Liturgy Preserves Faith Experience of Generations

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Holy Father's address to those taking part in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on 3 May 1996.

1. I am pleased to meet you on the occasion of your dicastery's plenary assembly. My affectionate thoughts first go to the Cardinals present here and in a particular way to the Prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Antonio Maria Javierre Ortas, whom I thank for his courteous words. I greet the Secretary, Archbishop Geraldo Majella Agnelo, the members, officials, consultors and all who work on the special Commissions. I would like to shark you all for the competence and generosity with which you carry out your appreciated service to the Holy See in an area so important for the life of the Ecclesial Community.

In the past few days you have made a careful examination of the ordinary activities of the last quinquennium, recalling the problems encountered and the solutions adopted, and seeking at the same time to provide for what remains to be fostered and promoted for the future. We are at the <ante-preparatory stage> of our way towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In my Apostolic Letter <Tertio millennio adveniente>, I pointed out that "during the Council, precisely out of a desire to be fully faithful to her Master, the Church ... made provision for the reform of the liturgy, the 'origin and summit' of her life" (n. 19; AAS, 87 [1995], 173, and stressed the need to reflect on "the reception given to the Council" with particular regard to the liturgy (cf. n. 36; <loc. cit.>, n. 28).

2. Indeed, the liturgy as a whole, especially in the Eucharistic celebration, is the <summit> towards which the Ecclesial Community's entire action is directed and, at the same time, the <source> from which the glorification of God flows, together with the believer's progressive sanctification in the concrete circumstances in which he lives. It was therefore necessary to make the liturgy more responsive to the expectations of people today and more easily assimilated by the different cultures.

True, profound liturgical reform was needed

In this regard I am anxious to recall that what I had the opportunity to observe more generally in <Tertio millennio adveniente> concerning the Council also applies to the reform of the liturgy, particularly that of the Roman rite: 'The Second Vatican Council is often considered as the beginning of a new era in the life of the Church. This is true, but at the same time, it is difficult to overlook the fact that the Council drew much from the experiences and reflections of the immediate past especially from the intellectual legacy left by Pius XII. In the history of the Church, the 'old' and the 'new' are always closely interwoven. The 'new' grows out of the 'old', and the 'old' finds a fuller expression in the 'new'. (n. 18; <loc. cit.>, n. 16). How then can we fail to remember that the liturgical reform is the fruit of a long period of reflection which dates back to the pastoral activity of St. Pius X and which was given a remarkable impetus in Pius XII's Encyclical <Mediator Dei> (AAS, 39 [1947], 521-595), whose 50th anniversary we will commemorate next year?

The purpose of all that was done for liturgical life, both before the Second Vatican Council and in the period of the Council sessions and then during the liturgical reform stemming from it as its authorized application, was to facilitate the assimilation of the "spirit of the liturgy" and, on this basis, the understanding of the proper and essential value of liturgical actions.

It was obvious that the spirit of the liturgy could not be restored by means of a mere <reform>. A true, profound liturgical <renewal> was necessary. In fact a "'spirit" intrinsically linked with liturgical "actions" can reside only in the "human agents" of the liturgy, who are called to "exercise Christ's priestly office.. However, this does not mean that one should neglect the forms in which Christ's priesthood is expressed and exercised, those 'outward signs. which the liturgy must take into consideration.

3. The Second Vatican Council responded to the expectations of the people of our time, calling believers, as I mentioned in the Apostolic Letter <Orientale lumen>, 'to show in word and deed today the immense riches that our Churches preserve in the coffers of their traditions" (n. 4; AAS, 87 [1995], 748). One of these "coffers" is certainly the <Missale Romanum>, whose <tertia editio typica> you are preparing. In it the <lex orandi> has preserved, for the Roman rite, the faith experience of entire generations, together with many characteristic features of cultures that have been gradually transformed into Christian civilizations.

