How to Enter into the Time and Space of God
Pope Francis makes a surprise break with his silence on the liturgy. “It is the cloud of God that envelops us all,” he says. And he calls for a return to the true sense of the sacred
by Sandro Magister
ROME, February 14, 2014 – Fifty years after the promulgation of the document of Vatican Council II on the liturgy, the Vatican is solemnizing the event with a three-day conference at the pontifical university of the Lateran, organized by the congregation for divine worship from the 18th to the 20th of this month.
So far the liturgy has not seemed to be one of the top priorities in the vision of Pope Francis. In the long interview-confession with “La Civiltà Cattolica” last summer he reduced the conciliar liturgical reform to this dismissive definition: ” a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation.”
Not a word more, if not for the “worrying risk of the ideologization of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation.”
But on Monday, February 10, with no forewarning Jorge Mario Bergoglio broke the silence and dedicated to the liturgy the entire homily of the morning Mass in the chapel of Santa Marta. Saying things he has never said before, since he became pope.
That morning the passage was read from the first book of Kings in which during the reign of Solomon the cloud, the divine glory, filled the temple and “the Lord decided to dwell in the cloud.”
Taking his cue from that “theophany,” pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio said that “in the Eucharistic liturgy God is present” in a way even “closer” than in the cloud in the temple, his “is a real presence.”
And he continued:
“When I speak of the liturgy I am mainly referring to the holy Mass. The Mass is not a representation, it is something else. It is living once again the redemptive passion and death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord makes himself present on the altar in order to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world.”
Further on the pope said:
“The liturgy is the time of God and space of God, and we must put ourselves there in the time of God, in the space of God, and not look at our watches. The liturgy is nothing less than entering into the mystery of God, allowing ourselves to be carried to the mystery and to be in the mystery. It is the cloud of God that envelops us all.”
And looking back on one of his childhood memories:
“I recall that as a child, when they were preparing us for first communion, they had us sing: ‘O holy altar guarded by the angels,’ and this made us understand that the altar was truly guarded by the angels, it gave us the sense of the glory of God, of the space of God, of the time of God.”
Coming to the conclusion, Francis invited those present to
“ask the Lord today to give all of us this sense of the sacred, this sense that makes us understand that it is one thing to pray at home, to pray the rosary, to pray many beautiful prayers, make the way of the cross, read the bible, and the Eucharistic celebration is another thing. In the celebration we enter into the mystery of God, into that path which we cannot control. He alone is the one, he is the glory, he is the power. Let us ask for this grace: that the Lord may teach us to enter into the mystery of God.”
The February 10 homily of Pope Francis in the summary provided by “L’Osservatore Romano”:
The constitution of Vatican Council II on the liturgy, the first of the documents approved by that assembly:
And this is how Benedict XVI spoke of it in his improvised talk with the clergy of Rome on February 14, 2013, exactly one year ago, one of the very last acts of his pontificate:
“After the First World War, Central and Western Europe had seen the growth of the liturgical movement, a rediscovery of the richness and depth of the liturgy, which until then had remained, as it were, locked within the priest’s Roman Missal, while the people prayed with their own prayer books, prepared in accordance with the heart of the people, seeking to translate the lofty content, the elevated language of classical liturgy into more emotional words, closer to the hearts of the people. But it was as if there were two parallel liturgies: the priest with the altar-servers, who celebrated Mass according to the Missal, and the laity, who prayed during Mass using their own prayer books, at the same time, while knowing substantially what was happening on the altar.
“But now there was a rediscovery of the beauty, the profundity, the historical, human, and spiritual riches of the Missal and it became clear that it should not be merely a representative of the people, a young altar-server, saying ‘Et cum spiritu tuo’, and so on, but that there should truly be a dialogue between priest and people: truly the liturgy of the altar and the liturgy of the people should form one single liturgy, an active participation, such that the riches reach the people. And in this way, the liturgy was rediscovered and renewed.
“I find now, looking back, that it was a very good idea to begin with the liturgy, because in this way the primacy of God could appear, the primacy of adoration. ‘Operi Dei nihil praeponatur’: this phrase from the Rule of Saint Benedict (cf. 43:3) thus emerges as the supreme rule of the Council. Some have made the criticism that the Council spoke of many things, but not of God. It did speak of God! And this was the first thing that it did, that substantial speaking of God and opening up all the people, the whole of God’s holy people, to the adoration of God, in the common celebration of the liturgy of the Body and Blood of Christ. In this sense, over and above the practical factors that advised against beginning straight away with controversial topics, it was, let us say, truly an act of Providence that at the beginning of the Council was the liturgy, God, adoration. Here and now I do not intend to go into the details of the discussion, but it is worth while to keep going back, over and above the practical outcomes, to the Council itself, to its profundity and to its essential ideas.
“I would say that there were several of these: above all, the Paschal Mystery as the centre of what it is to be Christian – and therefore of the Christian life, the Christian year, the Christian seasons, expressed in Eastertide and on Sunday which is always the day of the Resurrection. Again and again we begin our time with the Resurrection, our encounter with the Risen one, and from that encounter with the Risen one we go out into the world. In this sense, it is a pity that these days Sunday has been transformed into the weekend, although it is actually the first day, it is the beginning; we must remind ourselves of this: it is the beginning, the beginning of Creation and the beginning of re-Creation in the Church, it is an encounter with the Creator and with the Risen Christ. This dual content of Sunday is important: it is the first day, that is, the feast of Creation, we are standing on the foundation of Creation, we believe in God the Creator; and it is an encounter with the Risen One who renews Creation; his true purpose is to create a world that is a response to the love of God.
“Then there were the principles: intelligibility, instead of being locked up in an unknown language that is no longer spoken, and also active participation. Unfortunately, these principles have also been misunderstood. Intelligibility does not mean banality, because the great texts of the liturgy – even when, thanks be to God, they are spoken in our mother tongue – are not easily intelligible, they demand ongoing formation on the part of the Christian if he is to grow and enter ever more deeply into the mystery and so arrive at understanding. And also the word of God – when I think of the daily sequence of Old Testament readings, and of the Pauline Epistles, the Gospels: who could say that he understands immediately, simply because the language is his own? Only ongoing formation of hearts and minds can truly create intelligibility and participation that is something more than external activity, but rather the entry of the person, of my being, into the communion of the Church and thus into communion with Christ.”
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.