General and Introductory Materials
Part 5:  Liturgical Law

Chapter d52 General Liturgical Principles

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Role of General Liturgical Principles

Examples of General Liturgical Principles

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

 

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Bibliography

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Role of General Liturgical Principles

These "General Liturgical Principles" are important to understand obedience to liturgical law.  Obedience to liturgical law requires knowledge of three things: 

1.  General Liturgical principles
2.  The norms or rubrics
3.  Pastoral Sensitivity

To obey liturgical law is to
1.  use pastoral sensitivity to
2.  assure that the norms
3.  achieve the end envisioned by the general liturgical principles.

The "General Liturgical Principles" are the "goal" statements, the purpose of the law, the "why's," the "what's the law for?" statements.  What are some of these?

Examples of General Liturgical Principles

1. The primacy of prayer.   Liturgy is prayer. Prayer is what it is all about!   See:  Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Parish Liturgy: Questions I'd Like to Ask," Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1979. UPD 119. [Illustration of the formulation and use of general liturgical principles: 1) Making the Liturgy our Prayer; 2) Helping Everyone Find an Active Role; 3) Improving the Symbols of the Liturgy.) E.g. the RCIA is prayer -- for the catechumens, catechists and the whole parish including the presider.

2. The liturgy is the prayer of Christ.  Every liturgical celebration is an action of Christ and his Body the Church. (CSL 7.) Liturgical prayer is Trinitarian prayer; It is the voice of Christ addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit. It is the prayer of the Body of Christ. The Assembly is the primary liturgical symbol.

3. The principle of active participation. Liturgy is doing, not watching.   (CSL, chapter 1, part B: Norms Drawn from the Hierarchic and Communal Nature of the Liturgy.)   "Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations belonging to the Church, which is the 'sacrament of unity,' namely, the holy people united and ordered under their bishops. Therefore liturgical services involve the whole Body of the Church; they manifest it and have effects upon it; but they also concern the individual members of the Church in different ways, according to their different orders, offices, and actual participation." (Constitution on the Liturgy 26). "Whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, it is to be stressed

4. The language of Liturgy is a symbol. Therefore we strive for Quality symbols. "Good symbols nourish faith. Poor symbols weaken and destroy it." (BCL Music in Catholic Worship, 5.)  Theological basis of this principle: Sacramenta significando efficiunt gratiam.  Sacraments cause grace by signifying. Other things being equal, the better the sign the better the grace. (St. Thomas)

5. Less is more. [When you multiply money, you get more money; when you multiply symbol, you get less symbol.] Another way of expressing this same principle: An artist always uses a limited palette. The principle of artistic unity. From the Bishops' statement Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, speaking of vestment:  94. The more these vestments fulfill their function by their color, design and enveloping form, the less they will need the signs, slogans and symbols which an unkind history has fastened on them. The tendency to place symbols upon symbols seems to accompany the symbolic deterioration and diminution already discussed.  A few implications:  1.   The vestment itself should be beautiful, and not merely "decorated." For example: a beautiful stole "says more" than a stole with the words (Remember: words are symbols also) embroidered on it: "I Am - A Priest."   2.   One cross (on the wall, by [not "on"] the altar, over the altar, leading the procession, but one cross, not three or four.  3.   One altar.  4.   One image of Mary. 

The architect Mise Van derRoo said: "Less is More." Venturi (next generation) said:   "Less is a bore."

6. Principle of accumulated symbolism. "There is a limit to the amount of symbolic ambiguity a rite can sustain."  (N. Mitchell, Made Not Born, p 70.)

7. The principle of polyvalence. All good liturgy must be polyvalent, that is it must be accessible to many different people in many different (spiritual, cultural, emotional) places. [Related to the Law of Symbol.]

8. Form follows function.  Turtles don't fly.

9. Principle of once is enough.  "Needless duplications are to be avoided."

10. Principle of once is not enough.  Ritual action is essentially repeated and habitual action. [blowing out candles on a birthday cake, decorating a Christmas Tree, coloring Easter eggs.] Once never makes a ritual. Prehension is essential to a ritual's function.

