An interview with Dom Alcuin Reid about the liturgy, Vatican II, and the upcoming Sacra Liturgia 2013 conference in Rome
Pope Benedict XVI distributes Communion to a nun as he celebrates Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24, 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The Sacra Liturgia conference, to be held in Rome from June 25 to 28, 2013, is an international conference with the goal to study, promote, and renew the appreciation of liturgical formation and celebration and its foundation for the mission of the Church, particularly in the light of the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI. The conference is being organized under the direction of Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon, France, and will feature many noted speakers, including Cardinal Raymond Burke, Bishop Marc Aillet, Father Uwe Michael Lang, Don Nicola Bux, and Tracey Rowland, among others.
Dom Alcuin Reid, one of the organizers of Sacra Liturgia 2013, is a monk of the Monastère Saint-Benoît in the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France. His major work, The Organic Development of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2005), carries a preface by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He recently corresponded with Catholic World Report about the conference, and reflected on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the state of liturgy today, and the pontificate of Benedict XVI.
CWR: How did the conference Sacra Liturgia 2013 come about and what are some of its main goals?
Dom Alcuin Reid: This conference is a sequel, as it were, to Adoratio 2011 which my bishop, Msgr. Dominique Rey, organized in Rome two years ago. I was part of the organizing team and the question was asked whether we should do something in the future. With his characteristic enthusiasm, Msgr. Rey took up the idea of a conference dedicated to the Sacred Liturgy, particularly in the light of the importance that Pope Benedict XVI has placed on it.
From the outset the conference’s aim has been to consider various aspects of the liturgy from its unique role in the Church—as the source and summit of her life and mission, as the Council said. So our aim is not to hold an event for liturgical specialists or scholars or to produce experts in liturgical minutiae, but to make a significant contribution to the understanding of and formation in what the Sacred Liturgy is, and to underline its importance in every aspect of the Church’s life, especially as the Church launches into the New Evangelization.
In a way this is a conference for non-specialists, for anyone wanting to deepen their appreciation of the liturgy as a whole. Certainly there are specific topics, but they will be addressed in a manner that explores that area’s role in the New Evangelization: Professor Miguel Ayuso’s “The Sacred Liturgy as the heart and life of the mission of the family”; Dr. Gabriel Steinschulte’s “Liturgical Music and the New Evangelisation”; Father Michael Lang’s “Sacred Art and Architecture at the Service of the Mission of the Church,” etc.
We also aim to celebrate both forms of the Roman rite in an exemplary way. We will come together to pray as well as to think and talk. There will be two celebrations each of Mass and of Vespers. We hope that they will serve as models of good practice.
Any conference leads to meeting new people and forming new friendships. In God’s Providence these too will further our goals.
CWR: The conference’s website, noting the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, states that “it is clear that a great deal has been achieved; but it is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities.” What have been some of the positive achievements since Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,Sacrosanctum Concilium?
Dom Alcuin Reid: Personally, I think that the greatest achievement, which is a direct fruit of the Constitution on the Liturgy, has been to place actuosa participatio in the liturgy at the center the spiritual life. This was the great desire of the 20th-century liturgical movement for 50 years before the Council, and of others, including St. Pius X, before that.
In the quote you mentioned, which is from Pope Benedict XVI’s closing message to the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin last year, “misunderstandings” are spoken of. “Actuosa participatio” has often been translated as “active” participation and has sometimes been applied in an activist way: the “everyone has to do something at Mass in order to participate” approach, so often seen in Masses with children, etc.
Sometimes, the busier people are “doing” things at Mass the less they actuallyparticipate. The liturgy is an action, Christ’s saving action, in which we are called to participate first and foremost with mind and heart, and with bodily expression second. The two are reciprocal, of course, but internal participation has to have priority. Perhaps it may be clearer, today, to speak about being “connected” to the liturgical action. Liturgical connectivity is what the Council called for, because it is by means of this connection Christ touches us and empowers us to respond to his grace with lives of faithful service.This is the motivation for the liturgical reforms called for by Vatican II.
Since Sacrosanctum Concilium there have also been more widespread efforts in liturgical formation. The Constitution regarded this as the pre-condition for fruitful participation in the liturgy, something I plan to explore in my own conference presentation.
Other achievements undoubtedly include the acceptance of the vernacular for liturgical readings from Sacred Scripture and in the rites of the sacraments. The promotion of the Liturgy of the Hours as the prayer of the whole Church and not just that of clergy and religious is most certainly an advance.
One more recent achievement is that the “misunderstandings and irregularities” that followed the Council are now more openly acknowledged. We owe this in no small way to Benedict XVI’s historical honesty, both as pope and as cardinal. Because of this we are now in a better position seek a more authentic reading of Sacrosanctum Conciliumand to move forward and consider what adjustments or enrichments are necessary now.
CWR: What are some of the most notable misunderstandings and irregularities? What can lay people do to address those sorts of problems?
Dom Alcuin Reid: I’ve already mentioned the error of “activist participation.” Perhaps one of the others is how we sometimes perceive or approach the liturgy. That is, the liturgy is first and foremost ritual worship which the Church offers to Almighty God. It is not something we stage in order to affirm or to entertain ourselves or our particular community. And if I approach the liturgy—or worse, if I prepare or celebrate the liturgy—as if it is something belonging to me or us, there is a danger that its nature as the Church’s worship of God, in and through which Christ acts, may be obscured or lost. We need to be habituated, to be formed, in order fruitfully to connect with the Church’s ritual worship—and emphasizing that need is one of the reasons for Sacra Liturgia 2013.Abbot Zielinski’s presentation “Liturgy, ritual, and contemporary man—Anthropological and psychological connections” will make an interesting contribution on this.
