LITURGYLiturgical art and science which, as a whole and in its parts, always opens up a wealthy store of religious culture, a wholesome field of moral teachings, a rich and copious source of grace can, in the apostle's hands, be a very powerful means for contributing to the glory of God and the sanctification of people. Indeed, it will be so if he resolves, in every liturgical initiative, to spread the knowledge and love of the Liturgy and the practice of liturgical life, in accordance with the teachings and directives of the Church.
Knowledge of the Liturgy
At the outset of Christianity, while cruel Roman emperors attempted
to suffocate the newborn Church in its own blood and, for a number of reasons, the discipline of the arcane was a necessity, liturgical literature was at a minimum. Moreover, there was not much need to explain the Liturgy since people understood the language, liturgical services unfolded in their natural setting, and people lived in familiar and direct contact with God. Neophytes, however, received careful instruction regarding the ceremonies of the Mass and the principal Sacraments.
When the emperor Constantine gave the Church its freedom, the Liturgy entered upon a progressive growth curve. Worship ceremonies became more complex. This necessitated giving more exhaustive explanations and particular rules for liturgical rites. Thus the rise of the first liturgical books.
Later on, the general decline in literature made its impact on the Liturgy as well, and the new generations were not at home with the language of the Liturgy. There followed a succession of interpretations, suppressions, simplifications and reforms until the errors of the 17th century1 tried to undermine knowledge of the Liturgy and to turn the minds of the faithful away from the solemn acts of worship.
The Popes, however, overlooked nothing to keep the foundations of sacred Liturgy solid. Towards the middle of the 19th century, under the auspices of the Popes, there was a great reawakening produced by works
that aimed above all to highlight the innermost beauty of worship.
Soon there was great interest in the Liturgy and a lively desire for an appraisal of its history. The search for manuscript material, as well as for ancient liturgical books published singly or in collections, began in earnest. The religious Orders, scientific societies and individual scholars took the lead in this work. The Benedictines in particular were outstanding.
At the dawn of the 20th century the present liturgical apostolate movement had its beginnings.
Pope Pius X gave Liturgy its initial and most influential impetus. With his motto "to restore all things in Christ", his main intention was to bring Catholics to a deeper knowledge of the divine beauty and excellence of the majestic rites of Catholic worship.
The first act of his pontificate was the "Motu proprio" on sacred chant2 - the [melodic and musical] expression of the Liturgy - with its relative instruction. Later on he undertook other reforms, all in view of restoring the Liturgy.
Benedict XV and Pius XI gave fresh impetus to this movement for restoration.
The appeals of these Popes were fully supported by many Bishops and Religious Institutes, and in the press; there was a lively participation on the people's part, not to mention a flowering of publications, reviews,
and newspapers. The Liturgical Weeks went on increasing and became one of the most perceptible signs of Christian renewal.
Splendid results have come from this movement and greater things are presaged.
Nonetheless there is still an open field for very many activities both for ministers, the official agents of divine worship, and for the lay faithful.
Among ministers, many still reduce the study of Liturgy to the purely mechanical and decorative part of worship.
A real study of the Liturgy sees the scientific part precede the practical side and is based on the historic-exegetical method. To be sure, the practical side is necessary, but it is only one part. The scientific part, by means of methodical study, will lead to rational knowledge, the understanding of the acts of worship.
The historic-exegetical method is the most complete.
The historian, proceeding on the lines of the Liturgy's evolution, will show how it is a true, autonomous theological science, with its own proper object, the worship established and rendered to God by the Church through Jesus Christ.
The exegete will set out the meaning of the rites, ceremonies and formulas, the meaning inherent in their intrinsic nature, in their origin or institution, that is, their true and scientific symbolism
that is not subjective or idealistic, but objective and historical.
Once the clergy has become fully versed in this knowledge of the Liturgy it can in turn instruct the people. And we all know what a need people have of religious instruction.
For many the Liturgy is a closed book! Apart from those who oppose it because they don't want to acknowledge collective social worship, there are many Christians who do not know what it is. To these could be added others, the majority, who, while at home with the word "Liturgy", are unaware of its vast and profound meaning. They see it as something secondary and of interest, at most, to clerics and the newly ordained.
The necessity of instruction is therefore evident; an instruction that is not limited to an élite which restricts its field of action to the ambit of Catholic associations or pious confraternities.
The Liturgy, which is as universal as the Gospel and is a commentary and faithful application of it, must extend its beneficial action to the people as a whole and bring its field of operation closer to them; in other words, to the Parish.
All Christians, indeed all human beings, as children of God and members of the human race, have the right and duty to know about Liturgy,
initially in the particular part in which they directly participate, and then to have a knowledge of the organic unity of the whole system of worship.
Love of the Liturgy
To win over the will's adherence, the truths of religion must first obtain the assent of the intellect and the eagerness of feeling.
It is a well-known fact that while many people are convinced of the truths of the Gospel to the point of being unable to escape the spell of its teaching, they still live in indifference, if not, indeed, in sin. The same thing can happen to Liturgy if knowledge is deprived of lively love.
Love of the Liturgy has to flow from intrinsic knowledge and deep insight. But a love of this kind is possible only for those who are obliged to undertake particular studies in liturgical science and have the possibility to do so.
Ordinarily, instead, not only people in general, but clergy and scholars as well, need to have extrinsic study of the Liturgy precede intrinsic study; before explaining its individual parts they must give precedence to the idea of the whole and the intimate bond that links theoretical truth and moral perfection; they need to explore
the necessity, the greatness, the beauty and the goodness of the object of the Liturgy and its effects.
In practice, the explanation of the acts of worship and the participation of the faithful in the liturgical functions have a determining effect on people's minds.
The explanation of the acts of worship leads to the knowledge and perception of the intrinsic value of rite and formula.
