Thursday, 4 October 2012

Countering false ideas of liturgy: the Pope at work

Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience this week was on the liturgy, and directly attacks some of the 'spirit of Vatican II' ideas that have flourished in recent years, as Vatican Radio's transcript makes clear.

The liturgy is about God, not us

We all know those Masses which go to enormous lengths to 'involve' everyone, perhaps the worst common case being so-called children's masses that inevitably seem to feature twirling of streamers (as part of the Gospel procession) and liturgical dancing to give the kids something to do.

The Pope argues that rather than liturgy being something we do that goes upward, it is rather God that comes down to us.  Here is what the Pope has to say about such false 'visible' participation practices:

"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.

Let us ask the Lord to learn every day to live the sacred liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, praying in the "we" of the Church, that directs its gaze not in on itself, but to God, and feeling part of the living Church of all places and of all time.'

Our faith comes through the Church

Many these days reject the 'institutonal Church', in practice, if not in theory.   Pope Benedict, however, reminds us that our faith comes to us by the handing down of the truth entrusted to the Church:

But do not forget: we discover Christ, we know him as a living Person, in the Church. It is "his Body." This embodiment can be understood from the biblical words on man and woman: the two shall become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24, Ephesians 5.30 ff. 1 Cor 6.16 s). The unbreakable bond between Christ and the Church, through the unifying power of love, does not negate the 'you' or ‘I', but raises them to their most profound unity. Finding one’s true identity in Christ means achieving communion with him, that does not cancel me out, but raises me to the highest dignity, that of a child of God in Christ, "the love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God's will increasingly coincide "(Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, 17). To pray means to rising towards the heights of God through a necessary gradual transformation of our being.

Thus, participating in the liturgy, we make ours the language of the Mother Church, we learn to speak it and for it. Of course, as I have already said, this takes place in a gradual manner, little by little. I have to progressively immerge myself in the words of the Church, with my prayer, my life, my suffering, my joy, my thoughts. It is a journey that transforms us.

In this we must be aware of and accept the logic of the Incarnation of God: He has drawn near, present, entering into history and human nature, becoming one of us. And this presence continues in the Church, his Body.

Liturgy is not an individual act

Following from this, the Pope also points out that liturgy by its very nature is a work of the whole Church, not the individual.

 This is why adherence to the rubrics and approved forms of the liturgy, rather than our own personal preferences, whether for older versions of the calendar, rubrics or texts, is important:

"...Looking at the model that Jesus taught us, the Pater Noster [Our Father], we see that the first word is "Father" and the second is "our." The answer, then, is clear: I learn to pray, I nourish my prayer, addressing God as Father and praying-with-others, praying with the Church, accepting the gift of his words, which gradually become familiar and rich in meaning. The dialogue that God establishes with each of us, and we with Him, in prayer always includes a "with", you can not pray to God in an individualistic manner. In liturgical prayer, especially the Eucharist, and - formats of the liturgy - in every prayer, we do not speak as single individuals, rather we enter into the "we" of the Church that prays. And we need to transform our "I" entering into this "we"....

...In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: " In the liturgy of the New Covenant every liturgical action, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, is an encounter between Christ and the Church" (n. 1097); so it is the "whole Christ" , throughout the Community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates. Thus the liturgy is not a kind of "self-manifestation" of a community, but it is emerging from the simple "being-oneself", being closed in on ourselves, and accessing the great banquet, entering the great living community in which God nourishes us. The liturgy implies universality and our awareness of this universal character must always be renewed. The Christian liturgy is the worship of the universal temple which is the Risen Christ, whose arms are stretched out on the cross to draw us all into the embrace that is the eternal love of God. It is the cult of the open skies. It is never only the event of a single community, in a given time and space. It is important that every Christian feels and really is part of this universal "we", which provides the foundation and refuge to the "I" in the Body of Christ which is the Church."

...The entire Church is always present, even in the liturgy of the smallest community. For this reason there are no "foreigners" in the liturgical community. The entire Church participates in every liturgical celebration, heaven and earth, God and man. The Christian liturgy, even if it is celebrated in a concrete place and space, and expresses the "yes" of a particular community, it is inherently Catholic, it comes from everything and leads to everything, in union with the Pope, the Bishops , with believers of all times and all places. The more a celebration is animated by this consciousness, the more fruitful the true sense of the liturgy is realized in it."

Liturgy is governed by Tradition

Finally, the Pope makes the point that liturgy cannot just be 'invented':

"The liturgy then is not the memory of past events, but it is the living presence of Christ's Paschal Mystery that transcends and unites all times and spaces. If the centrality of Christ does not emerge in the celebration, then it is not a Christian liturgy, totally dependent on the Lord and sustained by his creative presence. God acts through Christ and we can only act through him and in him. Every day the conviction must grow in us that the liturgy is not our, my, 'action', but the action of God in us and with us.

...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 can not be created or amended by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the universal Church."

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