Council Struggles With Making Liturgy Understandable

The chief problem before the ecumenical council in the field of the liturgy is how to make the Church’s worship an organic element in the life of the Christian, according to a Church spokesman here.

According to Father Hermann Schmidt, S.J., “the liturgical problem is none other than application of a more general problem, namely the place of the Church in the modern world.”

Father Schmidt, a professor at the Gregorian University here who served as a consultant to the council’s preparatory commission on the liturgy, spoke at a press conference held in the council’s press center here (Oct. 25) for the general press corps covering the council.

Father Frederick McManus of Catholic University of America, former president of the Liturgical Conference and one of the council’s appointed experts, was on hand to answer newsmen’s questions following Father Schmidt’s comments.

The news conference got under way with distribution of a prepared statement in which Father Schmidt said:

“The Fathers will decide whether it is true that the Roman liturgy is far removed from the faithful. The question for them to answer is whether the texts and rites should be changed so as to express more clearly the divine things which they signify, and so that the faithful, as far as possible, may easily understand them, and thus pave the way to full, active and community participation.”

Holding that the central problem of the liturgy is to make it an effective influence in society, Father Schmidt added:

“The liturgy, however beautiful, will not exercise any influence on the mass of the people if it is divorced from modern civilization and from the existing social situation.”

The Jesuit teacher posed the problem of extending liturgical rites other than the Latin. In virtually all mission areas, he pointed out, it is the Western rite of Rome that is implanted, rather than any of the Eastern rites.

“Is this necessary?” he asked. “Isn’t the Eastern liturgy more appropriate to Orientals and those living in the East?”

“The principal reason for the lack of liturgical spirit in modern Christian life,” he continued, “is the spirit of exaggerated individualism which has been inherited from the culture of a previous era. … Outside the Church, socialism and communism are trying to build a social happiness. The masses of uneducated people, who in all past eras used to be the solid foundation of the Church, are falling away from religion into atheism or, though they remain in the Church, they are being filled with the spirit of materialism. …

‟Even within the Church there exists the danger that by merely social action she might become too earthbound. For this reason modern times are forcing Catholics to plumb deeply into the very essence of Christian perfection. In other words, the Church is striving with all its forces to bring it about that the masses of the faithful explicitly and consciously experience their dependence on God.  …

“In order that the Church in all parts of the world may get at the heart of peoples’ problems instead of remaining on the periphery of mere devotionalism, the council may justly be expected to publish effective norms and practical decrees after so many years of confusion and hesitation.”

In the question period following his formal presentation, Father Schmidt was asked about the role of women in the liturgy. He said the council Fathers could draw up norms permitting greater participation by women in the liturgical life of the Church. As an example he cited the authorization of women’s choirs, noting that present norms stress the desirability of male choirs. He voiced his own conviction that there is need today for women to play a more prominent role in the Church’s public worship.

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