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Day 24: Spirit of the Liturgy

Maghnus Monaghan studied for a Certificate in Catechesis at the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. Last May he completed a Masters in Liturgical Music at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He currently works as organist and director of music at St. Agnes’ Church, Crumlin, Dublin.

I began my studies in university in Music and Mathematics during which time my interest in theology developed. So, after completing my undergraduate degree, I started a part-time degree in Applied Theology. Initially I saw myself as the up and coming Chesterton but quickly realised that in terms of careers there weren’t too many full-time positions in apologetics. I thought about how I might marry my musical skills with my interest in theology and realised that liturgical music was the way to go. It was during my Masters in Liturgical Music that Benedict XVI came to the fore in my studies.

In terms of public perception, Benedict would not have gained a reputation as a liturgical guru; but then again what average punter would be able to name any liturgist? Perhaps his most notable liturgical change was with the new English translation of the Roman Missal, while this was in the pipeline well before he became pope he will surely be remembered for it.

Liturgical theology does not have the luxury of dogma which systematic theology enjoys-on the surface at least. While our liturgy has a very long tradition and some very specific rubrics, it has by no means been consistent from the time of Christ. Because of this people often believe, that in liturgy, anything goes. This of course is not the case. Why then, can we not liturgical limbo dance for God? The answer is not a simple one. While limbo dancing is in most, if not all cases, irreverent, the liturgy functions as the public prayer of the Church and does and should help the faithful to express their faith. The answer to all the question about “dos” and “don’ts” in liturgy are not determined by liturgical rules but by liturgical spirit.

Spirit of the LiturgyCardinal Ratizinger’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy is an exploration of what liturgy should look like, and what it should be focused on. Ultimately and predictably it should point to Christ and as a corollary it should not point inwardly, towards the celebrating assembly. Benedict’s theology of liturgy was represented during his papacy both in his publication of the new translation of the Roman Missal and through liturgical norms which he adopted like the placing of a crucifix in the centre of the altar while celebrating the mass. The former intended not to trick us into saying “And also…with your spirit” but to remind us through the language we use that what we are doing is distinct from everyday life, the latter to deflect the personality of the priest toward the person of Christ.

Benedict’s theology of liturgy (which is not entirely his own) has transformed my approach to liturgical music from playing and singing what the congregation want and like to what the congregation need to participate effectively; which as Benedict would agree, is more an act of the heart and mind than the body.

The crux of Benedict’s underlying thoughts on liturgy are found in the 19th century Benedictine abbot Prosper Guéranger who firmly believed that liturgy done well and in a particular way would secure a Christian identity and lead to renewal in the Church. Developing this idea Benedict says: “unless man’s relationship with God is in order his relationship with the rest of man will not be in order.” Liturgy exists to communicate the vision of God which shows us how to live righteously. For me, this gives the work I do huge meaning. What I am doing directly is singing and playing the organ but indirectly I am contributing a vision of God which tells us how to live our lives.


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