Liturgy at the End of the Twentieth Century
When Guiseppe Sarto become Pope Pius X in l903, he set in motion a series of reforms which proved to dominate the liturgical practices of his day. To this was added the fostering of the liturgical movement by Pope Pius XII, a work which was crowned by the liturgical reforms set forth by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council. So significantly has the liturgical movement infused the last one hundred years of the now passing millennium that it could well be referred to as "The Liturgical Century."
Thus, the liturgical movement has contributed greatly to a renewed appreciation of that "full, conscious and active participation" in Christ's sacrifice of praise which is the right and responsibility of every baptized person (cf. SC, 14). The NCCB Secretariat for the Liturgy and this newsletter have been privileged witnesses to these events. Beginning in September of 1965, the BCL Newsletter has chronicled, guided and inspired the work of liturgical reformers in fulfillment of the mandate given by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
At the close of this gracious millennium, it is appropriate that every person who proudly bears the title and responsibility of "liturgist," pause to give thanks to Almighty God for the inestimable blessings received. In thanksgiving to God and with an enthusiasm for all the unexpected gifts which await us in the twenty-first century, we begin this newsletter with the reflections of Pope John Paul II and close with similar words from Pope Paul VI, first published on these pages in October, 1965.
Both these popes dedicated their lives to nurturing the seed first planted by the Holy Spirit in the Second Vatican Council. Both these popes join their voices with Leo the Great, Gregory the Great and countless others. May we join our voices with theirs as we unite our lives to Christ in that great sacrifice of praise which is both purpose and cause of our being.
"The Liturgy is Heaven on Earth"
From September to November 2000, Pope John Paul II presented a catechesis on the Eucharist at his regulalry scheduled Wednesday audiences. While the entire series is available on the Secretariat's web page (www.nccbuscc.org), the following catechesis from the November 15, 2000, address entitled "The Eucharist, "A taste of Eternity in Time,'" is offered here for the benefit of our readers.
"In the earthly liturgy we share, by way of foretaste, in that heavenly liturgy" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 8; cf. Gaudium et spes, 38). These limpid and essential words of the Second Vatican Council show us a fundamental dimension of the Eucharist: its being a futurae gloriae pignus, a pledge of future glory, as beautifully expressed by the Christian tradition (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47). "This sacrament," St Thomas Aquinas notes, "does not admit us at once to glory, but bestows on us the power of coming into glory and, therefore, is called viaticum" (Summa Theol., III, 79, 2, ad 1). The communion with Christ that we enjoy now while we are pilgrims and wayfarers on the paths of history anticipates that supreme encounter on the day when "we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn 3: 2). Elijah, who collapsed helplessly under a broom tree during his journey in the wilderness and was strengthened by a mysterious bread until he reached the summit of his encounter with God (cf. 1 Kgs 19: 1-8), is a traditional symbol of the journey of the faithful, who find strength in the Eucharistic bread to advance towards the shining goal of the holy city.
This is also the profound meaning of the manna prepared by God on the steppes of Sinai, the "food of angels," providing every pleasure and suited to every taste, a manifestation of God's sweetness toward his children (cf. Wis 16: 20-21). Christ himself will be the one to shed light on this spiritual significance of the Exodus event. He is the one who enables us to taste in the Eucharist the twofold savour of the pilgrim's food and the food of messianic fullness in eternity (cf. Is 25: 6).
To borrow a phrase from the Jewish Sabbath liturgy, the Eucharist is a "taste of eternity in time" (A. J. Heschel). Just as Christ lived in the flesh while remaining in the glory of God's Son, so the Eucharist is a divine and transcendent presence, a communion with the eternal, a sign that "the earthly city and the heavenly city penetrate one another" (Gaudium et spes, 40). The Eucharist, memorial of Christ's Passover, is by its nature the bearer of the eternal and the infinite in human history.
This aspect, which opens the Eucharist to God's future while leaving it anchored to present reality, is illustrated by the words Jesus spoke over the cup of wine at the Last Supper (cf. Lk 22: 20; 1 Cor 11: 25). With these same words Mark and Matthew evoke the covenant in the blood of the sacrifices on Sinai (cf. Mk 14: 24; Mt 26: 28; Ex 24: 8). Luke and Paul, however, reveal the fulfilment of the "new covenant" foretold by the prophet Jeremiah: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant I made with their fathers" (Jer 31: 31-32). Jesus, in fact, declares: "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." In biblical language "new" usually means progress, final perfection.
It is also Luke and Paul who stress that the Eucharist is an anticipation of the horizon of glorious light belonging to the kingdom of God. Before the Last Supper Jesus said: "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes'" (Lk 22: 15-18). And Paul explicitly recalls that the Eucharistic supper looks forward to the Lord's final coming: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11: 26).
The fourth Evangelist, John, extols this orientation of the Eucharist towards the fullness of God's kingdom in the well-known discourse on the "bread of life" that Jesus gave at the synagogue in Capernaum. The symbol he used as a biblical reference was, as was already mentioned, the manna offered by God to Israel on its pilgrimage through the desert. Regarding the Eucharist, Jesus solemnly declared: "If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever.... He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.... This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever" (Jn 6: 51, 54, 58). In the language of the fourth Gospel, "eternal life" is the divine life itself which transcends the bounds of time. Being a communion with Christ, the Eucharist is thus a sharing in God's life, which is eternal and conquers death. Jesus therefore says: "This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6: 39-40).