The liturgical reform has sought to put into practice on a broader scale and in different ways according to the times and needs, what had already happened in other periods of the Church's history, as for example, in the extraordinary pastoral undertaking of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, since 'revelation is proclaimed satisfactorily and becomes fully understandable when Christ speaks the tongues of the various peoples, and they can read Scripture and sing the liturgy in their own language with their own expressions" (<Orientale lumen>, n. 7 loc. cit., 751).

Freedom must strictly respect need for unity

4. The <editio typica tertia> of the Roman Missal gives you an opportunity to reflect on several characteristics of this renewal. In this regard, it is worth recalling what I wrote in the Apostolic Letter <Dominicae cenae>: "Although at this stage of renewal the possibility of a certain 'creative' freedom has been permitted, nevertheless this freedom must strictly respect the requirements of substantial unity. We can follow the path of this pluralism (which arises in part from the introduction itself of the various languages into the liturgy) only as long as the essential characteristics of the celebration of the Eucharist are preserved, and the norms prescribed by the recent liturgical reform are respected" (n. 12; AAS, 72 [1980], 143). And I added: "Indispensable effort is required everywhere to ensure that within the pluralism of Eucharistic worship envisioned by the Second Vatican Council the unity of which the Eucharist is the sign and cause is clearly manifested" (ibid.).

I am well aware that your dicastery is engaged in promoting maximum fidelity to liturgical laws, reminding everyone of the principles formulated by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: "Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the Bishop.... Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy <Sacrosanctum Concilium>, n. 22).

5. Therefore, it must be clear to all that, while the contribution of experts can shed useful light on workable options, decisions regarding the liturgy remain subject to the direct responsibility of ecclesiastical authority, whose sole aim is to encourage the liturgical participation of the people in the glorification of God and, at the same time, to make the possibility of sanctification more accessible and fruitful for every believer.

Time to finish important work on the Martyrology

Only a liturgy which produces in a heart which listens to the Word and is turned towards the Eucharist that "silence filled with the presence of him who is adored", of which I spoke in the recent Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Consecrated Life (cf. n. 38 <L'Osservatore Romano> English edition 3 April 1996, p. VII), can respond to the demands and goals of the Christian life. In a world pervaded by audiovisual messages of every kind, it is necessary to recover areas of silence which allow God to make his voice heard, and the soul to understand and welcome it (cf. <Orientale lumen>, n. 16, <loc. cit.>, 762). This is what we are taught by the shining example of countless saints and blesseds who have preceded us, glorifying God with the prayerful recollection of their life, and of martyrs, who for love chose "the silence" of the total gift of their life as a response to God's love perceived in the Word and in the Eucharist.

6. This is why the Christian life will be greatly helped by the series of reflections you have developed with regard to <veneration of the blesseds> and regarding the <Roman Martyrology> as a liturgical book, which uniquely contributes to an exchange in the veneration of the saints between the Churches, as a communication of gifts in the spirit of the Communion of Saints. I know well that this is a long, painstaking task, which for many years has been the subject of your Congregation's work and reflection. The time has come to bring this important work to a conclusion, so that the Martyrology can join the other liturgical books already revised. Thus it will be clearly evident that the parsimony with which the general <Roman Calendar> has provided for the memorials of the saints, in order to give precedence to the Lord's Day and the celebrations of his Mystery, does not at all mean less consideration for all who, starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary, bear witness by their life to the marvels wrought by grace, so that the faithful may not only commemorate and meditate on the mysteries of Redemption, but may also come personally into contact with them, take part in them and live from them (cf. Pius XII, Encyclical Letter, <Mediator Dei>, AAS, 39 [1947], 580).

As I hope that the work of the plenary assembly will contribute to an ever deeper liturgical life for the People of God, I invoke upon your dicastery the constant protection of Mary, the insuperable model of the perfect <Orans.>

With these wishes, as I thank you once again for your generous collaboration, I affectionately impart a special Apostolic Blessing to each one of you.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
15 May 1996

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