With this section, we move away from the arts and into liturgical practice proper. Literally.
Pope John Paul II was acutely aware that much responsibility for the celebration of the Eucharist falls on clergy. He felt it himself, to be sure. And as pope, I’m sure he had a strong sense of being a good example for others, as well as guiding good practices in the Church.
52. All of this makes clear the great responsibility which belongs to priests in particular for the celebration of the Eucharist. It is their responsibility to preside at the Eucharist in persona Christi and to provide a witness to and a service of communion not only for the community directly taking part in the celebration, but also for the universal Church, which is a part of every Eucharist. It must be lamented that, especially in the years following the post-conciliar liturgical reform, as a result of a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation there have been a number of abuses which have been a source of suffering for many. A certain reaction against “formalism” has led some, especially in certain regions, to consider the “forms” chosen by the Church’s great liturgical tradition and her Magisterium as non-binding and to introduce unauthorized innovations which are often completely inappropriate.
I’m not a fan of misguided creativity. However, not all post-conciliar efforts that have been tagged with this label are actually misguided. And while some people indeed feel “suffering” from a sense of discontinuity from the past, other believers have found a fruitful experience with many inculturation efforts.
I’m not sure that the reaction against small-t tradition is always “antiformalism.” My sense is that many Catholics authentically seek a deeper intimacy, and given the direction in Western culture to informality, some forms of liturgical expression are decidedly not solemn or formal.
Pope John Paul appeals to the example of Corinth, but my recollection of that letter was that the criticism was more focused on the personal misbehaviors of the community, and not (from what we read) the explicit disregard for early liturgical norms.
I consider it my duty, therefore to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone’s private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated. The Apostle Paul had to address fiery words to the community of Corinth because of grave shortcomings in their celebration of the Eucharist resulting in divisions (schismata) and the emergence of factions (haireseis) (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church. Precisely to bring out more clearly this deeper meaning of liturgical norms, I have asked the competent offices of the Roman Curia to prepare a more specific document, including prescriptions of a juridical nature, on this very important subject. No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality.
This document was released in the following year (2004). We will start our examination of Redemptionis Sacramentum next month.
Finally, I have to point out that the CDWDS culture promoted complaint from the Catholic laity all through the final years of the JP2 pontificate, and to the present day. This concern for liturgical norms would be influenced by the strong skewing of communication to the genre of complaint. Is this a blindness accidental or intentional? Either way, it has harmed the liturgy of the Church and damaged the relationship between artists, clergy, and the hierarchy. Not a good legacy of the years 1978-2013, to be sure.