The Art of Celebrating the Liturgical Service
A reflection in the light of the teaching of the Church
By Nicola Bux
In order to celebrate the liturgical service with art, the priest must not resort to mundane artifices but focus on the truth of the Eucharist. The General Instrucion of the Roman Missal states: "A priest also ... when he celebrates the Eucharist, ... must serve God and the people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and by the way he says the divine words he must convey to the faithful the living presence of Christ." The priest does not make up anything, but with his service he must render as well as possible to the eyes and ears, but also to the touch, taste and scent of the faithful, the sacrifice and thanksgiving of Christ and of the Church, whose tremendous mystery may be approached by those who have cleansed themselves from sins. How can we draw near to Him if we do not have the feeling of John the precursor: "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3, 30)? If we want the Lord to walk with us, we have to recover this awareness, otherwise we deprive our act of devotion of efficacy: the effect depends on our faith and our love.
The Priest Is Not Master of the Mysteries
The priest is minister, not master, administrator of the mysteries: he serves them, and does not use them to project his own theological or political ideas and his own image, to the point that the faithful become focused on him rather than look to Christ Who is signified by the altar and present on the altar, and high upon the cross. As the Holy Father recently warned, the culture of the image in the worldly sense marks and conditions also the faithful and the shepherds. The Italian television, as a comment to this discourse, showed a concelebration in which some priests were talking on the mobile phone. From the manner of celebrating Mass many things can be deduced: the chair of the celebrant in many places has decentralised cross and tabernacle, occupying the centre of the church, sometimes overtowering in importance the altar, ending up by resembling an episcopal cathedra, which in Eastern churches [Don Bux is also lecturer for comparative liturgy at the Ecumenical Institute of Bari - NLM] is outside of the iconostasis, to one side clearly visible. It was thus also with us before the liturgical reform.
The ars celebrandi consists in serving with love and fear the Lord: for this is expressed with kisses of the mensa and the liturgical books, bows and genuflections, signs of the cross and incensations of people and objects, gestures of offering and supplication, and the showing of the Evangeliary and of the Holy Eucharist.
Now, such a service and style of the priest celebrant or, as people love to say, the presider of the assembly - a term that leads to misunderstand the liturgy as a democratic act - can be seen from his preparing himself at vesting in the sacristy in silence and recollection for the great action that is preparing to do; from his going to the altar, which must be humble, not ostentatious, without indulging in looking to the right and left, almost as if to seek applause. Indeed, the first act is the bow or genuflection before the cross and the tabernacle, in short before the divine presence, followed by the reverent kiss of the altar and possibly by the incensation. The second act is the sign of the cross and the sober greeting of the faithful. The third one is the penitential act, to be made profoundly and with eyes lowered, while the faithful might kneel, as in the old rite - why not? - imitating the publican who pleased the Lord. The readings will be proclaimed as a word not of our own, thus with a clear and humble tone. Like the priest bows while asking for his lips and heart to be purified in order to worthily proclaim the Gospel, why could not the lectors do the same, if not visibly as in the Ambrosian rite, at least in their hearts? The voice will not be raised like in the streets, and a clear tone will be maintained for the homily, but a quiet and supplicatory one for the prayers, solemn if in song. The priest will compose himself bowed down to celebrate the anaphora still "with humble spirit and contrite heart."
The Eucharistic Wonder
He will touch the holy gifts with wonder and astonishment - the Eucharistic amazement about which John Paul II often talked - and with adoration, and the sacred vessels he will cleanse calmly and carefully, as so many fathers and saints call for. He will bow over the bread and the chalice in saying the consecrating words of Christ and while invoking the Holy Spirit at the supplication or epiclesis. He will elevate them separately fixing his gaze on them in adoration and then lowering it in meditation. He will genuflect twice in solemn adoration. He will continue with recollection and a tone of prayer the anaphora until the doxology, elevating the holy Gifts offering them to the Father. He will recite the Our Father with his hands raised and without holding others by the hand, because that is proper to the rite of peace. The priest will not leave the Sacrament on the altar to offer the sign of peace outside the sanctuary. Instead he will break the host solemnly and visibly, and then genuflect before the Eucharist and pray silently asking again to be freed from every unworthyness in order not to eat and drink his own condemnation and to be preserved for eternal life by the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ. Then he will present the Host to the faithful for communion, supplicating Domine non sum dignus, and bowed he will himself communicate first. Thus he will serve as an example to the faithful.
