(Vatican Radio) There was palpable excitement among the 20 thousand pilgrims and visitors to St Peter’s Square this Wednesday. The opening of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, is now only days away, while celebrations and events to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council are already underway- all leading towards the launching of the Year of Faith at the end of the month.
In fact, Pope Benedict recalled these three appointments in his greeting in Italian Wednesday, asking believers to accompany them in their prayers. He also asked for prayers for his visit on Thursday to the Italian Marian Shrine of Loreto. There, in the footsteps of his predecessor, Blessed Pope John XXIII, he will entrust these ecclesial efforts to the Blessed Virgin, just as the ‘Good Pope John’ had done 50 years ago on the eve of the great ‘Ecumenical Council’.
Earlier, during his latest instalment in his cycle on the Christian school of prayer, Pope Benedict XVI reflected a subject that was at the very heart of Vatican II: How we pray in the Sacred Liturgy and how the liturgy unites the Church universal in every place and age, as the Body of Christ.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Today, I would like to highlight the ecclesial nature of liturgical prayer. The liturgy is a “participation in Christ’s own prayer addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1073). The Church, as Christ’s Mystical Body and united with him, offers worship to the Father. By identifying ourselves with Christ in his prayer to the Father, we rediscover our deepest identity as Christians, as children of “Our Father who art in heaven”. The liturgy is also an encounter of the whole Christ, that is, with Christ and his body the Church. Thus, the liturgy is a sharing in the prayer of the living, universal community of believers in Christ. Prayer becomes the habitual realization of the presence of God, as we make the words of the Church our own, and learn to speak in her and through her. The Church is most truly itself in the liturgy, as it is the place where God comes to us and enters our lives. Let us remember that the liturgy is celebrated for God, not for us; it is his work; he is its subject. For our part, in the liturgy we must leave ourselves open to be guided by him and by his Body, the Church”.
In his catechesis in Italian, Pope Benedict stated “it can not be created or amended by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the Universal Church”.
Finally he concluded : “I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present, including the Saint Hallvard Boys’ choir from Oslo. I also welcome students from the Pontifical North American College, who are to be ordained deacon tomorrow. Dear ordinands, always be faithful heralds of the Gospel and generous witnesses to the love of Christ! Upon you and your loved ones, and indeed upon all present, I invoke God’s abundant blessings. Thank you!” Listen:
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis from original text in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
in the last catechesis I began speaking about one of the privileged sources of Christian prayer: the sacred liturgy, which – as the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms – is “participation in Christ’s own prayer addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1073). In the liturgy, all Christian prayer finds its source and goal.”(n. 1073). Today I would like us to ask ourselves: in my life, do I reserve enough space for prayer and, above all, what place does liturgical prayer have in my relationship with God, especially the Mass, as participation in the common prayer of the Body of Christ which is the Church ?
In answering this question we must first remember that prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (cf. ibid., 2565). Therefore, the life of prayer lies in habitually being in the presence of God and being conscious of it, in living our relationship with God just as we live the usual relationships of our lives, those with close family members, and with real friends; indeed our relationship with the Lord gives light to all of our other relationships. This communion of life with God, One and Triune, is possible because, through Baptism we have been inserted into Christ, we have begun to be one with Him (cf. Rom 6:5).
In fact, only in Christ we can talk to God the Father as children, otherwise it is not possible, but in communion with the Son, we too can say, as he said “Abba”, because only in communion with Christ, can we know God as our true Father (cf. Mt 11:27). For this Christian prayer lies in constantly looking, in an ever new way, at Christ, talking with Him, being in silence with Him, listening to Him, acting and suffering with Him. The Christian rediscovers his true identity in Christ, “the firstborn of every creature », in whom all things were created (cf. Col 1:15 ff). By identifying with Him, being one with Him, I discover my personal identity, that of the true child who sees God as a Father full of love.
But do not forget: we discover Christ, we know him as a living Person, in the Church. It is “his Body.” This embodiment can be understood from the biblical words on man and woman: the two shall become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24, Ephesians 5.30 ff. 1 Cor 6.16 s). The unbreakable bond between Christ and the Church, through the unifying power of love, does not negate the ‘you’ or ‘I’, but raises them to their most profound unity. Finding one’s true identity in Christ means achieving communion with him, that does not cancel me out, but raises me to the highest dignity, that of a child of God in Christ, “the love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide “(Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, 17). To pray means to rising towards the heights of God through a necessary gradual transformation of our being.