5. In this light--as a Russian theologian, Sergei Bulgakov, evocatively said--"the liturgy is heaven on earth". For this reason, in the Apostolic Letter Dies Domini, I quoted the words of Paul VI, urging Christians not to neglect "this encounter, this banquet which Christ prepares for us in his love. May our sharing in it be most worthy and joyful! It is Christ, crucified and glorified, who comes among his disciples, to lead them all together into the newness of his Resurrection. This is the climax, here below, of the covenant of love between God and his people: the sign and source of Christian joy, a stage on the way to the eternal feast" (n. 58; cf. Gaudete in Domino, conclusion).
Pope Paul VI on the "New Liturgy"
On Wednesday, March 17, 1965, Pope Paul VI gave the following address at his general audience. His reflections on the challenges facing the Church in the first days of the postconciliar reform may serve as a rich source of reflection some thirty five years after they were first given to the Church.
In an audience such as this our talk must deal with the topic of the moment, namely, the application of the liturgical reform to the celebration of the Mass. What we would really like, except that the public nature of this audience makes it unfeasible, is--as we do in private conversations--to ask your own views on this great change. It certainly merits our consideration. We believe, however, that your reply to our question would be much the same as those we have already heard.
Confusion and Annoyance
Liturgical reform? The answers can be reduced to two categories. The first type of reply is that which manifests a certain confusion and therefore a certain annoyance. Previously, they say, there was peace, each person could pray as he wished, the whole sequence of the rite was well known; now everything is new, startling, and changed; even the ringing of the bells at the Sanctus is done away with; and then those prayers which one doesn't know where to find; Holy Communion received standing; Mass ending suddenly with the blessing; everybody answering, many people moving around, rites and readings which are recited aloud.... In short, there is no longer any peace and we now know less than we did before; and so on.
We shall not criticize these views because then we would have to show how they reveal a poor understanding of the meaning of religious ceremonial and allow us to glimpse not a true devotion and a true appreciation of the meaning and worth of the Mass, but rather a certain spiritual laziness which is not prepared to make some personal effort of understanding and participation directed to a better understanding and fulfilment of this, the most sacred religious acts, in which we are invited, or rather obliged, to participate.
An Irreversible Development
We shall repeat what pastoral priest and teachers of religion have been saying frequently these days. First, that in the beginning there will be a certain amount of confusion and some irritation is inevitable. It is of the very nature of a reform of religious practices which are deeply rooted and cherished, a reform both practical and spiritual, that it should cause some upset and be sometimes difficult. Secondly, that explanation and preparation and a certain degree of attentive assistance will speedily remove the uncertainties and soon give rise to an appreciation and enthusiasm for the new order. Because, thirdly, one must not imagine that after a short time we will once again be silent and devotional or lazy, as formerly.
No, the new scheme of things must be different and must prevent or stir up the passivity of those attending Mass. Previously it was enough to be there; now we must participate. Previously our presence was sufficient; now we demand attention and action. Previously one could doze or perhaps even have a chat; but no longer; now one must listen and pray. We hope that very soon both priest and people will be able to obtain the new liturgical books, and that in their new form, whether literary or typographical these will reflect the dignity of the old books. The congregation will be alive and active---participation means that the activity flows from the soul whether it be through paying attention, responding, singing, or gesturing. The harmony of a communal act performed, not merely according to its external form, but under the interior impulse of the sentiment of faith and piety, endows the ceremony with a special power and beauty. It becomes a choir or symphony, the rhythm of an immense wing flying towards the heights of divine mystery and joy.
Enthusiasm and Praise
The second category of comments regarding the first celebration of the new liturgy which have reached us is rather that of enthusiasm and praise. They say: now at last one can understand and follow the complicated and mysterious ceremonial; at last one can take pleasure in it; at last the priest speaks to the people and one can see that he is acting with them and for them. We have moving evidence from the ordinary people, from children and young people, from critics and onlookers, from holy people earnest in devotion and prayer, from men of wide and serious experience and of real culture. The evidence is positive. An old and most distinguished gentleman, a man of wonderful spirit and of a most refined spirituality, and therefore never fully satisfied, felt obliged to go along to the celebrant after the first celebration of the new liturgy to express to him frankly his happiness at having at last, perhaps for the first time in his life, participated to the full spiritual measure in the holy sacrifice.
Two Spiritual Acts
It may be objected that this type of interest and this type of holy excitement will quiet down and quickly settle into a new and peaceful habit. What is there that man will not grow accustomed to? But it is to be hoped that the religious enthusiasm stirred up by the new form of a worship will not lessen and that with it there will be a consciousness of the obligation to perform simultaneously two spiritual acts: on the one hand a true and personal participation in the ceremony, with all that this implies which is essentially religious; on the other hand, communion with the assembly of the faithful, with the "Church." The first of these acts tends towards love of God, the second to the love of our neighbor. This is the gospel of love realizing itself in the souls of our time; it is truly something beautiful, new, wonderful, full of life and hope.
But you will have understood, dear sons and daughters, that this liturgical innovation, this spiritual renewal, cannot take place without cooperation, without your free and serious participation. We so desire your cooperation that, as you have seen, we have made it the subject of our talk; and in the confidence that you will indeed give it willingly we promise you many, many blessings from the Lord, of which we assure you with this our apostolic blessing.
earth was joined to heaven.
May he give you his peace and good will,
and fellowship with all the heavenly host.
Solemn Blessing for Christmas
Illustration ©1987, Ade Bethune.