“A celebration that does not evangelize is not authentic”says Pope Francis in the Apostolic Letter Desiderio desideravi – ‘I have desired with a great desire’ (Lk 22,15) –, published on June 29, 2022. “Let us leave our polemics to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church”he urges, pleading for better liturgical formation.
An “ecclesiological” problem around the celebration
In this 17-page letter made up of 65 paragraphs, the pontiff explains that he felt the need to address everyone – bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated and laity – after addressing only bishops in the Motu proprio Traditionis custodes, published on July 16, 2021. This text, drastically limiting celebrations in the form of the extraordinary rite, had sparked a lively controversy in the traditionalist world and even beyond. In his letter, the pope strongly reaffirms the directives of the decree which aims to guarantee “one and the same prayer” able to express the unity of the Church as desired by the Second Vatican Council.
“The tensions, unfortunately present around the celebration” are not “a simple divergence between different sensitivities towards a ritual form”affirms the pope, who considers that they are ” first of all ” of a problem “ecclesiological”. “I do not see how one can say that one recognizes the validity of the Council […] and not accept the liturgical reform born from Sacrosanctum Concilium [première constitution du Concile instituant en 1963 la réforme liturgique, ndlr] »he insists.
For liturgical formation
Noting the “non-acceptance” and one “superficial understanding” of this liturgical reform today, the pontiff calls for a “serious and vital liturgical formation”. This must deviate from any “instrumentalization in the service of an ideological vision, whatever it may be”.
This liturgical formation passes first, according to the pontiff, through the seminaries where it must be placed at the center of theological learning because it “there is no aspect of ecclesial life that does not find its summit and its source in the liturgy”. It must then be transmitted to the faithful by priests, parents, grandparents and catechists.
More broadly, this training must give back to the man the “symbolic power” that he lost today because of the “harms of materialism”, says the bishop of Rome. It is therefore a question of teaching him again the “symbolic language of the liturgy”which is neither an intellectual language nor a spiritualist initiation but “a vital experience” of the union of soul and body brought to grow in each person.
The symbolic importance of “every move”
“The art of celebration cannot be improvised”, underlines the pope, who wished in his letter to give some examples of good and bad ways of celebrating. He insists on the importance given to silence in a liturgical celebration, a silence which is not a “inner haven” for the individual but “the symbol of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit”. The genuflection, she, “declare our littleness in the presence of God” and must be done “in full awareness of its symbolic meaning”.
Every detail of the liturgy “is worthy of the greatest attention, not formal or merely outward, but living and inward”, insists the pontiff. He asks that “every gesture and every word of the celebration”, expressed with ” art “, contribute to the formation of the Christian personality of each individual and of the community.
The pontiff also warns celebrants against “an exacerbated personalism […] which sometimes expresses a poorly concealed mania for being the center of attention”, where Christ should be. He cites the many forms this reality can take: “a rigid austerity or an exasperating creativity, a spiritualizing mysticism or a practical functionalism, a hasty vivacity or an exaggerated slowness, a neglected carelessness or an excessive thoroughness, an overabundant amiability or a priestly impassivity”. To remedy these bad practices, Pope Francis invites priests to let themselves “continually” educate through the liturgy itself.
Liturgy against individualism and subjectivism
The liturgy, explains the Successor of Peter, must be ” the antidote “ against the poisons of “spiritual worldliness” what are Gnostic subjectivism – self-referentiality – and neo-Pelagian individualism – sin of pride which considers that Salvation does not depend on grace but on individual efforts. For the remedy to be effective, he urges a “continual rediscovery” of the beauty of the liturgy.
This, warns Pope Francis, asks to discard all “ritual aestheticism” obsessed with the “external form of a rite”and not limited to “a scrupulous observance of rubrics”. And even if “all aspects of the celebration must be taken care of” and “all sections must be respected”.
“Modern man has become illiterate” because he “can no longer read symbols”, finally regrets the pontiff. His letter is an invitation to rediscover the taste for “wonder for the paschal mystery”.