Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi from Leo McDowell on Vimeo.
I’m not sure how many Catholics today have heard the axiom, “lex orandi, lex credendi”.
Last year, for Catechetical Sunday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a document, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The Word of God in the Celebration of the Sacraments”. Near the beginning of the document they write:
Literally translated, it means “the law of prayer [is] the law of belief.” This axiom is an adaptation of words of Prosper of Aquitaine, a fifth-century Christian writer and a contemporary of St. Augustine. The original version of the phrase, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi (“that the law of praying establishes the law of believing”), highlighted the understanding that the Church’s teaching (lex credendi) is articulated and made manifest in the celebration of the liturgy and prayer (lex orandi).1 We understand this to mean that prayer and worship is the first articulation of the faith. The liturgy engages belief in a way that simply thinking about God or studying the faith does not naturally do. In other words, in an act of worship, the faithful are in dialogue with God and are engaged in an active and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and every individual member of the liturgical assembly is connected to one another as members of the mystical Body of Christ in the Holy Spirit, as they look together with hope for the salvation promised in the Kingdom of Heaven. Theology, christology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and eschatology are all expressed in word and deed, in sign and symbol, in liturgical acts.
Deacon Keith Fournier in an article written a few years ago for Catholic.org notes:
There is a Latin maxim that addresses the centrality of worship in the life, identity and mission of the Church; “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”. The phrase in Latin literally means the law of prayer ("the way we worship"), and the law of belief ("what we believe"). It is sometimes written as, "lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi", further deepening the implications of this truth - how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live. The law of prayer or worship is the law of life. Or, even more popularly rendered, as we worship, so will we live…and as we worship, so will we become!
Today, I would like to talk a little bit about Catholic worship in Catholic schools, the source of our rites and rituals, and how they affect our lives and the lives of the children we are called to educate.
One presumes that those who are called to teach in Catholic schools have an understanding and appreciation of the Catholic faith. I realize that not all of those who are teaching in Catholic schools are Catholic, nor are all of our students from Catholic families. Yet, one expects that within the context of a Catholic education, the truths of the Catholic faith will be presented.
As noted in the bishop’s article for Catechetical Sunday, the first and primary way our Catholic faith is passed on to our students is in the prayer experiences in which they participate. The first of these experiences should be the celebration of the Mass. For Catholics, the Mass should be the most intimate prayer experience in their lives. It is the time when Catholics are most connected with Christ as they receive him in communion. The bread and wine really and truly become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Those of us who are teaching in Catholic schools need to reaffirm this reality. I will speak more about the real presence this afternoon during my talk.
What about the other devotional prayers we celebrate as Catholics? Outside of Mass the most popular prayer for many Catholics is the Rosary. If we take time to understand the Rosary and meditations surrounding it, we reflect upon the life of Jesus from the annunciation of his birth to his sending of the Holy Spirit upon his people. We also celebrate the honor Christ bestows upon his Blessed Mother. The rosary is not so much a vainly repeated prayer, but meditative prayer that should lead us to deeper contemplation. If we as adults and teachers can come to the state of deeper meditation, our students can sense the peace that the prayer brings to our lives.
While most of us think of it as a Lenten prayer, the Stations of the Cross are meant to help us reflect upon the passion and death of Jesus. Part of the intent of the stations it to help us realize that we are sinners and that Christ’s suffering on the cross was meant to free us from ultimate consequences of our sin. While meditating on the stations we should realize the great gift we have been given in the Son of God.
All of these prayers bring us back to the maxim at the beginning: “lex orandi, lex credendi”, the way we pray shows what we believe.
We need to remember that parents who put their children in Catholic schools should expect an education that reflects a Catholic understanding of faith and morals. Parents should expect that the prayer experiences of their children will reflect “Catholic” prayer. By that I mean prayer that is in line with the expectations of the Church in union with Rome. There are a lot of good intentioned authors and liturgists out there who, in the Spirit of Vatican II, tried to guess what the official Church might allow in the liturgy. Many parishes even changed their postures, vessels and responses, thinking that the rest of the Church would soon follow. I have found that it is best to go back to official documents issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, or the Holy Father. These reflect what the Church teaches about liturgy. On the other hand, there are books out there, such as, “Yes We Are! The Body of Christ”. The author of the book proposes several liturgical theories that were never accepted by the Church, but developed a life of their own in many parishes. He speaks of changing rubrics. (Rubrics refer to the red text in sacramental books and are the directions that are to be followed when celebrating the sacraments.) The rubrics he has mentioned appear nowhere in the official liturgical books, but only in the minds of those who are running with the vision of the “Spirit of Vatican II”, not the teachings of the Church.
