07 January 2010

'That our sacrifice may be pleasing to God' - letter of Archbishop Soc Villegas

Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas at his installation as Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, 4 November 2009

Photo by Mr Noli Yamsuan

Sometimes I fantasise that if I were a bishop, a most unlikely happening, one of the first things I would do would be to address the priests about the liturgy, especially the celebration of Mass, or 'the Holy Mass', as Filipinos usually say. Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas has fulfilled my fantasy to a large degree in a pastoral letter he issued on 31 December to the priests of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan on the celebration of Mass. But what he wrote needs to be heard by lay people too. Some might wonder why he deals with very basic rubrical matters but in my experience after 42 years as a priest this is, sadly, essential.

At a deeper level Archbishop Villegas makes the connection between liturgy and life. After all, the Mass in the source and summit of our Christian life, as Vatican II teaches.

I have highlighted some parts of the letter and made some [comments].


Fraternal Letter to my Brother Priests

My beloved brother priests:

On the day of our ordination as priests, the bishop asked us, "Do you resolve to 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, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?"

Although we have many duties and functions as priests, in the mind of the ordinary Catholic faithful, we are priests because we can preside at the Eucharist and absolve sins in the confessional. [These are at the heart of the life of the priest]. We are priests called to bring to the Lord the sacrifice of thanksgiving from His worshipping people. We are priests called to bring the blessings of God to His chosen people. We are caretakers of the mysteries of God.

The faithful, reverent, dignified and solemn celebration of the mysteries of Christ is a mandate imposed on us by ordination. It is a solemn duty. [The archbishop is confronting sloppy celebrations as having no place in our lives].

Good liturgy does not just happen. It is made to happen. Good liturgy calls for fervent preparation and attentive care.

Within this spirit, I wish to raise some issues in our Catholic parishes and communities to help bring about a more inspiring and truly edifying liturgical worship.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

I encourage you to maintain the cleanliness of our sacred vessels particularly our chalices and ciboria. God deserves the best. [Shades of Malcolm Muggeridge, Blessed Mother Teresa and 'Soemthing Beautiful for God'.] Sacred vessels need regular metal plating to maintain their luster befitting the divine worship.

The altar linens—corporal, purificator and finger towel—are not interchangeable. The corporal is named such because it receives the "corpus" crumbs that may fall from the host when we break the Host at Lamb of God. The corporal must be laid out on the altar only at the presentation of bread and wine and folded back after the purification of the vessels. It must not be left on the altar. [A pet peeve of mine is sacristans, very often Sisters, who put the corporal on the altar before the Mass begins. I also know priests who do this. This may be a throw-back to the older form of the Mass, now known as the extraordinary form. If the rubrics there call for the corporal to be placed on the altar before Mass then that shoulod be followed. But in the Novus Ordo, the ordinary form, introduced after Vatican II, the corporal is placed on the altar only at the offertory.] According to traditional practice, the corporal is "starched" after washing so that it will be stiff when used at the altar. The "starched stiffness" facilitates finding the crumbs that may fall on it during the Eucharist. The purificator is used to wipe the chalice for droplets of water and wine during the preparation of the gifts and for purifying the chalice, paten and ciborium after Communion. Traditionally, the purificator has an embroidered cross which rests on the mouth of the chalice or some liturgical symbols on the sides. The finger towel is used for drying the hands after washing. To distinguish it from the purificator, the embroidered cross of the finger towel is usually on the corner and not in the middle. Please instruct your sacristans and altar servers to observe the proper use of altar linens. [The archbishop clearly sees attention to detail as respect for the God we worship].

We must take special care that our Mass vestments are clean and dignified. [I remember the late editor of Misyon, Fr Niall O'Brien, telling me how upset he was when he celebrated Mass in a parish in Ireland where the vestments were filthy, even though the parish priest was a well known, dedicated and courageous priest.] Cleanliness and dignity need not be expensive. Dignity and cleanliness in the choice and use of liturgical vestments is not optional. It is imperative on account of the dignity of the liturgy we celebrate. Please dispose of old, tattered and faded vestments properly by burning them.

The church and its surroundings must be kept clean too from trash candy wrappers, soiled missalettes and even stuck chewing gums on the church flooring. [I remember about three years ago celebrating Mass at a convention of Catholic teachers. One middle-aged man was chewing gum right through the Mass.] Cleanliness is next to Godliness. The church must be the cleanest place in the community. [There's a challenge for us!]

