Liturgy Lived Out Loud
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
Pope Francis just gave us the Apostolic Letter Desiderio desideravi about the liturgy. St. Francis is a great example of living continuity between liturgy and daily life. This is our goal during this retreat.
Lex orandi, lex credendi
One is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter; his praise is not from human beings but from God. (Rom. 2:29)
I would like this letter to help us to rekindle our wonder for the beauty of the truth of the Christian celebration, to remind us of the necessity of an authentic liturgical formation, and to recognize the importance of an art of celebrating that is at the service of the truth of the Paschal Mystery and of the participation of all of the baptized in it, each one according to his or her vocation. (Pope Francis, Desiderio desideravi, 62)
When there is conflict the liturgy is always mistreated. In Latin America thirty years ago there were monstrous liturgical deformations. Then they moved to the opposite side with a backward-looking [indietrista] intoxication with the old. A division was established in the Church. My action in this field has aimed to follow the line taken by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who had allowed the ancient rite and had asked for subsequent verification. The most recent verification made it clear that there was a need to regulate the practice, and above all to avoid it becoming a matter, let us say, of “fashion” and remaining instead a pastoral question. I look forward to the studies that will refine the reflection on the theme that is important: the liturgy is the people of God’s public praise! (Pope Francis, August 4, 2022)
Decisive question of liturgical formation
Romano Guardini says, “Here too the first practical task is indicated: carried along by this inner transformation of our time, we must learn anew how to relate religiously as fully human beings.” This is what the Liturgy makes possible. For this we must be formed. Guardini does not hesitate to declare that without liturgical formation “then ritual and textual reforms won’t help much.” I do not intend to treat here in an exhaustive way the very rich theme of liturgical formation. I only want to offer some starting points for reflection. I think two aspects can be distinguished: formation for the Liturgy and formation by the Liturgy. The first depends upon the second which is essential. (Pope Francis, Desiderio desideravi, 34)
From all that we have said about the nature of the Liturgy it becomes clear that knowledge of the mystery of Christ, the decisive question for our lives, does not consist in a mental assimilation of some idea but in real existential engagement with his person. In this sense, Liturgy is not about “knowledge,” and its scope is not primarily pedagogical, even though it does have great pedagogical value. (Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 33) Rather, Liturgy is about praise, about rendering thanks for the Passover of the Son whose power reaches our lives. The celebration concerns the reality of our being docile to the action of the Spirit who operates through it until Christ be formed in us. (Cf. Gal 4:19) The full extent of our formation is our conformation to Christ. I repeat: it does not have to do with an abstract mental process, but with becoming Him. This is the purpose for which the Spirit is given, whose action is always and only to confect the Body of Christ. It is that way with the Eucharistic bread, and with every one of the baptized called to become always more and more that which was received as a gift in Baptism; namely, being a member of the Body of Christ. Leo the Great writes, “Our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ has no other end than to make us become that which we eat.” (Pope Francis, Desiderio desideravi, 41)
Guardini writes, “Here there is outlined the first task of the work of liturgical formation: man must become once again capable of symbols.” This is a responsibility for all, for ordained ministers and the faithful alike. The task is not easy because modern man has become illiterate, no longer able to read symbols; it is almost as if their existence is not even suspected. This happens also with the symbol of our body. Our body is a symbol because it is an intimate union of soul and body; it is the visibility of the spiritual soul in the corporeal order; and in this consists human uniqueness, the specificity of the person irreducible to any other form of living being. Our openness to the transcendent, to God, is constitutive of us. Not to recognize this leads us inevitably not only to a not knowing of God but also to not knowing ourselves. It is enough to look at the paradoxical way in which the body is treated, in one moment cared for in an almost obsessive way, inspired by the myth of eternal youth, and in another moment reducing the body to a materiality to which there is denied every dignity. The fact is that value cannot be given to the body starting only from the body itself. Every symbol is at the same time both powerful and fragile. If it is not respected, if it is not treated for what it is, it shatters, loses its force, becomes insignificant. (Pope Francis, Desiderio desideravi, 44)
We no longer have the gaze of St. Francis, who looked at the sun — which he called brother because so he felt it to be — and saw it beautiful and radiant with great splendour, and, full of wonder, he sang that it bears a likeness of You, Most High One. To have lost the capacity to grasp the symbolic value of the body and of every creature renders the symbolic language of the Liturgy almost inaccessible to the modern mentality. And yet there can be no question of renouncing such language. It cannot be renounced because it is how the Holy Trinity chose to reach us through the flesh of the Word. It is rather a question of recovering the capacity to use and understand the symbols of the Liturgy. We must not lose hope because this dimension in us, as I have just said, is constitutive; and despite the evils of materialism and spiritualism — both of them negations of the unity of soul and body — it is always ready to re-emerge, as is every truth. (Pope Francis, Desiderio desideravi, 44)
Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exult
when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest! O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers, look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him! Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!
Saint Francis of Assisi A Letter to the Entire Order II, 26-29
Meditation 1: Rekindle Wonder