Having mentioned where the official texts come from, I’d like to talk for a few minutes about how they come about. The official prayer of the Church is always in Latin. It is then translated into the vernacular, or tongue of the people. Bishops conferences with a common language review the translation, make suggested changes and submit the translation to the Vatican for official recognition and permission to use the translation. As new versions of the Latin text come out, translations are reviewed, and in some cases completely revamped. Many of you may have heard about the upcoming changes in the English translation of the Mass which will take affect in about 14 months. I will not go into detail about this new translation today, only to make you aware of the fact that it will be coming out the First Sunday of Advent 2011.
The official prayers of the Church contain a wealth of theology and history. Many of the Latin versions of the prayers we use at Mass today date back to the third and fourth centuries. I just want to note here that some parts of the current English translation do not fully convey the theological nuances of the Latin prayers. There is a lot of work that has gone into the new translation of the texts from the Latin to maintain the important theological concepts that are present in the original. Changing words can have an effect on the truth meant to be presented in the a particular prayer.
The cases of changing the words in the liturgy has caused enough concern that when the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament issued its instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum we were reminded,
The Church herself has no power over those things which were established by Christ himself and which constitute an unchangeable part of the Liturgy. Indeed, if the bond were to be broken which the Sacraments have with Christ himself who instituted them, and with the events of the Church’s founding, it would not be beneficial to the faithful but rather would do them grave harm. For the Sacred Liturgy is quite intimately connected with principles of doctrine, so that the use of unapproved texts and rites necessarily leads either to the attenuation or to the disappearance of that necessary link between the lex orandi and the lex credendi.
And a bit later,
Christ’s faithful have the right that ecclesiastical authority should fully and efficaciously regulate the Sacred Liturgy lest it should ever seem to be “anyone’s private property, whether of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated”.
When we take it upon ourselves, either as priests or laity, to change the approved texts, we seem to be making it our “private property” which we are allowed to change it as we will, not as the Church wills. Perhaps it would be beneficial for some of us to go back to opening up our missalettes or other worship aids to remind us of the actual texts.
I am sure that no one here is intentionally changing the proper responses, but perhaps we’ve heard a response offered by someone else and, having heard it repeated over and over, we’ve inadvertently picked it up and are using it instead of the proper response in the liturgy.
And later in Redemptionis Sacramentum we hear,
The office “that belongs to Priests in particular in the celebration of the Eucharist” is a great one, “for it is their responsibility to preside at the Eucharist in persona Christi and to provide a witness to and a service of communion not only for the community directly taking part in the celebration, but also for the universal Church, which is always brought into play within the context of the Eucharist. It must be lamented that, especially in the years following the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, as a result of a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation, there have been a number of abuses which have been a source of suffering for many”.
In keeping with the solemn promises that they have made in the rite of Sacred Ordination and renewed each year in the Mass of the Chrism, let Priests celebrate “devoutly and faithfully the mysteries of Christ for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people, according to the tradition of the Church, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation”. They ought not to detract from the profound meaning of their own ministry by corrupting the liturgical celebration either through alteration or omission, or through arbitrary additions. For as St. Ambrose said, “It is not in herself . . . but in us that the Church is injured. Let us take care so that our own failure may not cause injury to the Church”. Let the Church of God not be injured, then, by Priests who have so solemnly dedicated themselves to the ministry. Indeed, under the Bishop’s authority let them faithfully seek to prevent others as well from committing this type of distortion.
I bring this out because, more than once and in various settings (parishes, schools, other Masses), I’ve been asked to comprise this principle in my celebrations of the Mass. This puts me, as the celebrant, in an awkward position as I have to tell people we can not do certain things. Sadly, other priests have not stood up for proper celebration of the Mass, or in some cases have even encouraged ignoring the rubrics. Lex orandi, lex credendi. If we feel we can change the most important prayer of Catholics, we show that we do not believe in the prayer as handed to us by the Church. Instead, we believe in our prayer, in which case we might as well be our own church and advertise ourselves as such.
In 2005, a document entitled, “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church” was released in preparation of a global synod of bishops to discuss the Eucharist. Deacon Fournier, in reference to this document, reminds us,
As mother and teacher, she [the Church] is continuing her mission of guiding the faithful into the fullness and beauty of true and pure worship, by giving clear instruction concerning the “Divine Liturgy” or “the Mass”, which is the summit of all Catholic worship.
Deacon Fournier also points out some of the negative press the document was receiving as it was released.
