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 March 7, 2005 VOL. 43, NO. 5Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Liturgical changes will enhance
our celebration of Eucharist

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

On the last Friday of February, I joined with the priests of our diocese in attending a workshop on the ritual changes that have come about as a result of Our Holy Father publishing a third edition of the Roman Missal, revised in accordance with the directives of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

After this program for priests, there was a session for deacons, and this will be followed by meetings for others with leadership responsibilities for the liturgical life of our parishes and communities.

The Holy Father published the new version of the Missal in the spring of 2001, and a very important part of the Missal is the General Instruction found in the front. This General Instruction sets out the norms and directives for the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.

This revised edition is not radically different from the one in place right now, the one we have grown so accustomed to since the late 1960s. There are, however, some changes that will take getting used to. For example, the congregation is to stand while saying the prayer: “May the Lord, accept the sacrifice at your hand….”

As you would expect, in things that have to do with something so important as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for a variety of reasons, it has taken time for us locally to engage in a well-ordered implementation of these changes.

A first phase of that effort was a series of workshops the year after the General Instruction was published. Building on what was accomplished then, we are moving into a second phase of examining what the norms require and how we can in an orderly way go about putting them into practice in our parishes.

The workshops I mentioned above are part of that effort. With these as our background, I have asked the priests to use the time between now and the first Sunday of Advent to accomplish two important goals: to explain the changes the new edition of the Missal calls for and then to implement those changes.

As part of my contribution in supporting our priests in this important task, I offered them some reflections on the meaning of liturgical norms. In what follows I would like to share some of those thoughts with you.

One of the parts of the Rite of Priestly Ordination is a very logical place to begin. I have in mind here “The Handing Over of the Bread and Wine.”

Before the bishop ordains a man to the priesthood he asks for and receives from him a formal pledge that he will “celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation….”

Then, after the man is ordained, the bishop expresses his acceptance of — “seals,” as it were — that solemn promise by entrusting to the new priest the bread and wine for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Here the Liturgy makes clear that the priest’s role of presiding at the Eucharist is a trust. The Eucharist is not his; we priests are its stewards; we hold it in trust.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in speaking about the priestly ministry, make clear why this stewardship is so momentous: “The most blessed Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth, that is, Christ Himself, our Passover and living bread” (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, n. 5).

By ordination to the priesthood a man has been entrusted with the whole and only heart’s desire of the Church: the sacrificial self-gift to her of own beloved bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
This inestimable worth of the Eucharist is, as Pope John Paul II points out, the answer to the question of “Why norms?”

Toward the end of his Encyclical on the Eucharist he writes: “The ‘treasure’ is too important and precious to risk impoverishment or compromise through forms of experimentation or practices introduced without a careful review on the part of the competent ecclesiastical authorities” (n. 51).

The Holy Father is reminding us that what the Holy Spirit makes present through the priest’s ministry is the Paschal Christ, as he has handed himself over to the whole Church, the Church of every time and place.

The liturgical norms (and the texts as well, to be sure) are the ways which the Church has recognized as true and accurate expressions of Christ in his sacrifice to the Father and gift of self to us. Substituting other modes of expression risks obscuring – or even leaving in absence – what is expressed, that is, Christ in his saving deeds of sacrificial love.

Thinking along with the Holy Father to understand the rationale for norms and rubrics helps us understand the somewhat peremptory admonition from the Fathers of Vatican II that “not even a priest may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 22.3).

It is important to realize that observing the norms for the liturgy is not, by its nature a lapse into empty formalism. It is rather a way for us priests faithfully to offer to you, God’s people, the gift he desires to share with you.

We are these days, in the midst of what the Holy Father has proclaimed as “The Year of the Eucharist” — a providential time to renew our appreciation for this great gift, the gift of Christ himself. I pray that all that we do in our communities to ensure a worthy and devout celebration of this Mystery of Faith will bear great fruit in our lives, the fruit of holiness: abundant works of faith, hope and love.

Bishop Vigneron’s Holy Week schedule

Bishop Allen Vigneron will celebrate Holy Week in various parishes throughout the diocese.

On Palm Sunday, March 20, he will celebrate the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Edward Church in Newark.

He will be at St. Anthony Church in Oakland for the Holy Thursday (March 24) liturgy, beginning at 7 p.m., and at St. Rose Church in Crockett for the 5:30 p.m. liturgy on Good Friday (March 25).

He will celebrate the Easter Vigil at 8 p.m. at St. Michael Church in Livermore.

The annual Chrism Mass, at which he will preside, will be celebrated at St. Felicitas Church in San Leandro at 7 p.m. on March 17.

Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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