Adoremus Continues 21 Year Tradition with a Renewed Spirit
Adoremus: the Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy reached the spirited age of 21 years on June 29. Formed by Father Jerry Pokorsky, Father Joseph Fessio, and Helen Hull Hitchcok in 1995, Adoremus has sought, as its mission statement says, “to rediscover and restore the beauty, the holiness, and the power of the Church’s rich liturgical tradition while remaining faithful to an organic, living process of renewal.”
Much has happened in the world, in the Church, and in her liturgy over the past 21 years. In 1995, Liturgiam Authenticam did not exist. The third edition of the Roman Missal was not realistically imagined. Joseph Ratzinger was “only” Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (back before he was better known as Pope Benedict XVI). Vocations to the priesthood were declining. Only 30 years had passed since the Second Vatican Council.
Today, we benefit from 27 years of a saintly pope, John Paul II. Joseph Ratzinger is better known as Pope Benedict XVI. The Third edition of the Roman Missal has been in use for five years and, thanks to new principles of liturgical translation, other ritual texts are in preparation. A young presbyterate— without recollection of the days prior to the Council (either good or bad)— desires orthodox, faithful, and pastorally-fruitful celebrations. Whether or not Adoremus’s success can be considered a bellwether of these blessings, it has undeniably reflected them in its work.
Still, despite the good fruits yielded by 21 years of labor, the Garden of God (Rev. 2:7) is not yet here. Other trends in the culture, in the Church, and in the liturgy need addressing in a new way, even if these issues themselves are not new. Regular participation in Mass continues to decline, as it does in other liturgical and sacramental rites. The sacrament of marriage is attacked, belittled, and misunderstood. Both pastors and the faithful remain to become “thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14) and are consequently not transformed in their earthly lives to the measure possible by the liturgy.
Today’s Adoremus will continue its initial mission, address the needs of current liturgical renewal, and promote a heavenly liturgy in the years to come.
Pope Benedict, in a homily during the 2005 Cologne World Youth Day, suggested that adoration implies coming “mouth to mouth” with God (ad-, to or toward, and oratio, from the Latin ora, a plural form of “mouth”). Because adoration is the principle goal of the liturgy—coming to intimacy and union with God, even “mouth to mouth” with him—it is likewise the overarching goal of Adoremus. How are we helping to bring about this encounter?
First, Adoremus helps the Church’s ministers manifest that luminous face of Christ in the Church’s liturgical rites. The rites-based approach to liturgical celebration and understanding allows a face-to-face encounter with Christ, for, as St. Leo the Great famously taught, “What was visible in our Savior has passed over into his sacraments.” Jesus seeks us and calls us to encounter him in the sacraments.
Such an approach to liturgical renewal does not ignore rubrics, history, pastoral application, or other important aspects of the liturgy, but continues to incorporate these elements into their proper context. A ritual celebration is a work of art, and the Holy Spirit is “artisan of ‘God’s masterpieces,’ the sacraments of the New Covenant” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1091). Ritual celebrations require an ars celebrandi (see Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis, for example), art and skill in executing. Preaching itself is a craft, an ars praedicandi, in which the Word of the Trinity is taken to heart and brings life to the faithful.
An authentic liturgical celebration radiates the face of Jesus, amplifying the “words of his mouth” (Psalm 78:1). Adoremus wishes to be nothing other than a mouthpiece of Christ and the Church’s liturgy.
And here follows Adoremus’ second emphasis moving forward. If the heart of the liturgy is the heart of the Redeemer—or, as Pope Benedict says in his reflection, if the liturgy seeks to confront the face and mouth of God—then true adoration calls our own hearts, faces, and mouths to turn toward him.
C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce gives a suitable analogy here. Lewis’s narrator imagines a bus ride to heaven, whose inhabitants are populated by “Solid People,” while the visitors are soft, unsubstantial phantoms. Even the light of heaven is described as solid. To abide happily in heaven, one must become acclimated through training—askesis, the tradition calls it—learning to see and hear and sense with supernatural perception.
Mystagogical catechesis helps us to sense the substance of sacramental signs by “proceeding from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the ‘sacraments’ to the ‘mystery’” (CCC 1075). Such training is initially a formation of the intellect, although ends by transforming the whole person.
A “liturgical spirituality” is a training of the heart to pray, a cor ad cor loquitor, as Blessed John Henry Newman says. St. John Paul II called for such training in 2003: “At the beginning of this millennium, may a ‘liturgical spirituality’ be developed that makes people conscious that Christ is the first ‘liturgist’ who never ceases to act in the Church and in the world through the Paschal Mystery continuously celebrated, and who associates the Church with himself, in praise of the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit” (Spiritus et Sponsa 16). God’s greatest act of love for humanity was opening his heart—for the Father and for us—on the cross: our great act of love joins our hearts to his, especially in the liturgy.
Another aspect of our liturgical training is mission, where the Church’s liturgy moves “into the streets” to transform the world. While union with God is the central dimension of liturgy, it is not the only one. Citing St. Irenaeus, Pope Benedict reminds us in The Spirit of the Liturgy that “The glory of God is the living man.” The Pope continues, “it is the very life of man, man himself as living righteously, that is the true worship of God, but life only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward God” (p.18). In Pope Francis’ words: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth [Ite!] from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium 20). Here the liturgy overflows into service, impelling us into the world in need of the light of Christ.
In short, our own liturgical formation includes our head’s knowledge, our heart’s love, and our hands’ service. Is this not what we were made for—knowing, loving, and serving God? Adoremus touches each of these liturgical dimensions, helping form the faithful into the full stature of heaven’s “Solid People,” eating “solid food” (see Hebrews 12:12-14), with “pleasing words in their mouths” (see Psalm 19:15).
Adoration is “mouth to mouth contact” with God, “a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately love.” Adoremus—by extension—engages this very encounter by fostering substantial and beautiful celebrations and forming participants to enter more fully into the mystery.
A twenty-first birthday is a milestone that looks not only to the past but ahead to a future of even greater things. May God bless our mission, and may his praise be always in our mouths.
Christopher Carstens is director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin; a visiting faculty member at the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois; editor of the Adoremus Bulletin; and one of the voices on The Liturgy Guys podcast. He is author of A Devotional Journey into the Mass and A Devotional Journey into the Easter Mystery (Sophia), as well as Principles of Sacred Liturgy: Forming a Sacramental Vision (Hillenbrand Books). He lives in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, with his wife and eight children.