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Posted March 30, 2004

Book: Gospel Spirituality & Catholic Worship: Integrating your personal prayer life and liturgical experience
Authors: Paul L. Ciotti, S.J., William P. Sampson, S.J.
Paulist Press, New York, pp. 138

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

Enormous energy has been expended in trying to make the Eucharist more meaningful ever since the Second Vatican Council enacted “The Constitution on the Liturgy in December 1963. Laypeople as well as clergy got involved in implementing the reforms decreed by the Council and the Congregation for Divine Workshop. Organists, music directors, and song writers took up the task of getting the congregation to join in the singing. Scholars and popular writers tried to explain the changes that were taking place. Sermons became opportunities to explain the importance of active participation in the liturgy by the whole congregation.

The purpose of this book is to help priests and all Catholics to enter into the Eucharist at its deepest level, to experience it in its fullness, so that they can pray the eucharistic prayers as their own personal prayers. Although this book is not a history of the liturgy, we look at moments in the past when liturgy and spirituality went separate ways. Both areas concern our relationship with God, but they tend to evolve along parallel lines.

We discuss the illusion-producing dynamic called repression that operates in human nature, leading it away from reality. We look at our tendency to avoid self-knowledge and explore how crippling this instinct is. When repression is successful, it results in spirituality and liturgy that ignore self-knowledge, the very thing the liturgy demands in order to be effective.

We then go back to the beginnings of Christian spirituality and liturgy. There, within the consciousness of Jesus, we discover the unity he saw in the two. We show how his spiritual direction of the apostles prepared them to experience the Eucharist in its fulness. What impelled Jesus to invent a rite? We show how he felt the Father leading him both in this precise form of ritual and to this way of spiritual direction.

What this study reveals is that Jesus saw himself as our future, sharing with us his intimacy with the Father. He knew himself as the “beloved” of his Father. He felt himself as brother to every one of us. His inheritance is ours; his relationship to the Father is ours. We can glimpse the binary essence of the Godhead, a twoness of mutual loving, only when we are within Jesus. His Eucharist has this double focus, inviting us into the innermost world of the Godhead.

We show how the eucharistic rite already preaches the core gospel. Just as the early disciples, by doing what Jesus said to do, performed a rite that implied a binatarian center (without their awareness of this), we too are invited to do what we cannot comprehend. The effort to return to gospel sources of spirituality and liturgy will reveal the essential relationship between them that which Jesus had in mind.

We then detail how the texts of the “Sacramentary” and the “Lectionary” richly highligh this fundamental relationship, how the texts stress now one element, now another. The mind and heart of Jesus can become the central focus of the preaching done within the Eucharist.

In the first chapter we describe the present separation of liturgy and spirituality. We briefly review the story of the modern liturgical reform and the renewal of spirituality. What brought about their separate lives? This is the problem we face today.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The best preparation for liturgy consists in becoming real, so that our real life will prepare us for the Eucharist. The liturgy is a descending gift of the Spirit. We can’t produce that. The liturgy presupposes the asceticism of cultivating receptivity for the descending Gift. We will only be receptive to the degree we see our need for the Spirit. The coming of faith and love into our life through the Eucharist is the kingdom. It is the beginning of the eschatological banquet Jesus pointed to and wants us to be preoccupied with.

We should be surprised like those who encounter royal messengers inviting them to the palace. But so often we do not feel the slightest surprise at being invited to the Eucharist. It doesn’t seem to be an appropriate action. What if we received an invitation to have lunch with just the president Tuesday next? We might call up the White House to see if there’s been some mistake.

To enter the Eucharist we must be willing to be open to our actual human feelings: hatred, contempt, self-righteousness, self-justification, judgments. If we don’t come to the liturgy conscious of our divided hearts and those areas of our lives that are yet unredeemed, the liturgy of redemption passes us by. The best preparation for liturgy is to present ourselves to God exactly where we are.

The pagan Celsus was the spokesman for much of paganism when he attacked the gospel of forgiveness as cheap grace:

“Those who summon people to the other mysteries make this preliminary proclamation: “Who has pure hands and a wise tongue. . .[come forward] . . . ‘But let us hear what these Christians call: ‘Whoever is a sinner, whoever is unwise, whoever is a child, and in a word, whoever is a wretch, the Kingdom of god will receive him.’”

Celsus grasped that the eucharistic liturgy has a direct relation to sinners, not the righteous. He surmised that it is crucial to enter the Christian mysteries with one’s wounds. Preparation of the Mass texts beforehand will help, but the best preparation is to come with our sinfulness. Here we can meet the real God. Here we can be strengthened, healed, and can do nothing, for only the real world is God’s. If we dare to come out of our illusion into the real world, God can take care of every need we have. The goal of spirituality is precisely to call us out of illusion.

Just as the priest will not be an effective homilist unless he sees the centrality of the Eucharist and how Jesus preaches his essential message through it, so laypeople cannot enter into the liturgy unless they see the Eucharist as central to the Christian life for which their spiritual life is the preparation.

When we come down to it, the liturgical reform of the past four decades gave us a set of new liturgical books. Our work now is in the area of preaching an catechesis, opening up the riches of gospel spirituality the new books contain. Until we have tapped into the spirituality and ecclesiology of those new books, we will give the impression that the reform was about replacing old rubrics with new rubrics, much ado about nothing. Some critics feel that we have a lifeless reform without any genuine renewal. The objective of this book is to show that what appears to some to be a lifeless reform can become dynamic renewal by bringing the spirituality of the individual into an integrated harmony with the public prayer of the church.

Until homilists are in touch with the real nature of the reform and the spirituality, ecclesiology, and sacramental theology behind it, they will not be of much help to Catholics wh are often well versed in theology and liturgy and are looking for direction on how to make their spiritual lives one with the liturgy of the church and how to make the liturgy their own prayer. This book was meant to help supply that direction both for presider-homilists and for the people in the pews.

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1
Liturgy and spirituality

Chapter 2
“Something went wrong”

Chapter 3
Jesus gazes at the world

Chapter 4
Jesus the prophet

Chapter 5
Jesus ritualizes

Chapter 6
Spirituality for the Eucharist

Chapter 7
Spirituality in the Eucharist

Chapter 8
Variations on a theme

Chapter 9
The liturgy of the Word