By Msgr. John Wynand Katende
While inaugurating Munyonyo Minor Basilica, the main celebrant, Robert Cardinal Sara, observed that noisy liturgy prevents God himself from speaking and worshipers from concentration and contemplation. The Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments specifically cautioned the congregation against clapping during Mass.
As the Catholic Church in Uganda goes through the season of the ordination of new priests, it might be a good opportunity to internalise the message of the cardinal, in line with the norms that govern Catholic liturgy. A priest is a mediatory agent between humans and God and authorised to perform the sacred rituals of a religion.
Catholic liturgy is essentially rooted in what the Bible calls the priesthood of Melchizedek. Genesis 14:18 describes Melchizedek as king of Salem and “priest of God.” To him, Abraham offered bread, wine, and a tithe and was blessed. Unlike the Leviticus and other kinds of the priesthood, the Melchizedek priesthood is classified as being heavenly.
The Melchizedek priesthood anticipated the New Testament priesthood of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 7:11 states that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” Catholic liturgy is, hence, not about what humans have to do for God, but about what God has already done for the salvation of humans. Catholics, in other words, offer back to God what God has already given.
Liturgical norms remind us that Catholic liturgy is not ours and it is never to be used as a form of self-expression. In the Mass, all is to the glory of God. The priest and congregation are no more than humble instruments, delighted to play their part. Therefore, their own tastes, spontaneity, creativity, preferences, personalities, and cultures, are of little importance, when it comes to the celebration of the Mass (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 1382).
The heart of Catholic liturgy is the people’s encounter with God, enabling them to lift up their hearts to Him. Liturgy forms the worshipers and not the other way round. The words of the Mass form the faith and prayer of worshipers. Ordained into the person of Christ the Head, the priest’s role is to offer the Mass as a service to the people. His choices are shaped by the instructions of the Church.
Defined as the source and summit of the Christian life, Catholic Mass makes present the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. Its beauty and reverence require a beautiful space, beautiful church, beautiful music, beautiful vestments, and beautiful vessels as well as spiritual preparedness or disposition by the worshipers.
Because Mass is not about us, it exists to draw our attention away from ourselves. The clapping of the hands, synonym to applause, is, hence, completely out of place. “Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment”, emphasised Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” page 198. People have actually often chosen to boo when they get displeased, by joining independent churches.
Dance as art that expresses human feelings, like joy, can turn into prayer which engages the whole being, soul, and body. If it is clearly distinct from the martial or affectionate dance that tends to reduce the sacred rite into a spectacle, religious ritualised dance can, likewise, be part of Catholic liturgy. Nevertheless, it calls for careful study and discernment.
Catholic liturgy is, similarly, characterised with moments of silence to enable worshipers interact with the divine: “Be still and know that I am God,” (Ps. 46:11).
The writer is a priest