The Second Vatican Council famously declared in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church that the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit, the “fount and apex,” of the Christian life (Lumen Gentium 11). There is no question that the sacred liturgy is of supreme importance in the life of the Church—and the life of the world. St. Pio of Pietrelcina said that it would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than without the Mass.
This past week, the fifth annual Sacred Liturgy Conference in southern Oregon focused for four days on the importance of the liturgy in the life of the Church and the world. Held July 12-15 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Medford, about 30 miles north of the California border, the conference was based around the theme “The Voice of the Bridegroom.”
In his letter of welcome, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland wrote that the theme “speaks of Christ’s call to come to his sacred liturgy to participate in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, to receive Christ, and to be transformed by the intimate bond of love in God and with our neighbor.” He also wrote that, as the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, “All evangelization and all the great works of the Church spring forth from this fountain of life.”
The conference featured talks by scholars from all over the country, workshops on Gregorian chant, communal praying of the Rosary, and several Masses celebrated by Archbishop Sample, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa, and Cardinal Raymond L. Burke.
Archbishop Sample, as ordinary of the hosting archdiocese as well as a speaker at the conference, said he was encouraged by what he saw in Medford.
“I’m really very pleased to see this tremendous turnout we’ve had for the conference this year,” he said. “It’s not my conference—it was organized by others. We’re hosting here in the Archdiocese of Portland, and there has been wonderful hospitality provided by Sacred Heart Parish here.”
The archbishop was also impressed by the attendees of the conference. “I’m just so amazed to see so many people that come here, and travel great distances,” he said. “People from all across the United States have come to Medford, Oregon, to take part. And there’s just such a joy among the people here.”
“I’m very pleased,” he added.
Also notable was the number of young people in attendance at the conference. This did not escape the notice of Archbishop Sample, Cardinal Burke, and others. It was noted and applauded at every turn, and the young people received great encouragement.
“I think this is one of the great signs of the working of the Holy Spirit in our time, this tremendous resurgence of interest among young people in the sacred liturgy,” Archbishop Sample said. “The sacred liturgy in general, but especially the sacred liturgy in its perhaps more traditional expressions.” This was not a conference just for devotees of the usus antiquior, however; the objective was to support and encourage proper understanding and practice of the sacred liturgy in all its forms and rites.
“This doesn’t need to be just the Extraordinary Form,” Archbishop Sample continued, “but also expressions of the Ordinary Form that are more in line with our tradition.” He observed that there were young people from grade school through high school and college in attendance (not to mention a few quite babies and young children). “That’s such a great sign of hope.”
“We need to pause,” he added, “and ask ourselves: what is it about a more traditional expression of the sacred liturgy that draws so many young people? I think that is a really important question for the Church to reflect on.”
Conference Masses were in both the Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form, with Cardinal Burke celebrating a Pontifical Solemn Mass at the Throne on one day; the gathering also included a Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form by Archbishop Sample and Masses celebrated in the Ordinary Form by Bishop Vasa and Archbishop Cordileone.
A talk on the conference’s second day focused on a rich liturgical tradition that few are even aware of: the Dominican Rite. Father Vincent Kelber, OP, pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Portland, gave a talk entitled “Crossing the Bridge of Continuity: The Place of the Dominican Rite in the History of the Liturgy.”
While ostensibly a local conference, there were attendees from such far-flung places as Michigan and Wisconsin, Ohio and New York, Louisiana and Connecticut, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
“I was particularly encouraged by the number of priests and seminarians in attendance from across the United States,” said Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre. “More than forty. And I was overjoyed to have Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Sample, Archbishop Cordileone, and Bishop Vasa with us.”
The conference was organized by Schola Cantus Angelorum and the Southern Oregon Sacred Liturgy Committee. Dr. Bissonnette-Pitre, MD, PhD, LGCHS, is co-founder and director of Schola Cantus Angelorum.
“The impetus for the Sacred Liturgy conferences it to promote the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Roman Catholic liturgy,” Dr. Bissonnette-Pitre said. “The liturgy is a gift from God to his Church for the right worship of him and as the efficacious path to holiness. It brings us to divine life in union with the Holy Trinity. Therefore, the liturgy should be beautiful and totally oriented toward God.”
One of the goals of these annual conferences, said Dr. Bissonnette-Pitre, is to help Catholics learn the profound depths of their rich liturgical heritage. Through a combination of lectures, workshops, and sung Gregorian liturgies, the conference organizers hope to help attendees more deeply embrace this heritage.
“When people experience the beauty of the sung liturgy and also hear the magisterial teaching on the liturgy through lectures, they become more aware of the contemplative nature and sanctifying power of the liturgy,” she said.
Why is there such an emphasis on chant in the liturgy here? “Every papal and conciliar document on sacred liturgy—including the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy—has affirmed Gregorian Chant as the great treasure of the Church and as the first choice and supreme model of sacred music,” she said. “The four conference liturgies are therefore sung Gregorian liturgies.”
