Thursday, July 12


A Nice Helping of Sacrosanctum Concilium

In our continuing return to what Vatican II's actual document on the Liturgy actually said, and reflections on how this can lead to true liturgical renaissance, we proceed to the 11th and 12th articles.

Actual Text

11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:1). Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.

12. The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father, in secret (Cf. Matt. 6:6); yet more, according to the teaching of the Apostle, he should pray without ceasing (Cf . 1 Thess. 5:17). We learn from the same Apostle that we must always bear about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodily frame (Cf . 2 Cor. 4:10-11). This is why we ask the Lord in the sacrifice of the Mass that, "receiving the offering of the spiritual victim," he may fashion us for himself "as an eternal gift" (Secret for Monday of Pentecost Week).

Brief Commentary

An important distinction must be made regarding ex opere operatus, the doctrine that a sacrament is valid if it is done correctly--regardless of the disposition of its minister. Any valid sacrament is, "ex opere operatus," a definite offer of God's grace (that is, Christ is present in the sacrament to be encountered by its recipients). The offer of grace in a valid sacrament is a opus operatus, a "done deal." However, there is still a question as to whether or not the individual recipients of a sacrament (in this case, the Blessed Sacrament) will, in their freedom, actually accept the offer of Christ's presence that is validly made in the sacrament: this is the opus operantis, the open-ended aspect of the sacrament. A valid Eucharist may very well not be efficacious at all if the individual recieving it does not receive the offer of Christ's presence, and the Council very astutely quotes the warning of 2 Cor. 6:1 to that effect.

It is therefore obviously of extreme importance that people are engaged in the ritual itself, but even more importantly it is important that, as they follow the progression of the words of the ritual, their minds are "attuned" to those words, as the Council states. Here we get into the topic of the "ars celebrandi" on which Sacramentum Caritatis, the document produced by the Synod on the Eucharist, focused. This is one of the fundamental tragedies of most liturgical celebrations today: while the words of the ritual are often now in everyone's hears and on their lips, they are still not in their minds or, above all, on their hearts: the contemplative soul of the Mass as the prayerful encounter with the Body of the Lord is terribly neglected. This lack of recollection is contrary to the explicit desires of the Council.

As Pius XII developed in Mediator Dei, the liturgy therefore presupposes a deep personal prayer life: or, as Benedict observed, the liturgical can only be the summit of the Christian life of prayer if there is a private life of prayer outside the liturgy. Prayer is not the only preparation needed: catechesis as to what the rituals means, even when the celebration is done in the vernacular, is absolutely essential. Here we have a problem: when and how is this catechesis to take place?

The Council of Trent decreed that pastors should "explain frequently during the celebration of the mass some of the things read during the mass, and that among other things they explain some mystery of this most holy sacrifice." (22nd Session, Chap VIII, 1562) Perhaps that would be an appropriate venue for today, or perhaps (because this approach is awkward and never caught on) restricting this catechesis to the sermon itself would be better. But a sermon is probably not enough. How, then, and what resources, would be best to catechise the average layperson, assuming he or she has the average degree of motivation to learn (at least at the outset)?

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