He Who Sings Well Prays Twice.

Singing is a form of worship. Singing together also promotes the spirit of unity and communion. Please encourage the choirs to undertake their task as a ministry and not as a performance for public adulation. It is important that the community is animated to join the choir in singing our songs during the liturgy. Secular love songs, even if they have religious themes, do not have any place in the divine liturgy. [Weddings here in the Philippines are occasions when totally unsuitable songs are used. It's even worse when they are poorly sung, as they often are.] In obedience to the instructions of the Holy See and until the rules pertaining to dancing within the liturgy have been approved by the Episcopal Commission on Liturgy, please refrain from the practice of having children or young people dance in the parish sanctuary. [He seems to be saying 'no "liturgical" dancing'. He doesn't mention the aisle. I was at a Mass some years ago at a conference of vocation directors when a group of young girls appeared from nowhere at the offertory to do a 'liturgical dance'. They immedately disappeared to nowhere. Vatican II says clearly that the litrugy is the source and summit of our Christian life. Those girls were being told, 'No, it's a chance for you to perform and take the spotlight from the Lord'.]

And the Greatest of These is Love.

Love is best expressed in silence. Where silence is observed, fervor is maintained. Let me offer to you these words from Saint Charles Borromeo on whose feastday, I was installed as your pastor: "You must realize that for us churchmen, nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. Would you like me to tell you how to give God more pleasing worship? Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter."

Please teach the flock again about the Catholic practice of genuflecting before the tabernacle, the observance of prayerful silence in the church, modesty in dress and the discourtesy of chewing gum or using cell phones in the church. [I don't know how many times I've tried to get the people - mostly adults - at the chapel where I celebrate weekday Mass to genuflect. From time to time too I remind them of the importance of silence. I always have periods of silence during the Mass, which is supposed to be the norm, but on occasions such as the Misa de Gallo have to remind the choir that they're not supposed to fill up every moment with song. It seems to me that most priests I know cannot bear silence at Mass or at a Holy Hour. Yet when I have introduced people to long periods of silence in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament they have welcomed it.

Some years ago i celebrated Mass at a convention of Catholic teachers. I couldn't help but notice that one middle-aged man chewed gum right through the celebration.

It can happen that we forget to turn off our cell phone. once while doing a wedding I heard my own go off, though the ringtone wasn't loud. But I have seen people on occasions such as wedding, funerals and baptisms showing utter discourtesy by flaunting their cell phones.]

Finally, liturgy is not just obedience to the rubrics and instructions. Good liturgy must make us more loving. Good liturgy cannot save. Only the power of love can bring us to heaven. As a fruit of the faithful and reverent celebration of the mysteries of Christ, we must become more caring and attentive to the needs of the least, the last and the lost. Good liturgy can sanctify only to the extent that it leads us to serve, imitating the example of Him who stooped down to wash the feet of His disciples. Sunday must not only be the dies Domini ['day of the Lord']. May it become too our dies caritatis ['day of love'].

May Saint John, the Beloved Disciple, our patron, help us to grow in holiness and lead us to share the same gift of holiness to all those entrusted to our care.

From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, December 31, 2009


Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan


FatherTF said...

What a wonderful letter from Archbishop Socrates!

On the question of the corporal in the extraordinary form: at Low Mass, the priest unfolds the corporal in order the place the chalice on it immediately before he begins Mass; at High Mass, the Deacon solemnly takes the corporal to the altar during the creed (or after the sermon if there is no creed.) The only time the corporal is on the altar before Mass is at the "Missa Cantata" where there is a sung Mass without deacon and subdeacon.

In all cases, the corporal is there for a purpose, not just left out on the altar. I have seen many Churches where the corporal is just left on the altar all the time.

Dominic Mary said...

'God deserves the Best'

I strongly suspect that the S. Curé d'Ars used exactly those words; and if he didn't, he certainly agreed with them.

His cassock may have been threadbare - though clean - and his shoes patched; they were for him : but everything in his Church was the best he could get, and I believe I am right in saying that his Rosary was of gold beads on silver wire - because those things were for God.

It is wonderful to hear this point of view so clearly proclaimed today. You are indeed fortunate to have such a clear-sighted Bishop.