Pastoral Letter on the Sacred Liturgy


1. The most important moment of the church is when she is at prayer. And the prayer of all prayers in our Holy Mother, the Church is the Eucharistic Celebration or Holy Mass. As I celebrate one year of my Episcopal ordination, I have been inspired by the Lord and Giver of Life to mark this first anniversary with my first pastoral letter entitled: “Directives on the Liturgy”. In line with my Coat of Arms, In Spiritu et Veritate, it is my conviction that once we worship God in the right way as the Church has ordered, then our efforts at evangelization will surely bear abundant fruits. In effect, my primordial concern here is to give directives on how we should celebrate the Eucharistic Liturgy as a diocesan family.

2. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop. The Code of Canon Law makes it abundantly clear that: “The bishops in the first place exercise the sanctifying function; they are the high priests, the principal dispensers of the mysteries of God, and the directors, promoters, and guardians of the entire liturgical life in the church entrusted to them”. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority. In effect, the bishop has been entrusted the responsibility to moderate, promote and guard the entire liturgical life of the diocesan Church. Furthermore, the new General Instructions on the Roman Missal (GIRM) states: “The Bishop should therefore be determined that the Priests, the Deacons, and the lay Christian faithful grasp ever more deeply the genuine significance of the rites and liturgical texts, and thereby be led to the active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist”

3. I sincerely thank all the priests and lay faithful who have been making enormous efforts to celebrate the Liturgy with the right disposition and in the mind of the church. It is true that with the coming of Third Edition of the General Instructions of the Roman Missal and its changes, many people are still struggling to understand and implement the changes thereof. Thus, it is important that we embark on a unified way of looking at these changes and put them into practice as a diocesan family in such a way that when we celebrate the Liturgy anywhere in the diocese, the universality of the Catholic Liturgy will always be kept intact and the threefold lex credendi, lex vivendi and lex orandi of our One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church might be fostered.

4. The Eucharist is at the heart of our Christian lives. As the GIRM states, “all the activities of the Christian life… are bound up with it, flow from it, and are ordered to it” . In the Mass, we are drawn into the paschal mystery, the saving death and resurrection of Christ, and we receive what we are called to become, the body of Christ. The Eucharist instructs and refreshes us, so that we might learn to offer our very selves, as faithful disciples of the One who gave himself that we might have life.[ Cf. GIRM nos. 28, 95. ]In recounting the events of the Last Supper, St. Paul tells us he is passing on to us what he himself received (1 Cor. 11:23-26) Similarly, this Third Edition of the Roman Missal is seeking to pass on the faith in its integrity, to pass on to next generations that which we have received. In the words of Pope St John Paul II, it is in the liturgy that we are transformed into “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Gods own people.” (1 Pt 2:9). We strive to ensure that “each community, gathering all its ‘members for the ‘breaking of bread,’ becomes the place where the mystery of the church is concretely ‘made present’.

5. Among all of the aggiornamento brought about by the Second Vatican Council, the most outstanding aspect was the reform and renewal of the liturgical life of the Church. The Council affirmed in the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy that “the public worship of the Church is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time, it is the font from which her power flows.” Thus construed, we recognize that Liturgy, the work of the people “is the outstanding means by which the- faithful can express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.”

6. Prominent in this Liturgical Renewal is the Constitution’s goal to promote and support “full conscious and active participation of the faithful in the liturgy ….. their right and duty by reason of their baptism.”. The Code of canon Law emphasizes this truth when it states that “liturgical actions are not private actions but celebrations of the Church itself which is the sacrament of unity, that is, a holy people gathered and ordered under the bishops.” Hence, “liturgical actions belong to the whole body of the Church and manifest and affect it; they touch its individual members in different ways, however, according to the diversity of orders, functions, and actual participation.” Therefore, every member of Christ’s lay faithful must see to it that they are fully involved in this worship which makes and identifies the Church.

7. The qualification of the participation of the faithful in the liturgy as Participatio actuosa (active participation) is very central here. This immense renewal of the liturgy of the Church can be done only when those who are primarily responsible for the parish liturgy are themselves persons “imbued with the spirit of the liturgy.” It is very common to see people attend Holy Mass as if they have been forced or dragged into it. This attitude does not enhance the purpose of the liturgy. “Full” participation brings us to the liturgy, body and soul, with all our might, heart and mind. This must begin from the Christian’s home where he does not consider attending Holy Mass as something is his/her “must do” list. “Full” participation requires that a baptized person does not mentally weave in and out of the liturgy. We must take note that our duty is not just to be present; our duty is to be fully present. The songs are for singing, the Scriptures for listening, the silence for reflecting, the intercessions for pleading, the Eucharistic Prayer for immense thanksgiving, the Communion for every kind of hunger and thirst satisfied in partaking together of the Body and Blood of Christ, and the dismissal for going out to love and serve the Lord and one another.

