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The Mass as Theophany: Pope Francis Speaks on the Beauty of the Liturgy

By Deacon Keith Fournier
February 12th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Among the critical assessments of the young papacy of Francis is one which claims that he is some sort of liturgical minimalist. In its more judgmental versions, it comes close to implying that he may not does not fully appreciate the beauty of the Liturgy. It is sometimes accompanied by an effort to contrast his style of presiding at Holy Mass with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as some sort of proof of the claim.I not only reject it, it offends me. Pope Francis celebrates the Liturgy with the simplicity which characterizes his demeanor and points to his charism. He is a man of deep communion with the Lord and his celebration of the Liturgy is beautiful.

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - Among the critical assessments of the young papacy of Francis is one which claims that he is some sort of liturgical minimalist. In its more judgmental versions, it comes close to implying that he may not does not fully appreciate the beauty of the Liturgy.

It is sometimes accompanied by an effort to contrast his style of presiding at Holy Mass with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as some sort of proof of the claim.I not only reject it, it offends me. He simply celebrates the Liturgy with the simplicity which characterizes his demeanor and charism. He is a man of deep communion with the Lord and his celebration of the Liturgy is beautiful.

Having spent years as a young man in the early chapters of the renewal which became the Franciscan University of Steubenville, I recall such simplicity in many of the Friars with whom I served. Pope Francis may be a Jesuit, but he lives the evangelical simplicity of Francis of Assisi, his namesake.

On Monday, February 10, 2014, Francis offered some beautiful comments in his homily at daily Mass which exposed the error of such claims and reveal the depth of his love for the Liturgy. Based upon the summary on Vatican Radio, Asia news filed this report:

The liturgical celebration is not a social act, a good social act; it is not a gathering of believers to pray together It is another thing. In the liturgy, God is present", but it is a closer presence. At Mass, "the presence of the Lord is real, very real". Rediscovering the "sense of the sacred", "entering into the mystery of God, allowing ourselves to be part of the mystery", was the focus of Pope Francis at Mass this morning at Casa Santa Marta, during which he also joked that going to Mass with the Pope is not a "tourist attraction".

Vatican Radio reports that Francis focused on the first reading of the day, which speaks of a theophany of God at the time of King Solomon. The Lord descends like a cloud on the Temple, which is filled with the glory of God.  The Lord - said the Pope - speaks to his people in many ways: through the prophets, the priests, the Holy Scripture.

But with the theophanies, He speaks in another way, "different from the Word: there is another, closer presence, without mediation, near. It is His presence". "This - he said - happens in the liturgical celebration. The liturgical celebration is not a social act, a good social act; it is not a gathering of believers to pray together. It is another thing. In the liturgy, God is present", but it is a closer presence. At Mass, "the presence of the Lord is real, very real".

"When we celebrate Mass, we are not re-enacting the Last Supper: no, it is not a re-enactment. It is something more: it really is the Last Supper. It is really living the Passion and the redemptive death of the Lord once more. It is a theophany: the Lord is present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We hear or say, 'But I can not, now, I have to go to Mass, I have to go to hear Mass'. We do not 'hear' Mass, we participate, we participate in this theophany, in this mystery of the Lord's presence among us".

Pope Francis explained that the nativity scene, the Way of the Cross, are representations, Mass, however, Mass "is a real commemoration, in other words, a theophany; God draws close and is with us, and we share in the mystery of Redemption".  Sadly - he added - many times we look at our watches at Mass, "we count down the minutes": "this is not the attitude that the liturgy asks of us: the liturgy is God's time and God's space, and we must place ourselves there, in God's time, in God's space without watching the clock".

"The liturgy is entering into the mystery of God, allowing ourselves be led to the mystery and being part of the mystery. For example, I'm sure you all come here to enter into the mystery, although, perhaps someone says, 'Oh, I have to go to Mass in Santa Marta, because there is a visit with the Pope in Santa Marta every morning as part of the sightseeing tour of Rome: it's a tourist site, is it not it?', (he laughs) . All of you come here, we gather here to enter into the mystery: this is the liturgy. It is God's time and God's space; it is the cloud of God that surrounds us all".

The Pope recalled that, as a child, during the preparation for First Holy Communion, there was a song that showed how the altar was guarded by angels to give "a sense of the glory of God, the space of God, time of God". And when, during rehearsals, they carried the hosts, the children were told: "Look, these are not what you will receive: these are not worth anything, because first there will be the consecration". Thus, the Pope concludes, "to celebrate the liturgy means having this willingness to enter into the mystery of God," into His space, His time, and trust in "this mystery".

"We will do well today to ask the Lord to give us all this 'sense of the sacred', this sense that we understand that it is one thing to pray at home, pray at church, pray the Rosary, pray many beautiful prayers, do the Way of the Cross, so many beautiful things, read the Bible ... and another to celebrate the Eucharist. In the celebration we enter into the mystery of God, on that path that we cannot control: only He is the One, He is the glory, He is the all powerful, He is everything. We ask for this grace that the Lord teach us to enter into the mystery of God".
 
I am a revert to the Catholic Church. I never officially left the Church but the Catholic practice of my family grew cold, in fact non-existent, when I was a child. In my youthful search for the meaning of life as a teenager I was drawn back to living faith in Jesus Christ and, through the Fathers of the Church, home to the fullness of Christianity, the Catholic faith. 

It was the beauty of the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Mass - and the mystery which it makes present - which acted as the light for my journey home. That light continues to illuminate my path because Beauty is so attractive.The Mass is so beautiful because it is an encounter with God who is the source of all Beauty.
 
After all these years, the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Mass, is still the rich and fertile ground of my life of faith. I have served at the altar as a Deacon for seventeen years. Serving at the Altar, where heaven touches earth and earth touches heaven, roots me in the heart of the Church, as I live my vocation in the world. I return to feast and enter more deeply into the mystery in order to grow into the Image of the One whose Word I hear proclaimed and whose very flesh and blood I receive.

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 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 reciprocity between worship and life. The words of Pope Francis are inspiring and deeply encouraging.I hope his detractors pay attention. I hope all of the faithful redouble their prayer for this truly wonderful Pope. 

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