I would like to offer some interpretative keys to the Instruction
Redemptionis Sacramentum so that people can grasp the spiritual
inspiration that brings it to life.
The Instruction, as n. 2 recalls, is a follow-up to the
Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia and has the same basic
inspiration. The fact it is written in the form of a discourse with
certain disciplinary elements does not prevent its heartbeat from being
"contemplative". In its own way, the Document responds to the urgent need
for a "liturgical spirituality" which the Pope called for in his Apostolic
Letter Spiritus et Sponsa (n. 16).
It is also important to interpret the Instruction in the
light of this recent Papal Pronouncement that forcefully proposes anew the
timeliness of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the conciliar
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy whose 40th anniversary we have just
With regard to its content, the Instruction does no more
than reassert the liturgical norms in force. However, it is far from dry
in its approach. Both in the Preamble and throughout, it concisely recalls
the motives that give meaning to the norms. An image of the Eucharistic
liturgy and of the corresponding body of norms that emerges from them can
be summed up in the following three perspectives as an expression of
faith, an experience of the mystery and an experience of communion.
Expression of faith
The liturgy, and especially the Eucharist, is the
privileged place where the Church confesses her faith. She confesses it in
the loftiest way possible, that is, in a dialogue of love with her Lord.
The liturgical expression of this dialogue is marked by the fact that it
is not a single believer or group of believers who are at stake, but the
Church herself. It is a matter of "public" prayer whose importance,
because of its character, surpasses that of other prayers. In fact, as the
Council says, "no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the
same title and to the same degree" (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.
This prayer is intrinsically determined by the profession
of faith. At the same time, it can cast ever new light on the content of
the faith in a circular relationship between the lex orandi and the
lex credendi, a fundamental principle that the Document also
recalls with these words: "The sacred Liturgy is quite intimately
connected with principles of doctrine, so that the use of unapproved texts
and rites necessarily leads either to the attenuation or to the
disappearance of that necessary link between the lex orandi and the
lex credendi" (n. 10).
At the very least, this is a risk and explains why nothing
can be left to chance in the liturgy: the stakes are too high!
In n. 9, the Instruction recalls that the whole tide of
faith and tradition flows through the rites and prayers of the liturgy.
Abuses sometimes show up an ignorance of the meaning of the norms
themselves, through a lack of knowledge of their deeper meaning and
antiquity. This point reflects the need for a more profound and systematic
liturgical formation of the People of God, as the Holy Father reminded us
recently: "It is more necessary than ever to intensify liturgical life
within our communities by means of an appropriate formation of the
pastors and of all the faithful with a view to the active, conscious and
full participation in liturgical celebrations desired by the Council" (Spiritus
et Sponsa, n. 7).
Experience of the mystery
In n. 5, the Document recalls that over and above their
functional character, liturgical norms have a soul, in other words, a deep
spiritual significance which calls for an observance that is not only
external but comes within.
This interiority, in the final analysis, of associating
the Church with himself is the relationship with Christ, who exercises his
priesthood in the liturgy. The norms, as an expression of the ecclesial
conscience guided by God's Spirit, particularly through the discernment
and guidance of the Pastors, guarantee the validity and dignity of the
liturgical action and with it, Christ's "becoming present". His presence
is neither abstract nor merely symbolic, but so alive that it brings him
within our reach, as happens most intensely in the celebration of the
If the Eucharist is celebrated properly, the features of
the face of Christ outlined in the Gospel become in some way perceptible
to the hearts of believers, just as they did to the disciples of Emmaus
who "recognized him in the breaking of the bread" (cf. Lk 24:35). It is
not by chance that the Document recalls this important paschal episode (n.
Thus, the liturgy appears as the path to the mystery, and
the norms as signposts that enable us to travel it safely. In this regard,
the Instruction says that the words and rites of the Liturgy, which are "a
faithful expression, matured over the centuries, of the understanding of
Christ", "teach us to think as he himself does" (n. 5). Here, too, the
ultimate goal of the Document is identified: it is "directed toward... a
conformity of our own understanding with that of Christ, as expressed in
the words and the rites of the liturgy" (ibid.).
Experience of communion
Another element of the Instruction is the logic of
communion which it intends to promote. The image of the Church that the
Document portrays is of a hierarchically ordained community in which the
fundamental equality of every baptized person is combined with the
diversity of charisms and ministries. The liturgy, and the Eucharist in
particular, is the epiphany of the Church in her unity and diversity.
It is first and foremost the insistence on the legitimate
authority appointed to regulate the liturgical context which brings this
out. In conformity with the dictates of the Second Vatican Council, the
Instruction sheds clear light on the role of the Bishop, coordinated with
and subordinate to that of the Successor of Peter. The respective roles of
priests, deacons and the laity are explained in the context of
celebration. The emphasis the Document places on the distinction between
priests and lay people should be interpreted in this key of respect for
the gifts proper to each one.
It would be misleading, therefore, to evaluate this
distinction with the logic of civil society. The liturgical community has
the identity of "ekklesia", a word which, as we are reminded
in n. 42, is related to the Greek word "klesis" or "calling", which
means being convoked from on high as a people in which God makes himself
present, and in which Christ acts in the Spirit through the ministerial
vocations that he authoritatively establishes. The need for an ordained
priest to celebrate the Eucharist "in is inherent in this logic.
Of course, this does not eclipse the living and active
participation in the liturgy, regulated by the appropriate norms, which is
the duty of all the baptized.
Lastly, we should also understand in the perspective of
communion the affirmation of the "right" of the faithful to a dignified
celebration, hence, also their right to demand one, should there be
inadequacies or abuses, by lodging a complaint with the legitimate
authority, so that all may be done in truth and charity (cf. n. 184). The
liturgy cannot become a "battle ground".
Clarifying the sense of Church
At this point a question might arise: of course, the
liturgy and the norms that regulate it are an expression of faith, an
experience of the mystery and a service of communion! But is it not
excessive to say all this about a series of norms of a different kind
without distinguishing between what is essential and unchangeable and what
instead is by its nature susceptible to reform? Isn't there a risk of
making the body of norms rigid, of "amour-plating" it and excluding on
principle possible improvements or changes? Are there not any norms for
the liturgy that by their nature are subject to change, as shown by the
2,000 years of history until the liturgical reform advocated by the Second
Those who read the Instruction attentively will find the
answer. Indeed, although it contains and reaffirms so many norms, it does
not neglect to distinguish their importance.
In n. 7, for example, it distinguishes between precepts
coming directly from God and laws promulgated by the Church, inviting all
to "do that which is fitting and right".
Number 13 mentions the varying "degrees" with which the
individual norms are bound up with the supreme law of the salvation of
In the last chapter, abuses are identified in relation to
their gravity, with a reminder that even lesser abuses should not be
However, while making distinctions that are only right, it
should be said that the observance of all the norms of major and minor
importance clarifies the sense of Church. Nor can abuses be justified in
the name of pastoral adaptation, taxing the current norms with rigidity.
To use the Pope's words: "The liturgical renewal that has
taken place in recent decades has shown that it is possible to combine a
body of norms that assure the identity and decorum of the Liturgy and
leave room for the creativity and adaptation that enable it to correspond
closely with the need to give expression to their respective situation and
culture of the various regions"