From Bishop Edward Slattery's interview with the National Catholic Register, published on October 28, 2011: Bishop Slattery on Prayer, the Mass and New Vocations.
You’ve made public statements about problems with the liturgy. What changes would you like to see?
I would like to see the liturgy become what Vatican II intended it to be. That’s not something that can happen overnight. The bishops who were the fathers of the council from the United States came home and made changes too quickly. They shouldn’t have viewed the old liturgy, what we call the Tridentine Mass or Missal of Pope John XXIII, as something that needed to be fixed. Nothing was broken. There was an attitude that we had to implement Vatican II in a way that radically affects the liturgy.
What we lost in a short period of time was continuity. The new liturgy should be clearly identifiable as the liturgy of the pre-Vatican II Church. Changes, like turning the altar around, were too sudden and too radical. There is nothing in the Vatican II documents that justifies such changes. We’ve always had Mass facing the people as well as Mass ad orientem [“to the east,” with priest and people facing the same direction]. However, Mass ad orientem was the norm. These changes did not come from Vatican II.
Also, it was not a wise decision to do away with Latin in the Mass. How that happened, I don’t know; but the fathers of the Council never intended us to drop Latin. They wanted us to hold on to it and, at the same time, to make room for the vernacular, primarily so that the people could understand the Scriptures.
You yourself have begun celebrating Mass ad orientem.
Yes, in our cathedral and a few parishes where the priests ask me to. Most of the time, I say Mass facing the people when I travel around the diocese or when I have a large number of priests concelebrating, because it works better that way.
A few priests have followed my example and celebrate ad orientem as well. I have not requested they change. I prefer to lead by example and let the priests think about it, pray about it, study it, and then look at their churches and see if it’s feasible to do.
And it’s positive when people are thinking about and talking about the liturgy.
When people make the liturgy part of their conversation, it is a good thing. As priests and laypeople discuss the liturgy, they’ll see how important it is and how it is a work of God and not our own.
But we must approach the liturgy on bended knee with tremendous humility, recognizing that it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to God. It is a gift. We worship God not by creating our own liturgies, but by receiving the liturgy as it comes to us from the Church. The liturgy should be formed and shaped by the Church itself to help people pray better. And we all pray better when we are disposed to receive what God has offered, rather than creating something of our own.
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