40th Anniversary: Institut Supérieur de Liturgie, Paris
Cardinal Francis Arinze
Liturgy: a gift from Christ through the Church

The following is the Opening Address on 26 October by Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, at the Colloquium to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the "Institut Supérieur de Liturgie" of the "Institut Catholique de Paris".

1. Fitting Celebration, Time of Grace

God be praised that the "Institut Supérieur de Liturgie" is celebrating a half-century of its life and service. In these 50 years this Institute has made a significant contribution to liturgical reflection, life and allied formation in the Church.

We pray the Lord Jesus to bless and reward all who in the past, or at the present time, have contributed to the work of this important section of the Institut Catholique de Paris. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments offers its warm congratulations to the Institute.

A jubilee celebration such as this is a time not only for thanksgiving but also for reflection, for re-examination of orientations, for clarification of the road map and for resolutions for the future. Let us touch on some of the areas which a higher liturgical institute such as this one could seek to serve.

It is important to show the light in matters liturgical. The ars celebrandi and the homily deserve special mention. An ecclesiology of communion includes clarity on the roles of the priest and of the diocesan Bishop. A consideration of these elements will help us to conclude with a listing of the major services expected of a liturgical institute.

2. Show the light in matters liturgical

Primary among the duties of a higher liturgical institute is to be a beacon of light in matters liturgical. It informs and forms leaders who appreciate the riches to be found in the public worship of the Church and who will be ready to share them with others. It throws light on the close link between theology and liturgy, between the faith of the Church and the celebration of the mysteries of Christ, between the lex credendi and the lex orandi.

While, therefore, a higher liturgical institute should promote research, it above all bases its strong and durable foundations on the faith, on the Tradition of the Church and on the heritage enshrined in liturgical texts, gestures and postures. Such an institute appreciates that the sacred liturgy is a gift we receive from Christ through the Church. It is not something that we invent.

It has therefore unchangeable elements which come from our Saviour Jesus Christ, as in the essential forms of the Sacraments, and changeable elements which have been carefully handed on and guarded by the Church.

Many abuses in matters liturgical are based, not on bad will but on ignorance, because "they involve a rejection of those elements whose deeper meaning is not understood and whose antiquity is not recognized" (Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 9). Thus, some abuses are due to an undue place given to spontaneity, or creativity, or to a wrong idea of freedom, or to the error of horizontalism which places man at the centre of a liturgical celebration instead of vertically focusing on Christ and his mysteries.

Darkness is chased away by light, not by verbal condemnation. A higher liturgical institute trains experts in the best and authentic theologico-liturgical tradition of the Church. It forms them to love the Church and her public worship and to follow the norms and indications given by the Magisterium. It also provides appropriate courses for those who will promote ongoing liturgical formation for clerics, consecrated people and the lay faithful.

As Pope John Paul II wrote to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments a month before his death: "It is urgent that in parish communities, in associations and in ecclesial movements there be assured adequate courses of formation, so that the liturgy be better known in the richness of its language and that it be lived in fullness. To the measure to which this is done, the result will be benefits showing themselves in personal and community life" (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Cardinal Arinze, 3 March 2005, n. 5).

3. Promotion of "Ars Celebrandi"

A consequence of sound theologico-liturgical grounding and proper formation in faith and reverence, is that the ars celebrandi will be promoted not only on the part of the celebrating priest, but also as regards all others who take part in liturgical functions: above all the deacon, but also altar servers, readers, those who direct the singing and all the faithful who participate.

Ars celebrandi is based on the theological truth articulated by the Second Vatican Council, namely, that "the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of man is manifested by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which is proper to each of these signs; in the liturgy full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Christ, that is, by the Head and his members" (Sacro-sanctum Concilium, n. 7).

A liturgical institute should help everyone concerned in a liturgical celebration to appreciate this truth.

The first place goes to the celebrating priest or Bishop. If they are sufficiently inserted into the meaning of liturgical celebrations which have Christ as their Head, if they respect the Scripture, Tradition, historical roots of the sacred texts and the theological riches of liturgical expressions, then the results will be a happy manifestation of the ars celebrandi. Liturgical celebrations will beautifully manifest the faith of the Church, nourish this faith in the participants, awaken this faith in the dormant and the indifferent, and send the people home on fire to live the Christian life and spread the Gospel.

This is very far from the cold, man-centred and sometimes openly idiosyncratic mannerism which our Sunday congregations are sometimes forced to endure. Both the Letter of Pope John Paul II already mentioned (cf. n. 3) and the October 2005 Synod of Bishops (cf. Prop. 25) emphasize the importance of ars celebrandi.

4. The Homily

"The homily", says the Second Vatican Council, "is to be highly esteemed as part of the liturgy itself" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 52). In it the Word of God is bread broken for the people. The sacred readings are related to the realities of life in the world of today. The homily, well delivered, should make the people's hearts burn within them (cf. Lk 24:32).

Unfortunately, many homilies as delivered by priests or deacons are not up to what is desirable. Some homilies seem to be mere sociological, psychological or, worse still, political comments. They are not sufficiently grounded in Holy Scripture, liturgical texts, Church tradition and solid theology.

In some countries there are people who do not appreciate that the delivery of the homily at the Eucharistic Sacrifice is a pastoral ministry assigned only to ordained ministers: deacon, priest or Bishop. Lay people laudably conduct catechesis outside Mass, but not the homily, which demands ordination.

A higher liturgical institute can help spread the right convictions regarding the homily. It can help create a climate of opinion which will lead to more substantial pastures for the People of God, considering that for many Catholics the homily is probably the only ongoing religious and catechetical formation that they receive in the week (cf. Letter of Pope John Paul II, n. 4; October 2005 Synod: Prop. 19).

