Human-centered liturgy: making God the Great Absent One

His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on the degradation of liturgy after the Second Vatican Council:

Unfortunately, right after the Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Sacrosanctum Consilium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1963] was understood, not in terms of the fundamental primacy of adoration, of the Church humbly kneeling before the greatness of God, but rather as a book of formulas. . . . We have seen all sorts of “creative” liturgical planners who sought to find tricks to make the liturgy attractive, more communicative, by involving more and more people, but all the while forgetting that the liturgy is made for God. If you make God the Great Absent One, then all sorts of downward spirals are possible, from the most trivial to the most contemptible.

Benedict XVI often recalled that the liturgy is not supposed to be a work of personal creativity. If we make the liturgy for ourselves, it moves away from the divine; it becomes a ridiculous, vulgar, boring theatrical game. We end up with liturgies that resemble variety shows, an amusing Sunday party at which to relax together after a week of work and cares of all sorts. Once that happens, the faithful go back home, after the celebration of the Eucharist, without having encountered God personally or having heard Him in the inmost depths of their heart. What is missing is this silent, contemplative, face-to-face meeting with God that transforms us and restores our energies, which allows us to reveal Him to a world that is increasingly indifferent to spiritual questions. The heart of the eucharistic mystery is the celebration of the Passion and tragic death of Christ and of His Resurrection; if this mystery is submerged in long, noisy, elaborate ceremonies, we have to fear the worst. Some Masses are so hectic that they are no different from a county fair. We have to rediscover the fact that the essence of the liturgy will eternally be characterized by care in seeking God as His sons and daughters.

God or Nothing (2015)

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