In my second post on this year’s CMAA colloquium I touched briefly on the importance of the ars celebrandi of the Priest-celebrant as one of the necessary features of a renewal in the authentic participation of the faithful in the sacred liturgy. Today I want to develop that and say, the art of properly celebrating the liturgy – from the perspective of the sacred ministers, of music, of art and architecture and vesture – is necessary not only for a more profound participation of the faithful in an active or external way, but for the spiritual and interior communion with Christ for which every Christian longs.
First to emphasize a point made at the colloquium by Father Christopher Smith in his talk, Liturgical Theology: Are We Only Just Beginning? Fr Smith rightly criticized a ‘sterile legalism [that] ignores the shaky historical contentions behind the reform (of the liturgy) and produces a spirit of conformity to ideas which are no longer tenable as true’. Here we might think of recent scholarship regarding the orientation of the celebration of the Eucharist, or the development of the practice of concelebration, or the change in opinion – even in the past 10 years – regarding the authenticity and antiquity of the so-called Hippolytan Canon, known to us as Eucharistic Prayer II (see here for an excellent article on this very point). Just as pre and post-conciliar practitioners sought to make use of the latest scholarship to support their theories on these points in their time – and, indeed, to legislate for this – so it is right that as academic opinion and theological understanding shifts from supporting these ideas, so liturgical law and the norms regarding the celebration of the liturgy should begin to reflect this.
Nevertheless, the ars celebrandi is not opposed to the liturgical norms. It is not a covert means of deviating from the rites of the Church, but rather celebrating them properly and in their fullness. Pope Benedict XVI’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis makes this clear by speaking of the ars celebrandi as ‘the art of proper celebration’ (SCa38), a point emphasized by Bishop Peter Elliott in his paper at Sacra Liturgia in Rome last summer. Sacramentum Caritatis goes on to say, ‘The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness; indeed, for two thousand years this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers, called to take part in the celebration as the People of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ (SCa 38). This is why a renewal in the ars celebrandi is so closely aligned to Dr Mahrt’s paradigm for the CMAA: because it entails the authentic implementation of the Church’s intentions, as detailed in her liturgical law, toward a spiritual end.
This is vital to my second point, which is this: we cannot emphasize the actuosa participatio of the faithful, dealt with in an earlier post here , if we do not first emphasize the proper celebration of the liturgical rites as interpreted by the Church, as forged in sacred tradition. Indeed, Pope Benedict instructs us, ‘The primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The ars celebrandi is the best way to ensure their actuosa participatio’ (SCa 38). As a catechist friend has often said to me, ‘Teach to the rite’, because we are formed into the likeness of Christ through our experience of communion with him, and that is nowhere clearer than in the authentic celebration of the sacred liturgy, as we are caught up in the eternal self-giving relationship of the Blessed Trinity.
We know that there is nothing greater in the Christian life than this reality. So may our every moment and action, especially in the celebration of the sacred liturgy, be orientated toward it – the worship of heaven, the new creation for which we long. And may that promise of future glory find resonance in our lives and actions here on earth, bringing us and the whole of humanity into a closer union with Christ, and drawing us ever-closer to the life he calls us to lead.