Desiderio Desideravi of the Holy Father Francis on the liturgical formation of the people of God
In this Apostolic letter addressed to all clergy, consecrated men and woman and to the lay faithful the Holy Father expresses his desire to say something on the liturgy which he notes is the “a dimension fundamental for the life of the Church”. The theme of the document is derived from the gospel of Luke 22:15.
And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
The Liturgy: the “today” of Salvation history.
- The Holy Father emphasizes the fact that not only Peter and John but all creation, all history we invited to join the Lord and be present at the table of the Last supper.
- “Through the mercy of the Lord, the gift is entrusted to the Apostles so that it might be carried to every man and woman” (DD,3). It is pure gift that we are invited to the table of the Lord in the one and only “last supper” unrepeatable. it is not by our own merits “no one has earned a place at the supper” (DD, 4).
- The holy Father reiterates that everyone is invited to the supper of the wedding lamb (Rev 19:9). Admission to this feast requires a “wedding garment of faith which comes from the hearing of his Word” (DD, 5) -This highlights the importance of opening ourselves to the hearing of the Word especially in the liturgical assembly. The holy Father speaks of a “missionary option” capable of transforming everything. The Church that is outgoing and open to change.
- Before our response to the invitation, we need to be aware that every time we go to Mass, we are drawn there by Gods’ desire for us – God is the one who takes the initiative always. The Death of Christ is the only perfect sacrifice, hence the “only true act of Worship” (DD,7). The Church celebrates the Mass in respect to the command of the “Do this in memory of me”.
The Liturgy: place of the encounter with Christ
- The beauty of the Liturgy lies in the encounter with Christ alive. And indeed, all sacraments assure us of a possibility to encounter the Lord Jesus and the power of his death and resurrection. It was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth “the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church” (DD,14).
- We are incorporated into the mystical body of Christ (Baptism), which is the subject acting in the liturgy (not as individuals but together as members of the one body of Christ). The “perfect and pleasing” act of worship is the obedience of the Son. The Church is a sacrament of the Body of Christ.
The theological sense of the Liturgy
- The holy Father appeals to us to rediscover the true purpose and beauty of the liturgy. The beauty of the Liturgy must not be “spoiled by superficial and foreshortened understanding of its value or worse yet, by its being exploited in service of some ideological vision, no matter what the hue.” (DD,16). The liturgy must serve to bring unity not division.
The Liturgy: antidote for the poison of spiritual worldliness
- The main ideologies that feed spiritual worldliness, Gnosticism (Subjectivism) “Liturgy is not about one’s own reasoning or feelings it does not say “I” but “We” – The liturgy take us as assembly to the deep mystery of the Word and Sacraments. (DD, 18-19).
- and neo-Pelagianism – this is a belief that we earn salvation by our own efforts, therefore, no need for grace. Medicine for this poison is the understanding that Liturgy is a gratuitous gift to us. We are in fact not worthy to participate hence “Confiteor”.
- The holy Father notes that for the antidote of liturgy to be effective we must rediscover the beauty of the truth of the Christian celebration. God is truth and beauty. Rubrics must be observed they help us to channel our creativity.
Amazement before the Paschal Mystery: an essential part of the liturgical act.
- In every celebration there is an “ocean of grace”, this must awaken a sense of astonishment. “The encounter with God is not the fruit of an individual interior searching for him, but it is an event given” (DD, 24). This wonder is not ‘mysterious rite’ but the realization of the plan of salvation which unfolds before us as revealed in the paschal deed of Jesus (Eph 1:3 -14).
The need for a serious and vital liturgical formation
- With all the problems noted (pelagian, gnostic, individualism, subjectivism etc.) and the diversity and dynamism of culture, how do we gain what we have lost with regards to the sense of liturgy?
- The Second Vatican Council wanted to “enter into contact with modern culture by reaffirming the understanding of Church as Sacrament, special attention to the following documents Lumen gentium, Dei Verbum and Gaudium et spes and Sacrosanctum Concillum (The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and at the same time the font from which all her power flows, n.10). These documents affirm the fact that the Church could no longer be divorced from reality of the situation of the people.
