Ecclesia Semper Reformanda
  • Ecclesia Semper Reformanda
    (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal)

    A Pastoral Letter on the Future of the Church in the
    Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa

    To the Priests, Deacons, Consecrated persons and
    all the Lay Faithful
    of the Diocese of Sioux City

    Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

    Greetings of peace and joy to you and all your families. By God’s providence we are privileged to live in northwest Iowa and practice
    our faith in the Diocese of Sioux City. I am honored to serve you as your Bishop.


    The primary purpose of all liturgy, and especially of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is the worship of God. We sometimes forget this.
    We go to Mass to worship God, simply because He deserves to be worshiped, and we, his creatures, ought to worship him. Too often
    we forget that God is transcendent and ineffable, incomprehensibly greater than we can imagine. He is infinite truth and goodness
    shining forth in radiant beauty. He has created us, keeps us in existence, and redeems us from our sins. In short, He is worthy of
    our worship. He comes to us at Mass as a Father through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. He makes Himself tangibly present
    to us in the assembly, the ordained ministers, and the proclaimed Word of God. He is also present most especially and immediately
    in the Eucharist, which has a perfect and infinite value before His eyes. He graciously comes to us, not only to be with us, but also to
    raise us up to Heaven, to the Heavenly liturgy, where we worship in union with all the angels and saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary and
    the eternal offering of Jesus Christ to the Father on our behalf. Thus we enter the heavenly sanctuary while still on earth, and
    worship God in the full manner that He laid out for us!

    When we worship God in this way, He sanctifies us, that is, He makes us holy. This is the second purpose of the Liturgy. We are
    made holy by Jesus when we participate in His divine Sonship, becoming adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We are changed,
    transformed from the inside out. This comes about through hearing and acting on His Word and by being strengthened and steadily
    sanctified by a worthy reception of Holy Communion. This in turn leads to a true communion of saints within the local and universal
    Church. Too often, the purposes of our participation in the liturgy, worship and sanctification, are passed over in a misplaced
    attempt to “create community,” rather than to receive it as a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s activity within us.

    Since, in the Church’s liturgy, we meet God in a unique way, how we worship – the external rites, gestures, vessels, music, indeed,
    the building itself – should reflect the grandeur of the Heavenly liturgy. Liturgy is mystical; it is our mysterious encounter with the
    transcendent God, who comes to sanctify us through the sacrifice of Christ made present in the Eucharist and received in Holy
    Communion. It should radiate Heavenly truth and goodness. This radiance, the splendor of truth, is called beauty. Our liturgy should
    radiate true beauty, reflecting the beauty of God Himself and what He does for us in Christ Jesus. It should lift up our soul—first
    through our intellect and will, but also through our senses and emotions—to adore God as we share already in Heaven’s eternal
    worship. In this vale of tears, the liturgy should be a lodestar, a transcending place of wonder and comfort in the midst of our day-
    to-day lives, a place of light and high beauty beyond the reach of worldly shadows.13 So many people only connect with the
    Church, and sometimes with prayer and God, through Sunday Mass. Should we not offer an experience of beauty and
    transcendence, compellingly different from our day-to-day lives? Should not every facet of our offering be proportionate to the
    divine reality?

    Many small details can make liturgy either beautiful or banal. In recent decades, in place of beauty and “noble simplicity,”14 our
    main principle for discerning and choosing the “little things” has tended toward utility, ease, and even cheapness. Joseph Cardinal
    Ratzinger, before his election as Bishop of Rome, wrote the following about Church music, that is easily applicable to all parts of the

    A Church which only makes use of “utility” music has fallen for what is, in fact, useless. She [the Church] too becomes ineffectual.
    For her mission is a far higher one. As the Old Testament speaks of the Temple, the Church is to be the place of “glory,” and as
    such, too, the place where mankind’s cry of distress is brought to the ear of God. The Church must not settle down with what is
    merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level; she must arouse the voice of the cosmos, and by glorifying the Creator,
    elicit the glory of the cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable and beloved…. The Church is to transform,
    improve, “humanize” the world - but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely
    allied to love? For together beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of
    the resurrection.15

    Pope John Paul the Great, addressing some bishops of the United States on October 9, 1998, recognized the same urgent spiritual
    To look back over what has been done in the field of liturgical renewal in the years since the Council is, first, to see many reasons
    for giving heartfelt thanks and praise to the Most Holy Trinity for the marvelous awareness which has developed among the faithful
    of their role and responsibility in this priestly work of Christ and his Church. It is also to realize that not all changes have always and
    everywhere been accompanied by the necessary explanation and catechesis; as a result, in some cases there has been a
    misunderstanding of the very nature of the liturgy, leading to abuses, polarization, and sometimes even grave scandal. ... The
    challenge now is to move beyond whatever misunderstandings there have been . . . by entering more deeply into the contemplative
    dimension of worship, which includes the sense of awe, reverence and adoration which are fundamental attitudes in our
    relationship with God.16

