Tomorrow here in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, a very special espiscopal ordination is taking place. Fr. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., will be ordained the Archbishop of Oregon City, Oregon. Why is this special? Because Archbishop-elect Di Noia has been appointed the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, the body in charge of overseeing the liturgy. As such, he was raised to the rank of Archbishop, and like all Vatican officials, was made the titular head of a diocese that doesn’t really exist (in this case, Oregon City).
The appointment of Di Noia I think is interesting. He is known as a tremendous theologian, but not necessarily a liturgist. This seems to be consistent, however, with Pope Benedict’s desire to re-establish the theological importance of the liturgy in the life of the Church. The main contact the vast majority of Catholics have with the Church (and for that matter, with Christ) is through Sunday Mass, and the Pope recognizes that if the Mass is not a time in which man can encounter God, it has not done its job properly.
Nothing ignites passions among Catholics on the internet more than a discussion about the Mass. What I have found in real life, however, is that most Mass-going Catholics do not have strong opinions about how the Mass is celebrated – they simply attend each Sunday and do not care that much what music is played, which way the priest is facing, or how close the English translation is to the original Latin. But it is clear that they are deeply shaped in their own walk with Christ by the way Mass is celebrated each week.
This is why the liturgy is so important, as it either assists or detracts from our ability to fulfill our most primary responsibility in life: to worship God, our Creator and Redeemer. Personally, I am not a traditionalist who insists that the old Latin Mass is the only proper way to say the Mass. Yet I do believe that many of the innovations that have entered the Mass over the past 40 years have been detrimental to proper worship.
My own standard is this: in what “direction” does each aspect of the Mass – the words, the motions, the music, etc. – take us? Is it to God, or is it to ourselves? Liturgy is fundamentally an encounter between God and man, and as such, all the actions of the liturgy should direct man towards God.
Note that nothing I say here is culturally conditioned – I believe that each culture can adjust the Mass (within properly-defined boundaries, of course) as best fits its own genius. So there can be a wide variety of music, for example. Yet all music within the liturgy should be directed towards God, not towards ourselves (which thus excludes a large portion of music currently being used in parishes across the nation – what I call the “How Great We Art” song list).
This is one of the reasons I love the Eastern liturgies; they have maintained the proper “direction.” There is no question that everything that goes on in an Eastern liturgy is directed towards God. Yes, this can make it difficult for a newcomer to become comfortable with such a liturgy, but there is no question for any visitor what is going on when they enter: the worship of the Trinitarian God. I have been to many Roman liturgies in which this occurs as well, but too often I have attended Masses in which it is unclear at best exactly who is being worshiped.
I pray for Archbishop-elect Di Noia that he will work hard to make the Roman liturgy one that is always directed towards the Almighty God.