Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, S.T.D. | From "The
History and the Future of the Roman Liturgy" | IgnatiusInsight.com
Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, S.T.D. | From Chapter 1 of
History and the Future of the Roman Liturgy
Since the Second Vatican Council, the liturgy has become the source of conflicting opinions.
This situation has given rise to disputes that continue to divide those who practice their faith. But what has created this
state of affairs? Author Denis Crouan shows how the decisions made by Vatican II that aimed at restoring the Roman rite were
presented poorly, applied incorrectly, and often not applied at all. In many places the Mass has been turned into a
permanent work-in-progress, in which the objectivity of the liturgy yields to the subjectivity of those who take part in it.
Where does the current unwillingness to apply the liturgical rules come from? Why have the directives of the last council
been ignored or circumvented? This book offers answers to the questions asked by Catholics who want to understand their
liturgy better, so as to put an end to deviant practices that threaten Church unity.
What is a liturgical rite?
On October 17, 1985, speaking to the members of the Congregation for Divine
Worship, Pope John Paul II said,
The liturgy! Everybody speaks about it, writes about it, and discusses
the subject. It has been commented on, it has been praised, and it has
been criticized. But who really knows the principles and norms by which
it is to be put into practice?
The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium referred to the liturgy
as the "source" and the "summit" of the Church's life (no. 10); what
is being done to make this sublime definition a reality?
Today everyone is interested in the liturgy: the number of studies that
appear each day is proof of that. But if so many works are being published
on the subject, is that not also a sign indicating that the present state
of the liturgy poses serious problems?
Cardinal Ratzinger ventured to speak of a "collapse of the liturgy": indeed,
we can say that the liturgy is in ruins or, if you prefer, in an advanced
state of dilapidation. It is enough to look at how, forty years after Vatican
II, the liturgy is celebrated in certain churches to admit that something
is not working: whereas the Church demands adherence to the official liturgical
books that were published following the Council, which logically should
lead to unity in the manner of celebrating the Eucharist, one discovers
that there are as many ways of carrying out the liturgical rites as there
are churches or celebrants. And it is enough to ask Catholics, "What is
the liturgy? What is a rite?" to see that the answers are multifarious,
sometimes incomplete, often contradictory.
We must therefore clarify things and reestablish true definitions for the
elements that make up the liturgy. Let us begin, then, by asking the question,
what is a rite?
A liturgical rite is a complex thing that is difficult to define in a few
words. Let us say that a rite is normally a compulsory form of official
worship rendered to God; this form is composed of elements that are harmoniously
interrelated, having arisen from customs that are at first accepted by a
specific community and then approved by the legitimate ecclesiastical authority
Let us examine this definition in detail:
A rite is a compulsory form of worship. By these words we should understand
that the form of the worship is obligatory for all believers, whatever their
office in the Church may be. All baptized persons must respect the form
of worship handed down by tradition and accepted by the Church-the Pope,
the bishops, the priests, the deacons, and the I ay faithful,
A rite is composed of elements that are harmoniously interrelated. The
different parts of the rite are not added one to the other in an arbitrary
fashion that is subjective or, perhaps, heterogeneous; they are grouped
according to a logic that is determined by a theology that is fully guaranteed
to be Catholic.
A rite is the product of customs that are accepted by a community. This
clearly indicates that a rite is not composed of elements that are invented
or imposed by one person or by a group of persons; rather, it arises from
customs that have gradually and automatically prevailed in a community,
the members of which are bound by the same Creed and therefore express their
identity in these practices.
A rite must be approved by the ecclesiastical authority. It is the prerogative
of the legitimate authority (the Holy See) to say whether the use of a particular
rite involves any danger, either for the faith of each of the individuals
who make up the community, or for the unity of the group itself. The authority,
therefore, is responsible for determining whether a particular liturgical
practice tends to lead to an ill-regulated religiosity
The legitimate authority, therefore, can play the role of a moderator, without
prejudice to the rite, to the extent that the authority itself is subject
to it; the authority has the prerogative of saying whether a particular
rite manifests certain shortcomings or whether some ritual practice may
not be in danger of leading the faithful toward a spirituality that is not
sound. If such is the case, it win be necessary to modify the rite or to
suppress the element within it that could cause the faithful to deviate
toward a too sentimental or too subjective belief, which, by that very fact,
is detached from the common Creed.
The four components of the Eucharistic liturgy
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council teaches
that every liturgical act is composed of two sorts of elements.
For the liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted
and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed
but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered
from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature
of the liturgy or have become less suitable (Sacrosanctum Concilium,
no. 21; hereafter this document is abbreviated SC).
This excerpt from the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium shows that
the liturgy has never been something that is hermetically sealed and immune
to all deviation; over the centuries it has in fact been possible to introduce
into it some elements that were ill suited to the intimate nature of the
Church's official worship.
