Pope Saint John Paul II’s writings on the liturgy are not as widely known as his other theological and philosophical works. This is understandable, but his insightful reflections deserve far greater attention, as they serve as an excellent preparation for his successor and friend, the brilliant liturgist Benedict XVI. To underscore Pope John Paul II’s liturgical vision, one of his final encyclicals is the beautifully written Ecclessia de Eucharistia, in which he makes an impassioned call for the restoration of reverence and, in particular, the sense of mystery in the liturgy. Make a goal of reading Ecclesia de Eucharistia soon. It’s excellent and deeply moving, especially when he recalls offering his first Mass in Poland as a young priest.
In the meantime, here are some excerpts.
At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet. …
The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation. . . .
It must be lamented that, especially in the years following the post-conciliar liturgical reform, as a result of a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation there have been a number of abuses which have been a source of suffering for many. A certain reaction against ‘formalism’ has led some, especially in certain regions, to consider the ‘forms’ chosen by the Church’s great liturgical tradition and her Magisterium as non-binding and to introduce unauthorized innovations which are often completely inappropriate. . . .
The ‘treasure’ is too important and precious to risk impoverishment or compromise through forms of experimentation or practices introduced without a careful review on the part of the competent ecclesiastical authorities. . . .
No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality. . . .
Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?
And in his apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Europa, (written in 2003, the same year as Ecclessia de Eucharistia) Pope John Paul II made the following observation regarding mystery.
Certain signs point to a weakening in the sense of mystery in the very liturgical celebrations which should be fostering that sense. It is, therefore, urgent that the authentic sense of the liturgy be revived in the Church. … True renewal, far from depending on arbitrary actions, consists of constantly developing an awareness of the sense of mystery.
I have to wonder, within our own archdiocese and beyond, how much attention is given to the writings of our recent popes on the subject of liturgy? Are these beautifully written, theologically rich and accessible encyclicals, letters and exhortations given any hearing amidst the discussion on the evangelization of our archdiocese? What could be more important, in terms of evangelization, than the care of the liturgy, described in Sacrosanctum Concilium as the “source and summit of the life and mission of the Church”? Are parishes using these letters as blueprints for mapping out a strategy for the restoration of parish liturgical life across the archdiocese? To what extent, if any, were these writings discussed at the archdiocesan synod last year? Does anyone actually read these documents? They are not intended to be lost in cyberspace (salvaged only by the occasional Google search), but I fear that is precisely what is happening. I read instructive documents, like Sacramentum Caritatis, and ask myself, who is taking this amazing exhortation seriously?
An excellent, practical way for the laity to be involved in the liturgical life of the Church today is to be informed on official Church documents that instruct on the liturgy, and to humbly accept that instruction. We have to start caring about what the Church and popes say regarding the liturgy. We’ve been given clear, inspiring instruction, so let’s put it to use!