Promoting beauty, reverence in the liturgy Print E-mail
Bishop's Column
Thursday, Apr. 20, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Below is the full text of Bishop Robert C. Morlino’s Homily at the Chrism Mass, Tuesday, April 11, 2017:

What a wonderful day to be together, preparing to celebrate the great mysteries of our redemption and actually initiating those mysteries in our celebration on Sunday, Palm Sunday, and again tonight.

It’s very interesting that recently a talk was given by Cardinal Robert Sarah, who is the Prefect, the head of the Office of Divine Worship in Rome. And in the name of the Holy Father, he is to give the rest of us guidance in our prayer and worship.

His talk was very direct, almost blunt. And the point of his talk was that the Church is in crisis, very serious crisis. And so many people react and say, “Well, I don’t see a crisis! Where is there a crisis? More Catholics attend Mass in the United States than in most other places in the world!” That’s true, but it still seems to be less than 25 percent.

‘A blessed race’

And at the end of the First Reading, we get a hint of where the crisis is. We hear about the anointing of the Spirit of the Lord and all the great things that it does for humanity. And seeing the wonderful effects of the anointing of the Holy Spirit on all humanity, the author concludes by saying, “They shall be called a blessed race, a blessed people by all nations (Is 61:9).” All nations will recognize them as blessed! That’s us! And so, the minute we hear that, we see the problem.

The delineation of the problem continues in the great Easter proclamation, the Exsultet, of Holy Saturday night. I quote that beautiful hymn of the Resurrection of the Lord: “This is the night that even now, throughout the world . . . ” (same idea, all nations shall call them blessed!) “. . . that sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin . . .” Do Christian believers look, in the world today, like they have been set apart from worldly vices and the gloom of sin?

“The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.” That’s what the Easter Mystery does. People look at us and they say what a blessed race! Even now, we are turned away from sin and from the gloom of darkness. Is that true?

And the answer is, actually, for the world, for the most part, no. And that’s where the crisis is.

Crisis of faith

There are so many studies and articles being written right now that say that the majority of those who profess that they are Catholic live their lives pretty much like everybody else in our country and in our culture. The impact of our redemption in Christ is not so visible. That’s a crisis.

“(Our redemption in Christ) drives out hatred, brings us peace!” Look at the hatred in the world. Look at the slaughters in the Middle East. Look at the hatred in the United States. Many people, even many Catholics, nurture in their hearts a genuine hatred for the President of the United States. One doesn’t have to agree with him, but stirring up hatred against a lawfully-elected public official? That is not redeemed behavior.

There is a lot of behavior in the world, and unfortunately among many Catholics, which is not redeemed behavior. Now unfortunately tonight I am preaching this to the choir. You’re here, acting like you’re redeemed. And you go home and act like you’re redeemed. But we’re not making enough of a difference for the others. What we have in Christ doesn’t seem to be very contagious. That’s the crisis.

Now, in these United States, Catholics are really on the ball, they’re really on track when it comes to social action, social outreach to poor, to the blind, to the sick, to the imprisoned. Look at what our Catholic Charities is doing, including our new day resource center, which will be in full bloom in the Fall, which is now operating in connection with our brothers and sisters at Bethel Lutheran, a wonderful ecumenical enterprise of Christian outreach.

Look at the beautiful work of the Knights of Columbus, many of whom are here. Look at the beautiful work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Look at the work of the Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities. Look at the beautiful work of the Catholic Multicultural Center. Look at the beautiful work of individual parishes and their social outreach and the social outreach of individuals throughout the diocese — so generous!

When it comes to social outreach, I would say we are outstanding. That’s not where the crisis is. The crisis is a crisis of faith. The crisis is a crisis of prayer, because as we pray, so we believe. Faith and prayer can never be separated. And what is our most significant prayer? The Mass! The Eucharistic Celebration!