After communion there will be thanksgiving in silence, which better than sitting can be done standing as a sign of respect or kneeling, if possible, as John Paul II did until the end, with head bowed and hands joined; in order to ask that the gift received be for us a remedy for eternal life, as is being said while the sacred vessels are being purified. Many faithful are doing this and they are an example for us. The priest, after the final greeting and blessing, going the altar to kiss it, again lifts his eyes to the cross and bows, or genuflects to the tabernacle. Then he returns to the sacristy, recollected, without dissipating with glances and words with the grace of the mystery celebrated.
Thus the faithful will be helped to understand the holy signs of the liturgy, which is a serious matter, and in which everything has a meaning for the encounter with the mystery present.
Paul VI, in the instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, recalls a central truth propounded by St. Thomas: "This Sacrifice, then, as the passion of Christ itself, even though it is offered for everyone, 'has no effect if not in those who unite thmesleves to the passion of Christ through faith and charity ... To them, still, it helps more or less according to the measure of their devotion'". Faith is a condition of participation in the sacrifice of Christ with all myself. In what consists the action of the faithful, different from the priest who consecrates? They, remembering, give thanks, offer and, conveniently disposed, communicate sacramentally. The most intense expression is in the response to the invitation of the priest shortly before the anaphora: "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church."
Without faith and devotion of the priest there is no ars celebrandi and the participation of the faithful is not favoured, above all the perception of the mystery. Because to the Lord "are known ... [our] faith and devotion" (Roman Canon) which express themselves in the sacred gestures, bows, genuflections, hands joined, remaining kneeling. The lack of devotion in the liturgy impels many of the faithful to abandon it and dedicate themselves to secondary forms of piety, widening the gap between the one and the other.
Since the sacred liturgy is an act of Christ and the Church, not the result of our ability, it does not foresee a success which to applaud. The liturgy is not ours but his.
The Tradition of the Church
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum reminds the priest of his promise of at ordination, renewed from year to year during the Chrism Mass, to celebrate "devoutly and faithfully the mysteries of Christ for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people, according to the tradition of the Church"(No. 31).
He is called upon to act in the person of Christ, he must therefore imitate Him in the supreme act of prayer and offering, and he must not deform the liturgy into a representation of his ideas, change and add anything whatsoever arbitrarily: "The Mystery of the Eucharist 'is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured'."(Ibid., 11). The Mass is not the property of the priest or the community. The instruction abundantly expounds how Mass should be rightly celebrated, that is the ars celebrandi: seminarians first must learn it carefully so that they can implement it as priests.
Benedict XVI, in Sacramentum Caritatis devotes attention to the ars celebrandi (No. 38-42), understood as the art of celebrating properly, and makes of it the condition for active participation of the faithful: "The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness; indeed, for two thousand years this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers"(38). In the note 116 Propositio No 25 specifies that "An authentic liturgical action expresses the sacredness of the eucharistic mystery. This should be evident from the words and actions of the priest who celebrates, as he intercedes to God the Father both with the faithful and on their behalf." Then the exhortation recalls that "The ars celebrandi must foster a sense of the sacred and the use of outward signs which help to cultivate this sense, such as, for example, the harmony of the rite, the liturgical vestments, the furnishings and the sacred place" (40). Speaking of sacred art, it recalls the unity among altar, crucifix, tabernacle, ambo and chair (41): attention to the sequence which reveals the order of importance. Together with the image, the song must also serve to orient the understanding and the encounter with the mystery.
The bishop and the priest are called to express all this in the liturgy which is sacred and divine, in a manner that truly manifests the creed of the Church.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
NLM: Nicola Bux on the Ars Celebrandi