Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ranjith on the Ars Celebrandi

The following address of Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, which was presented at the Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis in November 2008 is now available off of the website of Adoremus: Toward an Ars Celebrandi in Liturgy

The piece itself is quite lengthy, so just a few highlights:

Liturgy Is “Given”

Liturgy thus should be considered a treasure “given” to the Church, not created by it. The fact of the steady growth of liturgical traditions along its bi-millennial history, and the surprisingly harmonious and natural way in which it has happened, is proof of the work of the Holy Spirit and the surpassing nobility of its contents. It is like a tree, which continues to grow, at times shedding its leaves, at other times being pruned to become stronger and straighter, but always remaining the same tree. Sacred Liturgy has undergone a similar process of growth but never a new beginning, right from the earliest times even until now — and so it will be even in the future because it is Christ Himself who through His Mystical Body, the Church, has continued to exercise His priestly office.


Ego Pampering

Let us face it, all of us priests, bishops, and even cardinals, are human beings and so the temptation to place ourselves at the center makes us feel good — what I call “ego pampering”.

None of us is exempt from this, and now with the Missa versus populum [Mass facing the people], that danger is even greater. Facing the people increases chances of dis-attention and distraction from what we do at the altar, and the temptation for showmanship. In a beautiful article written by a German author, the following comments were made on the subject:

"While in the past, the priest functioned as the anonymous go-between, the first among the faithful, facing God and not the people, representative of all and together with them offering the sacrifice … today he is a distinct person, with personal characteristics, his personal life style, his face turned towards the people. For many priests this change is a temptation they cannot handle … to them, the level of success in their performance is a measure of their personal power and thus the indicator of their feeling of personal security and self assurance."

(K.G. Rey, Pubertaetserscheinungen in der Katholischen Kirche [Signs of Puberty in the Catholic Church] Kritische Texte, Benzinger, Vol 4, p. 25).

The priest here, as we can see, becomes the main actor playing out a drama with other actors on a platform- like place, and the more creative and dramatic they become, the more they feel a sense of ego satisfaction. But, where can Christ be in all of this?

Sense of Awe

The true ars celebrandi thus requires from all, first and foremost, a sense of profound faith and veneration toward the nobility and celestial dignity of all liturgical acts that are to be celebrated. A sense of awe at what is being done requires one to be cultivated in the way the surroundings of the celebration are handled in its preparation, its celebration, and even in the atmosphere that follows from this. These are never to be equated with any other ordinary activity of the day. These inner spiritual dispositions, as well as the co-natural physical postures, gestures and actions, should be fostered even before any such celebration begins. A silent and prayerful atmosphere should be cultivated in the Church as a preparatory posture; the celebrants should be seen by the faithful at personal prayer at the altar before such celebrations even begin; this would stimulate the faithful, to, in turn, be recollected and prayerful. The noble and prayerful way of vesting in the sacristy, too, becomes important; those vesting prayers should return to the sacristy.

There should be a strong sense of liturgical correctness and dignity in the way the celebrations are carried forward — the piety and intense sense of communion with the Lord and the entire Church which the priest displays in his concentration on what he does at the altar. The moments of silent prayer, and the intense spiritual atmosphere, the feeling of gratitude for the eternal gifts received, in re- collected thanksgiving after the celebration, are all part of the powerful language of the presence and action of God in these celebrations.

Ecclesial, Hence Not According to Our Whims

In addition, liturgy is always the public prayer of the Church, and each time such is celebrated it is the actio Christi which the entire Church performs. Indeed the Church is Christ in His mystical presence in time and space, and so, what we do is what He Himself does mystically. We, as the Church, have received this from Him. It is this that places the rite above the authority of the celebrant. It is Divine Liturgy, as the Christian East calls it, and not just liturgy.


Ars celebrandi should at the same time “foster a sense of the sacred and use of outward signs which help to cultivate this sense, such as, for example, the harmony of the rite, the liturgical vestments, the furnishing and the sacred space” (ibid). Besides “attentiveness to the various kinds of language that liturgy employs: words and music, gestures and silence, movement, the liturgical colors of the vestments” (ibid) are also equally important.

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