The Church is made visible in many ways: in its charitable work, in mission projects, in the personal apostolate that every Christian must realize in his or her own environment. But the place where it is fully experienced as a Church is in the liturgy: it is the act in which we believe that God enters into our reality and we can meet Him, we can touch Him. It is the act in which we come into contact with God, He comes to us, and we are enlightened by Him. (Pope Benedict XVI)
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Pope Benedict XVI is one of the great liturgists of our age. His seminal book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, written when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, is required reading in most seminaries and should be read by every Catholic. Last October the Pope gave a series of instructions on the Liturgy. On October 3, 2012, he reminded the pilgrims in St Peters square:
"It is not the individual - priest or layman - or the group that celebrates the liturgy, but it is primarily God's action through the Church, which has its own history, its rich tradition and creativity. This universality and fundamental openness, which is characteristic of the entire liturgy is one of the reasons why it cannot be created or amended by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the universal Church."
"Dear friends, the Church is made visible in many ways: in its charitable work, in mission projects, in the personal apostolate that every Christian must realize in his or her own environment. But the place where it is fully experienced as a Church is in the liturgy: it is the act in which we believe that God enters into our reality and we can meet Him, we can touch Him. It is the act in which we come into contact with God, He comes to us, and we are enlightened by Him."
"So when in the reflections on the liturgy we concentrate all our attention on how to make it attractive, interesting and beautiful, we risk forgetting the essential: the liturgy is celebrated for God and not for ourselves, it is His work, He is the subject, and we must open ourselves to Him and be guided by Him and His Body which is the Church."
The older I get the more I appreciate the profound gift and mystery that is the Eucharistic Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As a Deacon of the Catholic Church, I understand the immense amount of time and catechesis spent in preparing the faithful for the implementation of the Revisions to the Roman Missal last year. It has borne such good fruit. As one who has spent years studying Catholic theology, I welcomed the revisions and I saw them as a kind but motherly act by the Church to set the ship on a straight course and raise the water level of all Catholic worship. The faithful deserve it.
For too long some priests took it upon themselves to "wing it" with the canon and the liturgical prayers of the Holy Mass. The Holy Mass does not belong to the celebrating priest; it belongs to Christ the High Priest in whom he stands. I know that some priests meant well in their efforts. I am not opposed to spontaneity in its proper form and proper place. Just not in the canon of the Sacred Liturgy, the Holy Mass. The faithful have a Right to receive the Liturgy as Holy Mother Church has preserved it under the continual inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
As a revert to the Catholic Church who was drawn home to the fullness of Christianity found within the Catholic Church - including the beauty of the Liturgy - I deeply appreciate serving at the Altar as a Deacon. I also respect the holy priesthood. However, I must be honest; the notion that innovation equaled some kind of "anointing" was way too prevalent among some priests.
This past week I was pleased to read two reports, one from Rome and the other from New York. One concerned a cardinal and the other a deacon. The first was written by H. Sergio Mora of the Zenit News Agency and entitled "Vatican Preparing a Manual to Help Priests Celebrate Mass: Prefect Warns Against Making Liturgy Into a 'Show'. The Prefect for the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, Cardinal Antonio Cańizares explains the booklet and the purpose. It is encouraging and bodes well for the continued movement toward recovering the full beauty that is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The second was written by one of my favorite Catholic Bloggers, Deacon Greg Kendra. It was entitled Communion Rails: Restoring a Sense of the Sacred. Communion Rails: Restoring a Sense of the Sacred It asked the question "Would a change of posture at Holy Communion help to sharpen our perspective, as well?" It is well worth reading. Both articles reflect the growing - and much needed - attention and reflection which is being given to the Liturgy.
There is a Latin maxim that addresses the centrality of worship in the life, identity and mission of the Church; "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi". The phrase in Latin literally means the law of prayer ("the way we worship"), and the law of belief ("what we believe"). It is sometimes written as, "lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi", further deepening the implications of this truth. How we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live. Worship is the heart of the Christian vocation. The highest form of Worship is the Divine Liturgy.
The Catholic Church has long understood that part of her role as mother and teacher is to watch over worship, for the sake of the faithful and in obedience to the God whom she serves. How we worship not only reveals and guards what we believe but guides us in how we live our Christian faith and fulfill our Christian mission in the world. Liturgical Worship is not an "add on" for a Catholic Christian. It is the foundation of Catholic identity; expressing our highest purpose. Worship reveals what we truly believe and how we view ourselves in relationship to God, one another and the world into which we are sent to carry forward the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.
How the Church worships is a prophetic witness to the truth of what she professes. Good worship becomes a dynamic means of drawing the entire human community into the fullness of life in Jesus Christ. It attracts - through beauty to Beauty. Worship informs and transforms both the person and the faith community which participates in it. There is a reciprocity between worship and life.
I have spent decades in ecumenical work. Perhaps that explains why I find it odd that right when so many of our Christian friends in other confessions and communities are searching for a deeper encounter with the beauty of the Lord in formal liturgical worship, many Catholics so easily succumbed to novelties.Our fellow Christians everywhere are hungering for sign, symbol and mystery in worship. As many Children of the Protestant Reformation are considering the safe harbor of the Catholic Church in order to experience a connection with the ancient Church, too many Catholics have lost their sense of what it really means to be a Catholic Christian.
