ENCOUNTERING JESUS CHRIST IN THE LITURGY
Exhorting us to prepare ourselves for the Jubilee by dedicating this Year to Reflection on the mystery of Christ and this through a re-discovery of our Baptism (cf TMA n. 40-41), Pope John Paul II wisely leads us to conjugate knowledge of Christ: who is Jesus Christ?, with a living experience of Him: how-where can we meet him today?
If the first question is answered by catechesis, in its many forms, the second is answered by our liturgical celebration, in all its wondrous Christological fullness. Truly present in the community gathered in his name, Christ speaks and works, "here and now for us": he proclaims the Gospel, giving to those who receive it with faith the strength to put it into practice; through the holy cleansing he makes believers living members of his Body, he consecrates them with holy anointing, for them he breaks the Bread of life and pours out his Blood in the chalice of salvation ... The liturgy allows us to live in-through-with Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of the Father.
Our commitment in the liturgical sphere, in view of the Jubilee, takes two directions: one on the formative plain, that is a deeper understanding of the value of the Christian celebration and the other on the celebrative plain, that is a promotion of the quality of liturgical prayer. These two aspects in fact were the subject of reflection on the part of the Central Committee's Liturgical Commission which, to compliment its guide-book "Towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000", last December 1st, sent the Presidents of the National Committees a circular letter signed by the President, Mgr. Geraldo M. Agnelo.
The significant title of the Letter: "Encountering Jesus in the liturgy", emphasizes the call to follow, in order to be "touched" by Christ, the way of the liturgy, the principal way, open to all and valid for all. We are reminded of this in numbers 2 and 3 of the Letter, where it says "there is no better guide, traditional and at the same time pedagogical, than the liturgy because, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, it is here, above all during the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist that <our redemption is brought about> ... When in fact Christians gather, first of all on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist, they encounter Christ, present in the Church as she prays and worships, present in his Word, since it is he who speaks when in the Church the Holy Scriptures are proclaimed, present in the person of the priest, present in a most special manner in the Eucharistic sacrifice, under the consecrated species of bread and wine (cf SC, n. 7)."
1. Reflection on the significance of the celebration of Christ's mystery
Preparation for the Jubilee is an opportune time to apply that which the Second Vatican Council Vatican indicated for the whole Church and every individual member (cf TMA 18-20). In the liturgical sphere therefore it is an opportune time to assimilate the teaching of the Sacrosanctum Concilium - used also by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to explain the liturgy of the Church - and to understand and apply the liturgical reform deriving from it. Although the reform of the liturgical books is now complete, there is still much to be done for their correct and fruitful use.
To work in this sense does not mean to invent novelties for our celebrations or increase their quantity, but first of all to live more deeply the Church's normal liturgical economy, beginning with the "sacramental" itinerary of the liturgical year, illuminated by the Easter Tridium and regulated by Sunday, the day on which through the Eucharist, Christ "appears" among his disciples to explain the Scriptures to them and to transmit to them divine life, through the sharing in his Body and Blood, (cf Lk 24).
The Church on her pilgrimage through time could not exist without celebrating, because she would come to lack that wondrous transfusion flowing from the side of the Risen Lord, which allows her to form with Him one body, watered with the same stream of blood which began on the Cross. Here is what the Holy Father writes in this regard, quoting gestures and formulas from the liturgy of the Easter Vigil: «In the liturgy of the Easter Vigil the celebrant, as he blesses the Easter candle which symbolises the Risen Christ, proclaims: Christ yesterday and today, Beginning and End, Alpha and Omega. all time belongs to him, and all the ages, to Him be glory and power through every age for ever». He says these words as he inscribes on the candle the numerals of the current year. The meaning of the rite is clear: it emphases that the fact that Christ is the Lord of time; he is its beginning and its end; every year, every day, every moment are embraced by his Incarnation and Resurrection, and thus become part of the "fullness of time". For this reason, the Church too lives and celebrates the liturgy in the span of a year. The solar year is thus permeated by the liturgical year, which in a certain way reproduces the whole mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption, beginning from the First Sunday of Advent and ending on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Lord of the Universe and Lord of History. Every Sunday commemorates the day of the Lord's Resurrection. (TMA 10).
If from the gospel texts we come to profess that historically the Word of God became man, born of the Virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit, that he died and is risen for the redemption of the world, during the liturgical celebration, on the other hand, we meet sacramentally Christ who took on flesh and blood to become God-with-us and for us: we listen to him, we praise him, we thank him, we welcome him, letting ourselves be caught up in his offertorial logic, we communicate with him in order to live in Him; we feel the life-giving breath of his Holy Spirit; we offer heartfelt thanks to the Father, source of the redeeming incarnation, we build ourselves up as Church, as humanity reconciled by "God with us and for us". In brief, entering into the mystery, we have a living encounter with the Word of God who asks to make his home in us, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, through "holy signs". The liturgical celebration, through its particular nature, makes Christ the Redeemer perpetually accessible. Saint Leo the Great expressed this so admirably: "that which was visible of our Redeemer, has passed into the sacraments" (Tractatus 74,2; CCL 138 A, 475).
2. To improve the quality of our celebrations
The comprehension of the prayers, gestures, hymns, liturgical signs allows us to perceive the knowledge-experience which the Church at prayer has of the company of Christ. And we know that the celebration does not regenerate the Word only for the theological hearing or saying, it regenerates it in the life of those who pray, renewing it. The event of the Word who took flesh and blood through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the believing Virgin, lives again in the mystery of the Eucharist: from the table of the Word to the table of the Body-Blood of the Lord, so that the participants become the Body of Christ working in the world, prolonging his redeeming incarnation.
While the praying people listen, sing, acclaim and invoke Christ the Lord and the Father through Him, they are not representing a scene like actors at the theatre, they are telling, celebrating, living, their involvement in that event: they are experiencing the mystery of the redemption as it becomes present, with its fruits, in their lives taking part in it personally.
Hence the importance of interior participation in the liturgy, before exterior participation. In this way we understand how mistaken is the insinuation of a false conviction that greater exterior "activity" during a celebration corresponds to better participation. There comes to light also the importance of the "truth" of signs: the altar, a sign of Christ, cannot be transformed into somewhere to put things, as if it were a shelf, nor can the sanctuary, where the priest acts "in persona Christi" be mistaken for a stage, nor can the baptismal font be reduced to a basin and jug, nor the gift of the white robe be minimised by placing on the newly baptised person a small piece of material which cannot be worn, nor can the paschal candle, sign of Christ risen and living forever, be a tube of plastic which never burns down while it shines, brighter than "the morning star"...
If the liturgy is an encounter with Jesus Christ, it follows that the themes indicated for this first year of preparation for the year 2000 should be an opportunity to examine the quality of our celebrations, to see if they are beautiful, incisive, fruitful, highlighting what is helpful for prayer and reducing what is disturbing to prayer in all its dimensions. This is a task which falls first of all to those responsible for the arrangement of the celebrations: bishops, priests, deacons, readers, acolytes, cantors, organists, animators and liturgical groups, sacristans ... But we must not forget that the liturgy involves personally all the baptised, adults and children, the elderly and the young, the healthy and the sick. Each one should be able to exclaim with Saint Ambrose: "In your sacraments O Christ, I meet you face to face" (De Apologia Prophetae David 12,58; PL 14,916).