8. In addition, our participation is to be “conscious.” No one is a spectator when it comes to the liturgy. This is the only “drama” where everyone is an actor. We must enter the liturgy with an open heart to respond to the songs, follow the gestures and reflect in the silence. “Conscious” participation is opening every part of ourselves — body, mind and spirit — to what we do at the liturgy. We stand consciously and with attention. If we reach out our hands to the Body and Blood of Christ, we do so with grace, mindful of our hunger and the world’s hunger, and of God’s goodness. During one of his homilies at the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis reflected on praising God through prayer – an act, he said, that makes us fruitful. The Pontiff went on to say that at Mass, “we should pray ‘with our whole heart’ like David, who was so happy for the return of the Ark that “even his body prayed with that dance.”

9. The Third quality of our participation at the liturgy is “Active”. From the outset, we must not oppose “active” to “contemplation”. In the liturgy, we have a fine mixture of both. Part of the genius of the Roman Rite is that it presumes a beauty on which our spirits can feast. It is wrong to understand “active” as “busy”. “Active” participation also demands that we carry each other along during the liturgy. We come as individuals but whatever we do is as Church because “the mystery of our transfiguration in Christ is in the whole body of Baptized people transfigured”. In the light of the correct understanding our Catholic Liturgy, therefore, we shall make the conscious effort to follow the regulations that we put forth for the whole diocese of Mamfe.

The Introductory Rite
10. The GIRM (nos. 47-48) clearly states that the entrance “the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers”. And this could be taken “either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone.” However, “If there is no singing at the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself”. It is therefore, not accepted that after the entrance hymn, a Priest intones a number of songs (charismatic choruses) before starting the Mass. Likewise, if the entrance hymn has been taken, there is no need repeating the entrance antiphon.

The Liturgy of the Word
11. In line with the liturgical renewal and with specific reference to “Inculturation”, the church recognizes that the liturgy not only can but must build on what is suitable in the culture of a people. Furthermore, Pope Francis, speaking with regard to the theme of inculturation, remarks that “Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression” and that the face of the Church is “varied”. “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history”. Consequently, our local Church inserted the practice of “Lectionary Procession” just immediately after the Collect. For some time now, I have been reflecting and evaluating the nature of this procession. We sometimes experience a lot of agitation, noise, and distraction during the procession when announcers pave up and down the main isle. I use this opportunity to warn against an excessive “inculturation” that is destroying our liturgy. In order to secure the decorum that the Sacred Liturgy deserves I now make these regulations:

12. During the “Lectionary Procession”, the announcer does the announcement at the back of the church only and immediately the procession begins and when the Book of the Gospels or lectionary, as the case may be, has been handed to the main celebrant, the people bow and return to their seats quietly. There should be no more running around the church before the procession begins.

13. At the proclamation of the word of God, the assembly gives all its attention to the lector. The assembly is hearing God’s Word. You can tell that the main activity going on during these readings is good listening. This is not the time to flip through the Sunday Newsletter. When the Word of God is proclaimed and listened to, then the assembly can confidently affirm at the end when they say, “Thanks be to God”. Silence follows the first and second readings and again after the homily, lasting about a minute. This is to let that reading echo in your head, cling to a word or a phrase, savor it, and stand under it. Specifically, “the responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should, as a rule, be taken from the Lectionary.” And “Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm.” he Creed which follows the Homily is “the Symbolum or Profession of Faith”[ Ibid. no. 67.] If it is sung or recited, it must be solemn and not a period for dancing.

14. In line with the requirements of the GIRM, the offertory procession begins with the altar gifts (Bread and Wine Procession). During this procession, it is not demanded that the assembly should stand. Selected members of the assembly then bring the gifts of the assembly in procession to the presider who receives them in thanksgiving as the personal sacrificial offerings of the people of God. Thereafter, “other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, should be received”.

15. In the diocese of Mamfe, there shall be ordinarily two collections on Sundays and Holydays of Obligation, i.e. the General Offertory and the Special Offertory. The exceptions would be during Harvest Thanksgiving and Fund raising for particular projects. During Universal and Diocesan Collections (Vocations Collection, Catechists’ Collection, Mission Sunday, etc), all the collections on these days must declared as such. As a general rule, the duplicating and improvising of many “offertories” during the Sunday Liturgy should be shunned.

16. Singing during Offertory in some communities sometimes go out of hand. Liturgy calls for reverence. The beauty of its aesthetics, its signs of solemnity and choreography of ministries, its poetry and its silences, lift us in awe before the mystery of God. Yet, liturgy is to be festive. We do not choose between solemnity and festivity, between reverence and community. The vertical and the horizontal dimensions of liturgy must be held together to work for us. Vatican II emphasized the sanctity of sacred music in these terms: “Sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites.”

