The Liturgical Vision of Archbishop Blase Cupich

Chicago ArchbishopEditors’ note: The Notre Dame Center for Liturgy’s journal Assembly: A Journal of Liturgical Theology featured an article on the 2000 GIRM by then Bishop Cupich of Rapid City, South Dakota in July of 2007 (a volume of the journal that included a piece by Fr. Michael Joncas and yours truly as a doctoral student at the time). We’re re-posting this article on Oblation, because we believe it might contribute to assessing the liturgical vision of Archbishop Cupich. 

While much of the commentary on the appointment of Cupich has tended to focus on assessing the new archbishop’s position in the ecclesial political wars (is he a progressive conservative, a liberal progressive moderate, or a secret libertarian anarchist?), we see in his treatment of the 2000 GIRM a pastor who sees the liturgy as integral to the Church’s mission in the world. That is, he is not “moderate” in the sense of adding two positions together to get a beige middle.

We also think that the vision set forth by then Bishop Cupich has not been implemented by any stretch of the imagination. But, I guess that’s our job.   

Implementing the GIRM2000: Getting Back on Track

The Implemention of GIRM 2ooo Sidetracked

On Holy Thursday, 2000, Pope John Paul II approved the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM2000), replacing the 1975 edition (GIRM1975). The Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) made the text available in Latin under the title, Institutio  Generalis Missalis Romani, through the Web site of the Vatican Press Office.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) issued a provisional English translation for study purposes. Almost immediately, people on opposite sides of the liturgical spectrum weighed in. One camp described the revised Instruction as a return to clericalism and rubricism. In their view, its implementation represented a rollback of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The other side praised the new document as a welcomed and necessary correction of abuses. This was the set of “new rules” they had hoped for and urged the bishops to enforce them.

After reading the document, I became convinced that both sides were making the same mistake and misreading the GIRM2000. If left unaddressed, their shared mistaken approach, which in effect involves a very limited reading of the document, could sidetrack the liturgical renewal envisioned by the document and the Council. Succinctly put, both sides were reading the Instruction too narrowly, approaching it simply as a list of rubrical changes to be introduced in the celebration of the Eucharist. The only difference between the two sides was whether or not they agreed with the new rubrics.

It could be argued that the CDW anticipated the problem of a selective reading of the GIRM2000; i.e., scanning it only for variations. It took the deliberate step of informing the various bishops’ conferences that the provisional translation of the GIRM2000 could not appear in a form that highlighted the differences from the 1975 edition. The wisdom of this directive is now coming to light. Clearly, the Roman officials intend that the GIRM2000 should be read, interpreted, and implemented in its entirety.

Getting Back on Track

Getting back on track involves answering two questions: What do we learn about this document when we read it as a whole text? What does that suggest to us about how we implement it?

Reading the GIRM2000 as a whole text

In answering the first question we should begin with the title of the text. It is an institutio or instruction. Robert Cabié reminds us that, “according to the original meaning of the Latin title, Institutio (generalis), we are being given an ‘instruction’ inspired by an interpretative intention and a pedagogical purpose” (The Church at Prayer, vol.2,Liturgical Press, 1986). The General Instruction explains how the revised Mass relates to the authentic tradition and stands in continuity with it.[1] This means that it is primarily a teaching. It is a summary of the doctrinal and pastoral principles of that authentic tradition, most fully expressed in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL). These principles are pedagogically organized to help us grasp the nature and importance of the liturgy in the life of the Church.

Secondly, we should take note of the fact that the General Instruction as a form introducing the Roman Missal replaced the General Rubrics of the Missal of Pius V. This change represents the shift in the understanding of the liturgy, fostered in the Church since Pius X and especially by Pius XII in Mediator Dei[2] and which led to the reforms of the Council. The General Instruction codifies that shift by presenting the celebration of the Mass in a way that doctrinal and pastoral considerations take precedence over and give meaning to rubrical instructions. This does not mean that rubrics are unimportant but “to the extent that regulations are given, they are explained and related to a truly authentic tradition . . . [and they] serve the pastoral aspirations of the Church . . .” (The Church at Prayer).

Thirdly, the doctrinal and pastoral principles found in the Introduction and Chapter One: Importance and Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration of GIRM2000 are taken almost verbatim from GIRM1975. (The only changes are in #19, where priests are encouraged to celebrate Mass daily, andd #22, where the role of the diocesan bishop in fostering the liturgy is expanded.) The repetition of these same principles in a document called a “revision” speaks volumes. It means that the renewal of the liturgy called for by the Council is still at issue and it is unfinished business. The document is saying that we need to go back to the principles of the liturgical renewal. It also seems to indicate that the introduction of new rubrics or directions is not just a matter of giving us more rules. Rather, these changes are an attempt to highlight and reinforce one or another of these repeated principles, since experience (not just in our country, but in the universal Church) has indicated they may have been neglected over these past decades since the Council.

