July 13, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Liturgy of the Word, Eucharist form single act of worship

(Ninth in a series)

In his apostolic exhortation, reflecting on the parts of the Mass, Pope Benedict XVI recalls the “intrinsic bond between the word of God and the Eucharist” (n. 44).

“The Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic liturgy with the rites of introduction and conclusion ‘are so closely interconnected that they form but one single act of worship’ ” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 28). “… From listening to the word of God, faith is born and strengthened (cf. Rom 10:17); in the Eucharist, the Word made flesh gives himself to us as our spiritual food” (n. 44).

The Holy Father asks that “liturgical proclamation of the word of God [be] entrusted to well-prepared readers” (n. 45) and that initiatives be undertaken to help the faithful understand the Scriptures (cf. n. 45).

“Let us never forget that ‘when the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people and Christ, present in his own word, proclaims the Gospel’ (GIRM, 29).“… Christ does not speak in the past, but in the present, even as he is present in the liturgical action” (n. 45). The pope quotes St. Jerome: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (cf. n. 45).

Reflecting on the homily, the Holy Father says bluntly: “Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved. The homily is ‘part of the liturgical action’ and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful” (n. 46).

He suggests that the proclamation of the word of God be related to the sacramental celebration, and that generic and abstract homilies should be avoided. On occasion, “thematic” homilies may be appropriate, especially if based on the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, namely the profession of faith, the celebration of the Christian mystery, life in Christ and Christian prayer (cf. n. 46).

The Holy Father underscores the importance of the presentation of the gifts: “In the bread and wine that we bring to the altar, all creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father. In this way, we also bring to the altar all the pain and suffering in the world, in the certainty that everything has value in God’s eyes” (n. 47).

The section of the exhortation that treats of the Eucharistic Prayer, the center and summit of the entire celebration, cites the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, with its list of the basic elements of every Eucharistic Prayer: thanksgiving, acclamation, epiclesis, institution narrative and consecration, anamnesis, offering, intercessions and final doxology (GIRM 78-79). The pope asks that the “inexhaustible theological and spiritual richness” of these prayers be the subject of effective catechesis (cf. n. 48).

Significant attention is given to the sign of peace described as responding to the “irrepressible desire for peace present in every heart” (n. 49).

In accord with a request of the bishops at the Synod, the Holy Father has asked the competent curial offices of the Vatican to study the possible moving of the Sign of Peace to before the presentation of the gifts as a “significant reminder of the Lord’s insistence that we be reconciled with others before offering our gifts to God” (cf. Mt 5:23, ff.) (n. 49).

He noted that, “We can understand the emotion so often felt during the sign of peace at a liturgical celebration. Even so, during the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the Sign of Peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration as, for example, when it is restricted to one’s immediate neighbors” (n. 49).

In regard to the distribution and reception of Holy Communion, Pope Benedict recommends that “the rules governing correct practice in this regard (in the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum),” be faithfully observed, “seeing in them an expression of the faith and love with which we all must regard this sublime sacrament” (n. 50).

The Holy Father commented on the dismissal of the Mass: “Ite, missa est” (“Go, the Mass is ended.”) “The words help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of Christians in the world. … The word ‘dismissal’ has come to imply a ‘mission.’ These few words simply express the missionary nature of the Church” (n. 51). The pope said it might help to provide new texts for the prayer over the people and the final blessing in order to make this connection clear.

Next week: “Active, full and fruitful participation.” †

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