Participation must concern not only the clergy, whose role it is to perform the acts reserved to priestly power, but also the laity in whose name and to the advantage and union of whom the priest carries out the exalted functions proper to his ministry. The Liturgy must not be reduced to empty formalism, nor to a simple pursuit of outward show, antiquated customs or artistic features. It must be intelligent, alive and devout.
In this way the Liturgy "will reveal profound and wonderful truths, unfamiliar unanimity; it will open up vast horizons and raise minds to a sphere of beauty and spiritual enjoyment, and all will be able to determine that it responds to their heartfelt needs and noble aspirations."
Live the Liturgy
The Liturgy is not the place to look for scientific or poetic gratification. To be sure,
science and art honor and ought to honor God, but they do not, as such, constitute the Liturgy, which is something alive and life-giving. It is, in a certain sense, the consummation itself of Jesus Christ whereby he continues to be in his Church the Teacher, the sacrificial Victim, the Sanctifier: Way, Truth and Life for humanity.
The Liturgy is thus God's word, a school of holiness, and a source of grace.3
God's word. The Church's teaching was set mostly within the Liturgy. "Erant autem perseverantes in doctrina Apostolorum et communicatione fractionis panis et orationibus",4 we read of the early Christians. In these words we find a type of trinomial which eminently sums up every liturgical assembly.
One of the terms of the trinomial is "Doctrina". Just as the ancient Fathers continued to instruct the faithful, so does the Church continue to do so in her Liturgy.
What a mine of God's word there is in the liturgical books! In comparison, the hotchpotch of miscellaneous topics that daily floods the book market comes a very poor second!
In the Breviary, the Missal, the Ritual and
in all the other liturgical books you find a magnificent treasure of God's word.
Scripture's inspired word, which in the pages of the Old Testament foreshadows Christ in figurative form and, in the New, presents him to us in person. God's word, on the lips of the holy Fathers and Doctors; God's word fulfilled in the lives of the saints and the martyrs, who are none other than the extension of Christ in his Mystical Body. Lastly, the Church's word or rather its thought, which comes to the surface in all the prayer formulas and in the very rites and ceremonies which have their own silently eloquent language, oftentimes more eloquent than the words themselves.
School of holiness. The idea of holiness itself implies separation, steadfast dedication. It is separation from all that is contrary to God or simply extraneous to God; it is steadfast dedication of oneself to God and to the things of God, which is expressed in an ongoing and increasing activity directed towards God's glorification and one's own holiness.
Now the priesthood of Christ which is unfailingly effected in the Liturgy - in accordance with the demands of place, time, people and circumstance - is a model of separation and dedication above all others.
This schooling of separation and dedication
is apparent in the whole of Liturgy and in its individual parts. The whole of Liturgy is aimed at developing the life of Christ in people's souls. In fact, just as Christ cast the splendor of his ideal over his disciples during his earthly life and led them in the way of holiness, so down the ages he mystically attracts Christians to follow him by means of the Liturgy.
Source of grace. Liturgy not only includes dogma in its most minute manifestations, it not only teaches the way of holiness, it is the source of holiness. By means of the Liturgy, the Church has at its disposal the infinite merits of its Head, Jesus Christ, whereby it renders to God not only the glory that is his due, but also bestows salvation on human beings. Thus while the Liturgy instills in people the spirit of religion and the compulsion to proclaim to God their own admiration and subservience - through Jesus Christ and in union with the Church and the whole of nature - it also communicates the life of God, his holiness, of which it is the source.
The Mass is holiness' source; in the Mass Jesus repeats: "pro eis sanctifico meipsum ut sint et ipsi sanctificati in veritate... ut sint consummati in unum."5 The Sacraments are a source, an almost physical agency, of holiness. [They are] actions of
Jesus Christ that receive efficacy from the Mass, they free us from death of the soul and give us its life. The Sacramentals, too, are a communication of God's goodness, a source - albeit a lesser but authentic one - of life and holiness.
Liturgical prayer has a power, which purifies, enlightens, fortifies and unites. It is the most powerful of prayers because it is the Church's prayer, everyone's prayer. Thus, in his liturgical activity, the press apostle should resolve to make the liturgical life known, loved and experienced. Since knowledge and love are applied to the liturgical life, so should his efforts be directly or indirectly applied to it, to the degree that the particular aim of each initiative allows it.
Whenever he deals with this subject and in order "to bring the Liturgy alive" - in keeping with the principles mentioned above - a useful and three-pronged approach is first, to set out the truth which enlightens the mind; then to elicit from this a practical teaching which moves the will; lastly, to inculcate prayer as uplift and union with God. This will always be possible, whether the Liturgy is dealt with in essence or in praxis, in its totality or in its various parts, whether it is aimed at ministers, students, the faithful, unbelievers... or developed in the form of a wide-ranging or summarized tract,
or as an explanation to the people, or considered from the historical, dogmatic, ascetical, literal or symbolic point of view...
Presented in this way, the Liturgy leads people to pay complete homage to God in Jesus Christ and in the Church, as God demands. Their mind knows and contemplates; their will actualizes the consecration of their life and being to God; from the heart flows the love that must both permeate and sustain this effort of elaboration and dedication.
Thus the whole person is aroused, inspired and adores, and the sanctifying influence of the Liturgy produces its effects and shines through the whole person.
1 * Atheistic and revolutionary Illuminism, on the part of secular culture, and Jansenism, on the Catholic side.
2 * Inter pastoralis officii sollicitudines (1903).
3 Cf. Rivista Liturgica, of Finalpia, years 1935, 1938-1939.
4 Acts 2:42. * "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."
5 Jn 17:23. * Cf. Jn 17:19-23: "And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth... that they may all be one... that they may become perfectly one."