Nestled in the lush Willamette Valley of western Oregon, the city of Salem was host to the sixth annual Sacred Liturgy Conference from June 27-30, 2018.
According to the conference’s website, the mission of the gathering remains the same as it was at its beginnings in 2013: “to educate and inspire the faithful about the life-changing realities of the holy Mass, to encourage dignity and beauty in the celebration of the sacred liturgy, and to promote the use of sacred music according to the mind of the Church.”
This mission is evident in the many talks and workshops given throughout the four days of the conference.
“The impetus for the Sacred Liturgy Conferences is to promote the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Roman Catholic liturgy,” Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, co-founder and director of Schola Cantus Angelorum, and one of the conference organizers, told me following last year’s meeting. “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 oriented toward God.”
Attendees from all over the country partook in the conference, the them of which was “Transfiguration in the Eucharist.” The conference featured workshops on Gregorian chant, the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the sacrament of Reconciliation, and talks by many notable guests, including Bishop Athanasius Schneider of the Archdiocese of Astana in Kazakhstan, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon, Father Cassian Folsom, OSB, of Norcia, Italy, and Msgr. John Cihak, a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland who is a former official of the Congregation for Bishops and Papal Master of Ceremonies under Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, among many more.
Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth was another of the conference speakers; he is executive director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, a position he has held since 2009. He was brought on board at ICEL essentially to oversee the final two years of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. He has supervised every translation project since that time, covering most of the books of the Roman Rite. The major work at the moment is ICEL’s contribution to the revised edition of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Msgr. Wadsworth feels that conferences and other events like this are important.
“The liturgy is central to the life of the Church,” he said, “and the more people know about the liturgy the more they can enter deeply into the mystery of Christ, which is made present to us in the celebration of the liturgy. Any conference, any initiative like this, that offers the possibility of us deepening our knowledge and faith in the liturgical celebration is of great value.”
The question of the vernacular in the liturgy remains one of great debate, even 50 years after the introduction of the missal of Blessed Paul VI.
“I think that the fundamental task of the liturgical translations in their use in the liturgy is to be able to communicate the content of meaning of the Latin original in our own languages,” said Msgr. Wadsworth, “so that we can understand to the greatest degree possible – considering the time, the sensibilities, the culture – the ideas that are expressed in these ancient prayers, many of which are really from the first millennium.”
“So the use of the vernacular, really, is, from my point of view, to enable the content of meaning of these texts to be more widely understood.”
Msgr. Wadsworth pointed out that the Second Vatican Council “made it clear that the use of Latin is to be retained, and that Catholic faithful are to know how to say and sing the major parts of the Mass in Latin.” This was in the first utterance of the Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. “That’s a precious part of our patrimony and a precious expression of the unity of the Catholic faith across barriers of language. That’s a common patrimony to all Catholics of the Latin Rite,” he said.
There has been a recovery of that tradition, particularly over the last 20 years, according to Msgr. Wadsworth. “It has been understood that this is something important, it mustn’t be lost, and that while using the vernacular, to be able to have the major parts of the Mass – which are easily understood, because they’re the parts which are common to every celebration of the Mass – to be able to say and sing those parts in Latin is something that we want to allow people to have,” he said.
Father Cassian Folsom, OSB, gave two lectures at the conference: “The Patristic Fathers on the Transfiguration” and “Post-Communion Prayers and the Transfiguration.” This was his first time attending this particular conference, and he feels that such gatherings are very important.
“It seems to me that the people who come need to be nourished and encouraged,” he said, “because when they go to their respective homes or parishes, oftentimes they find themselves quite isolated. Here they can be nourished by the input and encouraged by meeting other people and forming networks and making new friends, so I think it’s very important and very encouraging, as it shows a certain vitality that gives people a real boost.”
Father Folsom entered the monastery at St. Meinrad in Indiana in 1979. He was sent to Rome to study, and later was sent back to Rome to teach at the Dominican university there. During the 1990s, while teaching in Rome, he felt inspired to start a new monastic community, which was done in 1998 to serve the Benedictine University. In 2000, the Bishop of Spoleto-Norcia (in Italy) made an appeal for any monastery to make a foundation in Norcia at the birthplace of St. Benedict. There had been no monks there since 1810, as a result of the Napoleonic laws. The community has grown to 14 members from its initial three. Father Folsom was the prior until 2016, but he still lives in the community.
The Benedictine spiritual life gives Father Folsom an insight into how the liturgy can and should be part of our daily lives.
“I am reminded of the comment of martyrs in North Africa, who were arrested and put to death because they gathered together for Sunday Mass against the law,” he said. “They said Sine Dominico non possumus: Without the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day, we can’t exist. I think that’s what we need in terms of an attitude – not ‘Oh, I have to go,’ but ‘Without this, I cannot live,’ and you’re willing to die for that.”
That means that the laity deserve the fullness and beauty of the Church’s tradition when they go to Mass on Sunday, he said. “Unfortunately, in the last 50 years there’s been so much confusion that the faithful are often given scraps instead of a royal banquet.” In this way, it is understandable that people might see it as an obligation rather than a joy.
“I think that’s missing in the lives of most people. They’re not immersed, it’s something occasional, and not always beautiful. And so there are real challenges there.”
Bishop James D. Conley is the bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, where he has served since 2012. This year’s Sacred Liturgy Conference was the first he has attended, but he has a long history with Oregon and the Archdiocese of Portland, having worked in the vineyards for a summer while in seminary; his grandmother lived in a suburb of Portland for many years, as well. His friendship with Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland and Bishop Liam Cary of the Diocese of Baker, as well as conference organizer Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, encouraged him to make the journey for this year’s conference.
“I think that there is a great thirsting and hunger for beautiful liturgy,” said Bishop Conley, “especially among young people. People that grew up in the 80s and 90s are slowly discovering the great patrimony and heritage of the Church’s liturgical tradition, particularly sacred music.”
The sacrifice of the Mass was a part of each day’s schedule, with music provided by Schola Cantus Angelorum. “So we not only talked about music,” said Bishop Conley, “but we got to experience the music. I think all of these things are important because beauty in the New Evangelization takes the lead.”
Bishop Conley observed that of the three transcendentals (truth, beauty, goodness), truth and goodness may be compelling, but today they have been compromised in many ways by relativism and “a kind of hyper-sensitivity about ‘judging,’” so young people in particular may have a hard time understanding them and relating to them. “But beauty still has an appeal and attraction, and I think the beauty of the sacred liturgy, its rites and rituals, and its sacred music – the great treasures and patrimony we have – can be powerful and appealing to young hearts.”