‘Astonishment at the paschal mystery’
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has recently issued an apostolic letter on the liturgy entitled “Desiderio Desideravi” (“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you”). It is a call to celebrate the liturgy reverently and with a renewed appreciation for the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium).
The apostolic letter is only 11,000 words long in English and broken into 65 numbered paragraphs. It is well worth the read and is addressed to bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and the lay people. In other words, the whole people of God.
Pope Francis wants to share “some reflections on the liturgy” with all the members of the church. He also states that his observations are not exhaustive, but he wants “to offer some prompts or cues for reflections that can aid in the contemplation of the beauty and truth of the Christian celebration.”
The Holy Father offers us a reflection on the Last Supper and proceeds to recall Vatican II’s impact on the liturgy. He emphasizes how the council helped us rediscover a theological understanding of the liturgy and its importance in the life of the church. He expresses his desire “to invite the whole church to rediscover, to safeguard, and to live the truth and power of the Christian celebration.”
Pope Francis urges us to cultivate a sense of “astonishment at the paschal mystery” and allow that sense of astonishment to help us celebrate the profound nature of the Eucharist with deep reverence, mystery, and beauty. All of this is expressed in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy and its insights continue to need to be better implemented so that the beauty and truth of the reformed Mass can be truly experienced and appreciated.
The Holy Father urges us to rediscover the presence of the Passover of the Lord at the heart of the Eucharist so that its power can reach our lives.
He goes on to offer a reflection on the ars celebrandi or the “art of celebrating the Liturgy.” He urges us to avoid a “rubrical mechanism” and “imaginative — sometimes wild — creativity.” He exhorts us to celebrate the liturgy in its integrity with careful preparation and a renewed appreciation for the power of its symbolic language and gestures as well as its moments of silence.
Pope Francis even goes on to give examples of negative models of presiding at the liturgy he has observed over the years. I especially urge our priests and deacons to read and reflect on his observations. They are good material for my attention as well.
The timing of the apostolic letter is a gift for us now that we have entered into our three-year Eucharistic Revival in the United States. I encourage us all to rediscover the richness of the Mass of Paul VI and John Paul II so that we can be transformed by Christ’s real presence at its heart and the power of his passover from death to life. As we do so we will encounter once again the Lord and his earnest desire “to eat this passover” with us so that we, too, can pass over from death to the fullness of life.