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February 2004


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Spiritus et Sponsa

An extract from the Apostolic Letter of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II on the 40th Anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium

February 2004 Newsletter

Spiritus et Sponsa
full text of the Apostolic Letter


11. Looking at the future, there are several challenges to which the Liturgy must respond. In the course of these forty years, society has undergone profound changes, some of which put the ecclesial commitment strongly to the test. We are faced with a world in which the signs of the Gospel are being attenuated, including in regions of long Christian tradition. It is the time of new evangelization. The Liturgy is directly addressed by such a challenge.

At first glance, it seems that the liturgy is marginalized in a society that is amply secularized. However, it is a fact that, despite the secularization, in our time a renewed need of spirituality re-emerges, in so many forms. How can one not see in this a proof of the fact that in the inner being of man it is not possible to cancel the thirst for God? There are questions that find an answer only in a personal contact with Christ. Only in intimacy with him every life acquires meaning, and can arrive at experiencing the joy that made Peter say on the mountain of the Transfiguration: ‘Master, it is well that we are here’ (Luke 9:33 par).

12. Given this longing for the encounter with God, the Liturgy provides the most profound and effective response. It does so especially in the Eucharist, in which it is given to us to be united to the sacrifice of Christ and to be nourished from his Body and his Blood. It is necessary, nevertheless, that the Pastors do so in a way that the meaning of the mystery penetrates in consciences, rediscovering and practising the ‘mystagogic’ art, so dear to the Fathers of the Church. It is their task, in particular, to promote worthy celebrations, giving due attention to the different categories of people: children, youth, adults, the elderly and the disabled. All must feel welcome in our assemblies, so as to be able to breathe the atmosphere of the first believing community: ‘They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to prayers’ (Acts 2:42).

13. An aspect that must be cultivated with greater commitment within our communities is the experience of silence. We have need of this ‘to receive in hearts the full resonance of the voice of the Holy Spirit, and to unite more closely personal prayer with the Word of God and with the public voice of the Church.’ In a society that lives ever more frenetically, bewildered by rumours and distracted in the ephemeral, it is vital to rediscover the value of silence. It is no accident that beyond Christian worship, meditation practices are spreading that give importance to recollection. Why not undertake, with pedagogical audacity, a specific education in silence within the confines of the Christian experience? Before our eyes must be the example of Jesus, who ‘rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed’ (Mark 1:35). The Liturgy, among its different moments and signs, cannot neglect that of silence.

14. The liturgical pastoral program, through the introduction to the various celebrations, must instill the taste for prayer. It will do so, surely, taking into account the capacity of the individual believers, in their diverse conditions of age and education; but it will do so seeking not to be satisfied with the ‘minimal.’ The pedagogy of the Church must be able to ‘dare.’ It is important to introduce the faithful to the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours that, ‘because it is the public prayer of the Church, is a source of piety, and nourishment for personal prayer.’ It is not an individual or private action ‘but belongs to the whole Body of the Church. [...] If therefore the faithful are convoked for the Liturgy of the Hours and if they gather together, uniting their hearts and their voices, they manifest the Church that celebrates the mystery of Christ.’ This privileged attention to liturgical prayer is not placed in tension with personal prayer, rather it assumes and requires it, and combines it well with other forms of community prayer, especially if recognized and recommended by the ecclesial Authority.

15. The duty of Pastors is indispensable, in education in prayer and in particular in the promotion of the liturgical life. It implies a duty of discernment and guidance. These is not perceived as a principle of rigidity, as opposed to the need of the Christian spirit to abandon itself to the action of the Spirit of God, who intercedes in us and ‘for us with sighs too deep for words’ (Romans 8:26). Rather, through the guidance of Pastors, a principle of ‘guarantee’ is realized, foreseen in the design of God for the Church, being governed by the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The liturgical renewal realized in these decades has demonstrated how it is possible to combine a norm that ensures the Liturgy its identity and its decorum, with room for creativity and adaptation, which render it close to the expressive needs of the various regions, situations and cultures. By not respecting the liturgical norm, one arrives at times at even serious abuses that put in shadow the truth of the mystery and create disturbance and tensions in the People of God. Such abuses have nothing to do with the authentic spirit of the Council and are to be corrected by Pastors with an attitude of prudent firmness.

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