The Sacrament of Charity

Introduction

Part Two of Sacramentum caritatis, which is entitled "The Eucharist, A Mystery To Be Celebrated," examines the many aspects of the celebration of the Mystery of Faith, especially as they relate to the truth of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Father begins Part Two by treating the essential relationship between the law of praying and worshiping (lex orandi) and the law of believing (lex credendi). Clearly, the law of praying and worshiping holds always the first place in the life of faith, for it is directed to the very experience of the Mystery of Faith; it is the personal participation in the saving action of the glorious Christ seated at the right hand of the Father.

Pope Benedict XVI makes two points regarding the relationship of worship and faith, which must always be kept in mind. First of all, "[t]heological reflection in this area can never prescind from the sacramental order instituted by Christ Himself." Secondly, "the liturgical action can never be considered generically, prescinding from the mystery of faith." Without attention to the primary place of the liturgical action, the doctrine of the faith would be unnaturally divorced from the personal, sacramental encounter with Christ which is the source of Catholic faith and its highest expression. At the same time, if the liturgical action is not understood through the eyes of Catholic faith, it risks being seen as a merely human ritual and, thereby, emptied of its deepest significance. Pope Benedict XVI declares: "Our faith and the Eucharistic liturgy both have their source in the same event: Christ's gift of Himself in the Paschal Mystery" (n. 34).

The Sacred Liturgy and Beauty

The relationship of faith and worship is seen, in a particular way, in the beauty which is characteristic of both the Catholic faith and Catholic worship. There can be nothing more beautiful, more splendid, than the encounter with God the Son Incarnate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, for the Holy Eucharist is the fullest expression of God's love of us. The encounter, as all things truly beautiful, attracts us and frees us from the enslavements which keep us from following faithfully our vocation of pure and selfless love. The encounter frees us from all that would mar our beauty as true sons and daughters of God in God the Son. When we meet our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, we meet "beauty and splendor at their source" (n. 35).

The Holy Father reflects on how God's beauty was first revealed by Him in the created world, and then in the wonderful deeds which He accomplished on behalf of His people in the Old Testament. The fullness of divine beauty was revealed in the coming of God the Son into the world in our human flesh. "Christ is the full manifestation of the glory of God" (n. 35).

The beauty of God is seen in Christ, not simply in his natural attractiveness but ultimately in His loss of all earthly attractiveness by His cruel Passion and Death. The glory of the Resurrection, the eternal splendor of the Risen Christ, comes by way of His Crucifixion and Death. Christ's glorious wounds are the fullest manifestation of His unsurpassable beauty, the beauty of unconditional love poured out "to the end" (Jn 13:1). "Here the splendor of God's glory surpasses all worldly beauty. The truest beauty is the love of God, Who definitively revealed Himself to us in the Paschal Mystery" (n. 35).

The Sacred Liturgy which makes always present for us the Paschal Mystery is, therefore, a most privileged expression of divine beauty. It is "a glimpse of heaven on earth." The beauty of the Sacred Liturgy is the glorious Christ pouring out His life for our eternal salvation. Our attention to the fittingness and beauty of the various aspects of the Sacred Liturgy is directed to the great manifestation of God Himself in our Lord Jesus Christ, giving Himself to us with unconditional love.

Regarding the beauty of the Sacred Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI concludes: "These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendor" (n. 35). In preparing for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and in the celebration itself, we must avoid anything careless, routine, improvised or stingy. In this regard, I am frequently struck by the great sacrifices which our ancestors who first came to this country made in order to build truly beautiful churches and chapels. They had far less materially than we have today, but they understood the beauty which must be employed in everything pertaining to the Sacred Liturgy.

The Sacred Liturgy, the Work of Christ

Christ Himself is at work in the Sacred Liturgy and, therefore, the celebration of the liturgy is beautiful in itself. The whole Christ is at work in the Sacred Liturgy, that is, Christ, the Head of His Mystical Body, and Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church. Regarding the "profound unity between ourselves and the Lord Jesus" in the Holy Eucharist, Pope Benedict quotes a passage from one of his favorite theologians, Saint Augustine of Hippo. Saint Augustine, in a sermon preached to the newly baptized on Easter Sunday in the year 414 or 415, declares:

The bread you see on the altar, sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what the chalice contains, sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. In these signs, Christ the Lord willed to entrust to us His Body and the Blood which He shed for the forgiveness of our sins. If you have received them properly, you yourselves are what you have received (n. 36).

Through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, Christ makes ever present the offering of His life for us and makes us one with Him in offering our lives for our brothers and sisters.

The Holy Eucharist is the action of God, "which draws us into Christ through the Holy Spirit" (n. 37). The Eucharistic Sacrifice, in its essential elements, remains always the same. It is not subject to changes which we wish to introduce or which are dictated by "the latest trends." Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of the words of Saint Paul regarding the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Saint Paul makes it clear that he is handing on, not his own creation or invention, but what he received from the Apostles who received it from our Lord Himself.

