I'm afraid I'm really falling behind...because I had some from the last talk to cover tonight, I only got a little bit into tonight's...
(Reading assignment: SC 34-41, as well as Scriptures cited. Handouts.)
What if we were to start from scratch, and we were asked to come up with how we ought to worship each Sunday. What might we come up with? Anyone have ideas or suggestions?
After this came a discussion, with various suggestions for what a "roll your own" liturgy might be like...
Of course, the point is, we don’t "start from scratch," and on our own come up with how to worship each Sunday. My question, other than being intended to illustrate the point, is a silly question.
But my question also serves to illustrate another point—there is something in us that feels a need to worship. Even atheists would agree with that, because after all, if you claim there’s no God, you still have to explain why religion is so important to so many cultures and people.
Just as an atheist has to explain why, if God doesn’t exist, people still worship, so we as Christians have to explain why, if the Christian Faith is the full and final revelation of God, then what’s up with all these other religions?
And our explanation might focus on two points:
1. Yes, we do believe that God has definitively and finally revealed himself in Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean God hasn’t, to some degree, in some fashion, revealed himself outside of what we have in the Bible and in Jesus Christ. So, we believe Judaism is true, as far as goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. We believe there are elements of truth in a lot of religions, that correspond to what God has revealed to us.
2. But we would also say that, to some degree, other religions are, indeed, "man made," and that means the worship of such religions is "man made." As Christians, we do not believe there is any revelation after Jesus—so we don’t believe Mohammed is God’s prophet, and his revelations, in the Koran, are not considered divine, by Christians. Same with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
Now, someone might say, but isn’t all religion, aren’t all forms of worship, man-made?
And the answer is no.
We believe that God formed a covenant with his chosen people, the people of Israel, and at the center of the covenant was worship. God showed his people how they were to worship.
And when Jesus came, he revealed, to his twelve apostles, "a new and everlasting covenant" and of course, he also showed them the worship that would be central to it: the celebration of the Eucharist.
No one is claiming that every detail of how we celebrate the Eucharist is divinely inspired. But some of it is! Go back to the events of that first Holy Thursday: the Lord not only showed the Apostles what to do—"Do this in memory of me"—he also empowered them to act in his name and to make him present to the world: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" and "I will send you another Comforter/Paraclete, who will guide you to all truth."
Liturgy is first the work of the Holy Spirit
You might be wondering what all this has to do with Sacramentum Caritatis.
In the Gospel of John, Our Lord meets a Samaritan woman at a well. (Read an exerpt.) The central section of the holy father’s exhortation is all about this crucial question: what is worship? How do we know we are worshipping—as Jesus said—"in spirit and in truth"?
A few lines into the second part of his exhortation, Pope Benedict says this: The Eucharist should be experienced as a mystery of faith, celebrated authentically and with a clear awareness that "the intellectus fidei has a primordial relationship to the Church's liturgical action" (SC, 34). And my question is, what does the pope mean by "celebrated authentically"? What’s "authentic"? What makes a celebration "authentic"? And I submit that we are either talking about something that is a human thing, could be this, could be that; or we’re talking about something that is guided by, and to some degree inspired by, God.
Pope Benedict has already made the point about the Holy Spirit being at work, in the Church, in the development of the liturgy. See paragraph 3, and then in paragraph 12 where he said, "This great mystery is celebrated in the liturgical forms which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, develops in time and space. We need a renewed awareness of the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the evolution of the liturgical form and the deepening understanding of the sacred mysteries."
We will take our time getting into this section of Sacramentum Caritatis, because I think it’s important to understand all that underpins the pope’s thought. In fact, this talk is going to look only briefly at the exhortation, because we need to look at other things that underlie the pope’s work—such as the Council, and also what he wrote, before his election, in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy. (Many don’t know that not only was Cardinal Ratzinger a top-flight theologian before becoming pope, they also don’t know that liturgy was and is a subject of special concern.)