11. Liturgy is public. Celebrations which are celebrated in common with the faithful present and actively participating are preferred to rites which are quasi-private. (CSL 27).

12. Principle of one role at a time. In liturgical celebrations each person who has an office to perform should carry out all and only those parts which pertain to that office. (CSL 28.)

13. The donatists principle.  "The Donatists (The Donatists said that the sacraments are useless unless administered by a holy priest.) may have been wrong theologically, but when it comes to presidential style, pastorally they were, oh, so right!"

14. The principal of music. Singing is twice praying.  [They go home humming the communion song, not the homily or the Eucharistic Prayer.]

15. The principle of authenticity.  Things should be what they seem:   A few implications: morning prayer in the morning;  infants need an infant rite;  name giving should be real name giving;   a bath is a bath;  You don't stay for grace before meals unless you are staying for the meal; You aren't invited to a meal unless you are invited to eat and drink.  Prayers should be prayers; instructions should be instructions. Age quod agis.  Do what you are doing.  What is it you are trying to do? invite, pray, exhort, explain? Who is it you are talking to? People? God? [Don't give God theology lessons, especially poor ones.]

16. The principle of beauty. Beauty humanizes and elevates; ugly doesn't.  For example, wearing a vestment should make you look better, not worse!

17. A little bit of "nice" covers a multitude of "dumb".  [People will put up with a lot of things they don't agree with if they perceive the priest to be a kind, concerned, loving person.]

18. Ritual actions and functional actions. Do not ritualize functional elements.

19. You can use more than one sense at once. You can see, hear, and smell all at the same time.  For example, incensing the gospel during the singing. 

20. The principle of play.  "Play comes to mind as a key criterion of how things are going between men and women, because romance, friendship, and marriage all only round out to their best potential when the partners help one another play, expose new sides of themselves, energize their imaginations, and stand against the crippling seriousness that can afflict the worlds of work, church life, and education.  People only play well when they are relaxed, feel at home, and are buoyed by trust and love. Thus, there should be much play and laughter in the house of God, the Body of Christ, since that should be Christians' happy home. There should be teasing, flirting, challenging, picking up and twirling around between Christian men and women. (John Carmody, Toward A Male Spirituality, Mystic Conn: Twenty-third Publications, [no date], p 50.)

21. The principle of parties.  Good signs nourish faith. (BCL. Music in Catholic Worship, 6.)  If you go to a party and all goes well and you are having a good time, you want to stay.  When it's dull, you want to go home.

22. The principle of over planning.  If nothing can go wrong, perhaps nothing can go right.

23. The principle of progressive solemnity.  You don't use the best things all the time.

24.  Sacramenta propter homines.  God doesn't need sacraments, we do. 

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To Think About

The Principle of Active Participation:  Once, many years ago, under a different Pope and a different Curia, when we priests were struggling to accept the Spirit of Vatican II rather than struggling to forget it as we are now, I was giving a workshop on the (then "new") liturgy to the pastors of a (here unnamed) diocese -- no associate pastors allowed, only pastors.  The retreat began Sunday evening, and continued through the week.  Our first Eucharist together scheduled for Monday evening before supper.  I was to preside.  At the close of my 3:00 pm conference Monday, I suggested:  "Fathers, you all had 3 or 4 Masses yesterday.  You all were busy and occupied with preaching the Word and converting your flock.  Today for Mass, why not just 'rest and pray'.  There is no one here but us priests.  We all know one another.  There is no need to indicate who we are by vestments, etc. ...."    And one of the pastors who got what I was suggesting, spoke up and asked:  "You mean, just go to Mass like lay people?  Why it would be so boring!"   I was still a baby priest at the time and the ink had not yet dried on my STD, but the comment still influences my writing and teaching.

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 09/19/12 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at tomrichs@psci.net.