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Thursday, December 8, 2016

What is official liturgy?

Liturgy often changes to meet the needs of the faithful, says Father Mark Francis. Nowhere is this more evident than during the Christmas season.

For many Catholics, the word liturgy brings to mind processionals with incense and a crucifix, Eucharistic prayers, or the Communion Rite. Vestments, incense, and music may be floating around in our mental pictures as well. But what about other kinds of faith practices? Eucharistic adoration or devotions to patron saints? The blessing of the animals on the feast of St. Francis or the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe? Are these celebrations also liturgical? Or are they merely popular reflections of our faith based on each parish's individual nationality and culture?

Viatorian Father Mark Francis says that it's not so easy to differentiate between the two. Even the liturgy we assume is universal and unchanging--like the Roman Rite that we follow each time we go to Mass--originated with popular practices during the Roman Empire. Liturgy, a Greek word, means "the work of the people"; it's the community coming together to celebrate the presence of God among us.

Catholics around the world may worship using the same rubrics, Francis says, but each culture and each congregation adapt the liturgy to reflect their own needs. "If you celebrate the Roman Rite exactly as it is written without being attentive to the people with whom you're celebrating," he says, "then you're not celebrating liturgy; you're celebrating archaeology."

There's no time that this diversity and the living nature of liturgy is more apparent than at Christmas. Las Posadas, Simbang Gabi, Advent wreaths, and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe are all examples of popular traditions that have been integrated into the liturgical celebrations of Advent and Christmas.

What's the difference between popular religion and official liturgy?
Popular religious custom is essentially that which is not considered official or mandatory. Sometimes these are folk customs, sometimes other rites. As the Roman Rite developed, the official rite became increasingly separated from the people. You had the priest located way up in the sanctuary doing his thing in Latin with other clerics up there. 

People went to Mass, but they couldn't follow it. They couldn't hear it; most of the prayers were said silently or very softly. All the clerical types up at the altar were doing all the actions. So what did people do, especially those who weren't literate? They came, they prayed the rosary, they did other kinds of devotions. Even today, if you go to Italy you can sit in Mass and someone will be walking up the aisle on her knees to a statue, and no one thinks anything of it.
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