OFFICE FOR THE LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
Liturgical Formation for the People of God
Last month, the Vatican published
Benedict XVI's letter to seminarians for the
conclusion of the Year for Priests, in which the Pope reminds those seeking the
priesthood that "anyone who wishes to become a priest must be first and foremost
a 'man of God.'"
Specifically, the Pontiff continued, this means that "the priest is not the
leader of a sort of association whose membership he tries to maintain and
expand. He is God’s messenger to his people. He wants to lead them to God and in
this way to foster authentic communion between all men and women. That is why it
is so important, dear friends, that you learn to live in constant intimacy with
God" (No. 1).
In Benedict XVI's teaching, prayer is the privileged "place" to learn the
Christian style of life. For example, in the encyclical
"Spe Salvi", the Holy Father presented prayer as one of the principal
"places" of learning and of exercising Christian hope (cf. Nos. 32-34). In the
letter to seminarians, the Pontiff considers it the particular way in which the
candidate to the priesthood learns to be in profound and continual communion
with the Lord.
The Pope writes: "When the Lord tells us to 'pray constantly,' he is obviously
not asking us to recite endless prayers, but urging us never to lose our inner
closeness to God. Praying means growing in this intimacy. So it is important
that our day should begin and end with prayer; that we listen to God as the
Scriptures are read; that we share with him our desires and our hopes, our joys
and our troubles, our failures and our thanks for all his blessings, and thus
keep him ever before us as the point of reference for our lives" (No.1).
Furthermore, Benedict XVI reminds future priests that prayer in the perfect
state is the public worship of the Church, namely, the sacred liturgy, and in a
privileged way the Holy Mass.
He writes: "The proper celebration of the Eucharist involves knowing,
understanding and loving the Church’s liturgy in its concrete form. In the
liturgy we pray with the faithful of every age - the past, the present and the
future are joined in one great chorus of prayer. As I can state from personal
experience, it is inspiring to learn how it all developed, what a great
experience of faith is reflected in the structure of the Mass, and how it has
been shaped by the prayer of many generations" (No.2).
The liturgy is truly understood only by being inserted in the living Tradition
of the Church, from which we receive it as a gift to keep and live out in a
spirit of faith and prayer. This is, in fact, the only correct spirit with which
to celebrate and participate in the liturgy. It is not about producing
superficial and passing emotions, through particular inventions to be inserted
in the rite, because the true "spirit of the liturgy" is the spirit of adoring
prayer, of the one who is to "stand in [his] presence and serve [him]" (cf.
Roman Missal [Paul VI], "Eucharistic Prayer II").
It is exciting - says the Holy Father based on his personal experience - to
learn to understand the liturgy with this ecclesial and dynamic sense of the
true Tradition. For this reason, liturgical formation is necessary, which
illuminates the darkness of ignorance and pulls down the bastions of ideology,
helping to understand the sacred meaning of divine worship and its link with the
whole history of the faith, which the Church guards and professes in her
children: head and members, shepherds and flock.
Liturgical formation is not, however, - and cannot be - a renewed form of "gnostic"
initiation, a learning reserved to a few. Liturgical formation, though founded
on the seriousness of a scientific study that is not for everyone, must be
translated in ways accessible to the faithful to whom it is addressed.
Among the many initiatives at the universal and local level geared toward the
liturgical formation of the People of God is this biweekly series "Spirit of the
Having received various requests, we have decided to experiment this year with a
piece that is more accessible, as will be noted by the greater brevity of the
articles and of the further reduction of the number of references and notes.
This choice sacrifices, on one hand, the just desire of the columnists to
furnish more details and references on the topics treated; but, on the other, we
hope that it can favor a wider diffusion of our reflections, so as to be able to
reach a larger number of readers.
To them goes hence the gratitude of the authors of the "Spirit of the Liturgy,"
for the fidelity and care with which they followed the preceding instalments,
and with which we trust they will want to continue reading them.