Posted May 19, 2011
Taken from Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies
To enter into the action of Christ
Now let us go a little deeper into the question, starting from the direction clearly formulated by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council:
“The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s Word and be nourished at the talbe of the Lord’s Body: they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each otehr, so that finally God maybe all in all.
As a way of commenting on this always illuminating magisterial passage, Cardinal Ratzinger affirmed in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy:
“But what does the active participation come down to? What does it mean that we have to do? Unfortunately, the word was very quickly misunderstood to mean something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people as possible, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action. However, the word ‘part-icipation’ refers to a principal action in which everyone has a ‘part.’ And so, if we want to discover the kind of doing that active participation involves, we need, first of all, to determine what this central actio is in which all the members of the community are supposed to participate. The study of the liturgical sources provides an answer that at first may surprise us, though, in the light of the biblical foundations considered in the first part, it is quiet self-evident. By the actio of the liturgy this sources mean the Eucharistic Prayer. The real liturgical action, the true liturgical act, is the oratio . . .This oratio — the Eucharistic Prayer, the ‘Canon’ — is really more than speech; it is actio in the hightest sense of the word. For what happens in it is that the human action. . . steps back and makes way for the actio divina, the action of God.”
In the liturgical celebration what precedes and constitutes the foundation is the action of Christ and of His Church; in fact, as Pope John Paul II recalled, “Since Christ’s Death on the Cross and His Resurrection constitute the content ofthe daily life of the Church and the pledge of His eternal Passover, the liturgy has as its first task to lead us untiringly back to the Easter pilgrimage initiated by Christ, in which we accept death in order to enter into life.” Consequently, to enter into the liturgical act means entering into the action that confers salvation and transforms life. We participate, therefore, to the extent that the action of the Lord and His Church also becomes our oblation of love, His filial and obedient abandonment to the Father becomes ours as well — if the Sacrifice of the Redeemer becomes our own sacrifice.
Divo Barsotti afirms in his celebrated text:
“It truly pertains to the Christian liturgy to transcent the activity of every man and of every activity of humanity by being the Act of Christ Himself. However, the liturgy transcends every human activity without excluding it, engaging it fully and profoundly, not only insofar as the liturgy transcends the human activity, but also in that it requires and comprehends the human activity.”
As always happens in what is human, so too in the liturgical rite, action has both an external and an internal dimension. The gesture of Christ is a visible gesture that expresses an invisible reality. Moreover, the act of entering into the mystery will undoubtedly possess an external gesture as a component. But since such a component does not remain purely a sterile form of externalism, it will have to be enlivened and at the same time lead to that interior action in which there is conformity to the action of Christ and His Church.
Therefore, space should be given to external action in the liturgy, where the rite permits it and makes it auspicious — but without forgetting that such action will always have to be redirected to its correct expression of interior action. Only in that way will there be authentic access to the mystery that is celebrated.