17. In this case songs (charismatic choruses) that do not have sound theological teaching should not be used during the liturgy. In the same vein, dance which is not reverential, catholic and Christian should not be entertained during the liturgy. Liturgy is not diversion or entertainment, and it is becoming normal that people enjoy themselves than praise God. After the offertory processions, we must come back to solemnity as we approach the Consecration, the heart of the Catholic Liturgy. At this time, songs must be taken preferably from the Cameroon Hymnal.

Liturgy of the Eucharist
18. In our local church, it is the practice that all kneel as from the end of the Sanctus to the Great Amen and after the Agnus Dei, except for serious health reasons

19. The songs that are sung during the communion procession should be fitting for movement and the moment. No one needs to carry a hymnal around. Ministers look each person in the eye and say, without rushing, “The Body of Christ”, Each person has time to respond, “Amen.” The ministers, also without hurrying, then place the Body of Christ in the hand or on the tongue. This Sunday’s single Communion song continues until the ministers and assembly sit down after all have taken Holy Communion. Communicants must avoid the aberration of dancing to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. As prescribed by the GIRM, when the distribution of Communion is finished, as circumstances suggest, the priest and faithful spend some time praying privately. If desired, a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may also be sung by the entire congregation.

20. Only Priest and Deacons are ordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. Installed Acolytes and perpetually professed religious are extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Therefore, it is not allowed in the Diocese of Mamfe for Seminarians or Temporary Professed Religious to distribute Holy communion without special faculty from the Diocesan Bishop. Only the Priest is allowed to bring or take the consecrated Hosts to the Tabernacle and during this time, no one should stand as they have just received Jesus themselves. Even Perpetually professed religious are not allowed to expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament in chapels without the expressed permission of the Bishop.

21. Announcements must be brief and straight to the point. Communities must desist from the custom of holding people hostage with elaborate and sometimes unnecessary explanations in the form of announcements.

Preparing not planning the Liturgy
22. The Parish Liturgical Commissions must see to it that the Liturgy is well prepared and not planned. It is important to note that the Catholic Liturgy has an outline, a plan already given to us by the Church. We prepare to celebrate the Mass. This is a subtle yet important distinction. In this way we shall not be tempted to alter or improvise at the liturgy. every well prepared Liturgy will be well celebrated and aberrations avoided. Priests should celebrate the Mass with reverence and follow the rubrics strictly without turning the Mass into some wild Pentecostal concert. They should wear the proper vestments according to the seasons and maintain their role as “alter Christus.”

Sacred silence
23. Sacred Silence must be observed in our churches prior to the celebration of Holy Mass to allow the clergy and the faithful to properly prepare and dispose themselves for the Sacred Mysteries to which they are about to participate. We must regain the great power of silence within the Holy Mass. Too often the impression has been given that properly celebrated liturgy must be filled with sounds: prayer, song, speech. The GIRM reminds us: “Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times…. Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence is observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.” Silence following the Mass is also encouraged for those who might want to remain in the church to pray.

24. Descent Dressing: When coming for the celebration of the Mass, Christians, especially the youth, must do their best to dress in a descent way and not wear things that will expose their bodies or cause distractions. They must remember at all times that what St. Paul says, “You are temples of the Holy Spirit”(1Cor.3:16).

Choirs and Compositions
25. The GIRM informs us of the importance that choirs have in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy and that they have a distinct role in fostering the active participation of the faithful by means of supporting the people’s singing While this does not eliminate pieces of Sacred Music restricted to just the choir, it is a reminder that choirs are not performing at Mass.

26. With regard to the New Translations of the New Roman Missal, composers and music directors are encouraged to compose new Ordinary Parts of the Mass (e.g. Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) in fidelity to the new texts. However, in the Diocese of Mamfe, the ordinaries of the Mass that were in use before the New rite was put in place can still be used at Mass as they were composed. It is neither musically sound nor liturgically ordered to have a confused and divided singing during the Liturgy when the choir will be struggling with, or “forcing” the new words into old melodies while the liturgical assembly is singing the traditional version.

27. Our most intimate and distinctive identity as Catholics is seen only when we celebrate the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass. We are the Eucharistic Church historically, and the Eucharist has been at the very heart and center of our beliefs and practices. It is my prayer and hope that the full celebration of the Eucharist at each Sunday Mass across the Diocese of Mamfe will inspire all of our Catholic people to understand ever more fully the precious gift that is ours in this mystery of faith. The full and proper celebration of the Eucharist becomes a powerful teacher for all of us, and the reverence, joy, participation, and silence of our celebrations deepens all of us in the life of Jesus Christ and brings us closer, everyday to be what we celebrate and receive. May Mary, the Mother of the Eucharistic Jesus help us in our endeavour to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of her son, “until He comes again”, in the glory of the Father, in unity of the Holy Spirit, One God forever and Ever!

28. Given at Mamfe, this Saturday, the 23rd of August 2014, The First anniversary of my Episcopate, Feast of St Rome of Lima

Andrew F. NKEA,
Bishop of Mamfe

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