Decorum, simplicity and order to guide the encounter with the paschal mystery

The liturgy must shine “for decorum, simplicity and order” in order to guide the faithful “to the encounter with the paschal mystery of Christ”, Francis recommended to participants in the international training course for diocesan leaders of celebrations promoted from 16 to 20 January by the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of the Ateneu Sant’Anselmo on the theme “Living the liturgical action to the full”. Upon receiving them in audience on the morning of January 21, in the Consistory room, the Sovereign Pontiff delivered the following speech.

Dear brothers and sisters
good morning and welcome!

And I apologize for the delay, but it was a “devilish” morning.

I thank Father Abbot Primate for his words; I greet the Magnificent Rector and Director of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, the Professors and the students; and I greet the Cardinal Prefect [do Dicastério para o Culto Divino e a Disciplina dos Sacramentos] and Monsignor Secretary, thank you for being here. I am happy to welcome you and I appreciate the initiative to organize a formative itinerary for those who prepare and direct the prayer of diocesan communities, in communion with the bishops and at the service of the dioceses.

This course, which is now concluded, corresponds to the indications of the Apostolic Letter desiderio desideravi on liturgical formation. Indeed, caring for celebrations requires preparation and commitment. We bishops, in our ministry, are well aware of this, as we need the collaboration of those who prepare the liturgies and help us fulfill our mandate to preside over the prayers of the holy people. Your service to the liturgy requires, in addition to deep knowledge, a pastoral sense. I am therefore pleased to see you once again renew your commitment to studying the liturgy. It is — as St. Paul said saw — “the primary source of that divine interchange in which the life of God is communicated to us, is the first school of our soul” (Allocation for closing the ii Vatican Council session ii , December 4, 1963). For this reason, the liturgy is never fully possessed, it is never learned like notions, trades, human abilities. She is the primary art of the Church, the one that constitutes and characterizes it.

I would like to entrust you with some points of reflection for this service of yours, which takes place in the context of implementing the liturgical reform.

Today we no longer speak of the “ceremonial”, that is, the one who takes care of “sacred ceremonies”; on the contrary, the liturgical books refer to the master of the celebrations. And the master teaches the liturgy when he guides you to the encounter with the paschal mystery of Christ; at the same time, he must organize everything so that the liturgy shines with decorum, simplicity and order (cf. Caeremoniale episcoporum, 34). The master’s ministry is a diakonia: he collaborates with the bishop at the service of the community. For this reason, each bishop assigns a master, who acts discreetly, diligently, not putting the rite before what it expresses, but helping to capture its meaning and spirit, emphasizing through his action that the center is Christ crucified and risen.

Especially in the cathedral, the person responsible for episcopal celebrations coordinates, as the bishop’s collaborator, all those who exercise a ministry during the liturgical service, so that the fruitful participation of the People of God is favored. One of the cardinal principles of the Vatican returns here ii : we must always have before our eyes the good of communities, the pastoral care of the faithful (cf. ibid., 34), in order to lead the people to Christ and Christ to the people. This is the main objective, which must also come first when you prepare and guide the celebrations. If we neglect this, we will have beautiful rituals, but without strength, without flavor, without meaning, because they do not move the heart and existence of God’s people. And this happens when the president in fact it is not the bishop, the priest, but the ceremonial, and when this presidency slides into the ceremonial, everything ends. The president is the one who presides, not the ceremonial. In fact, the more hidden the ceremonial is, the better. The less he is seen, the better. But to coordinate everything. It is Christ who makes the heart vibrate, it is the encounter with Him that attracts the spirit. «A celebration that does not evangelize is not authentic» (desiderio desideravi, 37). It is a “ballet”, a beautiful ballet, aesthetic, beautiful, but it is not an authentic celebration.

One of the purposes of the Council was to accompany the faithful in recovering the ability to fully live the liturgical action and continue to be amazed at what happens in the celebration before our eyes (cf. desiderio desideravi, 31). Note, he is not talking about aesthetic joy, for example, or the aesthetic sense, no, but admiration. Admiration is something different from aesthetic pleasure: it is the encounter with God. Only the encounter with the Lord causes admiration. How can this goal be achieved? The answer is already in Sacrosanctum Concilium. No. 14, the formation of the faithful is recommended, but — says the Constitution — “because there is no hope of this happening, if the shepherds of souls do not first imbue themselves fully with the spirit and virtue of the Liturgy and do not become masters of it , it is absolutely necessary to provide first of all for the liturgical formation of the clergy”. Thus, the master himself is the first to grow in the school of the liturgy and participates in the pastoral mission of forming the clergy and the faithful.

