Cardinal Cañizares on Beauty in the Liturgy and Concelebration

«The liturgy … will be beautiful when it is true and authentic»

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ROME, MARCH 5, 2012 ( Here is the presentation of a book made today by Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

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Paper by His Eminence Cardinal Antonio Cañizares

for the presentation of the book by Msgr. Guillaume Derville

La concélébration eucharistique. Du symbole à la réalité

(Wilson & Lafleur)

Pontifical University of the Holy Cross

5th March 2012

“Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ ” (Mk 9:2–5).

Yesterday, the Second Sunday in Lent, the liturgy proclaimed the words I have just read. Words which can, I think, serve as a setting or an introduction to this presentation of Msgr. Guillaume Derville’s book, Eucharistic Concelebration. From Symbol To Reality, published by Wilson & Lafleurin its collection Gratianus.

When we think of the narrative of the Transfiguration, words like ‘glory’, ‘brightness’ and ‘beauty’ spring to mind. They are terms that can be applied directly to the liturgy. As Benedict XVI reminds us, there is an intrinsic link between the liturgy and beauty. Indeed, “The truest beauty is the love of God, who definitively revealed himself to us in the Paschal mystery.” 

The expression “Paschal mystery” synthesizes the essential nucleus of the whole process of the Redemption; it is the culmination of Christ’s work. The liturgy in turn contains, as something of its own, this “work” of Christ, because through it the work of our Redemption is actualized. This is why the liturgy, as a part of the Paschal mystery, is “a sublime expression of God’s glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth. The memorial of Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice contains something of that beauty which Peter, James and John beheld when the Master, making his way to Jerusalem, was transfigured before their eyes (cf. Mk 9:2). Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendour.”

I would like to draw especial attention to the last phrases of the text I have just cited, because in my opinion they introduce a very sensitive question which is at the same time at the centre of Msgr. Derville’s study. Let us read them again: “Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendour.”

That is to say: the liturgy, and within it the act of concelebration, will be beautiful when it is true and authentic, when its innate splendour is really reflected. It is in this context that we should understand the question posed by the Holy Father regarding concelebrations with a large number of priests: “For my part,” said the Pope, “I have to say, it remains a problem because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental, and I do not consider that the definitive answer has really been found. I also raised this question during the last Synod but it was not answered. I also had another question asked regarding the concelebration of Mass: why, for example, if a thousand priests concelebrate, do we not yet know whether this structure was desired by the Lord?”

The question is precisely one of keeping “the structure desired by the Lord”, because the liturgy is a gift from God. It is not something fabricated by us men; it is not at our disposition. Indeed, “By his command to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Lk 22:19; cf. 1 Cor 11:25), he asks us to respond to his gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, his expectation that the Church, born of his sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament.”

For this reason, “we must learn to understand the structure of the Liturgy and why it is laid out as it is. The Liturgy developed in the course of two millennia, and even after the Reformation was not simply something worked out by a few liturgists. It has always remained a continuation of this on-going growth of worship and proclamation. Thus, to be well in tune, it is very important to understand this structure that developed over time and to enter with our mens into the vox of the Church.”

Msgr. Derville’s thorough study goes very much in this direction. It helps us to listen to Vatican Council II, whose texts, as Bl. John Paul II noted, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition.”

The Council did indeed decide to widen the faculty for concelebrating in accordance with two principles: that this form of celebration of the Holy Mass adequately manifests the unity of the priesthood, and that it has been practised up to now in the Church both in the East and in the West. Hence concelebration, as Sacrosanctum Concilium also noted, is one of those rites that it is fitting to restore “according to the primitive rule of the holy Fathers.”

