Liturgical formation of the People of God in NZ

Fr Patrick Brady addresses the diocesan formation day.

Being an altar server at a Mass celebrated at Avondale College in Auckland during a Christian Family Movement gathering in 1964 was where liturgist Fr Patrick Brady first became aware of the liturgical renewal.  

The celebrant – Fr Ernie Simmons, a former editor of Zealandia – decided to celebrate the Mass facing the people, and the altar servers did not know where to stand.  

“As far as I can recall, we took our places on the side of Fr Simmons, to the side of the people,” Fr Brady, who is parish priest of Orakei, told people at an Auckland Diocesan Formation Day at Rosmini College on the North Shore on October 29 this year.  

“That was the first time that I had a sense that things were going to be different. I think there was a symbolism in that, in that we were being called to face in a new direction,” he said. 

Fr Brady’s address at the formation day was titled “Relearning a Forgotten Way of Doing Things: Our Place, and Our Role, in the Liturgical Renewal”. 

Fr Brady studied liturgy at Notre Dame university in the US in the 1980s, was later a member of the New Zealand Bishops Committee on the Liturgy, and was also on the National Liturgy Commission. For some years, he was director of liturgy in Auckland diocese. He has also been a parish priest for 30 years.   

He reflected on several key themes from Pope Francis’ recent apostolic letter Desiderio Desideravi (on the liturgical formation of the People of God). 

“Usually, when we talk about improving the liturgy,” Fr Brady said, “we tend to think about things like the music, how can we get better music, how can we get the people to sing better, the homily, shorter, longer, better, more interesting, what the priest should or shouldn’t do . . .everyone has got opinions about that.  

“Normally, when we look at improving the liturgy, we are looking outside of ourselves. But
Pope Francis is calling us to consider what goes on in our heads and in our hearts. This is a new approach. We really haven’t seen this before. It is a very significant change. It is not about needing to change the liturgy, although that may be part of it. It is about deepening our approach to the liturgy.” 

Fr Brady told the diocesan formation day that one of his teachers in liturgy, Mark Searle, used to say, “do we adapt the liturgy to the people, or do we adapt the people to the liturgy?” 

“We have tended,” Fr Brady said, “in the last 50 years, to look at adapting the liturgy to the people. What do the people want? How do we give it to them?” 

“But the other question is – how can we adapt ourselves for the liturgy? And that is really what this letter [from Pope Francis] is all about.”   

The Pope is drawing our attention to what lies at the heart of the liturgy . . . which is our encounter with Christ together, not just personally, but together.  


Fr Brady traced the history of the liturgical renewal, that is still very much alive, especially so with recent documents from Pope Francis, as well as its genesis in documents by previous popes, including Pius X. 

The Auckland priest noted commentary by theologian Romano Guardini, about Catholics in his time in the middle of the twentieth century being unable to relate to symbolic ritual. There was little sense among people in the pews that all of the liturgical acts had meaning. The liturgy was seen as something the priest did. (Although the consecration had significance for the people and they retained belief in the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ, but many did not take Communion.) 

But 60 years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and all the Mass changes, and all the involvement of people, Fr Brady said, people haven’t necessarily taken on board the fact that the ritual of the Mass has significance. 

“I remember hearing a priest saying some years ago, about something in the liturgy, it tends to be one of those ritual things, rather than something with a bit of meaning. It struck me so much at the time . . . that I wrote it down in my diary. 

“It shows to me something of the sense that people have not connected with the meaning of the liturgy.” 

But having a proper connection in this sense is “not simply a matter of knowing what to do or even what the liturgy means. It is about coming to realise that all the words and actions of the liturgy can become gateways to an encounter with God”. 

Pope Francis wants the liturgy to bring about in us a sense of wonder, Fr Brady said, wonder at God’s presence throughout the liturgy, not just in the Blessed Sacrament.  

And our words and actions at Mass not only express our faith, Fr Brady added. They actually shape it and deepen our faith. By doing the ritual, our faith becomes stronger. 

“By engaging with something over and over again, we are being shaped by it, and we are making our own the attitudes and values and the beliefs expressed in those symbolic words and actions. We become what we ritualise,” he said. 

“While we have been very strong in our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament,” he added, “it has taken time for us to be open to encounter Christ in the other parts of the liturgy.  

It will only happen if we behave towards the liturgy as if we believe it. So we suspend our disbelief . . .we allow ourselves to go into the liturgy and say what it says and do what it does, and gradually that shapes us, he said.  

As Pope Francis wrote in Desiderio Desideravi, “a human being is an incarnate spirit and therefore, as such, capable of symbolic action and of symbolic understanding”. (DD 28). 


Going through several points made in the apostolic letter, Fr Brady noted the Pope’s critiques of types of individualism which detract from the liturgy. 

For Pope Francis, the liturgy is the most effective antidote against this. 

“[It] frees us from the prison of self-referencing, nourished by one’s own reasoning, and one’s own feeling. The action of the celebration does not belong to the individual but to the Christ-Church, to the totality of the faithful, united in Christ. . .  

“The liturgy . . . takes us by the hand, together as an assembly, to lead us deep within the mystery that the Word and the sacramental signs reveal to us.“ (DD19). 

Fr Brady noted that the baptismal priesthood and the hierarchical priesthood enable members of the Church to offer Christ’s sacrifice with him.  

“His sacrifice is THE act of worship. The only true act of worship, the only true liturgy.” Fr Brady said, referencing DD 7 and 15. 

“All of us, priests and people, have the privilege of joining with that act of true worship. That is what it means to say that we share in the priesthood of Christ.” 

As Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic letter, “It is the Church, the Body of Christ, that is the celebrating subject, not just the priest”. (DD36) 

The best liturgy takes work, diligent dedication and discipline, Fr Brady said, adding that we all need to learn how to “do” liturgy, consciously speaking and acting as one.  

As Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic letter, “Everybody doing together the same gesture, everybody speaking together in one voice – this transmits to each individual the energy of the entire assembly. It is a uniformity that . . . educates individual believers to discover the authentic uniqueness of their personalities, not in individualistic attitudes, but in the awareness of being one body.” (DD51). 

Fr Brady later spelled out implications of this theology for topics such as Church design, liturgical music, and additions to the liturgy. 

We have so much to be gained within our faith community – [if we can help build] an openness to the full meaning and symbolic power of the liturgical rites, he noted. 

Addressing those at the diocesan formation day, he said “It is going to be your role to start to catechise the people, to change their way of looking at what they see and hearing what they hear”.  


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