5. The liturgical role of the Priest

It is crucial that a higher liturgical institute delineate clearly the role of the priest in the sacred liturgy. The Second Vatican Council says that "the wished-for renewal of the whole Church depends in large measure on a ministry of priests which is vitalized by the spirit of Christ" (Optatam Totius, n. 1).

The common priesthood of all the baptized and the ministerial priesthood of the ordained priest come from Christ himself. Confusion of roles in the hierarchical constitution of the Church does damage. It does not promote witness to Christ nor holiness for clergy and laity.

Neither attempts at the clericalization of the laity, nor efforts towards the laicization of the clergy, will bring down divine graces.

"In liturgical celebrations", says Vatican II, "whether as a minister or as one of the faithful, each person should perform his role by doing solely and totally what the nature of things and liturgical norms require of him" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 28). It is false humility and an inadmissible idea of democracy or fraternity for the priest to try to share his strictly priestly liturgical roles with the lay faithful.

It is not therefore superfluous to state that a higher liturgical institute, just as any theological faculty, should help people to see that the priesthood is an integral and constitutive part of the structure of the Church and that therefore we absolutely need ordained priests to celebrate Holy Mass, to absolve people from their sins in the Sacrament of Penance and to anoint the sick (cf. Jas 5:14-15).

Moreover, if fuller spiritual benefits are to come to people at weddings and funerals, then we need priests to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice, preach spiritually enriching homilies to the people, some of whom would otherwise rarely come to Mass, give them blessings and be a sign that the Church is near them at such a milestone in their lives. No doubt, it is necessary that the priest does not merely perform liturgical functions, but that his ministerial activities come from the heart and that his pastoral presence be a spiritual nourishment for the people.

If the role of the priest is weakened or is not appreciated, a local Catholic community may be dangerously lapsing into the idea of a priestless community. This is not in line with the genuine concept of the Church instituted by Christ.

If a Diocese does not have enough priests, initiatives should be taken to seek them from elsewhere now, to encourage local vocations and to keep fresh in the people a genuine "hunger" for a priest (cf. John Paul II: Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 32).

Non-ordained members of the faithful who are assigned some roles in the absence of a priest have to make a special effort to keep up this "hunger". And they should resist the temptation of trying to get the people accustomed to them as substitutes for priests (cf. op. cit., n. 33). There is no place in the Catholic Church for the creation of a sort of parallel "lay clergy" (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, nn. 149-153, 165).

Priests on their part should show themselves transparently happy in their vocation with a clear identity of their liturgical role. If they celebrate the sacred mysteries with faith and devotion and according to the approved books, they will unconsciously be preaching priestly vocations.

On the other hand, young people will not desire to join a band of clerics who seem uncertain of their mission, who criticize and disobey their Church and who celebrate their own "liturgies" according to their personal choices and theories.

A higher liturgical institute and a theological faculty are precious instruments in the hands of the Church for the sharing of the correct theology on the priest as Christ's instrument in the sacred liturgy.

6. The role of the Bishop

Obviously, ecclesial communion has to mean communio with the diocesan Bishop and between Bishops and the Pope. In the Diocese, the Bishop is the first steward of the mysteries of Christ. He is the moderator, promoter and guardian of the entire liturgical life of the Diocesan Church (cf. Christus Dominus, n. 15; C.I.C., can. 387; Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 19).

The Bishop directs the administration of the Sacraments and especially of the Holy Eucharist. When he concelebrates in his cathedral church with his priests, with the assistance of deacons and minor assistants, and with the participation of the holy People of God, "the Church reveals herself most clearly" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 41).

Catholic theological faculties, liturgical institutes and pastoral centres are there to help the Bishop, the Chief Pastor in the Diocese. They also in appropriate ways cooperate with the Bishops' Conference and the Apostolic See and help to explain and spread their documents and instructions. They are obvious treasured advisers to the diocesan Bishop, Bishops' Conferences and the Holy See. They appreciate and help people to understand that the sacred liturgy is not a free-for-all research area, but rather the public and official prayer of the Church for which the Pope and the Bishops are chiefly responsible.

A Catholic institute or theological faculty thus sees that it is not right for it to run parallel to the Bishop or the Holy See, or to regard itself as an independent observer or critic.

Here we must thank the "Institut Supérieur de Liturgie" for the positive role it has played for half a century in the Church, in promotion of the sacred liturgy and of ecclesial communion. This leads us to conclude with a listing of some of the services expected from a higher liturgical institute.

7. Services expected from a Higher Liturgical Institute

It follows from the foregoing considerations that a higher institute for the liturgy should be a house of light and love. It should prepare, inform and form experts on the sacred liturgy. It is its role to inspire people with faith and with love for the Church, so that they appreciate that liturgical "norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 52).

This means that liturgical institutes should arm people to reject banalization, desacralization and secularization in matters liturgical. Horizontalism which makes people tend to celebrate themselves instead of the mysteries of Christ does damage to Catholic faith and worship and deserves to be avoided.

An institute such as yours exercises great influence because of the orientation and spirit which it imparts to its students, because of its publications and because of its moral authority in giving ideas to diocesan liturgical and pastoral centres and to publishing houses. This influence goes beyond France and reaches villages in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

A higher liturgical institute can be a powerful help to the Bishop, to the Bishops' Conference and to the Holy See, in the formulation of liturgical directives and in the articulation of the theology which underpins liturgical rites. Since "the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 10), no one can fail to see the importance of the apostolate of a liturgical institute.

"Institut Supérieur de Liturgie", I greet you as you complete your 50th Year! May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of our Saviour whose mysteries we celebrate in the liturgy, obtain for this Institute and all its Sisters throughout the world joy, efficiency and ecclesial growth in the discharge of this high vocation and mission.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 December 2006, page 4

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