Benedict XVI on Ars Celebrandi

Scanning the Zenit archives, catching up on news of the past month, I found this translation of the pope’s response to an Albano priest’s question:


As priests, we are called to celebrate a “serious, simple and beautiful liturgy,” to use a beautiful formula contained in the document “Communicating the Gospel in a Changing World” by the Italian bishops. Holy Father, can you help us to understand how all this can be expressed in the “ars celebrandi?”

Pope Benedict’s reply included this:

“(A)rs celebrandi” is not intended as an invitation to some sort of theater or show, but to an interiority that makes itself felt and becomes acceptable and evident to the people taking part. Only if they see that this is not an exterior or spectacular “ars” — we are not actors! — but the expression of the journey of our heart that attracts their hearts too, will the liturgy become beautiful, will it become the communion with the Lord of all who are present. Of course, external things must also be associated with this fundamental condition, expressed in St. Benedict’s words: “Mens concordet voci” — the heart is truly raised, uplifted to the Lord. We must learn to say the words properly.

Sometimes, when I was still a teacher in my country, young people had read the sacred Scriptures. And they read them as one reads the text of a poem one has not understood. Naturally, to learn to say words correctly one must first understand the text with its drama, with its immediacy. It is the same for the Preface and for the Eucharistic Prayer.

It is difficult for the faithful to follow a text as long as our Eucharistic Prayer. For this reason these new “inventions” are constantly cropping up. However, with constantly new Eucharistic Prayers one does not solve the problem. The problem is that this is a moment that also invites others to silence with God and to pray with God. Therefore, things can only go better if the Eucharistic Prayer is said well and with the correct pauses for silence, if it is said with interiority but also with the art of speaking.

It follows that the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer requires a moment of special attention if it is to be spoken in such a way that it involves others. I believe we should also find opportunities in catechesis, in homilies and in other circumstances to explain this Eucharistic Prayer well to the People of God so that they can follow the important moments — the account and the words of the Institution, the prayer for the living and the dead, the thanksgiving to the Lord and the epiclesis — if the community is truly to be involved in this prayer.

Thus, the words must be pronounced properly. There must then be an adequate preparation. Altar servers must know what to do; lectors must be truly experienced speakers. Then the choir, the singing, should be rehearsed: And let the altar be properly decorated. All this, even if it is a matter of many practical things, is part of the “ars celebrandi.”

This is vastly different from the pre-conciliar emphasis on saying the “right” words. I’m heartened the pope sees the importance of preparation, rehearsal, and practical skill in the various roles of the liturgy.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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