To the Congregation for Divine Worship

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

We need a living liturgy with no arbitrary changes

On Friday 22 May, Pope John Paul received in audience the participants in the general session of the Congregation for Divine Worship. In the course of the audience, the Holy Father addressed the following words to the participants

Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear Friends of the Congregation for Divine Worship,

1. Iam happy to receive you on the occasion of your plenary assembly. The reports which you have presented show that the work of this department his been intense since your last general session in October 1985. Certain projects have been completed while others are still continuing.

I shall mention only the new official text of the Ritual of Marriage and of the Ritual of Ordinations; the preparation of a complete collection of the Roman Ritual which marks the completion of the revision of that of 1614 in accord with the directives of the conciliar constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. I am thinking as well of the Roman Martyrology which it was necessary to revise with a concern for historical accuracy; far from weakening devotion to the saints, this contributes to its increase among the Christian people. I also mention the preparation in progress of a biblical and patristic supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours. Finally, I am happy that the publication of a collection of Masses in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary has preceded the opening of the Marian Year by several months.

2. Besides the liturgical texts, there is the broader and equally important problem of the adaptation of the liturgy. According to the instructions of the Council, the liturgy must remain alive without, however, allowing itself to be modelled according to the pleasure of each person’s imagination. This is the goal of the directions prepared by your Congregation for the inculturation of the liturgy in the mentalities and traditions of various peoples and, furthermore, for the adaptation of liturgical celebrations for youth. Yes, it is necessary to seek the active participation rightly demanded by the Council, with the understanding that it is not a question of aiming merely at a type of exterior activity nor a mere expression on the level of the senses, but of intimate participation in the mystery of Christ, who calls its to follow him in his total obedience to the Father and in the gift which he makes of himself for our salvation and the salvation of the world.

During your meeting you have mainly examined questions concerning the Sunday celebration in places where a priest cannot be present, Holy Week, and artistic programmes presented in places of worship,

Lack of priests

3. How is the Lord's Day to be celebrated in a Christian community deprived of a priest? This haslong been a frequent situation in mission countries; it is a situation which many countries with a long Christian tradition are now experiencing as a result of the decline in the number of priests. This absence is not to be accepted with resignation, because the presence of the priest is necessary for the maintenance and the development of local Christian communities. The calling forth of vocations in these communities must remain a primary concern. The situation must be faced, however, and the best provisions must be made for the spiritual welfare of the faithful. Now one of the essential points of reference for Christians from which they draw both light and strength has been, since the beginning, the Sunday assembly, the gathering of the faithful in one place tocelebrate the risen Lord. This can only be done fully in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the memorial of the death and the resurrection of Christ in praise, thanksgiving and supplication.

The faithful who, due to the lack of a priest, cannot participate in a parish Mass, must nevertheless be able to gather together in prayer of praise and supplication, in listening to the Word of God and, if possible, in the communion of the Eucharistic Bread consecrated during an earlier Mass. This type of celebration does not replace the Mass but must cause one to desire it all the more. It is, for a small community of the faithful, a means, although imperfect, of preserving in a concrete manner its cohesion and vitality; it maintains from Sunday to Sunday its bonds with the whole Church which God does not cease to gather and which offers to him, from east to west, everywhere in the world a perfect offering (cf. the third Eucharist Prayer).

4. Another matter has occupied your attention: Holy Week. It was more than thirty years ago that first the Easter Vigil, and then later the whole of Holy Week were restored in the Roman Church. This restoration was enthusiastically received, at that time.

Today it is good to weigh the situations, to evaluate the low level of interest or participation that may exist in certain regions, the difficulties which remain or have arisen regarding certain points, and to recall the importance of that great week in which the entire Church celebrates the paschal mystery. "Just as Sunday constitutes the culmination of the week, so does the solemnity of Easter constitute the culmination of the liturgical year" (General Instructions for the liturgical year, n. 18). In following the Lord step by step from his messianic entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday until he is taken down from the cross on the evening of Good Friday, the Church journeys towards the holy night in which the Lord arose and which must be considered as the mother of all the holy vigils (ibid., n. 21).

This means that a preparation is necessary throughout Lent in common prayer, in hearing the Word of God and in the practice of penance. This demands especially that pastors have a vigilant concern for preparing hearts for the meeting with Christ the Saviour by a suitable catechesis and, in the first place, by the Sunday homilies. They should arrange convenient times for individual confession and for community penitential celebrations with personal confession and absolution, and for preparing other dignified and prayerful celebrations as well.

5. Finally, you have examined the problem of concerts and other artistic presentations in places of worship. It is true that our churches have for a very long time played an important role in the cultural life of cities and towns. Is not the church the house of the People of God? Has it not been in the churches that this people has had its first aesthetic experiences in seeing the beauty of the building, its mosaics, paintings, statues, or sacred objects: in hearing the organ music or the singing of the choir; in attending liturgical celebrations which draw it above itself and cause it to enter into the heart of Mystery?

The house of God

For this is indeed the primordial character of the church. It is the house of God; it is a sacred place because of the dedication or solemn blessing which has consecrated it to God. The church is the place where the Lord dwells in the midst of his people and where the people come together to worship and pray. This is why every measure must be taken to respect the sacred character of the church.

Outside of liturgical celebrations there can be a place for religious music in the form of a concert. This can be an occasion offered to Christians who are no longer practising their faith, or even to non-Christians who are seeking God, to have access to a true religious experience, beyond a simple aesthetic emotion. The presence of the pastor is thus desirable to show how this spiritual presentation is fitting and to ensure respect for the holy place. In this manner, the church will remain, even through artistic presentations with no liturgical connection, the place where one can discover the presence of the living God, the source of all beauty.

Here, dear brothers and all of you who participate either daily or occasionally in the work of the Congregation for Divine Worship, are some thoughts which your work calls to my mind. I thank you for contributing, in an outstanding way, in the universal Church and in cooperation with the Successor of Peter, to the development of the liturgy and thus to the quality of prayer and to the theological life of the People of God. As I encourage you to continue your work with the necessary theological sensitivity, sense of the Church, and wisdom, I bless you with all my heart.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
22 June 1987, page 8

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