The Church celebrates the Holy Mass in virtue of our Lord's command at the Last Supper. The Apostles came to understand the command as they met our Risen Lord in the forty days after His Resurrection and before His Ascension, and as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, poured out upon the Church on Pentecost Sunday. The Lord's command is fulfilled, above all, at Sunday Mass. "Sunday, the day Christ rose from the dead, is also the first day of the week, the day which the Old Testament tradition saw as the beginning of God's work of creation. The day of creation has now become the day of the "new creation," the day of our liberation, when we commemorate Christ Who died and rose again" (n. 37).

The Art of Proper Celebration

Pope Benedict XVI points out that the Bishops at the Synod had frequently insisted upon the relationship between the proper celebration of the Holy Eucharist and "the full, active and fruitful participation of all the faithful." The Holy Father declares: "The primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself." What is the art of celebration? It "is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness, indeed, for two thousand years this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers, called to take part in the celebration as the People of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (n. 38).

The art of celebrating necessarily depends upon the discipline of the Bishop, priests and deacons who, according to their individual order, celebrate the Sacred Liturgy "as their principal duty" (n. 39). The Diocesan Bishop has the first and most weighty responsibility for the right celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. The Diocesan Bishop has the responsibility for the correct ordering of the liturgical celebrations in every part of his diocese.

Only those liturgies celebrated in communion with the Diocesan Bishop are lawful in the Diocese. In order to carry out his responsibility for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the Diocesan Bishop must take care to deepen the understanding of the Holy Eucharist among all of the faithful, so that they may "thereby be led to an active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist." Given the responsibility of the Diocesan Bishop, Pope Benedict XVI asks "that every effort be made to ensure that the liturgies which the Bishop celebrates in his Cathedral" respect fully the liturgical norms, "so that they can be considered an example for the entire Diocese" (n. 39).

Liturgical Norms and Sacred Architecture and Art

The harmony in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is fostered and safeguarded by the liturgical norms which all are obliged to observe. These norms which pertain to the rite itself, to the liturgical vestments, vessels and linens, and to the church and its furnishings all serve the beauty of the rite which points to Christ Who is the all-beautiful One acting in the rite.

Pope Benedict XVI also indicates the importance of careful attention "to the various kinds of language that the liturgy employs: words and music, gestures and silence, movement, the liturgical colors of the vestments." The creativity required by the art of celebrating has nothing to do with ad hoc innovations or with the totally false notion of making the Sacred Liturgy interesting, as if it were not in itself totally attractive. It is, rather, the attention to the rite itself and to the integrity of the individual elements of the rite, all of which point to the great gift of the Holy Eucharist and all of which invite the minister of the Holy Eucharist to have "a docile openness to receiving this ineffable gift" (n. 40).

The innate beauty of the Sacred Liturgy demands special attention to the works of art, which serve the act of worship. The architecture of the church or chapel, in which the Sacred Liturgy is celebrated, "should highlight the unity of the furnishings of the sanctuary, such as the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle, the ambo and the celebrant's chair." The architecture of a church or chapel must be truly sacred, that is, "a fitting space for the celebration of the mysteries of the faith, especially the Eucharist." Sacred architecture should assist the faithful gathered for worship to recognize their own identity as the "living stones of the Church (cf.1 Pet 2:5)" (n. 41).

The sacred art employed in the Church should be directed to a deeper understanding of the sacraments as the privileged means by which Christ pours forth the grace of the Holy Spirit into our souls. Since priests have the responsibility for the choice and disposition of sacred art in our churches and chapels, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that "it is essential that the education of seminarians and priests include the study of art history, with special reference to sacred buildings and the corresponding liturgical norms." Everything which is at the service of the Eucharistic Sacrifice "should be marked by beauty." Closely connected to the beauty of the sacred art, the paintings and sculptures and stained glass, is the beauty of the vestments, the vessels and the furniture, which should "foster awe for the mystery of God, manifest the unity of faith and strengthen devotion" (n. 41).

Sacred Music

Sacred music has always had a most important part to play in the Church's worship. Pope Benedict XVI, once again, quotes Saint Augustine who rightly observes that "the new man signs a new song," the song of God's immeasurable love of us in Jesus Christ and our love of God, in return. Down the Christian centuries, the Church has developed a rich patrimony of music composed for the Sacred Liturgy, composed to lift up our minds and hearts to the great Mystery of Faith. "This heritage must not be lost" (n. 42).

Regarding the music employed in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, our Holy Father notes that "one song is not as good as another." Care must be taken so that the music, both in its form and content, respects the sublime reality of the Sacred Liturgy. Sacred music must be at the service of the liturgical celebration and, therefore, must be "well integrated into the overall celebration." "Consequently everything — texts, music, execution — ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons" (n. 42).

Finally, an altogether special esteem must be shown toward Gregorian Chant which is the form of music composed exclusively for sacred worship. Gregorian Chant is sacred music par excellence. Pope Benedict XVI notes that, "while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions," he, "in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers," desires "that Gregorian Chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy" (n. 42).

Conclusion

Part Two of Sacramentum caritatis continues with a consideration of four more aspects of the Holy Eucharist as "a mystery to be celebrated," namely, (1) the structure of the Eucharistic celebration; (2) active, full and fruitful participation; (3) interior participation in the celebration; and (4) adoration and Eucharistic devotion. Next week's column will study the first of these aspects: the structure of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

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