Finding One’s Way Through Rites and Documents

When I was gathering undergrad credits in religion to matriculate as a Master’s Degree student, I took four courses in the summer of 1984 at the Rensselaer Program of Church Music and Liturgy. In one, “Rites and Recent Documents,” music students (not just us liturgy geeks) were urged to develop a deep familiarity with the liturgy documents and the rites. Which rites? The ones we used, of course: baptism, marriage, confirmation, pastoral care of the sick, among others. Naturally the Eucharist, too. Not just the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, but also the actual rubrics of the Mass as found in the Sacramentary.

One of the nudges I received on the road to being a parish liturgist was when my Newman Community pastor opted to omit the Sign of Peace one Lent. The result of my protest was to be invited to the Liturgy Committee and from there, to examine the documents of liturgy as part of an effort of ongoing formation of the students.

From the beginning, I was tutored to view music as part of the liturgical whole, to see that what is played and sung in church is an honored part of worship. That part, however, had to work within a larger framework. I also brought a curiosity to my reading of the documentation on Catholic liturgy. It wasn’t enough for me to know what was legislated, but also why. We were working out of the four-hymn sandwich in the late 70’s at Newman. The psalm, gospel acclamation, and Eucharistic acclamations were new for many student musicians. It wasn’t about adding more good music to the Mass. It was about singing the Mass at its essential core: the proclamation of Scripture and the offering of the Eucharistic Prayer. Dialogue Eucharistic Prayers and homilies were out, but there were sound reasons why the voice of the laity shifted from speaking to singing, and from being a part of a “liturgical conversation” to a direct acclamation of Christ in his liturgy.

There are many Catholic music directors who have liturgy¬†piled on their plate, either by crafted design or for clergy convenience. But others see themselves as church musicians only. It should go without saying that anybody with “liturgist” in their title or job description should know the liturgy. Additionally, such musicians shouldn’t take for granted what other musicians tell them. It’s one thing to proof-text SC 116. It’s another to read and digest the whole of Sacrosanctum Concilium and get the basics. It’s one thing to fill in the blanks of the publisher’s music plan Sunday after Sunday. It’s another to read the prayers and rubrics of the Sunday liturgy and deepen one’s familiarity with the interplay of texts and traditions.

An anonymous seminarian commented on a liturgy site a few days ago that he’s convinced the modern Roman Rite is all wrong (or words to that effect). Yet which is more believable: that one rogue protestantish liturgist hoodwinked thousands of bishops into signing off on a caricature of Vatican II reforms (which we probably didn’t need anyway)? Or that perhaps the TLM crowd and possibly the reform2 movement is a fringe effort in the larger picture of Catholic liturgy?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgy. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Finding One’s Way Through Rites and Documents

  1. Sam Schmitt says:

    You’re right, Todd – anyone who even brought up problems with the modern Roman rite has been marginalized in the past 40 years (Msgr. Klaus Gamber comes to mind) – and it was a fate worse than death if a seminarian showed as much as a passing curiosity in the liturgy before 1969 (beyond purely historical interest).

    Although “thousands of bishops” signed off on SC, one has to wonder whether they would have on the 1969 missal. Even mainstream theologians like Louis Bouyer (and later Joseph Ratzinger) had serious reservations about the final product.

    So it’s not out of place to call into question the reforms as they were actually carried out.

    • Liam says:

      Though, to be fair, the experience of the period suggests that the bishops as a whole embraced the reforms with alacrity. The examples of Cardinal Krol in Philadelphia and Cardinal Heenan in Westminster stick out because they were unusual in that era.

      • Sam Schmitt says:

        I have also read that the bishops left the implementation of the liturgical reforms up to their liturgy committees while they were busy in Rome or with other things.

        I’m not saying this explains everything, but it’s telling, I think. My impression is that many if not most bishops did not see the full import of the changes that were happening – not unlike most Catholics, I imagine.

      • Liam says:


        Please give me evidence of many bishops who opposed the work of their liturgy commissions but nevertheless allowed that work to be implemented.

      • Sam Schmitt says:

        I should not have said they were “busy in Rome or with other things.” I did not say that bishops actively opposed the work of liturgy commissions, only that the bishops (to a large extent, according to the article below) left the implementation in the hands of experts and did not fully appreciate what they were doing.

        I was thinking of this article:

      • Liam says:


        Just remember: bishops celebrated Mass in their cathedrals and in the parishes of their dioceses. They got to see first-hand what was going on as it happened, and if they did not approve of it, could have easily changed course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s