One of the most complex aspects of the reform is its practical implementation, that is, how it translates into everyday life what the Council Fathers established. And among those primarily responsible for practical implementation is precisely the master who, with the director of the office for liturgical pastoral care, accompanies the diocese, communities, priests and other ministers in carrying out the celebrative practice indicated by the Council. He does this mostly by celebrating. How did we learn to serve Mass as children? Watching our older friends do it. It’s about that formation gives liturgy I wrote in desiderio desideravi. Decorum, simplicity and order are achieved when everyone gradually over the years, attending the rite, celebrating it, living it, understands what they must do. Of course, as in a large orchestra, each one must know his own part, the movements, the gestures, the texts he pronounces or sings; then the liturgy can be a symphony of praise, a symphony learned from lex orandi of the Church.

Schools of liturgical praxis are started in cathedrals. It’s a good initiative. One reflects “mystagogically” on how much one celebrates. The celebratory style is evaluated, to consider progress and aspects to be corrected. I encourage you to help seminary superiors to preside in the best possible way, to take care of the proclamation, the gestures, the signs, so that future priests, with the study of liturgical theology, learn to celebrate well: this is the style of presidency. This is learned by observing a priest every day who knows how to preside and celebrate, because he lives the liturgy and, when he celebrates, he prays. I exhort you to help those in charge of ministers to prepare the liturgy of the parishes, starting small schools of liturgical formation, which combine fraternity, catechesis, mystagogy and celebrative praxis.

When the person in charge of celebrations accompanies the bishop to a parish, it is good to emphasize the celebratory style that is lived there. There is no point in having a beautiful “parade” when the bishop is there and then everything goes back to the way it was before. Your task is not to organize a one-day rite, but to propose a liturgy that can be imitated, with the adaptations that the community can understand in order to grow in liturgical life. Thus, little by little, the celebratory style of the diocese grows. In fact, going to parishes and not saying anything before liturgies that are a little careless, neglected, poorly prepared, means not helping communities, not accompanying them. On the contrary, with delicacy, in a spirit of fraternity, it is good to help pastors to reflect on the liturgy, to prepare it with the faithful. In this regard, the master of celebrations must have great pastoral wisdom: if he is among the people, he will immediately understand and know how to accompany the brothers, how to suggest to the communities what is appropriate and feasible, what steps are necessary to rediscover the beauty of the liturgy and to celebrate together.

And finally, I exhort you to take care of silence. At this time there is talk, there is talk… Silence. Especially before celebrations — a moment that is sometimes taken as a social gathering, people say: “Oh, how are you? How are you not” — silence helps the assembly and the concelebrants to focus on what needs to be done. Sacristies are often noisy before and after celebrations, but silence opens and prepares for the mystery: it is silence that prepares you for the mystery, allows assimilation, allows the echo of the heard Word to resound. Fraternity is beautiful, it is good to greet one another, but it is the encounter with Jesus that gives meaning to our encounter, our encounter. We must rediscover and value silence!

I want to emphasize this a lot. And here I say something related to silence, but to priests. Please, the homilies: they are a disaster; sometimes I hear someone: “Yes, I went to mass in that parish… yes, a good lesson in philosophy, 40, 45 minutes…”. Eight, ten: no more! And always a thought, an affection and an image. Let people take something home. At evangelii gaudium wanted to highlight this. And I’ve said it many times, because it’s something we never quite understand: the homily is not a conference, it’s a sacramental. Lutherans say a sacrament is a sacramental — I think it’s Lutherans — it’s a sacramental, not a conference. It must be prepared prayerfully, with an apostolic spirit. Please, the homilies, which are generally a disaster.

Dear friends, before saying goodbye to you, I would like to express once again my encouragement for what you are doing at the service of implementing the reform that the Council Fathers entrusted to us. Let us all strive to continue the good work that has been started. Let us help communities to live from the liturgy, to allow themselves to be shaped by it, so that — as Scripture says — “he who thirsts may come. Whoever desires it, let him freely receive the water of life» (App 22, 17). Let us offer everyone the water from the fountain that flows abundantly from the Church’s liturgy.

I wish you good work and I bless you from my heart. And please, I ask you to pray for me, don’t forget. Thanks!

Decorum, simplicity and order to guide the encounter with the paschal mystery – L’Osservatore Romano