If you have ever ventured into the online Catholic world, it will not take you long to come across opinions about how liturgy should be celebrated in the Roman Catholic Rite. A hot button topic since the close of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the debate has only intensified in recent years due to social media. 

Situated on one side of the aisle are those who may call themselves traditionalists, vouching for the Traditional Latin Mass or simply a more reverent form of worship. Their focus is on physical signs and actions in the mass that lift the mind and heart toward God. These signs which find their origin in the tradition of the Church may include more incense, ornate priestly vestments, head coverings for women, an increased use of the Latin language, and a priest that faces ad orientem (to the east). The focus of this style of worship is to use the good and beautiful to help us enter into the divine mystery of God. 

An opposing view (which really should not be opposing, but differing) on the other side of the aisle are those who may sympathize with the ‘Spirit of Vatican II.’ This is the dominant form of the mass that is celebrated in the Western Roman Rite today. With an emphasis communal worship, active participation, and lay involvement, this style of worship prefers to adopt the vernacular language in worship and has the priest faced ad populo (to the people). This style of worship is meant to be an expression of the people in which the congregation has a more accessible entry point into liturgical worship. 

While these are generalized expressions of both arguments, the above explanation allows us to see two valid approaches to worship: One where the externals and form of the liturgy raises our minds and hearts to God, and one where the worship is accessible and encourages lay involvement. Yet, the argument still rages on, not just online, but in the Church’s hierarchy down to the parish level. Is there an answer? I propose that if we apply the following, we may come upon various styles of liturgy, but be more unified in our worship of God.

First, do what the Second Vatican Council said. It is well documented that ‘in the Spirit of Vatican II’ many liberties were taken which resulted in many abuses within the liturgy. Consequently, the mass that we celebrate today often can be influenced by these liberties. Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and Laity should seriously examine whether the mass that they celebrate each day/week is what the council desired. If we have deviated, we must not be fearful of making the necessary changes. Unity depends upon it!

Second, we must not try to recapture something from the past. There is great temptation to look in the past and believe that things were better in a different time period. St. Augustine wrote about this in the 5th century reminding us all that all ages are equal in their problems, and that we must not bemoan our current state of affairs. God has given us this moment to know, love, and serve Him as our worship to Him. If He wanted us to be in the past, He would have placed us in that time period. With that being said, we can learn from the past and implement good ideas from the past. We are a faith that stands on the shoulders of our mothers and fathers in faith. Thus, worship of the here and now is an expression of modern ideas informed by tradition.

Finally and most importantly, liturgy needs to be from the heart of a Catholic community that desires to love the Father as Jesus did. The mass is the re-presenting of the sacrifice of Jesus out of love to His Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was obedient to the Father, even unto the point of death, death on a cross. The liturgy is how we enter into Jesus’ love of the Father, because due to our sinful nature, we cannot love the Father as we should. If we are not approaching the altar with the intention of receiving graces to trust and love our Father as Jesus did and still does, then our liturgy will suffer. If we approach the altar depending on the physical signs and actions to make us feel like our worship is correct, then our liturgy will suffer. The way that liturgy glorifies God is when Catholics receive Jesus in the Word and the sacraments, strive daily to die to self and love as Jesus did, and bring that offering to the liturgy as an offering to Him. God receives this offering, blesses it, and continues to give us His love in the Person of Jesus through the Word and the sacraments. Thus, a cyclical event occurs in which God is concerned with taking away our stony hearts and replacing them with a new Spirit and a heart of flesh. It is from this transformation that our liturgy should spring forth. 

When the Catholic faithful is fully concerned about giving selfless worship to the Father, the style of liturgy will take care of itself. In fact, we may see more forms of liturgy develop. A plurality of liturgy is only to be frowned upon when it no longer serves to unify us to the Father as Jesus is unified with His Father. So instead of pointing the finger across the aisle or on the internet, we must strive to allow Jesus’ self abandonment to change our own hearts. Once the hearts of the faithful are changed, bad blood about liturgy will fall away because our worship will be informed by Spirit and Truth.