- Quoting from St. Paul VI, the holy Father Francis shows us the richness of liturgy as noted by his predecessor “God must hold first place; prayer to him is our first duty”, “The liturgy is the first source of divine communion in which Gods shares his own life with us”, “It is also the first school of the spiritual life”.
- Reaffirming his teaching on the continuity and validity of the council teaching the Pope noted that “the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi (law of prayer) of the Raman rite.” (Traditionis custodes, art 1)
- The Liturgy makes it possible for us to relate to each other as truly human. Formation for the liturgy and formation by the Liturgy. It must be personal experience.
- The theological formation on the Liturgy must not make us forget the fact that Liturgy is worship. “A celebration that does not evangelize in not authentic” (DD, 37).
- This phrase refers to our “being formed, each according to his or her vocation (Clergy, religious and laity).
- The mystery of Christ in the Liturgy is a fruit of personal encounter. Liturgy is not about “knowledge” (abstract mental process) but a praise and thanksgiving. The Celebration takes into account the reality of the action of the Spirit until Christ be formed in us. (DD, 40). The same applies to the Eucharistic bread “Our participation in the Body and Blood of Christ has not other end than to make us become that which we eat” (Leo the Great).
- Paragraph 42, highlights the fact that liturgy is done with practical tangible realities such as Bread, wine, oil, water, fragrances, fire, ashes, rock, fabrics, colours, body, words, sounds, silences, gestures, space, movement, action, order, time, light. These attest to the fact that the whole of creation is “manifestation of the love of God” – method of incarnation. FRUIT OF THE EARTH AND WORK OF HUMAN HANDS.
- No 43, “The liturgy gives glory to God, not because we can add something to the beauty of the inaccessible light within which God dwells”, but because it allows us here on earth – to see God in the celebration of the mysteries and to draw life from his Passover. “WE WHO WERE DEAD THROUGH OUR SINS AND HAVE BEEN MADE ALIVE AGAIN WITH CHRIST – WE ARE THE GLORY OF GOD” by “BY GRACE WE HAVE BEEN SAVE (Eph 2:5).
- N0 44 – 45 We must cultivate the sense and significance of symbols in the Liturgy. OUR BODY IS A SYMBOL BECAUSE IT IS AN INTIMATE UNION OF SOUL AND BODY (Guardini). The celebration of sacraments by grace of God is efficacious in itself EX OPERE OPERATO. Holy Father once again accentuates that the appreciation of the value of symbols is about personal experience, not mental abstractions.
- Sacraments are “instruments of salvation, vehicles of the Spirit, channels of grace” (DD, 46). The symbolic aspect of the Liturgy must lead us to a deeper reality.
- The sections warm against reducing the celebration to “rubrical mechanism” (avoid being rigid).
- We must note that “The Rite is in itself a norm, and the norm is never an end itself, but it is always at the service of a higher reality that it means to protect” (DD, 48).
- The Holy Spirit whose is present in the Liturgy sets us free from our subjectivism and individual preferences.
- The liturgy requires a consistent application.
- Paragraph 52, speaks about the role and importance of silence. Silence is very important in the liturgy, all those moments as indicated by the rubrics to observe silence must be respected “Let us pray”, “in between readings” “after the Homily”. Liturgical silence is a symbol of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit who animates the entire celebration.
- No, 54 -60 – Priest to take note of the models of presiding and be aware of the fact that they are acting in the person of the risen Lord. “To preside at the Eucharist is to be plunged into the furnace of God’s Love”. A Priest must have a heart of Jesus. Mary watches over the gestures of her Son – she protects the gestures as protected the word made flesh in her womb. A priest who carries out the gestures is protected in the womb of the virgin. Humility is key to priestly ministry “he is not on the throne but in the person of one who serves”, he must not draw attention to himself.
- The Holy Fathers appeals to all those entrusted with responsibility of teaching in the Church to instruct people according to the mind of the Second Vatican II.
- To remind ourselves of the importance of active participation.
- The centrality of the Sunday celebration, “it offers to the Christian community the possibility of being formed by the Eucharist. From Sunday to Sunday the word of the Risen Lord illuminates our existence, wanting to achieve in us the end for which it was sent).
Summary by Fr. Boshom Mpetsheni.