09 March 2010

Clarity in the Use of Liturgical Terms

Fr. Z has added a good commentary to an article by Prof. William Mahrt in Sacred Music on how the terms we use make a difference in understanding liturgical language.  Here is a sample and you can finish reading the article here.
Words make a difference. Even though two words are identical in basic meaning, their connotations may suggest that one is much more appropriate than the other. When it comes to music and liturgy, the connotations of some commonly-used words point to a mistaken ecclesiology. [Bingo!] This was an issue in the discussions of Music in Catholic Worship and Sing to the Lord. The former document represented an anthropocentric view of the church and her liturgy, while the latter, while far from perfect, yet included a much more theocentric view. I would suggest that if musicians and liturgists would consistently use the more appropriate terms, a change in attitude might gradually be effected. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

Take, for example, two words: assembly and congregation. [Oooo… good one to tackle.] “Congregation” was used before the council, but has largely been replaced by “assembly.” Etymologically there are subtle differences. “Assembly” derives from ad + simul, a coming together, making similar. “Congregation” comes from con + grex (flock), a gathering together in a flock. Some would object to calling the people in church a flock, as in a flock of sheep, who are simply herded around without exercising their own independent judgment. [Then people would take exception to our Lord describing His people as a "flock" and as "sheep".] But I would suggest that the difference between the two terms is more functional: “assembly” implies bringing people together without distinction, being made similar; “congregation” implies being brought together under the guidance of a shepherd. That shepherd, as we know, is Christ, who is represented liturgically by the priest, who acts in persona Christi, who leads in the place of Christ himself.

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