The following is a response to an article published in the National Catholic Reporter c. 03-01-2010
What a wonderful idea. Thank you. Maybe we can get some sense of what's important in talking about the Eucharistic liturgy. The lead sentence in the final paragraph of the 'liturgy wars' article is, "Can the factions that fought, sometimes bitterly, come together in the future in the kind of unity the liturgy begs?" It seems to me that the word 'unity' is a key in this dialogue. If we can all agree that there is no one 'right' way to celebrate the Eucharistic within the parameters that are set; that, in fact, 'unity' is desired--perhaps required--but 'uniformity' is not. Can we agree on the fundamental framework that constitutes a celebration of the Western Rite (read: Latin Rite) liturgy. After all, within the Roman Catholic Communion there are some 20 churches that do not use the Latin Rite at all.
What do we do, then, when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist: we gather; pray; hear readings from the Scriptures; listen to a homily (ordinarily); recite the Creed (a 10th century novelty); pray for ourselves and others; bring our offerings to the altar; pray a Great Thanksgiving prayer, including the 'institution narrative'; conclude with the prayer Jesus taught us to pray; exchange the Peace with one another; receive the Body and Blood of Jesus under both species or one; conclude with a prayer, a blessing and a dismissal. I think that that is what we usually do and are used to doing. The question is not so much 'what' we do, but 'how'.
In the museum that once was the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, there is a set of pontifical vestments made by the priest and lay inmates to be worn by the bishop who was imprisoned with them. A German Catholic priest friend of mine was imprisoned in a Soviet labor camp along with other priests and lay people. One can imagine how different their hurried and 'underground' celebrations of the Eucharist were from a typical Papal Mass in St. Peter's basilica in Rome.
In the pre-Tridentine Western Church there were as many different versions of the Western Rite as there were local communities to celebrate them. In the Counter-Reformational haste to reimpose order and control over what remained of the Western Church under papal control, almost all of those rites were suppressed and the Roman Rite almost universally imposed. Some religious orders (e.g., Dominican, Benedictine, etc.) and some local uses (e.g., the Ambrosian Rite in Milan) were exempted; but the exemptions were rare.