The faithful at prayer The faithful at prayer  (Vatican Media) Editorial

Encountering the living Jesus in the community that celebrates

Every paragraph of Pope Francis' new Apostolic Letter "Desiderio desideravi" is filled with the awareness that liturgy is first and foremost about making space for the Other - the true antidote to any form of inadequate celebration.

By Andrea Tornielli

At the core of Francis' Apostolic Letter is the desire for the entire people of God, starting with the celebrants, to rediscover beauty and wonder before the liturgy, letting the liturgy itself "form" those who participate in it, immersing them in what the Pope calls "the ocean of grace that floods every celebration."

Some hint of the papal document, published on the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, can be found in the “overview” that the then-Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires gave to the plenary of the Dicastery for Divine Worship on 1 March 2005.

On that occasion, speaking about the art of celebrating, Jorge Mario Bergoglio suggested the importance of "recovering amazement before the mystery" and called for the publication of a text that would not be a juridical or disciplinary treatise, crammed with norms and rubrics; nor even a treatise on liturgical abuses. Instead, he called for a document with a "pastoral and spiritual, and indeed a meditative tone."

With "Desiderio desideravi" that wish is in some ways fulfilled. In the Apostolic Letter, Pope Francis takes us through a path that goes to the heart of the liturgical celebration, which is both "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed" and "the source from which all its energy flows," as the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council teaches.

Pope Francis also quotes Romano Guardini, an Italian-born theologian and naturalized German, who was also particularly dear to Pope Benedict XVI.

Every paragraph of Francis' new document is imbued with the awareness that the liturgy is first and foremost about leaving space for the Other.

The Pope writes: “before our response to His invitation — well before! — there is His desire for us. We may not even be aware of it, but every time we go to Mass, the first reason is that we are drawn there by His desire for us. For our part, the possible response — which is also the most demanding asceticism — is, as always, that surrender to this love, that letting ourselves be drawn by Him.”

Pope Francis further adds, “If we had somehow arrived in Jerusalem after Pentecost and had felt the desire not only to have information about Jesus of Nazareth but rather the desire still to be able to meet him, we would have had no other possibility than that of searching out his disciples so that we could hear his words and see his gestures, more alive than ever. We would have had no other possibility of a true encounter with him other than that of the community that celebrates.”

Starting afresh from this awareness, rediscovering the beauty of the liturgy, opening ourselves to formation and allowing ourselves to be formed by it, can help clear the field of so many inadequacies.

If taking part in the celebration means "hearing the words" of Jesus and "seeing his gestures, more alive than ever," the narcissistic protagonism of the celebrant, showmanship, austere rigidity or sloppiness and trivialization cannot prevail. And the "source and summit" – liturgy – would not be transformed into an arena where people try to push through a vision of the Church that does not embrace what was established synodically by the Second Vatican Council.

29 June 2022, 12:00