In order to frame the issues properly, we must learn to distinguish between
the "unchangeable elements" of the liturgy and the "elements subject to
The unchangeable part of the liturgy or the "essential component":
In every liturgy there is an "essential component": without it, the liturgy
is no longer possible. For example, in the Mass, the "essential component"
the offering of bread and wine,
If one of these elements is missing, there is no celebration of the Eucharist;
there is nothing left but a simulation of the Mass.
The parts subject to change include
The "substantial" components:
Every liturgy includes a "substantial" part, which, in itself, is not necessary
for the Eucharistic liturgy but which is found in more or less developed
forms in all the Christian liturgies.
This part is made up of psalms (entrance antiphon, gradual or responsorial
psalm, Communion antiphon) as well as readings from Sacred Scripture (Old
Testament, Letters of the Apostles, Gospel). It also includes the use of
incense, the vestments, posture, and gestures of the officiating ministers,
the different prayers, and so forth.
The "modal" component:
This comprises the manner in which the "essential" and "substantial" components
take place or are supposed to be carried out.
The "modal" component depends to a great extent on the traditions of the
local churches. It determines the order of the ceremonies and thus allows
us to distinguish between large fan-lilies of rites (the Roman rite, the
Ambrosian rite, the rite of Lyons, the Maronite rite, the rite of Saint
John Chrysostom, etc.).
The "accessory" components:
Unlike the essential and substantial parts of the liturgy, the "accessory"
component is not codified: it does not immediately concern the beliefs of
the faithful and can therefore be left to the discretion of those who are
responsible for conducting the liturgy.
The "accessory" component is used to enhance the elements of the three other
components of the liturgy; it appeals to "good taste" and to "common sense"
and thus includes everything that appeals directly to the senses in order
to indicate the degree of solemnity of a celebration: candles, altar cloths,
flowers, lighting, etc. 
It is through the "accessory" component that a liturgy can be adapted to
the temperament and circumstances of different peoples, as the Council explains:
Even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity
in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community.
Rather does she respect and foster the qualities and talents of the
various races and nations. Anything in these peoples' way of life which
is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies
with sympathy, and, if possible, preserves intact. She sometimes even
admits such things into the liturgy itself, provided they harmonize
with its true and authentic spirit (SC 37).
Still, in order that the "accessory" may be introduced
into the liturgy and yield its fruits, care must be taken to fulfill two
that the "accessory" does not become something cumbersome or more
important than what is "essential", "substantial", or ,'modal", and that
it does not become, for example, an opportunity for entertaining the congregations
that have gathered in the first place to participate in the Church's liturgy
(recall the famous "collage" pastoral letter [of the French bishops],
which now clutters our sanctuaries with brightly colored posters and felt
banners that are supposed to testify to the so-called participation of
children in the liturgy).
that the "accessory" does not make us lose sight of the "noble simplicity"
that the rites should have (cf. SC 34).
Did Jesus "invent" a Christian liturgy?
Christian liturgies, whatever their forms may be, have their origin in
the words spoken by Christ on Holy Thursday: "Do this in memory of me."
We too often forget that without this commandment, which is disarming
in its simplicity, we would never have had a liturgy. Should these words
of Jesus be considered unique, original, "revolutionary"? Must we see
in them a regulation that obliges believers to depart from the religious
framework of the Jewish era in order to invent something entirely new?
Not at all. In the time of Christ, indeed, all of the Jewish laws had
become identified with liturgical regulations that Mary, Joseph, and then
Jesus himself observed faithfully.  Now, in his teaching and in his
conduct, Jesus always affirmed the necessity of observing the law "to
the letter", without changing a single iota. Christ simply wanted to fulfill,
to complete these commandments with a supreme law that summarized them
all: the law of love. That was the novelty.
Jesus would have had plenty of reasons and occasions to rail against all
the abuses, the exaggerations, and all the liturgical deviations of his
day. However he never did so: at no point do the Gospels present him to
us in the guise of a proponent of liturgical reform, much less of a new
liturgy. To the Apostles who ask him how to pray, he does not reply by
inventing a "new" prayer; he is content to take up again the main themes
of daily prayers and of the psalms, which he prefaces with the traditional
invocation "Our Father, who art in heaven".
Finally, when Jesus institutes what will become the heart of all Christian
liturgical prayer, the Eucharist, he makes the institution of his Paschal
Mystery coincide with the anniversary of the Passover of Moses, in order
to underscore the fact that the sacrament of the New Covenant is the prolongation
and fulfillment of the Old Covenant.
The Apostles are faithful to the liturgical heritage
The Apostles, too, following the example of Jesus, did not create a new
liturgy; in the Acts of the Apostles, we see them "day by day attending
the temple together and breaking bread in their homes" (Acts 2:46).
