Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity". Pope Francis/Pope Benedict
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Sunday, 10 March 2013

Pope Benedict on the authentic meaning of the liturgy

It will take years to absorb the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI. In a particular manner, we are deeply indebted to His Holiness for promulgating Summorum Pontificum, and providing us with innumerable masterly catechesis in the true meaning of the liturgy. One example is his address of October 3rd, 2012, which includes in part: 

Thus, by participating in the liturgy we make our own the language of Mother Church, we learn to speak in her and for her. Of course, as I have already said, this happens gradually, little by little. I must immerse myself ever more deeply in the words of the Church with my prayer, with my life, with my suffering, with my joy, and with my thought. It is a process that transforms us.
I therefore think that these reflections enable us to answer the question we asked ourselves at the outset: how do I learn to pray, how do I develop in my prayer? Looking at the example which Jesus taught us, the Pater Noster [Our Father], we see that the first word [in Latin] is “Father” and the second is “our”. Thus the answer is clear, I learn to pray, I nourish my prayer by addressing God as Father and praying-with-others, praying with the Church, accepting the gift of his words which gradually become familiar to me and full of meaning. The dialogue that God establishes with each one of us, and we with him in prayer, always includes a “with”; it is impossible to pray to God in an individualistic manner. In liturgical prayer, especially the Eucharist and — formed by the liturgy — in every prayer, we do not only speak as individuals but on the contrary enter into the “we” of the Church that prays. And we must transform our “I”, entering into this “we”.
I would like to recall another important aspect. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: “In the liturgy of the New Covenant every liturgical action, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, is an encounter between Christ and the Church” (n. 1097). Therefore it is the “total Christ”, the whole Community, the Body of Christ united with her Head, that is celebrating. Thus the liturgy is not a sort of “self-manifestation” of a community; it means instead coming out of merely “being ourselves”, being closed in on ourselves, and having access to the great banquet, entering into the great living community in which God himself nourishes us. The liturgy implies universality and this universal character must enter ever anew into the awareness of all. The Christian liturgy is the worship of the universal temple which is the Risen Christ, whose arms are outstretched on the Cross to draw everyone into the embrace of God’s eternal love. It is the worship of a wide open heaven. It is never solely the event of a single community with its place in time and space. It is important that every Christian feel and be truly integrated into this universal “we” which provides the “I”, the basis and refuge of the “I”, in the Body of Christ which is the Church.
In this we must bear in mind and accept the logic of God’s Incarnation: he made himself close, present, entering into history and into human nature, making himself one of us. And this presence continues in the Church, his Body. So, the Liturgy is not the memory of past events, but is the living presence of the Paschal Mystery of Christ who transcends and unites times and places. If in the celebration the centrality of Christ did not emerge, we would not have Christian liturgy, totally dependent on the Lord and sustained by his creative presence. God acts through Christ and we can act only through and in him. The conviction must grow within us every day that the liturgy is not our or my “doing” but rather is an action of God in us and with us.
It is not, therefore, the individual — priest or member of the faithful — or the group celebrating the liturgy, but the liturgy is primarily God’s action through the Church which has her own history, her rich tradition and her creativity. This universality and fundamental openness, which is proper to the whole of the liturgy, is one of the reasons why it cannot be conceived of or modified by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the universal Church.
The entire Church is always present even in the liturgy of the smallest community. For this reason there are no “strangers” in the liturgical community. In every liturgical celebration the whole Church takes part, heaven and earth, God and men. The Christian liturgy, even if it is celebrated in a place and in a concrete space and expresses the “yes” of a specific community, is by its nature catholic, it comes from all and leads to all, in unity with the Pope, with the Bishops and with believers of all epochs and all places. The more a celebration is enlivened by awareness of this, the more fruitfully will the authentic meaning of the liturgy be made present.

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