Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Benedict on the Art of saying Mass

As reported by Sandro Magister and elsewhere, the Holy Father commented thus recently on the reverent celebration of the sacred liturgy, and in particular speaks against the problem of the "personality priest":


In his “Rule,” Saint Benedict says to the monks, speaking of the recitation of the Psalms: “Mens concordet voci,” the heart should be in accord with the voice, with the words. [...] The Sacred Liturgy gives us the words; we must enter into these words, and find a harmony with this reality that precedes us.

Apart from this, we should also learn to understand the structure of the liturgy, and why it is arranged as it is. The liturgy developed over two millennia, and even after the reform [of Vatican Council II] it did not become something concocted by a few liturgists. It remains always the continuation of that perennial unfolding of adoration and proclamation. And so it is very important, in order to attune ourselves, that we understand this structure that has developed through time and enter with our minds into the “voice” of the Church. [...]

This is the first condition: we ourselves must interiorize the structure, the words of the liturgy, the word of God. Thus our celebration really becomes a celebration together with the Church: our hearts are opened wider, and we are not just performing any sort of act, but we are joined with the Church in conversation with God. It seems to me that the people sense whether we are truly in conversation with God and with them, and are drawing others into our common prayer and into the communion of the children of God, or whether we are just going through the motions. The fundamental element of the true “ars celebrandi” is this harmony, this concord between what we say with our lips and what we think in our hearts. [...]

In other words, the “ars celebrandi” is meant as an invitation, not to some sort of theater or spectacle, but to an interiority that makes itself felt and becomes acceptable and evident to those present. Only if they see that this is not an external, showy “ars” – we are not actors! – but the expression of the journey of our hearts, which also draws their hearts, only then does the liturgy becomes beautiful, it becomes the communion of all those present with the Lord.

Naturally, to this fundamental condition expressed in the words of Saint Benedict “Mens concordet voci” – the heart should be truly raised up, elevated to the Lord – external things must be added as well. We must learn to pronounce the words well. Sometimes, when I was still a professor in my own country, the young people read the Sacred Scripture [at Mass]. And they read it as one reads the text of a poet one does not understand. Naturally, to learn to pronounce well, one must first understand the dramatic nature of the text, its immediacy. So also with the preface. And the Eucharistic prayer. It is difficult for the faithful to follow a text as long as that of our Eucharistic prayer. This leads to the birth of certain “inventions.” But the constant creation of new Eucharistic prayers does not address the problem. The problem is that this is a moment that should also invite others to silence with God and prayer with God. So things can go better only if the Eucharistic prayer is pronounced well, which includes the appropriate moments of silence, if it is pronounced with interior devotion, but also with refinement of speech. [...] I think we must also find opportunities in catechesis, homilies, and on other occasions, to explain this Eucharistic prayer thoroughly to the people of God, so that they can follow its major outlines – the recounting of the words of institution, the prayer for the living and the dead, the giving of thanks to the Lord, the epiclesis – to achieve the community’s genuine involvement in this prayer.

So the words must be pronounced well. There must also be adequate preparation. The acolytes must know what to do, the lectors must truly understand how to pronounce the words. And then the choir, the singing, must be prepared, and the altar must be decorated well. All of this is part – even if it’s a matter of many practical things – of that “ars celebrandi” that [...] is the art of entering into communion with the Lord.

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