Cinquant’anni Dopo 3-5: Christ’s Role in the Liturgy

Fr Ev farewell MassWe continue our examination of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s June 2015 essay for L’Osservatore Romano. I’ve used an “early” translation, attributed here to Michael J. Miller at Catholic World Report.

I’ve also titled this series of posts according to the first few words of the Italian original, citing fifty years since Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The first citation given here is from SC 2. We used the Vatican’s English translation almost eight years ago when blogging on this. I don’t recall the leadoff sentence here as the essential interpretation of the constitution …

In the Church “action is directed to contemplation” (cf. no. 2). The conciliar Constitution invites us to rediscover the Trinitarian origin of the liturgical work. Indeed, the Council determines that there is a 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” (no. 6).

But the sense of continuity between liturgy and the mission of Christ: this is certainly a positive interpretation of the conciliar reform.

Carrying out the liturgy therefore is the same as accomplishing the work of Christ. The liturgy is essentially “actio Christi”: “the work of Christ the Lord in redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God” (no. 5). He is the great high priest, the true subject, the true protagonist of the liturgy (cf. no. 7). If this vitally important principle is not accepted in faith, we run the risk of making the liturgy a human work, the community’s celebration of itself.

The interpretation here, of course, is what it looks like when people usurp the role of Christ and make liturgy a “human” work. The external manifestation of liturgy: ritual, music, speech, gesture, and movement is, on the surface, human activity. Is it possible that clergy, musicians, ministers, and even the people in the pews have too much of a personal sense of their role? That’s certainly possible.

On the contrary, the Church’s real work is to enter into Christ’s action, to join in the work for which He has been commissioned by the Father. Therefore “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” (no. 5). The Church, the Body of Christ, must therefore become in turn an instrument in the hands of the Word.

My sense would be to examine that paradox of SC 2, “eager to act and yet intent on contemplation,” and discern if that balance is in place. It’s important to realize that contemplation is not quite the same as silent assent–or even apathy. Likewise, authentic action must be part of a discerned mission compatible with that of Jesus. My question would be: is “action” congruent to the evangelical impulse?

Note: I Wasn’t able to find the original essay on the L’Osservatore Romano site. Reader comments, however, are most welcome.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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