Some press reports focused on some elements of the document that grate against this relativistic age. They attempted in their reporting to make the document seem “mean” because it reaffirmed what the Catholic Church has taught for two thousand years. There are two particular examples that appeared in most of the critical reports. The first concerned the insistence that when anyone participating in the Eucharistic celebration goes forward to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, they must fully embrace all that the Catholic Church teaches. Yet, that is simply what it means to be in “full communion” with the “magisterium”, or teaching office. The second concerns the documents’ reaffirmation of the need for people to be free from serious or mortal sin before receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord. That is simply reminding the faithful of what has always been taught.
As Deacon Fournier points out, the teachings of the Church have not changed in these matters, but for many Catholics, our individual practices have changed, which has led us to believe something contrary to what the Church has taught. This is most clearly an example about how our practice of prayer is a reflection of what we believe. The number of people who go to confession has dropped significantly over the past 40 years. By not taking advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation, we have come to believe that many sins are acceptable. Lex orandi, lex credendi.
Praying with the mind of the Church helps us to become fully Catholic. How should we be responding to the issues that have been brought before us today?
The first step is to make an honest effort to come to understand the prayer of the Church. Again, we can only understand it if we are reading materials that are in union with the official teachings of the Church concerning our prayer. Earlier I quoted from Redemptionis Sacramentum. This document came about in response to many of the liturgical abuses that were taking place in the Church throughout the world. Some of the abuses have even made appearances in Montana.
A quick reading of this document will give us some insight about our own celebration and participation at Mass. I want to take a quick moment to highlight a couple of those I’ve seen in the past, but am sure have been corrected by now.
The pouring of the Blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery. Never to be used for containing the Blood of the Lord are flagons, bowls, or other vessels that are not fully in accord with the established norms.(If we believe this is truly Christ’s precious body and blood, do we not want to take the risk of spilling it?)
Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate.(The concern here is that many places have used easily breakable materials that are then discarded to the local landfill after they do break.)
The Priest, once he has returned to the altar after the distribution of Communion, standing at the altar or at the credence table, purifies the paten or ciborium over the chalice, then purifies the chalice in accordance with the prescriptions of the Missal and wipes the chalice with the purificator. Where a Deacon is present, he returns with the Priest to the altar and purifies the vessels. It is permissible, however, especially if there are several vessels to be purified, to leave them, covered as may be appropriate, on a corporal on the altar or on the credence table, and for them to be purified by the Priest or Deacon immediately after Mass once the people have been dismissed.(The sacred vessels are purified by the priest or deacon while he recites the provide prayer. The vessels may be more throughly washed after the purification takes place)
Another document, which is a little longer, is the General Instruction to the Roman Missal. Redemptionis Sacramentum was written to plug some of the loopholes people seemed to be looking for in the General Instruction.
It might also be good to go back and actually read the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council. Many people are surprised about what it actually says, and does not say. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “so and such was changed with Vatican II”, but when challenged to find the evidence in the actual documents they are surprised at the lack of evidence.
The second step is to pray for the grace of humility to accept what the Church teaches about her liturgy and prayer. It is sometimes our own pride that keeps us from praying as the Church intends. We think that in our 40 or 50 years of life, we know more than the 2000 year old Catholic Church. That does seem a bit presumptuous.
The third step is to truly pray in union with the Church. As we grow in humility, and pray with our whole heart as the Church desires, our beliefs align themselves with our prayer.
Back at the beginning I, via Deacon Fournier, mentioned that our life of prayer leads to our beliefs which lead to our way of living. Our life of prayer should have an impact on the way we live our lives. Humble obedience can lead us to humble service.
I’d like to bring this all back to the real reason we are here, which is the children we are called to teach. I mentioned earlier that parents who enroll their students in a Catholic school should expect that their children are receiving an education that will reflect Catholic faith and morals. Our own example of being faithful to the liturgy will lead our children to grow in that same respect for the prayer of the Church and the great graces we receive when we understand the beauty of true Catholic liturgy. By teaching our children to pray with the mind of the Church, we help them to believe in the mysteries of our faith. Our primary job as teachers in a Catholic school system is to pass on the Catholic faith.
I know that for some of you, what I have presented today about the relationship of our prayer and belief is difficult. There are some, Catholic and non-Catholic, who have difficulty believing fully what the Church teaches to be true. There are some here who will respond much like the Jews in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel as Jesus is telling them that unless they eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood they will have no life within them. They will murmur among themselves and turn away because the saying is hard. I ask you to trust Christ. We believe that Jesus can answer all prayers so pray for a spirit of wisdom and understanding and acceptance.
Our prayer life does shape what we believe and vis versa. Let’s try to make both our prayer and our beliefs correspond our faith.