Pope’s Q-and-A Session With Roman Clergy, Part 8

On Large Celebrations of the Mass

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Feb. 7 with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome. During the meeting, the participants asked the Pope questions. Here is a translation of one of the questions and the Holy Father’s answer.

ZENIT began this series of questions-and-answers Feb. 11.

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[Father Alberto Orlando, Parochial Vicar of Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza:]

My name is Father Alberto Orlando, assistant pastor of the Parish of Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza. I would like to present to you a difficulty that I experienced with the young people at Loreto last year. We had a beautiful day at Loreto, but among the many nice things we noted a certain distance between you and the young people. We arrived in the afternoon. We were not able to see or hear. […]

The second thing that caused us some difficulty was the liturgy the next day, a little heavy, above all in regard to the songs and music. […] Here are the two questions: Why this distance between you and them; and then how does one reconcile the treasure of the liturgy in all its solemnity with the sentiment, affection, emotiveness that nourishes young people and of which they have much need?

I would also like some advice: How do we regulate between solemnity and emotiveness. Also because we are ourselves priests and we often ask ourselves how much we priests are able to live emotion and sentiment with simplicity. And being ministers of the sacrament we would like to be able to orient sentiment and emotiveness toward this just equilibrium.

[Benedict XVI:]

The first point that was proposed to me is connected with the situation of the organization [of the meeting at Loreto]: I found it as it was, so I do not know whether it was possible perhaps to organize it in a different way. Considering the thousands of people who were there, it was impossible, I believe, to make it so everyone could be close in the same way. Indeed, because of this we used a car to get closer to individual people. But we will take this into account and see if in the future, in other meetings with thousands and thousands of people, it will ever be possible to do something different. Nevertheless, it seems important to me that the feeling of interior nearness grow, that the bridge that unites us even if we are physically distant be found. But liturgies in which masses of people participate are a great problem.

I remember in 1960, during the great Eucharistic Congress in Munich, there was an attempt to give a new physiognomy to Eucharistic congresses, which until that time were only acts of adoration. There was a desire to put at the center the celebration of the Eucharist as an act of the presence of the mystery that was celebrated. But immediately the question arose as to how it would be possible. Adoration, it was said, is possible even at a distance; but to celebrate, a limited community that interacts with the mystery is necessary; thus a community that must be an assembly around the celebration of the mystery. There were many who were against the celebration of the Eucharist in public with 100,000 people. They said that it was not possible precisely because of the structure itself of the Eucharist, which demands community for communion.

There were even great, very respectable personalities who were against this solution. Then Professor Jungmann, the great liturgist, one of the great architects of the liturgical reform, created the concept of “statio orbis,” that is, he returned to the “statio Romae,” where precisely in the time of Lent the faithful gathered at one point, the statio: There they are stationed like soldiers for Christ; they then go to the Eucharist together. If this, he said, was the statio of the city of Rome, where the city of Rome gathers, then this is the “statio orbis.” And from that moment on we had Eucharistic celebrations with the participation of the masses.

For me, I must say, it remains a problem, because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental and so I do not find that the definitive answer has been truly found. I also had this question brought up at the last synod, but it did not find an answer. I also had another question brought up, about concelebration “en masse”: Because if, for example, thousands of priests concelebrate, one does not know if this is still the structure desired by the Lord. But in any case they are questions. And so the problem of celebration in large numbers in which not all can be equally involved was presented to you. A certain style must therefore be chosen to conserve that dignity that is always necessary for the Eucharist and then the community is not uniform and the experience of participation in the event is diverse; for some it is certainly insufficient. But it did not depend on me, rather it depended on those who made the preparations.

One must reflect hard, therefore, about what to do in these situations, how to respond to the challenges of this situation. If I am not mistaken, it was an orchestra of handicapped persons who performed the music and perhaps the idea was precisely that of showing that the handicapped can be animators of the sacred celebration and indeed they must not be excluded as primary agents. And so everyone, loving them, did not want them to feel excluded but, on the contrary, involved. It seems to me to be a very respectable view and I share it. Naturally, however, the basic problem remains.

But it seems to me that here too, knowing what the Eucharist is, even if one is not able to participate externally as one would wish so as to feel involved, one enters into it with one’s heart, as the ancient imperative of the Church says — perhaps created for those who are standing in back in the basilica — “Lift up your hearts! Now let us all go out of ourselves, in this way we are all with the Lord and we are together.” As I said, I do not deny the problem, but if we really follow this word, “Lift up your hearts,” we will all find, even in difficult and sometimes questionable situations, the true active participation.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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