    It is imperative that we recover this wonder, awe, reverence and love for the liturgy and the Eucharist. To do this, we must feel and
    think with the whole Church in “reforming the reform” of the Second Vatican Council. We must accept and implement the current
    stream of magisterial liturgical documents coming from the Holy See: Liturgiam Authenticam (2001), the Third Typical Edition of the
    Roman Missal, and its new General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2002), Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2002),
    Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), Spiritus et Sponsa (2003), Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), Sacramentum Caritatis (2007), and
    Summorum Pontificum (2007).

    It seems that all is not well with the Liturgy, and the Church is trying to help us. The pendulum swings, the hermeneutic of
    discontinuity, and the divisions within our Church have been seen and felt in the Liturgy more than anywhere.

    The Church’s Magisterium, not our private opinions, is our authoritative guide in this ressourcement. The liturgy belongs to the
    entire Church, and in a special way to the faithful – not to a particular Diocese or parish, and certainly not to individual priests. I
    exhort everyone, especially our priests, to keep up with the Church. I expect them to read, study, and understand the above
    documents and their inner logic and place within the ongoing reform of the Church. It is vitally important that we offer resplendent
    worship to God alone, with understanding and excellence, obedient to the Church. My own liturgies at the Cathedral, though
    imperfect, are also meant to be exemplary for the whole Diocese. It is a grave error and a form of clericalism, whether by clergy or
    lay ministers, to change the liturgy, or even to choose ungenerously among legitimate options, to suit only our own preferences and
    opinions. This respect for the whole of Tradition is not simply for the sake of “rules and regulations”; this is not legalism, as some
    have said, but our love for Christ, so that from His Eucharist with all its preeminent beauty and sanctity, He can shine forth for all to
    see and love.

    The Council’s goal in reforming liturgy was, of course, to facilitate the “fully active and conscious participation”17 of all the faithful.
    We have made great strides in this area. In the same address to bishops cited above, the Holy Father said:

    Full participation certainly means that every member of the community has a part to play in the liturgy; and in this respect a great
    deal has been achieved in parishes and communities across your land. But full participation does not mean that everyone does
    everything, since this would lead to a clericalizing of the laity and a laicizing of the priesthood; and this was not what the Council
    had in mind. The liturgy, like the Church, is intended to be hierarchical and polyphonic, respecting the different roles assigned by
    Christ and allowing all the different voices to blend in one great hymn of praise.

    Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word,
    song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active
    participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not
    passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and
    music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture
    which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the
    liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural.

    Conscious participation calls for the entire community to be properly instructed in the mysteries of the liturgy, lest the experience
    of worship degenerate into a form of ritualism. But it does not mean a constant attempt within the liturgy itself to make the implicit
    explicit, since this often leads to a verbosity and informality which are alien to the Roman Rite and end by trivializing the act of
    worship. Nor does it mean the suppression of all subconscious experience, which is vital in a liturgy which thrives on symbols that
    speak to the subconscious just as they speak to the conscious. The use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasures of
    the liturgy to all who take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly
    adapted to the genius of the Roman Rite, should be wholly abandoned. If subconscious experience is ignored in worship, an
    affective and devotional vacuum is created and the liturgy can become not only too verbal but also too cerebral.18

    Full, active and conscious participation: we have made great strides in this over the years. But often this has happened in a
    superficial, partial way resulting from a narrow and truncated interpretation of these terms. It is time to dig deeper, “to put out into
    the deep,”19 into a new and authentic liturgical spirituality that is both old and new, active and contemplative, historical and
    mystical, Roman and Iowan, familiar and challenging. All of this also applies to our “fully active and conscious participation” in
    liturgy outside the Holy Mass, especially in Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Marian devotions, and the Liturgy
    of the Hours.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Thanks, Noel. Speechless. This is the most compelling and concrete explanation of all the things we are about on the 'reform of the reform' that I ever read. I am printing out and handing it out to everyone I know, including the priests I care the most and pray for.
  • This is the first statement that I recall seeing by a US Bishop that lays out what Benedict has been talking about.

    Make sure that your Bishop gets is a link to the site with the entire document:

    And the document:
  • Thanks for posting this. I would recommend people here also read Pope John Paul's 1998 ad limina letter to some US bishops. This letter is quoted extensively by the Bishop of Sioux City. It is also quoted in the USCCB's "Sing to the Lord" document. I remember reading this letter when it came out, and thinking 'this is just what we need,' but it got very little attention. Keep in mind this was directed specifically at US bishops.

    You can see the letter on the Vatican Website, here: 1998 Ad limina