There is a misconception among some that those who desire an elevated experience of the sacred liturgy want to turn the clock back to the 1950s. This is not the case. My view is that we can achieve a more reverent, more beautiful and more prayerful experience of the liturgy just by applying the current universal norms and directives of the post-Vatican II church.

However, this may mean change and we know that change is difficult for many of us. It may also mean that we have to admit that we may have been doing some things incorrectly, perhaps for quite some years, and this takes good old-fashioned Christian humility.

Pope Francis recently said when addressing the plenary meeting of the Congregation for Divine Worship that “the liturgy is not ‘the field of do-it-yourself,’ but the epiphany of ecclesial communion.” One of the great characteristics of being Roman Catholic is that we follow the universal teaching of the church and conform in humble deference to its laws and norms — we are not lone rangers.

Being Catholic means that we adhere to a certain set of beliefs and teachings. We do not cherry-pick our favorite or most agreeable. We submit to the constant teaching of the church’s tradition as presented to us by the Apostolic See. This is no less true in the realm of the sacred liturgy. The Second Vatican Council teaches us that the liturgy “is the summit toward which all the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.”

The liturgy is fundamentally the work of Christ in his church and thus is too important not to be treated with the utmost reverence and respect.

On a related note, Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample recently issued his pastoral letter, “Sing to the Lord a New Song,” on the subject of sacred music in divine worship. Most bishops issue pastoral letters during their ministry to allow the clergy and faithful to see into the mind of the shepherd with regard to his views on a certain subject. This letter is not a juridical document imposing new laws for the archdiocese, but rather an overarching vision of the matter in hand. It contains some history of church teaching regarding sacred music but more importantly it lays out the basic principles which the church expects us to build upon with regard to music in the sacred liturgy. How these principles will be applied will differ from parish to parish and the time frame again will depend on the parish and the resources available to it. This pastoral letter is very much a teaching document which is meant to solicit serious conversation between pastors, musicians and the faithful. In my mind this pastoral letter is a remarkable document which will have long-reaching effects; I encourage you to read it.

In the next few months I will be traveling throughout the archdiocese giving presentations on the “Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook.” I hope that these talks will dispel any misconceptions that exist about the handbook and the liturgical practices desired by the church and promoted by the Office of Divine Worship in the Archdiocese of Portland. I encourage you to come along to one of the talks. They are interesting, informative and quite charmingly presented, even if I say so myself!

I love studying, teaching and presenting about the sacred liturgy and I am also happy to engage in any conversations about this topic. Therefore, I encourage you to download a copy of the ALH from our webpage —  archdpdx.org/divine-worship — spend some time reading it and let me know if you have questions or observations. I look forward to hearing from you at goconnor@archdpdx.org.

In the end, please know that our only goal is to bring each soul closer to Christ through the experience of the sacred liturgy as the church desires it. This is not about an office, an archbishop or an archdiocese but about our Risen Savior himself at work in his church. In the words of Pope Francis, our aim is essentially “that of spreading the splendor of the living mystery of the Lord, manifested in the liturgy.”

Msgr. O’Connor is director of the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Portland.