Column on Liturgical Theology; Coordinator: Father Mauro Gagliardi
By Paul Gunter, O.S.B.*
ROME, MARCH 7, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Liturgy, or public work carried out in the name of the people, is our participation in the prayer of Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Its celebration immerses us into the Divine life of the Godhead, as expressed by the Common Preface IV: “For, although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation, through Christ our Lord”.
Consequently, liturgy existed before we could ever have participated in it because it began in the Blessed Trinity, and Christ, who showed us by example how to worship the Father in his earthly life, granted to those who believe, the means for their lives to be transformed by the celebration of the liturgy which communicates the life of the Trinity to us. The work of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy, by sanctifying us, seals us in the loving relationship of the Trinity which is at the heart of the Church. It is the Holy Spirit who inspires faith and brings about our co-operation. It is that genuine co-operation, expressive of our desire for God, that makes the liturgy a common work between the Trinity and the Church. (CCC 1091-1092)
Before the saving mission of Christ in the world could begin, the Holy Spirit laid the foundations for the reception of Christ by bringing to fulfillment the promises of the Old Covenant, whose recounting of the marvels of God, form, no less, the backbone of our own liturgy, than it had for the liturgy of the house of Israel. From the Old Testament with its vast corpus of literature together with the beauty of the psalms, where would the Church’s celebration of Advent be without the prophet Isaiah? The liturgy on Holy Thursday evening without the proclamation of the ritual Easter in Exodus 12? Moreover, how would the Easter Vigil mark, as it does so strikingly, the harmony of the Old and New Testaments without the story of the passage through the Red Sea, together with its canticle, in Exodus 14-15? (CCC 1093-1095) The great feasts of the liturgical year reveal the intrinsic relationship of the Jewish and Christian liturgies as can be seen in the celebration of the Passover where, “for Jews, it is the Passover of history, tending toward the future [and], for Christians, it is the Passover fulfilled in the death and Resurrection of Christ, though always in expectation of its definitive consummation.” (CCC 1096)
While, in the liturgy of the New Covenant, the assembly needs to be prepared for its encounter with Christ and his Church, that preparation is not primarily an intellectual reception of theological truths but an interior affair of the heart wherein conversion is best expressed and the conviction towards a life in union with the will of the Father most vividly recognized. This availability, or docility to the Holy Spirit, is the precondition for the graces received during the celebration itself and for their subsequent affects and effects. (CCC 1097-1098) The connectedness of the Holy Spirit with the Church manifests Christ and his saving work in the liturgy. Especially in the Mass, the liturgy is the ‘memorial of the mystery of salvation’ while the Holy Spirit is the ‘Church’s living memory’ because of its recalling of the mystery of Christ.
The first way by which the Holy Spirit recalls the meaning of the event of salvation is by germinating life from the Word of God proclaimed liturgically so that it can become a scheme of life for those who hear it. Sacrosanctum Concilium 24 explains that the vitality of Sacred Scripture puts both the ministers and the faithful into a living relationship with Christ. (CCC 1099-1101) “In the celebration of the liturgy, Sacred Scripture is extremely important. From it come the lessons that are read and explained in the homily, and the psalms that are sung. It is from the Scriptures that the prayers, collects and hymns draw their inspiration and their force, and that actions and signs derive their meaning.” (SC 24)
The liturgical assembly, then, is not essentially a collection of different temperaments but a communion in faith. Liturgical proclamation calls for a ‘response of faith’ indicative both of ‘consent and commitment’ and built up by the Holy Spirit who instills into the members of the assembly ‘a remembrance of the marvellous works of God’ in a developing anamnesis. Then thanksgiving to God for all he has done flows naturally into praise of God or doxology. (CCC 1102-1103)
In the celebrations of the Paschal Mystery, the Paschal Mystery is not repeated. It is the celebrations that are repeated. At each celebration, it is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that renders that specific mystery present. The Epiclesis is the invocation of the Holy Spirit, and by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist with rightful dispositions, the faithful themselves become a living offering to God, eager in their hope of their heavenly inheritance and witnessing to the life of the Holy Spirit beyond the liturgical celebration itself. Then, ‘Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy’ (CCC 1104-1109).
As Abbot Alcuin Deutsch of Collegeville wrote in his preface in 1926 of the English translation by Virgil Michel of La pieté de l’Église, by Lambert Beauduin, “The liturgy is the expression, in a solemn and public manner, of the beliefs, the loves, the aspirations, the hopes, and the fears of the faithful in regard to God. [...] It is the product of soul-stirring experience; it throbs with the life and warmth of the fire of the Holy Spirit, with whose very words it is replete, and under whose inspiration it came into being. Like nothing else it has power to stir the soul, to vivify it, and to give it savor for the things of God.” (p. iv)
* Father Paul Gunter, O.S.B., is a professor at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Rome and Consultor of the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.