Thus, participating in the liturgy, we make ours the language of the Mother Church, we learn to speak it and for it. Of course, as I have already said, this takes place in a gradual manner, little by little. I have to progressively immerge myself in the words of the Church, with my prayer, my life, my suffering, my joy, my thoughts. It is a journey that transforms us.
Thus I think that these reflections enable us to answer the question that we posed at the beginning: how do I learn to pray, how can I grow in my prayer? Looking at the model that Jesus taught us, the Pater Noster [Our Father], we see that the first word is “Father” and the second is “our.” The answer, then, is clear: I learn to pray, I nourish my prayer, addressing God as Father and praying-with-others, praying with the Church, accepting the gift of his words, which gradually become familiar and rich in meaning. The dialogue that God establishes with each of us, and we with Him, in prayer always includes a “with”, you can not pray to God in an individualistic manner. In liturgical prayer, especially the Eucharist, and – formats of the liturgy – in every prayer, we do not speak as single individuals, rather we enter into the “we” of the Church that prays. And we need to transform our “I” entering into this “we”.
I would like to recall another important aspect. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: ” In the liturgy of the New Covenant every liturgical action, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, is an encounter between Christ and the Church” (n. 1097); so it is the “whole Christ” , throughout the Community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates. Thus the liturgy is not a kind of “self-manifestation” of a community, but it is emerging from the simple “being-oneself”, being closed in on ourselves, and accessing the great banquet, entering the great living community in which God nourishes us. The liturgy implies universality and our awareness of this universal character must always be renewed. The Christian liturgy is the worship of the universal temple which is the Risen Christ, whose arms are stretched out on the cross to draw us all into the embrace that is the eternal love of God. It is the cult of the open skies. It is never only the event of a single community, in a given time and space. It is important that every Christian feels and really is part of this universal “we”, which provides the foundation and refuge to the “I” in the Body of Christ which is the Church.
In this we must be aware of and accept the logic of the Incarnation of God: He has drawn near, present, entering into history and human nature, becoming one of us. And this presence continues in the Church, his Body. The liturgy then is not the memory of past events, but it is the living presence of Christ’s Paschal Mystery that transcends and unites all times and spaces. If the centrality of Christ does not emerge in the celebration, then it is not a Christian liturgy, totally dependent on the Lord and sustained by his creative presence. God acts through Christ and we can only act through him and in him. Every day the conviction must grow in us that the liturgy is not our, my, ‘action’, but the action of God in us and with us.
It is not the individual – priest or layman – or the group that celebrates the liturgy, but it is primarily God’s action through the Church, which has its own history, its rich tradition and creativity. This universality and fundamental openness, which is characteristic of the entire liturgy is one of the reasons why it can not be created or amended by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the universal Church.
The entire Church is always present, even in the liturgy of the smallest community. For this reason there are no “foreigners” in the liturgical community. The entire Church participates in every liturgical celebration, heaven and earth, God and man. The Christian liturgy, even if it is celebrated in a concrete place and space, and expresses the “yes” of a particular community, it is inherently Catholic, it comes from everything and leads to everything, in union with the Pope, the Bishops , with believers of all times and all places. The more a celebration is animated by this consciousness, the more fruitful the true sense of the liturgy is realized in it.
Dear friends, the Church is made visible in many ways: in its charitable work, in mission projects, in the personal apostolate that every Christian must realize in his or her own environment. But the place where it is fully experienced as a Church is in the liturgy: it is the act in which we believe that God enters into our reality and we can meet Him, we can touch Him. It is the act in which we come into contact with God, He comes to us, and we are enlightened by Him. So when in the reflections on the liturgy we concentrate all our attention on how to make it attractive, interesting and beautiful, we risk forgetting the essential: the liturgy is celebrated for God and not for ourselves, it is His work, He is the subject, and we must open ourselves to Him and be guided by Him and His Body which is the Church.
Let us ask the Lord to learn every day to live the sacred liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, praying in the “we” of the Church, that directs its gaze not in on itself, but to God, and feeling part of the living Church of all places and of all time. Thank you.