When To Celebrate?/3: The Liturgical Year

Author: Juan José Silvestre


When To Celebrate?/3: The Liturgical Year (CCC 1168-1173)

Column on Liturgical Theology; Coordinator: Father Mauro Gagliardi

By Juan José Silvestre

ROME, 30 MAY 2012 (ZENIT)
Synthesized at Easter — which means inseparably cross and resurrection — is the entire history of salvation, present in a concentrated way is the whole work of redemption. "It could be said that Easter constitutes the central category of the theology of the Council" (J. Ratzinger, Opera Omnia, 774). Situated in this context also is the liturgical year. In fact, "beginning with the 'Easter Triduum', as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance" (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 1168).

It could not be otherwise as the Passion, death and resurrection of the Lord "is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is — all that he did and suffered for all men — participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the cross and resurrection abides and draws everything toward life" (CCC, 1085).

It is true that the crucifixion of Christ, his death on the cross and, in a different way, his resurrection from the sepulcher, are unique historical events that, as such, belong to the past. However, if they were only events of the past, there could not be a real connection with them. In the end, they would have nothing to do with us. That is why the CCC continues saying: “The economy of salvation is at work within the framework of time, but since its fulfillment in the Passover of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the culmination of history is anticipated 'as a foretaste', and the Kingdom of God enters into our time" (CCC, 1168).

We must recognize that the resurrection is outside our horizon, it is so foreign to all our experiences, that it is possible for us to ask ourselves: Of what does "resurrect" consist? What does it mean for us?

Benedict XVI approaches this Mystery and affirms: "The resurrection is — if we can use once the language of the theory of evolution — the greatest ‘mutation', the most absolutely decisive leap to a totally new dimension, that ever happened in the long history of life and its developments: a leap of a completely new order, which affects us and concerns the whole of history. […] He was one with the living God, so totally united to Him that he formed one person with Him […] His own life was not just his own, it was an existential communion with God and a being inserted in God, and that is why it could not really be taken from him. He was able to let himself be killed out of love, but precisely in this way he destroyed the definitive character of death, because present in Him was the definitive character of life. He was one with indestructible life, so that the latter sprang again through death. We express once again the same thing from another point of view. His death was an act of love. In the Last Supper, He anticipated his death and transformed it into the gift of himself. His existential communion with God was, concretely, an existential communion with the love of God, and this love is the real power against death, it is stronger than death" (Homily, 15.04.2006).

This is the real nucleus and the true grandeur of the Eucharist, which is always more than a banquet, as by its celebration the Lord makes himself present, together with the merits of his death and resurrection, central event of our salvation (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 11). Thus "the mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him" (CCC, 1169). This happens because Christ, God and man, maintains always actual, in his personal dimension of eternity, the value of historical events of the past, such as his death and resurrection.

That is why the Church celebrates the salvific work of Christ every week on the day of the Lord, in which the Eucharistic celebration implies directing oneself to the interior of the contemporaneousness with the mystery of the Passover of Christ, and once a year, in the greatest solemnity of Easter which is not simply a celebration among others: it is the "Feast of feasts", the "Solemnity of solemnities" (CCC, 1169).

Moreover, in the same way that "during his earthly life Jesus announced his Paschal mystery by his teaching and anticipated it by his actions" (CCC, 1085) now during the time of the Church in "the liturgical year the various aspects of the one Paschal mystery unfold. This is also the case with the cycle of the feasts surrounding the mystery of the Incarnation which commemorate the beginning of our salvation and communicate to us the first fruits of the Paschal mystery." (CCC, 1171).

Finally, in the course of the liturgical year the Church venerates in a special way the Most Holy Virgin, "inseparably linked with the saving work of her Son. In her the Church admires and exalts the most excellent fruit of redemption, and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image, that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be" (CCC, 1172). And in her memorials of the saints the Church "proclaims the Paschal mystery in those 'who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ. She proposes them to the faithful as examples who draw all men to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she begs for God’s favors'" (CCC, 1173).

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Juan Jose Silvestre is professor of Liturgy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and consultor of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and of the Office of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.

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