I hope you found some helpful instruction and inspiration in last week’s presentation of the first half of Pope Francis’ recent apostolic letter entitled Desiderio Desideravi. It’s an opportune moment for us all to reflect on the importance of liturgy in our spiritual lives as we return to participating in the Eucharistic Celebration in person after being deprived of it for a time due to the coronavirus pandemic. As I noted last week, this apostolic letter also helps us to understand why Pope Francis and so many bishops around the world – including our Archbishop Pérez – have been calling for a new evangelization in the Church. Allow me now to provide you with some of the important citations and offer some reflections on the second half of this letter.
In the first half of this letter, Pope Francis called us to pause in wonder at the great mystery of our salvation in the Eucharistic Celebration which leads us to share in the worship of our God who has saved us through the death and Resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. You will recall that at the end of last week’s article on this apostolic letter, I quoted Pope Francis who wrote 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.” He then declares that “both of these, without the testimony of charity, are like sounding a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1)” (§ 37). True worship includes celebrating the sacred liturgies, leading others to God and sharing God’s love!
In the second half of this apostolic letter, our Holy Father spends some time focusing on the proper formation of priests in the celebration of the Eucharist. However, he continues to provide important insights for all the faithful; allow me to offer some of them for your reflection. He begins by writing:
For ministers as well as for all the baptized, liturgical formation…is not something that can be acquired once and for all. Since the gift of the mystery celebrated surpasses our capacity to know it, this effort certainly must accompany the permanent formation of everyone, with the humility of little ones, the attitude that opens up into wonder. (§ 38)
We all need to have the humility to recognize the value of continual growth in our understanding of and appreciation for the mystery we encounter in the Liturgy. As Pope Francis notes, “[o]nly the action of the Spirit can bring to completion our knowledge of the mystery of God, for the mystery of God is not a question of something grasped mentally but a relationship that touches all of life” (§ 39). And so, our Holy Father calls us all to “liturgical formation” according to our vocation. He goes on to explain that “knowledge of the mystery of Christ, the decisive question for our lives, does not consist in a mental assimilation of some idea but in real existential engagement with his person” (§ 41). Once again, Pope Francis speaks of the importance of evangelization which draws us into an ever closer relationship with Christ. He goes on to write that:
Liturgy is not about ‘knowledge,’ and its scope is not primarily pedagogical, even though it does have great pedagogical value. Rather, Liturgy is about praise, about rendering thanks for the Passover of the Son who power reaches our lives. …I repeat: it does not have to do with an abstract mental process, but with becoming Him.” (§ 41)
This action begins at our baptism and continues every time we participate in the Eucharistic celebration. As our Holy Father writes so clearly, every one of the baptized is “called to become always more and more that which was received as a gift in Baptism; namely, being a member of the Body of Christ. Leo the Great writes, ‘Our participation in the Body of Christ has no other end than to make us become that which we eat’” (§ 41).
To emphasize the sacramental nature of the liturgical celebrations, Pope Francis goes on to write:
This existential engagement happens – in continuity with and consistent with the method of Incarnation – in a sacramental way. The Liturgy is done with things that are the exact opposite of spiritual abstractions: bread, wine, oil, water, fragrances, fire, ashes, rock, fabrics, colors, body, words, sounds, silences, gestures, space, movement, action, order, time, light. The whole of creation is a manifestation of the love of God, and from when that same love was manifested in its fullness in the cross of Jesus, all of creation was drawn toward it. (§ 42)
We are so blessed to experience the mystery of God in these sacramental signs. That’s why we priests take great care to maintain our churches and all of the liturgical accouterments in good condition: so they can lead us all to recognize God present through them and engage us in worthy worship of God.
Pope Francis goes on to remind us that:
The Liturgy gives glory to God not because we can add something to the beauty of the inaccessible light within which God dwells. Nor can we add to the perfection of the angelic song which resounds eternally through the heavenly places. The Liturgy gives glory to God because it allows us – here on earth – to see God in the celebration of the mysteries, and in seeing Him to draw life from his Passover. We, who were dead through our sins and have been made alive again with Christ – we are the glory of God. By grace we have been saved. (§ 43)
How blessed we are to participate in this heavenly worship, led by our risen Lord and accomplished in its fullness by his death and Resurrection. This is why Jesus told his disciples that he had earnestly desired to eat the Passover with them; he desires the same for us!
Our Holy Father concludes his reflections on the Eucharistic Celebration by reminding everyone:
As the time made new by the mystery of His Death and Resurrection flows on, every eighth day the Church celebrates in the Lord’s day the event of our salvation. …The Sunday celebration offers to the Christian community the possibility of being formed by the Eucharist. From Sunday to Sunday the word of the Risen Lord illuminates our existence, wanting to achieve in us the end for which it was sent. From Sunday to Sunday communion in the Body and Blood of Christ wants to make also fo our lives a sacrifice pleasing to the Father, in the fraternal communion of sharing, of hospitality, of service. From Sunday to Sunday the energy of the Bread broken sustains us in announcing the Gospel in with the authenticity of our celebration shows itself. Let us safeguard our communion. Let us continue to be astonished at the beauty of the Liturgy. The Paschal Mystery has been given to us. Let us allow ourselves to be embraced by the desire that the Lord continues to have to eat His Passover with us.” (§ 65)
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 so that everyone will take their place at the heavenly table where God has prepared a place for each of us. I hope you have found this summary of Desiderio desideravi helpful and inspirational. Let us all continue to grow in love of our Lord, Jesus, who draws us all into worship of our Father now as we prepare to join with all the saints and angels in worship of God forever in heaven! And, let us redouble our efforts in drawing others to Jesus who leads us all to his Father who loves us with an everlasting love.