The Pope's Newest Document on the Liturgy
What is Desiderio desideravi?
Desiderio desideravi, the title of Pope Francis’ 2022 document on the Sacred Liturgy, comes from the Latin version of Luke 22:15: “I have earnestly desired (desiderio desideravi) to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Pope Francis begins this beautiful and relatively short reflection on the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Sacred Liturgy by reminding us of the Most Holy Trinity’s love for us and desire for us.
Key Points of the Document
The document itself is relatively short compared to other writings from Pope Francis. It is worth reading in its entirety. This article is not commentary
on the document. I would only like to offer here a brief summary of some of the key points of the document.
The Liturgy: the “today” of salvation history
Pope Francis begins by reminding us that no one earned a place at the Last Supper; they were all invited, just as we are invited by God’s grace to the altar of the Lord. In fact, all of creation set the stage for the Passover of the Lord and His sacrifice on the Cross.
The Last Supper is unique and unrepeatable, but the wedding feast of the Lamb, the Sacred Liturgy, is more than just the Last Supper. The Passover meal at the Last Supper was itself an anticipation of Christ’s Body on the Cross, “his sacrifice of obedience out of love for the Father (DD, 7).” It is only this perfect act of sacrifice by which we can hope to offer a true act of worship to the Father. Though the Last Supper, the Sacrifice, and the Resurrection are unrepeatable, the Holy Mass is outside of space and time and presents once more these saving realities in the “today” of salvation history.
The Liturgy: place of encounter with Christ
By virtue of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, His taking on flesh, is the way that the “Holy Trinity has chosen to open to us the way of communion. Christian faith is either an encounter with Him alive, or it does not exist (DD, 10).” In other words, the Resurrection is a reality and Christ comes to us in the Mass.
The Liturgy is the guaranteed place for this encounter with the Risen Lord. We hear His voice and eat His Body. We need Him, and we encounter Him preeminently through the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Eucharist. The Sacraments are not magic, because God is the one acting. But they are miraculous and mysterious.
The Church: Sacrament of the Body of Christ
The obedience of the Son of God to the Father is the “one act of worship, perfect and pleasing to the Father (DD, 15).” We enter into this reality by Christ, and, in truth, the Church is borne from the pierced side of Christ, just as Eve came from the side of Adam. We can only hope to particupate in this perfect act of worship by becoming “sons in the Son.”
The theological sense of the Liturgy
Pope Francis reminds us that the journey to the rediscover of the a theological understanding of the Liturgy and of its importance in the life of the Church is owed to the Second Vatican Council but also to the liturgical movement that preceded it. He reminds the reader of the centrality of the Council’s document on the Liturgy (which everyone should read!!) – Sacrosanctum Concilium.
The key to understanding Pope Francis’ document is worth quoting at length:
“With this letter I simply want to invite the whole Church to rediscover, to safeguard, and to live the truth and power of the Christian celebration. I want the beauty of the Christian celebration and its necessary consequences for the life of the Church not to be spoiled by a superficial and foreshortened understanding of its value or, worse yet, by its being exploited in service of some ideological vision, no matter what the hue. The priestly prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper that all may be one (Jn 17:21) judges every one of our divisions around the Bread broken, around the sacrament of mercy, the sign of unity, the bond of charity (DD, 16).”
The Liturgy: antidote for the poison of spiritual wordliness
There are two main forces that, when applied to the Liturgy, cause spiritual wordliness: Gnosticism and neo-Pelagianism. In these we find the various dangers of subjectivism and rigidity. The Liturgy is not something which we frenetically do to earn God’s favor and it is not about our whims or feelings. The “liturgical celebration frees us from the poison of self-referencing nourished by one’s own reasoning and one’s own feeling… the liturgical celebration purifies us, proclaiming the gratuity of the gift of salvation received in faith (DD, 19, 20).” The Sacred Liturgy is what God does primarily, not what we do.
Rediscovering daily the beauty of the truth of the Christian celebration
The signs and symbols of the Liturgy must be well used and beautiful, according to the rubrics (though not slavish to them), and everything must be carefully tended to. Further, the Liturgy must not be carelessly banal or ignorantly superficial. This recognizes the concrete nature of the Liturgy.
Amazement before the Paschal Mystery: an essential part of the liturgical act
Not merely a “sense of mystery,” we must marvel at what God has done and what He has concretely revealed to us in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and in the Liturgy. We must see the beauty in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. “Beauty, just like truth, always engenders wonder, and when these are referred to the mystery of God, they lead to adoration (DD, 25).”
The need for a serious and vital liturgical formation
In this section, the Pope discusses the issues in our modern world with living completely the liturgical action. One of the antidotes is by diving into the four Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council anew and drawing from the wisdom of the ages therein contained.
We do not simply need to know what the text of the Mass says and what the rubrics instruct. And we do not need to let ourselves be carried away with the “spirit” of liturgical renewal. Instead, there must be a serious and vital formation in the liturgy: spiritually, practically, mentally, and academically. To this end, Pope Francis gives quite a bit of advice to how seminaries ought to form students.
This education needs to be lived and Christ must be encountered. As the Pope says, “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 (DD, 41).” The Liturgy is carried out by Jesus Christ and it is our place of encounter with Him, through signs and symbols.
There is a dynamism to the Liturgy with various disciplines and kinds of knowledge that require our attention. It must be an ars celebrandi (art of celebrating) in harmony with the action of the Holy Spirit. The gestures, words, symbolic language, silence, sacred space, and rubrics all work together in the Liturgy and the art of celebrating comes from the priest and the people moving in and through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Liturgy is not merely a “mental adhesion” on the part of the priest. He must engage in it with his whole person: mind, body, soul, and spirit. And he must not “rob attention from the centrality of the altar, a sign of Christ, from whose pierced side flowed blood and water, by which were established the Sacraments of the Church and the center of our praise and thanksgiving (DD, 60).” He must even be aware of how he is speaking, the tone he is using. This is the ars dicendi (art of speaking). The Liturgy is not a show, but there are certain tones of voice which are appropriate for the various parts of the Liturgy.
Pope Francis wants to remind us of the inexhaustible and immense treasure of the celebration of the holy mysteries. He intends to re-establish unity in the whole Church of the Roman Rite. He wants to “rekindle our wonder for the beauty of the truth of the Christian celebration, to refocus liturgical reform, and recognize the importance of the ars celebrandi.
He ends with a vital exhortation that every Catholic of good will in the Roman Rite needs to hear: “Let us abandon our polemics to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Let us safeguard our communion. Let us continue to be astonished at the beauty of the Liturgy (DD, 65).”