Liturgy is not meant to be about personal preferences or individual expressions of faith. Instead, says Father Bill Burke, director of the National Liturgy Office of the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops, it is about the meaning that is intrinsic and exists within it.
"Eucharist is not about our ideas, or about us, in that sense. It is about meaning, the meaning given to it by a young Jew named Jesus and his offering of himself in love to the Father.
"We are not called to create the meaning for ourselves all over again; we are called to enter into it."
Speaking to more than 300 participants at the Table of Hope Conference sponsored by the Diocese of Calgary's Diocesan Liturgy Commission held in Calgary Nov. 21, Burke said the individualism of our culture encourages people to want to insert personal expressions into the liturgy.
He especially sees that in family requests around planning the funeral liturgy.
There is a place for personal expression, but it is not during the funeral liturgy. It is not a celebration of the deceased's life, but an expression of the hope we as Christians have in the resurrection, he said.
"Through liturgy we are incorporated more fully into the life of the Trinity, which is a deep mystery. A Catholic funeral is celebrating the passing over into that mystery in its fullness. We are entrusting the deceased person to that mystery which reaffirms our own trust in the mystery."
While many people today have been cut off from the ritual treasury of the Church, for many reasons, Burke said they still cling to what was known.
"When tragedy strikes we see those spontaneous shrines created at the site. They always include candles, sometimes crosses, and, if a child is involved, teddy bears. People take what they remember, what comforts them in this individualistic society where they feel cut-off and use them again."
Burke said that we do not invent the meaning of the liturgy, we receive it, and it is protected by the rubrics that give both direction as to how the liturgy is to be celebrated and the parameters within which it is acceptable to celebrate.
Bernadette Gasslein, editor of Celebrate!, a Canadian liturgy magazine, and coordinator of liturgical life at St. Charles Parish in Edmonton, agreed.
"Liturgy is being engaged in the act of the love of Jesus to the Father, where he pours out himself to the Father in love, and in response to the Father's love," Gasslein said.
"We need to get a grip on the notion that what we do at liturgy does not begin with us." ...
Liturgy is structured and the structure and the texts have been received from the Church. It is set and has a purpose and meaning that needs to be entered into, not tampered with or changed.
It has a "given-ness" to it and is oriented towards praise of God and intercession for the world. It is ritually structured with gestures, repetition, engagement of the senses through body movement, for example, kneeling, standing and is replete with symbols....
Liturgical prayer has a shape that is significant and is repetitive and familiar. Gasslein likened changing liturgy to changing the rules each time the team comes out to play the game.
She said you would no longer be able to function as a team if that happened. Personal prayer may or may not have shape, though a prayer like the rosary does have shape. Overall, it is more adventuresome and can be new each time.
Liturgical prayer relies on the familiarity with the beauty, the text and the song and symbols as an agent to draw us into the divine, where we enter into the incarnated sphere of Jesus present with us. It is, by its nature, always communal while personal prayer can occur alone
I don't like the overemphasis on the minor matter of shared posture at all moments, but all in all, good stuff.