VATICAN Let us abandon the controversies about the liturgy and start again from beauty

“Desiderio desideravi” is Francis’ new apostolic letter on the liturgical formation of the people of God. The text invites us to beware of a ritual aestheticism that only takes pleasure in caring for the exterior form of the rite, as well as of flat banality and ignorant superficiality. The challenge facing us all is to make symbols really speak to today’s man again, cultivating the art of celebrating from silence.

Vatican City () – An apostolic letter addressed to the people of God, to “invite the whole Church to rediscover, preserve and live the truth and power of the Christian celebration”. This is how Pope Francis presents the new document on the liturgical formation of the people of God “Desiderio desideravi” (“I intensely desire” Lk 22,15 ed) that was published today on the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. It is a meditation by the Pope on the art of celebrating in the Church, which wants to be an invitation to go beyond the controversy on the ways to reach the heart of the Eucharist, which is the encounter with Jesus. Because “a vague memory of the Last Supper is of no use to us: we need to be present at that Supper.”

The apostolic letter “Desiderio desideravi” reworks in 65 paragraphs the reflections that emerged at the plenary meeting of the Dicastery for Divine Worship in February 2019 and follows the motu proprio “Traditionis custodes” with which Pope Francis strictly regulated in July 2021 the use of the rite prior to the liturgical reform of 1970, after the Second Vatican Council. “I would like the beauty of the Christian celebration and its necessary consequences in the life of the Church – writes the pontiff – not to be disfigured by a superficial and reductive understanding of its value or, worse still, by its instrumentalization in the service of some ideological vision, whatever it may be”.

“The continuous rediscovery of the beauty of the Liturgy -he continues- is not the search for a ritual aestheticism, which is pleased only in the care of the external formality of a rite, or is satisfied with a scrupulous observance of the rubrics”. This does not mean that the opposite attitude can be accepted “which confuses the simple with a banal carelessness, the essential with ignorant superficiality, the concreteness of the ritual action with an exaggerated practical functionalism”. “We must take care of all aspects of the celebration – the Pope continues – (space, time, gestures, words, objects, clothing, singing, music,…) and observe all the rubrics: this attention would be enough not to steal from the assembly what corresponds to it, that is, the paschal mystery celebrated in the ritual manner established by the Church, but even if the quality and standard of the celebratory action were guaranteed, this would not be enough for our participation to be full. ”.

Francis teaches that living the beauty of the liturgy means above all letting oneself be guided by amazement at the “paschal mystery”. That is much more than a vague “sense of mystery” that sometimes critics of the liturgical reform, the pontiff recalled, accuse of having eliminated from the celebration. “The astonishment I am talking about – he explains – is not a kind of disorientation before a dark reality or an enigmatic rite, but it is, on the contrary, admiration before the fact that God’s salvific plan has been revealed to us on Easter. of Jesus”.

In the apostolic letter, the Pope once again recalls the profound unity between the 4 great Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. “It would be banal – he affirms – to read the tensions, unfortunately present around the celebration, as a simple divergence between different sensitivities about a ritual form. The problem is, above all, ecclesiological. I do not see how one can say that the validity of the Council is recognized and not accept the liturgical reform born of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which expresses the reality of the Liturgy in close connection with the vision of the Church admirably described by Lumen Gentium.”

Beyond the controversies, Francis explains, at this moment the true challenge of the liturgy is the one already pointed out by the theologian Romano Guardini: to make man capable of symbols again. “This task concerns everyone, ordained and faithful ministers,” he comments. And it’s not easy, because modern man is illiterate, he no longer knows how to read symbols, he hardly knows of their existence.” “The question we ask ourselves is, therefore, how to become capable of symbols again? How to know how to read them again to live them? To respond, the pontiff explains, the best example is to look at how we ourselves were initiated by our parents, grandparents or some priests in making the sign of the cross and other liturgical gestures: “It is not necessary to talk too much, it is not necessary to have understood everything about that gesture: you just need to be small, both when giving it, and when receiving it. The rest is the work of the Spirit”.

Equally important is taking care of the art of celebrating, which is not only the task of the priest but of the entire community that participates in the Eucharist and therefore must be properly trained. “It cannot be reduced to the mere observance of an apparatus of rubrics -he warns- nor can one think of a fanciful – sometimes wild – creativity without rules. The rite is in itself a norm, and the norm is never an end in itself, but is always at the service of the superior reality that it wants to guard”. “You don’t learn the art of celebrating because you attend a course on public speaking or persuasive communication techniques”; Nor is it about “having to follow a liturgical protocol: it is rather a “discipline” – in the sense used by Guardini – which, if observed authentically, forms us: they are gestures and words that bring order to our world interior, making us experience feelings, attitudes, behaviors”. And in this discipline, an education in silence is of fundamental importance – Francis recalls – “which encourages listening to the Word and prayer; it disposes to the adoration of the Body and Blood of Christ”.

The Pope then points out to the priest who must preside over the liturgy some temptations to beware of: “Austere rigidity or exaggerated creativity; spiritualizing mysticism or practical functionalism; hasty haste or accentuated slowness; disheveled carelessness or excessive refinement; superabundant affability or hieratic impassiveness. Despite the breadth of this range, I believe that the inadequacy of these models has a common root: an exaggerated personalism in the celebratory style that, on occasions, expresses a poorly concealed mania for protagonism”. In this sense, the pontiff calls for particular attention also with regard to formation and liturgical life in seminaries, with a “liturgical-sapiential configuration of theological formation.”

The letter concludes with an invitation: “Let us abandon polemics to listen together to what the Spirit says to the Church, let us maintain communion, let us continue to be amazed by the beauty of the Liturgy. Easter has been given to us, let us preserve the continuous desire that the Lord continues to have to be able to eat it with us. Under the gaze of Mary, Mother of the Church”.

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