Implementing the GIRM2000

In view of all of this, it is clear that any implementation of the GIRM2000 must give priority to educating priests and people about the doctrinal and pastoral principles of liturgical renewal outlined by the Council. Specifically, that means bringing people to an authentic understanding of the Christian notion of the assembly. It means stressing the importance of liturgical signs. It also involves clearly defining worship as liturgical action, as dialogue between God and his people, and as a celebration of the mystery of salvation. These are all central principles. My years of teaching as a seminary professor, as a pastor offering adult education classes to lay people, and as a bishop speaking to groups of priests about liturgical renewal have led me to conclude that we have grossly underestimated the need to educate. It never fails that whenever I outline the principles of the Council’s liturgical renewal in an educational session, many people and priests tell me that they had never thought of approaching the renewal in this way or that the ritual changes were now beginning to make sense.

Secondly, in addition to introducing or reintroducing the principles, we also must help people see how the ritual directives are expressive of them. The task of implementation then cannot be reduced to merely informing people about the rubrical changes and making sure they are enforced. All evidence shows that this approach is doomed to fail, no matter how enticing it may be, given the fact that it is much easier and less complicated. Instead, we should see this new institutio as a challenge and opportunity to explain to our clergy and people how the changes are motivated by a concern for authentic liturgical principles that may have been ignored or maybe in need of reinforcement or encouragement.[3] Admittedly, this will take much more effort, time, and patience, but it has the promise of bringing about the kind of real and sustained liturgical renewal the Council and the GIRM2000 envisions, and that the Church needs and deserves.

Finally, we should not overlook the importance the GIRM2000 gives to the role of the Bishop who is portrayed as central to the implementation of liturgical renewal. Notice that the original description of the Bishop found in GIRM1975 has been expanded in this latest revision. Again describing the Bishop as the “chief steward of the mysteries, . .moderator, promoter and guardian” of the entire liturgical life of his diocese, GIRM2000 states that he must strive to assure that all “grasp interiorly a genuine sense of the liturgical texts and rites, and thereby are led to an active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist.” This last phrase recalls what the Council Fathers said in setting priorities for the ongoing restoration and renewal of the liturgy; namely, that it can only come through the promotion of the full, active, and conscious participation by all the people, which is the aim to be considered above all else (CSL, 14).

A Fresh Opportunity for Renewal

The GIRM2000 presents us with a fresh opportunity to interpret that priority more expansively. By investing time, resources, and energy into the education of our priests and people, we can bring about the kind of ownership and understanding of the liturgy that makes their full, active, and conscious participation a reality for everyone. Not only is that an investment worth making, it will also keep us on track and avoid having the renewal derailed by ideological extremes.

[1] It is for this reason that both the GIRM1975 and 2000 note that the Mass of Paul VI has benefited from the study of sources unavailable to the Tridentine liturgy, such that “it also becomes clear how outstandingly and felicitously the older Roman Missal is brought to fulfillment in the new.” The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) translation in the GIRM2000, #6 of Si autem huius traditionis ponderentur interiora elementa, intellegitur etiam, quam egregie ac feliciter prius perficiatur altero.

[2] “It is an error, consequently, and a mistake to think of the sacred liturgy as merely the outward and visible part of divine worship or as an ornamental ceremonial. No less erroneous is the notion that it consists solely in a list of laws and prescriptions according to which the ecclesiastical hierarchy orders the sacred rites to be performed.” Likewise, we read in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 11, “Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

[3] While some lesser changes seem to be getting all the attention, we should not overlook how the GIRM2000 reinforces principles and practices found in the original Instruction, because they are central to the ongoing renewal and have proven to be so in the intervening years. For instance, this new Instruction strengthens the norms on the homily, noting that it is an integral part of the liturgical action (29). While homilies are required on Sundays and holy days of obligation, they may be eliminated from a Mass with a congregation only for a grave reason (66). Greater stress is given to Communion under both kinds, and to the importance of having the faithful receive Communion consecrated at the Mass they attend. The GIRM2000 has removed any reference to the need for women to obtain permission to enter the sanctuary. These are but a few, but my point here is that these particular “changes,” while not receiving much attention in comparison to others, more easily remind us that all of the changes can only be understood within the framework of the principles of liturgical renewal. This may especially help to counter the criticisms that the GIRM2000 represents a return to rubricism and is a shift to clericalism, an unmerited assumption based on a narrow preoccupation with some of the changes at the expense of overlooking the entire framework of renewal offered in the Instruction.

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