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Pope's Response to Priests on the Liturgy

9/28/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"We Ourselves Must Interiorize the Structure, the Words"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 28, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the third of five answers that Benedict XVI gave to as many questions from priests of the Diocese of Albano during a meeting Aug. 31 at papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. The residence is located in the diocese.

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The Liturgy

Father Vittorio Petruzzi, parochial vicar in Aprilia:

Your Holiness, for the pastoral year that is about to begin, our diocese was asked by the bishop to pay special attention to the liturgy, in the theological dimension and in celebrative practices. The central theme for reflection at the residential weeks in which we shall be taking part in September is "The Planning and Implementation of the Proclamation in the Liturgical Year, in Sacraments and in Sacramentals."

As priests, we are called to celebrate a "serious, simple and beautiful liturgy," to use a beautiful formula contained in the document "Communicating the Gospel in a Changing World" by the Italian bishops. Holy Father, can you help us to understand how all this can be expressed in the "ars celebrandi"?

Benedict XVI:

"Ars celebrandi": here too I would say that there are different dimensions. The first dimension is that the "celebration" is prayer and a conversation with God: God with us and us with God. Thus, the first requirement for a good celebration is that the priest truly enter this colloquy.

In proclaiming the Word, he feels himself in conversation with God. He is a listener to the Word and a preacher of the Word, in the sense that he makes himself an instrument of the Lord and seeks to understand this Word of God which he must then transmit to the people. He is in a conversation with God because the texts of holy Mass are not theatrical scripts or anything like them, but prayers, thanks to which, together with the assembly, I speak to God.

It is important, therefore, to enter into this conversation. St. Benedict in his Rule tells the monks, speaking of the recitation of the Psalms, "Mens concordet voci." The "vox," words, precede our mind. This is not usually the case: One has to think first, then one's thought becomes words. But here, the words come first. The sacred Liturgy gives us the words; we must enter into these words, find a harmony with this reality that precedes us.

In addition, we must also learn to understand the structure of the liturgy and why it is laid out as it is. The liturgy developed in the course of two millenniums and even after the Reformation was not something worked out by simply a few liturgists. It has always remained a continuation of this ongoing growth of worship and proclamation.

Thus, to be well in tune, it is very important to understand this structure that developed over time and to enter with our "mens" into the "vox" of the Church. To the extent that we have interiorized this structure, comprehended this structure, assimilated the words of the liturgy, we can enter into this inner consonance and thus not only speak to God as individuals, but enter into the "we" of the Church, which is praying. And we thus transform our "I" in this way, by entering into the "we" of the Church, enriching and enlarging this "I," praying with the Church, with the words of the Church, truly being in conversation with God.

This is the first condition: We ourselves must interiorize the structure, the words of the liturgy, the Word of God. Thus, our celebration truly becomes a celebration "with" the Church: Our hearts are enlarged and we are not doing just anything but are "with" the Church, in conversation with God. It seems to me that people truly feel that we converse with God, with them, and that in this common prayer we attract others, in communion with the children of God we attract others; or if not, we are only doing something superficial.

Thus, the fundamental element of the true "ars celebrandi" is this consonance, this harmony between what we say with our lips and what we think with our heart. The "Sursum corda," which is a very ancient word of the liturgy, should come before the Preface, before the liturgy, as the "path" for our speaking and thinking. We must raise our heart to the Lord, not only as a ritual response but as an expression of what is happening in this heart that is uplifted, and also lifts up others.

In other words, the "ars celebrandi" is not intended as an invitation to some sort of theater or show, but to an interiority that makes itself felt and becomes acceptable and evident to the people taking part. Only if they see that this is not an exterior or spectacular "ars" -- we are not actors! -- but the expression of the journey of our heart that attracts their hearts too, will the liturgy become beautiful, will it become the communion with the Lord of all who are ...

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