For each year’s conference, Dr. Bissonnette-Pitre is responsible for constructing the overall theme and program. This includes selection of the faculty, assigning lecture topics, and designating the celebrants for the conference’s liturgies.
“I oversee the entire process of preparation and help the local committee with overview, vision, and necessary details. As director of the Schola Cantus Angelorum, I am responsible for the liturgical music for the conference Masses,” she said. She has also given at least one lecture at each conference.
One important recurring theme was showcased during Archbishop Sample’s talk. The archbishop recounted a conversation he had with Cardinal Burke the night before. During the course of their conversation, they discussed the recent resurgence in traditional forms of piety—especially in regard to the sacred liturgy—particularly among young people. They wondered just what it is about these traditional expressions of piety that are so appealing to young people today.
More pointedly, the cardinal observed that some seem unwilling to admit that there is something intrinsically beautiful and attractive in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. It doesn’t just have to be about nostalgia, he said; there is something inherently attractive in it.
This essentially summarizes one of the primary characteristics of this annual conference: the acknowledgment that the sacred liturgy is infinitely more than just a ritual that Catholics do, or an ancient tradition. This is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, offered anew by priests of Almighty God all over the world at all hours of the day. This is our salvation made manifest; this is Jesus Christ—body, blood, soul, and divinity, truly and substantially present. And there is something ineffable and inexpressibly profound about that. It draws us in. It beckons to us. And what have come to be recognized as more traditional forms of piety, and ancient rites of the liturgy, expressly emphasize this.
The conference has grown significantly in the few short years since its founding. “From the perspective of planning, logistics, and finance, the 2017 Sacred Liturgy Conference went particularly well, especially given its size (400+ registrants),” said Dr. Bissonnette-Pitre. “The local team of volunteers shouldered tremendous responsibilities in coordinating the various events at several venues, and carried them out admirably.”
“The faculty was excellent and the four Masses were stunningly beautiful and flawlessly celebrated.”
A conference on the sacred liturgy has the added benefit of functioning as more than just a conference: it can be a time of spiritual rejuvenation, and an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord. “For many participants, the conference functioned as a sort of spiritual retreat,” said Dr. Bissonnette-Pitre, “in addition to a forum for learning. It was a conversion experience for many who had never experienced the beauty of the Gregorian sung liturgy and also for many who did not know the teachings of the Church on sacred liturgy.”
“The conference has exceeded our expectations,” said Don Haverkamp, one of the conference organizers. “We have been working on planning for the conference for approximately 15 months, and it was a huge success.”
The fact that attendees ranged from all over the vocational life of the Church—laity, clergy, men and women in consecrated life—allowed for a variety of perspectives on the most profound experience of Catholic life, the sacred liturgy. “It was good to be together with so many people who now share common experiences with the sacred liturgy and a common vision of what the Church intends to do in its corporate prayer,” said Dr. Bissonnette-Pitre.
It was very deliberate that the conference included Mass every day. The sacred liturgy is the Church-at-prayer, it is leitourgia, the work of the people, in cooperation with the High Priest Jesus Christ, offering of themselves and himself for the sake of the whole world. It is not an abstraction or an intellectual exercise.
“The four conference Masses, in addition to being acts of divine worship of the highest order, serve to model for the participants both what is the teaching of the Magisterium in this regard, and what is possible even at the parish level,” said Dr. Bissonnette-Pitre.
“Gregorian chant, for example, is not the reserve of monasteries and convents. It’s not just for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It belongs to the entire Church—and not just to be used on only special occasions.”
Next year’s conference is scheduled for June 27-30, 2018, and is to be held in Salem, Oregon, the state’s capital, at St. Joseph Catholic Church. The theme for the conference as revealed on the penultimate day of this year’s conference: “Transfiguration in the Eucharist.” Archbishop Alexander Sample will be returning as a speaker, as will Father Gerard Saguto, FSSP, and Dr. Bissonnette-Pitre. New speakers will include Father Cassian Folsom, OSB; Msgr. Andrew R. Wadsworth; Msgr. Gerard O’Connor; Msgr. Richard Huneger; Magdalen Ross, JCL; and Father Gabriel Thomas Mosher, OP. Additionally, Msgr. John Cihak, a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland who has spent the last several years working in Rome as a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and as an assistant at papal liturgies, has been invited.
Next year’s conference will explore how the Eucharist is “the way to beholding Jesus in his glory,” according to conference organizers. Subjects of talks will include “The Exodus Led by Jesus”; “The Investiture of the Priest”; “The Eucharistic Parish”; “The Offering, the Sacrifice and Transfiguration”; “The Eucharist, Transfiguration and Divinization”; “A Canon Lawyer’s Perspective on the Liturgy”; “Sober Inebriation and Paschal Joy in the Liturgy”; “Iconography of the Transfiguration”; and many more.
Registration begins January 1, 2018, and is open to anyone.