By Father Mauro Gagliardi
ROME, NOV. 12, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Last month, the Vatican published Benedict XVI’s letter to seminarians for the conclusion of the Year for Priests, in which the Pope reminds those seeking the priesthood that “anyone who wishes to become a priest must be first and foremost a ‘man of God.'”
Specifically, the Pontiff continued, this means that “the priest is not the leader of a sort of association whose membership he tries to maintain and expand. He is God’s messenger to his people. He wants to lead them to God and in this way to foster authentic communion between all men and women. That is why it is so important, dear friends, that you learn to live in constant intimacy with God” (No. 1).
In Benedict XVI’s teaching, prayer is the privileged “place” to learn the Christian style of life. For example, in the encyclical “Spe Salvi,” the Holy Father presented prayer as one of the principal “places” of learning and of exercising Christian hope (cf. Nos. 32-34). In the letter to seminarians, the Pontiff considers it the particular way in which the candidate to the priesthood learns to be in profound and continual communion with the Lord.
The Pope writes: “When the Lord tells us to ‘pray constantly,’ he is obviously not asking us to recite endless prayers, but urging us never to lose our inner closeness to God. Praying means growing in this intimacy. So it is important that our day should begin and end with prayer; that we listen to God as the Scriptures are read; that we share with him our desires and our hopes, our joys and our troubles, our failures and our thanks for all his blessings, and thus keep him ever before us as the point of reference for our lives” (No.1).
Furthermore, Benedict XVI reminds future priests that prayer in the perfect state is the public worship of the Church, namely, the sacred liturgy, and in a privileged way the Holy Mass.
He writes: “The proper celebration of the Eucharist involves knowing, understanding and loving the Church’s liturgy in its concrete form. In the liturgy we pray with the faithful of every age — the past, the present and the future are joined in one great chorus of prayer. As I can state from personal experience, it is inspiring to learn how it all developed, what a great experience of faith is reflected in the structure of the Mass, and how it has been shaped by the prayer of many generations” (No.2).
The liturgy is truly understood only by being inserted in the living Tradition of the Church, from which we receive it as a gift to keep and live out in a spirit of faith and prayer. This is, in fact, the only correct spirit with which to celebrate and participate in the liturgy. It is not about producing superficial and passing emotions, through particular inventions to be inserted in the rite, because the true “spirit of the liturgy” is the spirit of adoring prayer, of the one who is to “stand in [his] presence and serve [him]” (cf. Roman Missal [Paul VI], “Eucharistic Prayer II”).
It is exciting — says the Holy Father based on his personal experience — to learn to understand the liturgy with this ecclesial and dynamic sense of the true Tradition. For this reason, liturgical formation is necessary, which illuminates the darkness of ignorance and pulls down the bastions of ideology, helping to understand the sacred meaning of divine worship and its link with the whole history of the faith, which the Church guards and professes in her children: head and members, shepherds and flock.
Liturgical formation is not, however, — and cannot be — a renewed form of “gnostic” initiation, a learning reserved to a few. Liturgical formation, though founded on the seriousness of a scientific study that is not for everyone, must be translated in ways accessible to the faithful to whom it is addressed.
Among the many initiatives at the universal and local level geared toward the liturgical formation of the People of God is this biweekly series “Spirit of the Liturgy.”
Having received various requests, we have decided to experiment this year with a piece that is more accessible, as will be noted by the greater brevity of the articles and of the further reduction of the number of references and notes. This choice sacrifices, on one hand, the just desire of the columnists to furnish more details and references on the topics treated; but, on the other, we hope that it can favor a wider diffusion of our reflections, so as to be able to reach a larger number of readers.
To them goes hence the gratitude of the authors of the “Spirit of the Liturgy,” for the fidelity and care with which they followed the preceding installments, and with which we trust they will want to continue reading them.[Translation by ZENIT]
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Father Mauro Gagliardi is a consultor of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and professor of theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum of Rome.