Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Teaching Role of the Sacred Liturgy

[From the "things are looking up" file...]


1) Affirm the central role of sacred liturgy in the teaching ministry of the Church

No Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist. From this all education for community spirit must begin. (Vatican II, The Ministry and Life of Priests, 6.)

The central role of liturgy in the teaching ministry of the Church has long been recognized. A clear understanding of the content and high meaning of the Church's liturgy is therefore a fundamental goal of all catechetical programs. If, through our catechesis, we are successful in engendering those dispositions of reverence, wonder, and contemplation necessary to be most edified and transformed in the light of liturgy, we will have opened the vast storehouse of the Church's treasury to the souls of our Catholics in formation.

The Mass, being the very core of Catholic liturgy, is the supreme expression of the Church's faith. While proper liturgical expression and practice inevitably build up the faith, a concept of the Mass that fails to do justice to its essence will in due time harm the piety of believers, undermine the faith of communicants, and destroy the unity of the Church.

To enter more fully into the rich meaning of the liturgical life of the Church and thereby maximize the teaching role of the liturgy it is recommended that we:

Action items:

- Make liturgical formation a high priority, educating our entire Christian community — but most especially those responsible for liturgical practice and catechesis — in the mysteries, meaning, and appropriate forms of Catholic liturgy, in order that the faithful might "…[enter] more deeply into the contemplative dimension of worship, which includes a sense of awe, reverence and adoration which are fundamental attitudes in our relationship with God." (Pope John Paul II, ad limina discourse, Oct 9, 1998.)

- Teach our students, our catechumens, the deep meaning and sacred significance of the form and substance of the Holy Mass, reinforcing the understanding of the Mass as a sacrificial meal that both commemorates and offers salvation. Students should be led to appreciate the Mass as prayer — "the source and summit of the Christian life" — and instructed in how to approach the Mass with reverence. Jesus remains with us under the sacred sign of the Eucharist which is why Catholics have always been encouraged in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Eucharistic adoration should be a regular part of Catholic religious educational practice.

- Teach our students the history of the tradition of sacred liturgy, and the great art and especially the great music the liturgy has inspired. Some knowledge and practice with Gregorian Chant, as the Church's own music, should be part of this training.


2A. Promote the Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty

The fine arts, but above all sacred art, of their nature are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands. Their dedication to the increase of God's praise and of his glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men's minds devoutly towards God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2513).

Beauty should mark all our educational programs, especially through the promotion of the fine arts. The four transcendentals, the four great paths by which we ascend to God, are unity, truth, beauty, and goodness. The shattering of Christian culture has frequently resulted in their opposites, fragmentation, lies, ugliness, and evil — all hallmarks of the secularism of the present age. The restoration of Christendom will thus require not only Truth proclaimed, but also virtue lived and beauty celebrated. Jesus Christ, Beauty Incarnate Himself, the all-good Truth who is our life and our way, leads us through the visible —- by creation and the sacred liturgy — to the invisible, to the beauty of holiness, indeed to Beauty Himself, the all-Holy One.

This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels and saints. Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier. For this reason, bishops (personally or through delegates), should see to the promotion of sacred art, old and new, in all its forms and, with the same religious care, remove from the liturgy and from places of worship everything which is not in conformity with the truth of faith and the authentic beauty of sacred art (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2502-3).

It is recommended therefore that we:

- Emphasize and excel in teaching an appreciation of culture, fine arts, and music (both secular and sacred, but especially liturgical) in our Catholic schools.

- Ensure that art work used in our parish and educational environments is authentically beautiful and thereby serves the teaching of truth.

2B. Promote authentic expressions of sacred music in liturgy

The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1156).

Song and music fulfill their function as signs in a manner all the more significant when they are "more closely connected…with the liturgical action," according to three principal criteria: beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the celebration. In this way they participate in the purpose of the liturgical words and actions: glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1157).

Music echoes the praise of Christ and is a most powerful element in catechesis. An integral part of liturgy, music is more than something which "assists" worship — it is worship. More than a help to prayer — it is prayer. As St. Pius X often said, "People should not sing at Mass, they should sing the Mass." The music chosen for sacred liturgy, therefore, must embody those characteristics proper to its sacred function; its end must be that of raising the mind and heart to God. Unfortunately popular culture seems to have invaded the liturgy in recent years, leading some to lament the triumph of bad taste in Catholic culture.

It is recommended therefore that:

- Ensure that music used in Catholic institutions be of the highest quality, distinguished by its recognizable sacred character.


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