In this sense, it is important to look, however briefly, into the history of concelebration. The historical panorama that Msgr. Derville offers us, even if it is —as he modestly points out— only a brief summary, is sufficient to let us glimpse areas of obscurity, that show the absence of clear data on Eucharistic celebration in the earliest times of the Church. At the same time, and without falling into a ingenuous “archaeologism”, it does provide us with enough information to be able to state that concelebration, in the genuine tradition of the Church, whether eastern or western, is an extraordinary, solemn and public rite, normally presided over by the Bishop or his delegate, surrounded by his presbyterium and by the entire community of the faithful. But the daily concelebrations of priests only, which are practised “privately”, so to speak, in the eastern Churches instead of Masses celebrated individually or “more privato”, do not form part of the Latin liturgical tradition.

Moreover, the author seems to me to succeed fully when he examines in depth the underlying reasons mentioned by the Council for extending concelebration. This widening of the faculty to concelebrate needs to be moderated, as we can see when we read the Council texts. And it is logical that it should be so: the purpose of concelebration is not to solve problems of logistics or organization, but rather to make the Paschal mystery present, manifesting the unity of the priesthood that is born of the Eucharist. The beauty of the concelebration, as we said at the beginning, implies its celebration in the truth. And thus its power as a sign depends on the way it lives and respects the demands that the concelebration itself brings with it.

When the number of concelebrants is too large, you lose one of the essential aspects of the concelebration. When it is almost impossible to synchronize the words and gestures not reserved to the principal celebrant, when the concelebrants are distant from the altar and the offerings, when there are not vestments for some of them, when there is a lack of harmony in the colou
r or the shape of the vestments, all this can obscure the manifestation of the unity of the priesthood. And we cannot forget that it is precisely this manifestation which justified the widening of the faculty to concelebrate.

As long ago as 1965 Cardinal Lercaro, president of the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de sacra liturgia, wrote a letter to the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences, alerting them to the danger of treating concelebration as simply a way of dealing with practical problems. And he reminded them that it could be opportune to encourage it, if it helped the piety of faithful and priests.

I would like to look at this last aspect very briefly. As Benedict XVI stated: “I join the Synod Fathers in recommending ‘the daily celebration of Mass, even when the faithful are not present’. This recommendation is consistent with the objectively infinite value of every celebration of the Eucharist, and is motivated by the Mass’s unique spiritual fruitfulness. If celebrated in a faith-filled and attentive way, Mass is formative in the deepest sense of the word, since it fosters the priest’s configuration to Christ and strengthens him in his vocation.”

For each priest, the celebration of the Holy Mass is the reason for his existence. It is, it must be, an entirely personal encounter with the Lord and with his redemptive work. At the same time, each priest, in the celebration of the Eucharist, is Christ himself present in the Church as Head of his body; and he also acts in the name of the whole Church “when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice”. When we experience the wonder of the Eucharistic gift, which transforms us and configures us to Christ, there is only room for amazement, gratitude and obedience. 

The author helps us to understand this admirable reality more deeply and clearly. And at the same time, as we read he reminds us and makes us take into account that there also exists, together with concelebration, the possibility of individual celebration or of participating in the Eucharist as a priest, but without concelebrating. It is a matter of entering into the liturgy according to the particular circumstances, of looking for the option that will more easily enable us to enter into dialogue with the Lord, of respecting the structure of the liturgy itself. Here we find the limits of a right to concelebrate or not, which also respects the right of the faithful to take part in a liturgy where the ars celebrandi makes their actuosa participatio possible. We are thus touching on points which are a matter of justice; and indeed the author also refers to the Code of Canon Law. 

It remains to me only to thank Msgr. Derville and the publishers Palabra and Wilson & Lafleur for the book that I have the pleasure of presenting today. I think that it offers us an example of the true hermeneutic of the Second Vatican Council. “The changes which the Council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of the historical development of the rite itself, without the introduction of artificial discontinuities.” And it will be both a help and a stimulus in the face of the responsibility which the Holy Father recently reminded the Congregation over which I preside: “to focus on giving a fresh impetus to promoting the Sacred Liturgy in the Church, in accordance with the renewal that the Second Vatican Council desired, on the basis of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium.” I am sure, besides, that this book will help to make this Year of Faith “a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist.”

Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera

Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship 

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