A student recently brought to my attention a fabulous article published in June in the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, by Cardinal Robert Sarah.
In the next few days I will repost it here in full. I share this article first of all to share the best short piece I have ever read on the liturgy. This is phenomenal, and key to the vision we are trying to cultivate on this web page.
I share it also to bring your attention to Robert Cardinal Sarah. As Benedict’s point man for Catholic charities, he did important things to cultivate the union of faith and action that is so fundamental to true Catholicism – and in so much need of recovery. At last year’s Synod he was one of the most powerful and thoughtful voices in witness of Christian marriage. And now as Pope Francis’s appointee to oversee the liturgy, he gives us the very best on that topic.
Above all, we should try to live this vision of the liturgy. But we might also pray that this great African pastor may be our next Holy Father – perhaps as Gregory XVII?
Part One: Vatican II on True Participation
The first thing I love about this article is Cardinal Sarah’s insistence that we actually read Vatican II’s fabulous Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, which liberals and conservatives alike ignore based on wrong assumptions.
In this first section, Cardinal Sarah explains that Vatican II, far from just naming a couple things we should do, above all gives an authoritative teaching on the nature of the liturgy. At the heart of that teaching is actuosa participatio, “active participation.” Vatican II says of its liturgical reforms, “In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else.” But Vatican II’s vision of active participation is not about the secularized activity we so often experience. True active participation, as Cardinal Sarah says, means “entering into the action of Christ.”
Cardinal Sarah on Vatican II on True Participation
FIFTY YEARS AFTER its promulgation by Pope Paul VI, will the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy finally be read? Sacrosanctum Concilium is not in fact a simple catalogue of “recipes” for reform, but a true and proper Magna Carta for all liturgical action. In that Constitution, the Ecumenical Council gives us a masterful lesson in methodology. Far from contenting itself with a disciplinary and external approach to the liturgy, the Council summons us to contemplate the liturgy in its essence. The Church’s practice always flows from what she receives and contemplates from Revelation. Pastoral practice cannot be divorced from doctrine.
In the Church, “action is directed to contemplation” (cf. §2). The conciliar Constitution invites us to rediscover the Trinitarian origin of the work of the liturgy. Indeed, the Council affirms continuity between the mission of Christ the Redeemer and the liturgical mission of the Church. “Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also he sent the apostles,” so that “by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves” they might “accomplish the work of salvation” (§6).
The liturgy in action is thus none other than the work of Christ in action. The liturgy is in its essence actio Christi: “the work of Christ the Lord in redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God” (§5). He is the high priest, the true subject, the true protagonist of the liturgy (cf. §7). If this vital principle is not embraced in faith, one risks reducing the liturgy to a human action, to the community’s celebration of itself.
On the contrary, the true work of the Church consists in entering into the action of Christ, participating intimately in the mission he has received from the Father. Thus “the fullness of divine worship was given to us,” because “his humanity, united with the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation” (§5). The Church, the Body of Christ, must in turn become an instrument in the hands of the Word.
This is the ultimate meaning of the key concept of the conciliar Constitution, participatio actuosa. For the Church, this participation consists in becoming an instrument of Christ the Priest, so as to participate in his Trinitarian mission. The Church participates actively in the liturgical work of Christ insofar as she is his instrument. In this sense, language about the “celebrating community” can carry a degree of ambiguity requiring true caution (cf. the Instruction Redemptoris sacramentum, §42). Participatio actuosa must not be understood, therefore, as the need to do something. On this point the teaching of the Council has often been distorted. It is a question, rather, of allowing Christ to take hold of us and to associate us with his sacrifice.