This conjunction of two loyaltiesfidelity to the Jewish liturgy
on the one hand, and fidelity to Jesus' commandment ("Do this in memory
of me") on the otherillustrates perfectly how compliance with a
commandment just received is registered within the continuity of a liturgical
prayer that is already venerable.
Over the course of the centuries this apostolic fidelity will find its
expansion and its fulfillment in all the Christian liturgies, always proceeding
by way of evolution and not by revolution.
The organization of the Christian liturgy and the progressive establishment
Judeo-Christian in its origin, the newborn liturgical prayer of the Church
will espouse cultural and therefore cultic forms of a more universal character
as it gains non-Jewish neophytes, without thereby denying its Semitic
and Old Testament origins.
At Jerusalem and then in Antioch, in Alexandria, in Rome, and later on
in Byzantium, the same evangelical teaching, the same apostolic succession
[filiation], and the same liturgical prayer unite all the Christian
communities of the Empire, both in the eastern part and in the western
Although circumstances require that it be celebrated, during three centuries
of persecution, in private dwellings or subterranean cemeteries, the unfolding
of the principal liturgical act (the "breaking of the bread") is appreciably
the same everywhere.
To the Eucharistic anaphora, which constitutes the "essential component"
of the liturgy (the offertory, narrative of the Last Supper, Consecration,
and Communion), other elements are gradually added: readings from the
Letters of the Apostles, excerpts from the Gospel, prayers of intercession,
processions, recitation of the Apostles' Creed and of the "Jesus prayer",
and prayers of thanksgiving, etc., which will form the "substantial component"
of the [particular] rite.
Liturgy and orthodoxy
In the fourth century, the end of the persecutions means for all of Christianity
a new springtime and a flourishing, which is both theological and liturgical.
But the five mother churches (the apostolic Patriarchates of Jerusalem,
Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome and, later, Constantinople) must now fight
together against the first great heresies in order to preserve the true
faith, or "orthodoxy". Reverence for the liturgy that has been handed
down is what will guarantee fidelity to the true faith.
Thus, during the entire first millennium, unity of faith will be maintained
along with unity of liturgical prayer.
Yet, even if the liturgical unity remains quite evident, it does not exclude
legitimate differences, principally in the exterior forms and expressions
Indeed, the different cultures in which these churches take root and develop
bring forth various cultic forms. So it is that in every liturgy the "accessory
components", which are closely bound up with the local cultural contexts
and associated with the "substantial components" of the worship as an
expression of Christian prayer, give rise to different rites.
It is very important to recall here, in connection with the rest of our
study, that the diversity of rites in the Church has never been the product
of division among Christians, nor of any sort of anarchy, nor of a refusal
to allow tradition to evolve; rather, it is the product of an "inculturation"
willed by Christ himself, so that his Church might be at the same time
"orthodox", faithful to her true beliefs and the true praise of God, 
and also "catholic", faithful to her universal mission. 
 Although we will place Gregorian chant in the modal part, since it
is characteristic of the Roman rite and makes it possible to unify the
essential and substantial parts of the liturgy, we will include the Latin
language, considered in itself, in the accessory part of the liturgy,
basing this decision on the teaching contained in the Preamble of the
Roman Missal (section 12): "The Second Vatican Council, like that of Trent,
examined in depth the didactic and pastoral nature of the liturgy. And
since there is no Catholic who would deny that the rite carried out in
the Latin language is legitimate and efficacious, it was able to concede
. . . . that the use of the living [vernacular] language can often be
very useful for the people, and it permitted its usage."
 Furthermore, it was in the area of liturgical observances, rather
than that of his teaching, that the enemies of Christ sought at first
to find fault with him.
 Cf. John Paul II, Letter Orientale Lumen ["Light of the East",
May 2, 1995].
 The present chapter is to a great extent inspired by a conference
given by Bishop Bernard Dupire at the Pro Liturgia Association,
79, rue du Général De Gaulle, 67560 Rosheim, France.
Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? |
Excerpt from The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy | Martin Mosebach
Music and Liturgy |
Excerpt from The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer |
Excerpt from The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
We Worship? | Preface to The Organic Development of the Liturgy
by Alcuin Reid, O.S.B. | by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer
| Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the
Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
The Mass of Vatican
II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
and Conversion | Barbara Morgan
The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, STL
Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
Denis Crouan holds a doctorate in theology. He is an organist, a
choirmaster, a specialist in Gregorian Chant and a professor of literature
and history. He is also the president of Pro Liturgia, an association dedicated
to promoting the true reform of the liturgy as intended by Vatican II. He
is the author of The
Liturgy Betrayed and
The Liturgy after Vatican II.
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