturgical Movement, he added, “reached its fruition in 1963 at the Second Vatican Council, and thereafter transformed the religious imagination and practice of two generations of Catholics.”
Fr. Kocik went on to describe, in clear terms, what the Second Vatican Council had outlined in regard to the liturgy and why these changes were necessary. He also noted there was great disappointment by many in the Liturgical Movement as many of the recommendations were only partially implemented or wrongly implemented. Many elements of the Mass have appeared since the Council for which there appears to be no justification at all:
“The introduction of the vernacular into all parts of the Mass was a development hardly anyone expected during the Council. Clearly the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium did not anticipate an all-vernacular liturgy; on the contrary, it says that ‘the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites’ (SC 36.1). But, once allowed, what began as a permission, became, in practice, a rule in many places. And since Gregorian chant is essentially Latin, born of the Latin text, it too vanished overnight.”
“The aftermath of Vatican II brought many other changes, foreseen and otherwise, to liturgical practice and environment. Pianos and guitars began to be heard in church, fasting regulations were eased, and permission was given for Sunday Mass to be anticipated on Saturday evening.”
“Experimentation reached great heights, or sank to great depths, depending on one’s perspective, with pop music and homegrown Eucharistic Prayers prayed aloud at times by the whole congregation. How differently things might have gone had the first wave of reform not taken place during that multifaceted upheaval called ‘the Sixties’.”
In offering hope for the future, Fr. Kocik describe the New Liturgical Movement, which has grown more popular in the past decade, and how under Pope Benedict XVI,this movement has begun to gain traction. In fact, many reforms have already been implemented to move the Church towards what the Second Vatican Council had intended
“The Jubilee Year 2000 saw the publication in English of Ratzinger’s masterwork, ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy,’ which opens up the full riches of the Church’s liturgical life. At the end of the preface, Ratzinger calls for a second Liturgical Movement, ‘a movement toward the liturgy and toward the right way of celebrating the liturgy, inwardly and outwardly.’
“With Ratzinger’s election to the papacy in 2005, prospects for a new Liturgical Movement looked more promising than ever before. Pope Benedict’s broad approach is best described in terms of ‘continuity,’ that is, recovering elements of liturgical tradition that were hastily abandoned in the first wave of reform. His own style when he celebrates Mass reflects this thrust. He administers Communion to the faithful who kneel and receive on the tongue. Gregorian chant figures prominently. A crucifix stands at the center of the altar to bring home a point he made in The Spirit of the Liturgy: ‘Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord.’ Benedict has even used the eastward-facing altar in the Sistine Chapel, thereby encouraging us to revisit the value of celebrating Mass with priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar, facing the liturgical east of the rising sun, meaning the risen Son who is to come.
Perhaps the strongest instance of the Holy Father’s program of continuity is Summorum Pontificum, his 2007 Apostolic Letter easing restrictions on the use of the liturgical books promulgated or in force in 1962.”
Fr. Kocik concluded by encouraging students to embrace the New Liturgical Movement and examine their own consciences and think deeply about the ways in which they can incorporate the liturgy of the Church into their every day lives:
“Where do you find your own spiritual sustenance? Is it primarily from the liturgy? Do you shape your life according to the liturgical seasons, fasting and feasting with the Church as she celebrates the life of Christ? Does Advent disappear beneath a barrage of Christmas celebrations? Does the Christmas Season end on December 26? Where are you each year for the Paschal Triduum? Do you engage your mind and heart with the rites and prayers of the Mass, pondering their meaning? Do you participate in the Liturgy of the Hours where it is available? Could you pray some of the hours at home — perhaps Lauds, Vespers, or Compline — thereby taking up the Psalter, the most traditional prayer book known to the Church, and adding your voice to the sacrifice of praise she offers day and night? Or could you perhaps begin the day with the beautiful Laudate psalms (Psalms 148-150), which in all likelihood formed part of Our Savior’s own morning prayer? Where do you place the emphasis when arranging Baptisms, weddings, or funerals: on the best possible celebration of the liturgy, or on the reception afterwards?
I think this liturgical ‘examination of conscience’ offers at least some ways in which each of us can grow in liturgical piety as well as lay some popular foundations for a new or revived Liturgical Movement. All of these things are possible, and when they become habits, we will start to reap the spiritual rewards of a wholesome liturgical diet. Faith lived as liturgy: that is what the Liturgical Movement was all about.