From a reader:
The Art of Celebrating the Liturgy
By Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes
(Clarion Herald – 8-08-09)
Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, [the former] Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, recently delivered the keynote address at the Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis. He touched upon the central issue that we need to face if we are going to realize the vision expressed in the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy at the Second Vatican Council: the art of celebrating the Sacred Liturgy. [This is the ars celebrandi of which Pope Benedict speaks in Sacramentum caritatis.]
First, it is helpful for us to recognize that the term art usually refers to the creative skills for contributing to beauty. As it applies, however, to the sacred liturgy, human skills are subordinate to a divine reality that is taking place. When focus is on the human, apart from the divine, the celebration of the liturgy suffers.
There should be no tension between the art of celebrating and the full, active and fruitful participation of all the faithful. [On the contrary, ars celebrandi positively aids the active participation of the faithful.] Unfortunately, in the first stage of implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, a great deal of emphasis was placed [Wait for it…] upon external activity on the part of the people. As a result, the focus on full participation has gravitated more toward the involvement of lay liturgical ministries than to [Wait for it…] the interior dispositions required for making participation more fruitful. In the Sacred Liturgy, it is Christ who acts. [Sound familiar at all?] What is incredibly important is that we are interiorly united with him in the sacrificial offering that he once made historically and is re-presented in the sacramental celebration of the liturgy. The Lord is the artist. [Good phrase.] It is ours to be united with him.
Thus, the art of celebrating well is the enot so much a matter of a series of actions put together in a harmonious unity as a deeply interior communion with Christ and his self-sacrificial saving action. [Let’s not take that "not so much" to be a denial or opposition. It take both. But His Excellency has a good point: there is a logical priority to the interior which makes the exterior "authentic". On the other hand, the exterior elements can aid our interior receptivity.] This means that the priest needs to enter into a profoundly reverent, totally concentrated and self-abasing attitude of faith and prayerfulness. His sense of awe must be tangible. His desire to live out what he is celebrating must be recognized in his life. [Well said. Also, the celebrant must get himself out of the way. I would say that ad orientem worship facilitates this in a way far superior to that versus populum.]
Moreover, the sacred liturgy is an action that has been entrusted to the Church. The celebrant does not own the liturgy. It is not his with which to tamper. The liturgy is a gift, a treasure, to be respected and to be received with a sense of reverence and protected against inappropriate secularization.
Christ himself is the main celebrant. In Pope Benedict’s apostolic constitution, [opps…. it isn’t an "apostolic constitution". It is a Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation.] ‘The Sacrament of Charity,’ he affirms this truth powerfully: ‘Priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in the first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the center of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is, above all, a servant of others and he must continuously work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands. This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.’
One of the great risks in celebrating Mass facing the people is that the priest will be tempted to draw attention to himself. [So let’s try more ad orientem worship.] We are all human. But the center of the action is Christ. The way in which we speak and act must draw attention to this truth. Hence, a sense of awe and mystery should pervade the celebration with appropriate silence and in a spirit of prayer. What we do is Divine Liturgy. It is ecclesial in its shape and formation. It should not be subjected to personal adjustments. That is why the appropriate art of celebrating involves faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness.
The saintly Curé of Ars once wrote: ‘All good works together are not of equal value with the sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men, and the holy Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison; it is the sacrifice that man makes of his life to God; the Mass is the sacrifice that God makes to man of his Body and his Blood.’
God grant to all of us who are priests the grace to realize and to fulfill this awesome role in such a way that we truly do foster ‘the full, active and fruitful participation of all the faithful.’