Liturgy Institute London

For a detailed and peaceful study of Liturgy

The need for liturgical education


adapted from Ecclesia Orans 24 [2007] 3-6

The Need for Liturgical Education and Formation Today 

Ephrem Carr

Liturgy is not a theory, nor the tool of a particular ideology – old or new. Liturgy is not simply a field of studies nor even a theology. Liturgy is by its very nature an action, a “doing”. For the liturgy – celebrated – to achieve its full effect in the christian life of individuals and of the community as a whole, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council set down in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy the necessary but essentially simple means called-for. In regard to the people they specify: “it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper disposition, that their thoughts match their words, and that they cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain (cf. 2 Cor 6:1)”. And regarding the clergy they admonish: “pastors… must realize that when the liturgy is celebrated, more is required than the observance of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful can take part knowingly, actively and fruitfully” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 11, tr. Abbott – Gallagher, Guild Press, NY1966).

If we accept the fact that the liturgy actually “is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true christian spirit” – as declared in Sacrosanctum Concilium 14, that demands a real effort on the part of celebrants, other ministers, choirs, etc. to ensure that the liturgical rites express their visible and invisible “reality”. That presumes, of course, that the liturgy in its signs and symbols, in its actions, gestures and words express clearly the holy things they signify (cf. SC 21). That is the aim of the revised liturgical books. It demands, in turn, on the part of the christian people that they make a real effort to understand the sacramental signs and take full and active part in them as a community – ecclesia (cf. SC 21, 59). Liturgy in itself, in its fitting celebration, “contains much instruction for the faithful” (SC 33) if carried out according to the mind of the Council, but that alone is not sufficient.

To implement the ideal of the Council we need to follow its call for liturgical formation on all levels. Pastors of souls, teachers and all others engaged in pastoral ministry “must strive zealously” to promote and provide quality liturgical instruction “in all their pastoral work” (SC 14). Agood preparation and a proper “performance” of the rituality and prayers is only the beginning, or better, foundation for liturgical formation. That implies, however, a personal formation in the use of the revised rites, not just a mechanical execution of the rubrics and prayers.

The aspect of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that has been largely disregarded, and that from the beginning, is its insistence on the need for liturgical catechesis for the laity, for liturgical education for pastors and clergy in general, and for liturgical education and formation for seminarians and young religious. This desire of the council fathers has never been fully realized.

An adequate formation is fundamental for the faithful to take their part in the liturgical action actively, knowledgeably and fruitfully. The Constitution insists on preparatory liturgical catechesis: “Instruction which is explicitly liturgical should be imparted in a variety of ways; if necessary, in the rites themselves short explanations could be provided” (SC 35 § 3). In my home parish in the 60’s the liturgical changes were introduced with no preparation of the faithful. It is no wonder that the people were confused.

To realize formation of the faithful, first of all, the formation of the clergy in liturgy is absolutely necessary so they “become thoroughly penetrated with the spirit and power of the liturgy and become masters of it” (SC 14).

This in turn requires the preparation of professors of liturgy properly trained for their work in specialized institutes (cf. SC 15). Liturgy is to rank among the compulsory principal subjects in seminaries and theological faculties and other professors should clearly bring out the connection between their subjects and liturgy (cf. SC 16).

Unfortunately, often enough professors who teach liturgy do not have the needed specialized degree mandated by the council. In my experience of teaching in various seminaries and theological faculties, the “Sacred Liturgy” rarely has the position of material that is “potiora” or “principalis” in the curriculum. Can one course of only one semester in the three years of theology constitute a main subject that is very important? I have my doubts that this satisfies the role of liturgy foreseen by the Council and by the documents promulgated by the Congregations of the Papal Curia in regard to liturgy.

If we are to arrive at a true and authentic spirit of the liturgy (SC 37, 17), the call for a truly liturgical formation by way of catechesis and education as well as by participation must be better implemented at all levels. Their neglect has notably diminished the fruitful realization of liturgical reform. If there is a grave sin that has been committed against the Second Vatican Council, it is in this area.