POPE FRANCIS’ APOSTOLIC LETTER ON THE LITURGY
We all know that the liturgy is the source and summit of our faith. As the Second Vatican Council declared so clearly, it is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and, at the same time, the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, § 10). Recently, Pope Francis offered the universal Church some powerful reflections on the liturgy and especially the Eucharistic Liturgy in his apostolic letter, Desiderio Desideravi, promulgated on 29 June 2022, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul. As we return to participating in the Eucharistic Celebration in person after being deprived of it for a time due to the coronavirus pandemic, I would like to offer you important citations from his apostolic letter over these two weeks for your reflection. This letter helps to explain the new evangelization that we hear our popes and bishops call us to embrace. Pope Francis quotes the Book of Revelation to remind us that everyone is “invited to the supper of the wedding of the Lamb” (Rv 19:9), and urges everyone in the Church, writing that we “must not allow ourselves even a moment of rest, knowing that still not everyone has received an invitation to this Supper or knowing that others have forgotten it or have got lost along the way in the twists and turns of human living” (§ 5).
As is the case with all papal proclamations, this most recent apostolic letter takes its title from the first words of the document, a quote from the Gospel of Luke: “Desiderio desideravi hoc Pascha manducare vobiscum, antequam patiar” (Lk 22:15). The English translation of this passage is: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” As I’m sure you realize, it is taken from Luke’s Last Supper account, the key moment of our salvation. Pope Francis begins with this quote because he believes that these words “are the crevice through which we are given the surprising possibility of intuiting the depth of love of the persons of the Most Holy Trinity for us” (§ 2). The Eucharist is a great mystery and these words from Jesus invite us to delve deeply into this mystery. And, as Pope Francis indicates, this mystery draws us into the love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis admits at the very beginning of his apostolic letter that the Eucharistic liturgy, “a dimension fundamental for the life of the Church…is vast and always deserves an attentive consideration in every one of its aspects.” He goes on to write that “I do not intend to treat the question in an exhaustive way. I simply desire to offer some prompts or cues for reflections that can aid in the contemplation of the beauty and truth of Christian celebration” (§ 1).
“The salvific power of the sacrifice of Jesus, his every word, his every gesture, glance and feeling reaches us through the celebration of the sacraments…The Lord who dies no more, who lives forever with the signs of the Passion continues to pardon us, to heal us, to save us with the power of the sacraments. It is the way in which he satisfies his own thirst for us that he had declared from the cross” (§ 11).
Our Holy Father continues his reflection on the liturgy by reminding us that our “first encounter with his paschal deed is the event that marks the life of all believers: our Baptism.” He teaches that Baptism “is not a mental adhesion to this thought or the agreeing to a code of conduct imposed by Him. Rather, it is a being plunged into his passion, death, resurrection and ascension, a being plunged into his paschal deed.” The pope then continues that “[i]n perfect continuity with the Incarnation, there is given to us, in virtue of the presence and action of the Spirit, the possibility of dying and rising in Christ” (§ 12). He concludes that “[f]or our having believed in His Word and descended into the waters of Baptism, we have become bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh” (§ 14). This allows us “the possibility of living the fullness of the worship of God. In fact, there is only one act of worship, perfect and pleasing to the Father; namely, the obedience of the Son, the measure of which is his death on the cross. The only possibility of being able to participate in his offering is by becoming ‘sons in the Son.’ This is the gift we have received” in our baptism (§ 15).
Returning to his reflection on the Eucharistic Liturgy, our Holy Father calls us to have an “amazement before the Paschal Mystery.” But this “is not some sort of being overcome in the face of an obscure reality or a mysterious rite. It is, on the contrary, marveling at the fact that the salvific plan of God has been revealed in the paschal deed of Jesus (cf. Eph 1:3-14) and the power of this paschal deed continues to reach us in the celebration of the ‘mysteries’ of the sacraments” (§ 25).
Our Holy Father also emphasizes that, while “[o]rdained ministers carry out a pastoral action of the first importance when they take the baptized faithful by the hand to lead them into the repeated experience of the Paschal Mystery, …it is the Church, the Body of Christ, that is the celebrating subject and not just the priest” (§ 36). It is so important for all of us to realize that we all participate in worshiping God during the liturgical celebrations; we are all the Body of Christ. Pope Francis goes on to note that “[t]here is no aspect of ecclesial life that does not find its summit and its source in the Liturgy.” At the same time, he explains that “[a] celebration that does not evangelize is not authentic, just as a proclamation that does not lead to an encounter with the risen Lord in the celebration is not authentic” (§ 37).
As we gather in praise and worship of God, we are also called to share in the evangelization initiative that the Church – both universally and locally – has called us to over the past several decades. I hope you have found this summary of the first half of Desiderio desideravi helpful; look forward to part two next week!