July 6, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Beauty of liturgy is an expression of God’s glory

(Eighth in a series)

The second part of Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” (“The Sacrament of Charity”) is titled “The Eucharist, A Mystery to be Celebrated.”

The Holy Father begins Part II with a brief reminder that there is an essential connection between what we believe about the Eucharist and the celebration of the Eucharist. He cites an ancient Latin saying: “Lex orandi, Lex credendi,” which means how we pray affects how and what we believe. “Our faith and the Eucharistic liturgy both have their source in the same event: Christ’s gift of himself in the Paschal Mystery” (n. 34).

Pope Benedict continues with a reflection on beauty and the liturgy. He speaks of a beauty that is much more profound than worldly beauty or liturgical decoration.

“This relationship between creed and worship is evidenced in a particular way by the rich theological and liturgical category of beauty. Like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty; it is veritatis splendor [the splendor of truth]. The liturgy is a radiant expression of the paschal mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and calls us to communion.

“As St. Bonaventure would say, in Jesus we contemplate beauty and splendor at their source. … Christ is the full manifestation of the glory of God. … Jesus Christ shows us how the truth of love can transform even the dark mystery of death into the radiant light of the Resurrection. Here the splendor of God’s glory surpasses all worldly beauty. … In this sense, the beauty of the liturgy is a sublime expression of God’s glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth” (n. 35).

Part II of the pope’s exhortation then treats six major liturgical aspects of the celebration of the Eucharist: 1. The Eucharistic celebration, the work of Christus Totus (the Whole Christ); 2. Ars Celebrandi (the Art of Celebrating); 3. The Structure of the Eucharistic Celebration; 4. Actuosa Participatio (Full, Active and Fruitful Participation); 5. Interior Participation in the Celebration; 6. Adoration and Eucharistic Devotion.

In his reflection on “the whole Christ, head and body,” the Holy Father recalls that the subject of the liturgy’s intrinsic beauty is Christ himself, risen and glorified in the Holy Spirit, who includes the Church in his work” (n. 36).

It is Christ himself, the High Priest, who truly presides at the Eucharist in which members of the Body participate. Since the Eucharist is an action of God, “its basic structure is not something within our power to change, nor can it be held hostage by the latest trends” (n. 37).

“In the course of the Synod, there was frequent insistence on the need to avoid any antithesis between the ars celebrandi, the art of proper celebration, and the full, active and fruitful participation of all the faithful.

“The primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The ars celebrandi (proper celebration) is the best way to ensure their actuosa participatio (full and fruitful participation). The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness; indeed, for 2,000 years, this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers, called to take part in the celebrations as the People of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (cf. 1 Pt 2:4-5, 9) (n. 38).

This is why the Bishop, High Priest of the Diocese, is seen as the “celebrant par excellence” and should be the “chief steward of the mysteries of God in the particular Church entrusted to his care … he is the moderator, promoter and guardian of the whole of its liturgical life” (n. 39).

An authentic and proper celebration of the Eucharist is born of and leads “to an appreciation of the liturgical norms” (n. 40) and an understanding that “the simplicity of [the liturgy’s] gestures and the sobriety of its orderly sequence of signs communicate and inspire more than any contrived and inappropriate additions” (n. 40).

The “profound connection between beauty and the liturgy” (n. 41) is explored, recalling that “the very nature of a Christian church [building] is defined by the liturgy, which is an assembly of the faithful [ecclesia] who are the living stones of the Church” (cf. 1 Pt 2:5) (n. 41). The Holy Father notes that sacred art in the liturgical setting should be a catechesis in itself, promoting an understanding of sacramental life.

Liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. The pope recalls that “in the course of her 2,000-year history, the Church has created and still creates music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love.” He recommends that “Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy” (n. 42). †

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