Mass is what we Catholics do. It’s the center of our lives, because it’s the celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life. The sacrifice of the mass we offer is what we have to offer the world. There, modern men and women, lonely and lost in the cosmos, might encounter the deep, loving mystery that is the Triune God, and find their identity there as his daughters and sons, made in the image of God, transformed into the likeness of Christ.
And thus the liturgy matters very much for the new evangelization. If we want modern men and women to develop deep friendship with Jesus (remembering that Jesus is more Pantokrator Panta Tauta than Buddy Christ), our liturgy ought to reflect God’s beauty and be executed in fidelity to the Church’s norms.
Can you explain how the liturgy has become so important to you and how your appreciation of it developed?
I have always loved the holy Mass. This really began for me in earnest once I started serving Mass in the fourth grade. I just sensed that I was close to something very holy and not of this world. As a young person, I loved the ritual and solemnity of the Mass.
Unfortunately, I also grew up with much of the illicit experimentation with the liturgy, mostly in the 1970s. It left me, even as a young person, disturbed and unsettled. I could never have articulated it in theological or liturgical terms, but I just knew something was not right.
As I have grown older … I have come to rediscover the true dignity, beauty and meaning of the Mass. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, I have come to experience and appreciate the true “spirit of the liturgy.” It is, after all, the source and summit of the Christian life.
Can a Mass be a form of evangelization and transform the culture?
I am solidly convinced that an authentic and faithful renewal and reform of the sacred liturgy is not only part of the New Evangelization — it is essential to its fruitfulness. The liturgy has the power to form and transform the Catholic faithful. We must live by the axiom lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing). What we celebrate in the Mass expresses the essential content of the faith, and it also reinforces our faith when celebrated well and with fidelity.
The liturgy both teaches us and expresses what we believe. If we do not get the sacred liturgy right, I fear that we will just be spinning our wheels rather than getting the New Evangelization going in the right direction. If we are transformed by the sacred liturgy, then we, as believers, can help transform the culture.
How does one speak of beauty in a relativistic culture?
We have to acknowledge that beauty is not some abstract concept, but reflects to us the beauty, perfection and goodness of God, the Creator of all.
When we experience or create something truly beautiful, we can experience something of God himself. Especially in a relativistic culture, we would expect many to live by the idea “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But this would be to deny that there are any objective standards for what is truly beautiful. There are things that are capable of speaking to every human person if we will open ourselves to the experience of what is in itself beautiful.
When I see the sun rise over Lake Superior, no one has to tell me that it is beautiful. I feel the presence of God swelling up in my soul. The same is true when I hear a beautiful piece of sacred polyphony, such as a piece by Palestrina. God is reflected in the beauty of created things. We need beauty to help form the human person, the human soul.
What are your plans for the liturgy in the Archdiocese of Portland?
I have no formal plans. I first need to learn and experience what is happening in the liturgical life of the archdiocese. My ultimate goal, however, will be to see that the liturgy is celebrated with all due reverence, prayerfulness, beauty, sacredness and dignity, in faithfulness to the true spirit of the liturgy and according to the liturgical discipline given to us by Holy Mother Church.
Bishop Sample supports the EF, which tells you a lot, and keep in mind that Bishop Sample is Archbishop Elect of Portland, Oregon; he’ll take up his post there Tuesday, April 2. Oregon Catholic Publishing (OCP) will be in his domain. That probably means OCP will move in a certain direction, as it’s sought and received the imprimatur for its publications; as Rocco Palmo noted at the time of the appointment:
…the archdiocese is likewise the headquarters of Oregon Catholic Press, the provider of the liturgical and music books used in a plurality of the nation’s 19,000 parishes, all of which bear the imprimatur of Portland’s archbishop.
The OCP missalettes aren’t intrinsically bad; so often we’re tempted to say that OCP is bad and the Adoremus hymnal is good in a binary way, but I’ve found that there’s much good music in OCP’s stuff; it’s a matter of picking it and executing it well. They’ve even got a Latin chant mass in the back among the other settings.
That said, +Sample’s selection as archbishop of Portland might mean continuing renewal of liturgical music. Nothing is overnight, but one hopes at least the good moves OCP has been making over time will continue.