Reflections on Desiderio Desideravi

In his recent letter Desiderio Desideravi, Pope Francis emphasizes the pastoral importance of the liturgy for the church today. “If the liturgy is ‘the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed, and at the same time the font from which all her power flows,’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 10), well then, we can understand what is at stake in the liturgical question.” (DD 16)

The non-acceptance of the liturgical reform, as also a superficial understanding of it obstruct growing through the liturgy, Pope Francis says. “We are in need of a serious and dynamic liturgical formation.” (DD 31) That formation takes two forms; formation for the liturgy and formation by the liturgy. “The first depends on the second, which is essential.” (DDS 34)

Resources for formation for the liturgy have been provided by scholars from the beginning of the liturgical movement, the pope says.  “It is  important now to spread this knowledge beyond the academic environment, in an accessible way, so that each one of the faithful might grow in a knowledge of the theological sense of the Liturgy.”  (DD37)

Ordinary people should know what the texts and rites of the liturgy mean and “their anthropologic significance”.  The pope’s phrase “anthropologic significance” means

 that the whole of creation is at “the service of the encounter with the Word: incarnate, crucified, dead, risen, ascended to the Father.” (DD 35) The encounter happens in a sacramental way, the way of the Incarnation, through water, bread and wine, oil and simple human actions. The encounter also happens as we reach out in love to our brothers and sister and, indeed, to the earth itself. 

The church’s ministers and teachers form people for the liturgy, and for that reason the pope urges seminaries and other church institutions dedicate themselves to the work of liturgical formation. Yet, liturgical formation must be a step towards liturgical celebration– to be formed by the liturgy. “Ordained ministers carry out a pastoral action of the first importance when they take the baptized faithful by the hand to lead them into the repeated experience of the Paschal Mystery… The kind of knowledge that comes from study is just the first step to enter into the mystery celebrated. Obviously, to be able to lead their brothers and sisters, the ministers who preside in the assembly must know the way, know it from having studied it on the map of their theological studies but also from having frequented the liturgy in actual practice of an experience of living faith, nourished by prayer — and certainly not just as an obligation to be fulfilled.” (DD36)

In his letter the pope cites certain factors impeding participation in the liturgy today– neo-gnosticism and neo-pelagianism. He sees especially the loss of a sense of symbolism. Unlike St. Francis who saw the sun and recognized its likeness to God, we no longer gaze with wonder at creation. We approach creation in a utilitarian way. How can we regain this sense of wonder, the pope asks? 

“Above all we must reacquire confidence about creation. I mean to say that things — the sacraments “are made” of things — come from God. To Him they are oriented, and by Him they have been assumed, and assumed in a particular way in the Incarnation, so that they can become instruments of salvation, vehicles of the Spirit, channels of grace. ..we must arrange ourselves in their presence with a fresh, non-superficial regard, respectful and grateful. From the very beginning, created things contain the seed of the sanctifying grace of the sacraments.” (DD 46)

Desiderio Desideravi is closely related to Pope Francis’ letter on the environment, Laudato si’. Renewal of the liturgy and renewal of the earth both require respect and confidence in creation itself. Renewal of the liturgy and renewal of the earth go together.

What follows Desiderio Desideravi?

Desiderio Desideravi is not an exhaustive treatment of the liturgy. O2nly “some clues for reflection,” the pope claims. How can we as Christians build “confidence about creation” and recognize its relationship to the Incarnation?

A first step may be to look at our traditional prayers, especially the psalms, the prayerbook of Judaism and of the church. The psalms repeatedly explore the relationship of creation to God and to humanity.

An example is Psalm 148, last psalm for Sunday morning, week 3, in the liturgy of the hours, an anthem to the Creator, based on the cosmology of its day. The psalm praises God from the heavens above to the earth below, for “he commanded; they were made. He fixed them forever, gave a law which shall not pass away.” God is the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth.

The psalm calls all creation, from the greatest to the least, to praise the Creator. Humanity joins the song, from earth’s kings to “old men, together with children.” Humanity never sings God praise alone, separated from the rest of creation. We’re part of a greater song.

Praise the Lord from the heavens, alleluia.

Praise the Lord from the heavens,

praise him in the heights.

Praise him, all his angels,

praise him, all his host.

Praise him, sun and moon,

praise him, shining stars.

Praise him, highest heavens

and the waters above the heavens.

Let them praise the name of the Lord.

He commanded: they were made.

He fixed them for ever,

gave a law which shall not pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,

sea creatures and all oceans,

fire and hail, snow and mist,

stormy winds that obey his word;

all mountains and hills,

all fruit trees and cedars,

beasts, wild and tame,

reptiles and birds on the wing;

all earth’s kings and peoples,

earth’s princes and rulers,

young men and maidens,

old men together with children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord

for he alone is exalted.

The splendour of his name

reaches beyond heaven and earth.

He exalts the strength of his people.

He is the praise of all his saints,

of the sons of Israel,

of the people to whom he comes close.

Glory to the Father and to the Son,

and to the Holy Spirit:

as it was in the beginning, is now,

and will be for ever. Amen.

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