Liturgy in Postmodernity

Interview With Dionisio Borobio

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SALAMANCA, Spain, JULY 1, 2003 ( Liturgical rites are necessary for us, but they are also «dangerous» when we use them badly, says an expert on liturgy.

In this interview with ZENIT, Dionisio Borobio discussed the meaning of the liturgy, its importance in celebrations, and the risk of ritualism. Borobio, author of the recent book «Culture, Faith, Sacrament,» published by the Center of Liturgical Pastoral Care of Barcelona, teaches liturgy and the sacraments at the Pontifical University of Salamanca.

His works on celebrations in the Church are part of the program of study of many seminaries and schools of theology, in Spain and elsewhere.

Q: How would you explain the liturgy to the faithful?

Borobio: I think that to explain the liturgy to the people one can start from the categories of «celebration,» «communion,» «festivity» making explicit, as the Catechism does, the elements it implies both from an anthropological as well as a liturgical point of view: «what» is celebrated, «who» celebrates, ‘how» one celebrates, «when» one celebrates, «where» one celebrates.

The celebration of the Christian community, which acknowledge in praise and thanksgiving that God continues to love and save us, is expressed in the Church through liturgical action.

Q: Has the meaning of celebration been lost in the liturgy?

Borobio: I think that, in general, the opposite can be said: After Vatican Council II much has been gained in the celebratory sense of the liturgy, understood as common action, as participation of the assembly, as a community celebration.

It is also true that we are always threatened by the dangers of ritualism, of a certain liberalism, of liturgical «folklorism.»

We are always uncertain about the ideal celebration. It is always necessary to improve the celebration.

Q: Is a debate still going on between liturgists and pastoralists on what is the priority — evangelization or the sacraments?

Borobio: It depends on what is understood by each of the terms of the question. But, in general, I think one can affirm that the debate which existed at other times, stemming from certain alternative approaches — evangelization or sacrament, catechesis or rite, worship or life, mass or elite — has, to a large extent, been surmounted.

All evangelization is sacramental, and all sacraments are also evangelizing. The real approach must not be an «alternative» but «conjunctive.»

Q: Many celebrations have no effect on the faithful. How can this situation be improved?

Borobio: No one has a «magic» solution in this respect. If we look at those responsible for the celebration, especially the priests, it must be said that we must «improve the offer»: the preparation, the celebratory frame of mind, the ability to communicate and adapt, etc.

Focusing on the participating faithful, we must improve the liturgical initiation, the participatory attitude, the capacity of interpretation of the symbols.

And if we look at the ritual mediations themselves — words and signs — we must add that it is also necessary to improve the liturgical language and to adapt the signs, to the degree possible.

Q: How much has postmodernity initiated in the liturgical realm?

Borobio: The answer would call for clarifying what is understood by postmodernity, as well as distinguishing between several contexts and situations. It can be affirmed that the postmodern mentality implies a certain lowering of ideals, an exaltation of freedom and individualism, a tendency toward «light» or diffused religiosity, a rejection of the institutional and normative.

All this leads to a «free religion,» toward a rejection of the established and classical rites and rhythms, which necessarily has repercussion on the appreciation and participation in the liturgical celebration itself.

Q: How can one avoid falling into ritualism in celebrations?

Borobio: It is evident that we are also «rite» and that we need rites. These are an essential part of the celebration.

The problem does not lie in the rites, but in what we men do to, and with, the rites, in the attitude with which we celebrate them, in the life we express and transmit through them — the mystery to which they refer, etc.

Rites are necessary for us, but they are also «dangerous» when we use them badly, when we invert their meaning, when we instrumentalize them.

And this can happen and, in fact, does happen both with priests and with the faithful. Only with faith, sincerity, truth, interpellation and commitment, which the ritual action implies, can ritualism be avoided.

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