Of course there have been and sometimes still are liturgical abuses. Authority must deal with them firmly, and lay people should make them known, calmly and with charity. There are also sometimes misunderstandings about practices such as the celebration of Mass facing the people, the exclusive use of the vernacular, receiving Holy Communion in the hand, receiving Holy Communion under both species, etc. In some places these have become untouchable idols of the modern liturgy, whereas they are in fact options. It is not unconscionable to consider whether other, more classical, practices may be more appropriate for facilitating our connection with the liturgical action, with Christ.
Also, some clergy—even bishops—still pretend that the older liturgical rites are somehow not to be used. The usus antiquior—the more ancient use—to use one of Benedict XVI’s phrases, should be freely available to all. It will bear much fruit in the Church of the New Evangelization.
Given the centrality of the liturgy, lay men and women should exercise prudence in respect to liturgical problems; prudence, that is, in respect of their own “spiritual health.” If there are irregularities and for some reason these are not corrected it may be necessary to change the church or chapel at which one regularly worships. This need may become a grave duty for parents whose vocation includes the primary formation of children in the faith. The liturgy is too important for us to accept practice that is second best, or worse. Our spiritual health, and that of those in our care, must come first.
Lay people can also “support good practice” as it were, be that by aiding particular clergy or religious, communities, liturgical institutes, publications, web resources, and so on. The “new liturgical movement” which has been given so much impetus by Benedict XVI is now a widespread reality and many lay men and women are leading key initiatives. Its further progress depends on each one of us contributing according to our means.
CWR: This past December, Pope Benedict XVI sent a note of encouragement to Bishop Rey regarding the conference. How would you assess the work that Benedict has accomplished in the areas of liturgy and worship?
Dom Alcuin Reid: Primarily in fostering the “new liturgical movement,” I think. Firstly, by his teaching, above all in Sacramentum Caritatis, which is a profound tutorial on the liturgical and ecclesial celebration of the Blessed Eucharist. Also by his acts, most certainly through Summorum Pontificum, where he authoritatively asserted that that the rites that were once “sacred and great…cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or considered harmful.” Finally, by his example: papal liturgies have shown us the meaning of ars celebrandi—the manner of celebrating the sacred mysteries with a true noble simplicity. And always, at the head of these liturgies has stood a man who has looked together with us toward the cross he had placed in the center of the altar. The liturgy is about Him, not me, he has taught us.
There is more to do, certainly, and that is our task. But Benedict XVI has laid solid foundations for us.
CWR: Do you foresee his resignation and the upcoming conclave having an effect on the Conference?
Dom Alcuin Reid: In the light of his retirement I imagine that many of the speakers will want to pay tribute to His Holiness. And perhaps it will focus us more clearly on exploring the task of building upon the foundations he has laid.
The conclave itself will not impact directly on the conference—unless one of our speakers is elected, in which case the program will probably have to be adjusted!
The new pope may well, and rightly, prioritize other areas of the Church’s life. He would be able to do so all the more securely in the light of the foundations for sound liturgical practice and teaching laid by his predecessor.
We plan to attend the papal Mass of Saints Peter and Paul on the morning after the conference closes, and one clear effect of his resignation is that Benedict XVI will not be the celebrant that day. In some ways this will add a note of sadness. But the Holy Spirit will give us a new pope who will be there, and as ever it will be a joy and a grace to be close to Peter, to pray with him, and to be strengthened by his teaching.
CWR: Who are some of the most notable speakers who will be presenting at the conference? What can participants expect in terms of key topics and themes addressed in the presentations?
Dom Alcuin Reid: Cardinal Ranjith’s opening address on the liturgy as the “source and summit of the life and mission of the Church” is certainly key. Three other cardinals will contribute: Cardinal Burke will speak of the place of liturgical law in the mission of the Church. Cardinal Cañizares will celebrate and preach at Mass, as will Cardinal Brandmüller.
Speakers have been selected because of their scholarship, good practice, and expertise. I’ve already mentioned some. Msgr. Guido Marini, the papal Master of Ceremonies, is well known. Don Nicola Bux may be familiar because of his publications on the liturgy. Professor Tracey Rowland’s work on Benedict XVI is widely acclaimed and I, for one, am looking forward to her paper on “The usus antiquior and the New Evangelization.” Some speakers may be less familiar because they work in a different language (there will be simultaneous translation available at the conference), but they have important contributions to make at an international level. The conference website has a full list of speakers and topics, with one yet to be confirmed.
CWR: How can readers learn more about the conference?
Dom Alcuin Reid: Our website has all the relevant information in the five languages of the conference, including facilities for online registration. It also gives the links to our Facebook page and Twitter account on which updates are posted regularly. People can contact the conference secretariat through the website if they need other information.To date we have confirmed participants from over 20 countries. Registrations are coming in from lay men and women, religious, seminarians and other students, deacons, priests, and even bishops. Sacra Liturgia 2013 promises to be a large and diverse gathering which augurs well for the liturgical renewal encouraged by Benedict XVI and for the New Evangelization.