As many Christians in communities of the Protestant reformation are suffering from the sad loss of what CS Lewis called "Mere Christianity", too many Catholics have no idea of the treasure they have in the ancient but ever new faith. As our Christian brethren are experiencing the barrenness of their own worship, many in our Catholic Church are discarding the very treasures that make her formal liturgical worship so beautiful, full of mystery and so compelling and attractive to those seeking a deeper experience of worship and Christian life.
Sadly, what for some may have begun as a sincere effort to simplify the Liturgy in the Catholic Church too often devolved into a form of liturgical minimalism. The liturgical minimalism I speak of begins when you entered what was often called the worship space of some contemporary church buildings. There are few symbols of the ancient yet ever new Catholic faith anywhere. There are few icons or images reflecting heaven touching earth, drawing the worshipper into a transcendent encounter with the God who we receive in the Most Holy Eucharist and in whom we are invited to live and move and have our being.
I am not a traditionalist Catholic, although I understand and respect those who are. I am just a Christian who chooses to live my faith in its fullness, as a Catholic. I love the Tradition, with a capital T. I am a revert, I returned to the Church as a young man. I was drawn back to that fullness of Christianity that is dynamic, orthodox, faithful Catholic life and practice. I have respect for my brethren who are Protestants in each of their various confessions and communities. However, I am not one, by choice. I do not want a Protestant looking church building or a stripped down Catholicism whose worship seems more protestant than Catholic. I do not want barren liturgy and symbol-less Catholicism.
Over the last few decades, some who purported to be liturgical experts too often stripped away the richness and the depth that draws so many to the treasure that is Catholic worship and life. Their numbers and influence are dwindling. The Catholic seminaries that are full (and their number is increasing) are filled with candidates who want the vibrant, symbolic, faithful, richly liturgical, devout fullness of Catholic faith and life. The movement toward dynamic, symbolic and beautiful Liturgy is not about going backward but going forward and toward the eternal worship.
The ecclesial movements are flourishing in the Church, drawing men and women who also want the fullness of Catholic worship, faith and life in all of its rich beauty. The new Catholics, coming into full communion from other Christian communities, are flocking to the dynamically orthodox and faithful Catholic parishes. The symbols are coming back into our sanctuaries and new ones are emerging. It is all happening because of the young. The move toward recovering thesense of the Sacred in the Liturgy is a youth movement in the Church. The future of the Church is Tradition, rightly understood. The liturgical innovators are aging and their reign is coming to an end.
There was a movement called Iconoclasm ("Image-breaking") in the eighth and ninth centuries in the Eastern Church. It became a full scale heresy. The term has come to be associated with those who rejected icons, but it speaks to a contemporary problem, liturgical minimalism and the loss of the sense of the Sacred in our Churches. Icons are meant to put us in touch with the transcendent mysteries of our faith. I pray with icons and have for many years. I cherish their liturgical role in the Eastern Church. In fact, one would never find an Eastern Church, Catholic or Orthodox, without icons. The contemporary "iconoclasts" are those who seek to de-mystify Christian faith, life, worship and practice. They are not the future of the Catholic Church but the past.
There are still some who think that the symbols of our Catholic worship, faith and life are a problem. While they strip our sanctuaries and make our liturgical experiences barren, they think they have helped us by somehow making the faith more 'relevant", "meaningful" or "contemporary". They are sadly mistaken and have done the Church and her mission a disservice. It is the Church which makes human experience more relevant, by revealing its full meaning and mystery. And the Liturgy helps to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven. They also fail to grasp that, by nature and grace, human persons are symbolic. Man (and woman) is created in the image of God, and is a divine icon. Jesus Christ is the Icon of the Father. Symbols touch us at a much deeper level than words or emotive or affective participation can. They touch us at the level where authentic religion and deep worship truly begins. It is there where we hunger the most for God.
On April 15, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Bishops of Brazil in Rome. He told them that the Eucharist constitutes "the centre and permanent source of the Petrine ministry, the heart of the Christian life, source and summit of the Church's mission of evangelization. You can thus understand the concern of the Successor of Peter for all that can obfuscate this most essential point of the Catholic faith: that today, Jesus Christ continues alive and truly present in the consecrated host and the chalice." He warned the Bishops that "Paying less attention at times to the rite of the Most Holy Sacrament constitutes a sign and a cause of the darkening of the Christian sense of mystery, such as when Jesus is not the centre of the Mass, but rather a community preoccupied with other things instead of being taken up and drawn to the only one necessary: their Lord."
Pope Benedict continued, "If the figure of Christ does not emerge from the liturgy, it is not a Christian liturgy. As Blessed John Paul II wrote, "the mystery of the Eucharist is 'too great a gift' to admit of ambiguities or reductions, above all when, 'stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet'." Toward the end of these beautiful remarks Pope Benedict summarized the heart of Liturgy, "Worship cannot come from our imagination: that would be a cry in the darkness or mere self-affirmation. True liturgy supposes that God responds and shows us how we can adore Him. The Church lives in His presence - and its reason for being and existing is to expand His presence in the world."
It is time to restore the sense of the Sacred to our Liturgy. To love the Liturgy is to love the Lord.
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