Saturday, May 26, 2018

How a traditional priest slowly introduced liturgical changes and architectural adjustments to his church over the years

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, April 15, 2018):
I admit to being a little worried. Change may be an inevitable part of life but whenever changes concern the liturgy I'm concerned that this mot vital aspect of the Christian life should not upset the religious sensitivities of the people. I know we have many outdoor improvements to make about the parish. But I'm thinking here of things relating to divine worship.

I've been here twenty-three years. That's a long time. The first of my concerns was the introduction of Latin every Sunday at the parish. Formerly there had been only one Latin Mass per month. Soon after arriving it became a weekly celebration, with only a few gentle murmurs of opposition to it. In the end, it was well received. Then there came the daily Latin high Mass, complete with Gregorian chant. People joined in, singing from booklets made for them. Then there was the use of the Communion rail. Most people had taken to the prevailing modern custom of standing to receive Holy Communion. Once offered the kneeling posture nearly everyone adopted it. (My predecessor had already instituted Communion by intinction which removed the brazen custom of hand Communion.) Mass had been celebrated at the "low alter," facing the people. Moving the low altar somewhat further back we began to face the Eastward direction, in the so-called Mass ad orientem. I distinctly remember the day, it was a Mass for the Dead, when I told the altar boys just before leaving the sacristy for the sanctuary that we would be using the high altar instead of the low alter for Mass. I worried again. How would the people take it? It went very well. A more radical decision was to remove the low alter entirely. It had been getting in the way of ascent to the high altar and was partially obscuring the view of the people. It vanished over night with almost no one even noticing its absence.

The Latin Novus Ordo on Ephiphany 2005 with a visiting military chaplain celebrating

Then came the permission graciously given by Pope Benedict for the return of the older and traditional form of the Latin Mass. I wondered how that would be received since there is so much silence in the old Mass! This too was, for the greater part, welcome,though some even now have a preference for the Mass said in English. The old Latin Mass is now celebrated here daily. Then somewhere along in the history came the restoration of the Communion rail cloth. This was gratefully received, even with some emotion, for the increase in reverence it offered the communicants. (Should we not use this cloth for our Masses in English also?)

Along the way other things came about also: "new" (from the 1850s) altar candles; a new sanctuary lamp suspended from the ceiling (the former one had been affixed to the wall). A new green backdrop curtain for the high altar crucifix, replacing a light blue-colored curtain. New lighting in the church and a new sound system. (I must also mention the removal of some pews from the back of the church -- a move which I did only reluctantly on account of the necessity of clearing more room for the choir and orchestra. These pews should someday be reinstalled in the church, for which reason they are held in storage in the school.) Cassocks and surplices were purchased for the altar boys, replacing the blue-tinged smocks that had been in use. A signifiant 'small' change was the removal of the square boxy tabernacle that had stood on the altar in front of the original tabernacle which had been hidden. Our stained glass windows were covered on the exterior side to protect the precious glass and to slow the entry of the cold into the church.

With all this change, gradually introduced, one wonders where there is anything more that should be done? Well, there is. One of the things I'd like to see is the return of the choir stalls in the sanctuary, those banks of pews on each side of it. Originally there were two more rows on both sides. It would be essential to have these well crafted and made to resemble the originals which had been removed to accommodate space for the low altar. Were I rich, I'd also look to getting a fine pipe organ (the one we have is really a poor instrument, take my word on this). And I'm always trying to [improve] our liturgical music for choir and people: more chant and more silence - a much overlooked aspect of Catholic worship these days.

After reviewing our Holy Week celebrations [some weeks ago], I found that there are still some things lacking. Year by year we have been making adjustment great and small to further enhance the celebration of the sacred liturgy. My goal is always to give God our very best, as we can afford it. The essential thing, thus far unmentioned, is the bettering of the interior attitude of the worshippers. Besides the external glory given to God through our liturgical worship, there remains the work of the sanctification of the souls of our people. While this is essentially the work of the Holy Ghost, it is facilitated by the measure of diligence and reverence we apply to our worship.

Near the end of the Creed we find the word expecto -- I await. I await the heavenly liturgy, the great goal of my whole life. There I know everything will be utterly perfect and eternally enthralling. In the meantime, there's always something to improve, and in my zeal for this, I must sometimes worry.

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