Beautiful, reverent liturgies

The crisis is not in the area of social action, social outreach. The crisis is in the Mass and in the liturgy. I’ve been here 14 years, and, with the Lord’s blessing, we’ve made so much progress in having beautiful, reverent liturgies that truly praise the Lord, that truly reach out to the mystery of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We’ve made so much progress.

But honestly, it’s spotty. We’re far from finished. The liturgy is about nothing-less-than-beautiful. There are liturgies in this diocese that are not beautiful. I see them. I’m not saying anyone has bad intentions; nobody has bad intentions, but there are liturgies that are not beautiful.

There are liturgies that are less than reverent, especially in the way that Communion is received. It’s hard to believe that some people actually believe that that’s the Body of Christ the way they handle it. You’d think it was an M&M.

‘Actual’ participation

Vatican II called for actual participation in the liturgy, actuosa. Not so much “active” participation, but actual in Latin. What is “active” participation? So often active participation means to get as many people on their feet or involved as possible, fabricating something that we came up with. “Active” participation means innovation. Active participation more often means, in the U.S., not following the book. The Holy Spirit anointed the Church with the Mass and yet, somehow, after the Council, so many people got the idea that they could do better!

“Actual” participation is what we want. That consists of active passivity, active receptivity to the unveiling of the mystery of Christ that is opened before us here at the altar. Active passivity, actual participation, contemplative participation — getting caught up in the mysteries, never doing something because people find it entertaining. It is not about being entertained, but getting caught up in the mystery, which only happens if what the Church wants done, is done.

So let this coming year be a year that all of us enjoy actual participation and not innovation. Innovation comes from us. Actual participation is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy is about the work of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy is never about what we do. We are merely instruments. We are like a staff in the Lord’s hands. Nothing comes from us. It all comes from God whom we humbly obey.

Reverence in receiving Holy Communion

Now just to get concrete here at the end, beginning next school year, (that means beginning in the Fall of [2017]) I’m going to ask that we move together towards greater reverence when receiving Holy Communion. I’m going to ask that people be encouraged to receive Communion on the tongue and kneeling.

There is no question that Communion on the tongue is more reverent. And it doesn’t lend itself to a casual kind of behavior. I’m going to ask, beginning in the Fall, that our students are taught to receive Communion on the tongue. Now, there’s still the option, I can’t take the option away. If you want to receive in the hand, receive in the hand. But, I want to encourage reverence and I hope all of you and my brother priests will work with me on that.

And I’m sure there will be other instances through which we can intensify our growth in holiness. For instance, next year when we come to this time of year, I’m hoping that every parish will veil their statues or crucifixes in purple during Lent’s last two weeks as a sign that Christ’s divinity was hidden and then unveiled in the Glory of the Cross. Those veils are there for a reason. Those veils create a certain atmosphere when one walks into Church at the end of Lent. The environment is one of intensified mystery and of reverence. That’s what we need.

We’ll be talking, beginning in the fall, of things like this and other things too, that will help us to promote reverence and beauty. The crisis in the Church will be addressed only when the liturgy is what it is supposed to be, namely reverent and beautiful. If our prayer is not in order, our faith will never be in order and the crisis will continue.

I need your cooperation to spread the word. You know that what I am saying is true, but I need you to join me in spreading that word, and I need my brother priests to encourage this kind of beauty and reverence even more than they have, and many have already done a lot and I thank my brother priests who are already doing a lot. But, we have a ways to go. We’ve been working on liturgy for 14 years. We’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to heal the resistances in our Church to what is more reverent, to what is more beautiful. Every day let us look more like the race whom God has blessed, look like we have been set apart from sin and gloom, look like we have been set apart from hatred and earthly pride. Let’s start tonight, but let’s keep going throughout the next school year and into eternity, so that as our liturgy heals, the crisis in the Church will heal, from the Church will emanate the Resurrection power of Christ in all its fullness, and God will be everything for everyone. Praised be Jesus Christ!