At 7.15 p.m. on Friday, at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Pope Benedict presided at the celebration of Vespers with priests, religious, seminarians and deacons. During his homily, the Pope encouraged greater efforts to be made to enhance the beauty of the liturgy and exhorted clergy to let the Word of God transform them.
Speaking to Catholic priests, seminarians, deacons and representatives of other Christian communities, the Pope based offered his reflections on Psalm 126: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain."
"Who is this Lord, if not our Lord Jesus Christ? asked Benedict.
“It is He Who founded His Church and built it on rock, on the faith of the Apostle Peter." St. Augustine asks "how we can know who these builders are, and his answer is this: 'All those who preach God's word in the Church, all who are ministers of God's divine Sacraments. All of us run, all of us work, all of us build,' yet it is God alone Who, within us, 'builds, exhorts, and inspires awe; Who opens our understanding and guides our minds to faith'."
As he did in his speech at the College des Bernadins earlier on Friday evening, Benedict then turned to the Word of God as the source of inspiration, strength, and “marvels.”
"What marvels," he exclaimed, "surround our work in the service of God's word! We are instruments of the Holy Spirit; God is so humble that He uses us to spread His word. We become His voice, once we have listened carefully to the word coming from His mouth. We place His word on our lips in order to bring it to the world. He accepts the offering of our prayer and through it He communicates Himself to everyone we meet."
Liturgy was also a point of reflection for Benedict XVI as he remarked on the Cathedral of Notre Dame. “Your cathedral is a living hymn of stone and light in praise of that act, unique in the annals of human history: the eternal Word of God entering our history in the fullness of time to redeem us by his self-offering in the sacrifice of the Cross.”
“Our earthly liturgies, entirely ordered to the celebration of this unique act within history, will never fully express its infinite meaning. Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, Who is Himself infinite Beauty. Yet our earthly liturgies will never be more than a pale reflection of the liturgy celebrated in the Jerusalem on high, the goal of our pilgrimage on earth. May our own celebrations nonetheless resemble that liturgy as closely as possible and grant us a foretaste of it! Pope Benedict exhorted.
The Pontiff’s reflections on the liturgy naturally led him to speak to the priests gathered in Notre Dame. "Even now the word of God is given to us as the soul of our apostolate, the soul of our priestly life. ... Throughout the day, the word of God becomes the substance of the prayer of the whole Church, as she bears witness in this way to her fidelity to Christ."
The Holy Father encouraged the priests not to be afraid "to spend much time reading and meditating on the Scriptures and praying the Divine Office! Almost without your knowing it, God's word, read and pondered in the Church, acts upon you and transforms you," he told the priests.
Turning to address seminarians, he said: "You are called to become stewards of this word which accomplishes what it communicates. Always cultivate a thirst for the word of God! Thus you will learn to love everyone you meet along life's journey. In the Church everyone has a place, everyone! Every person can and must find a place in her."
To deacons he said: "Without seeking to take the place of priests, but assisting them with your friendship and your activity, may you be living witnesses to the infinite power of God's word!"
Benedict XVI also had some words for men and women religious, and all consecrated people, telling them that their "only treasure - which, to tell the truth, will alone survive the passage of time and the curtain of death - is the word of the Lord. ... Your obedience is, etymologically, a 'hearing', for the word 'obey' comes from the Latin 'obaudire', meaning to turn one's ear to someone or something. In obeying, you turn your soul towards the One Who is the Way, and the Truth and the Life. ... The purity of God's word is the model for your own chastity, ensuring its spiritual fruitfulness."
Finally, Benedict XVI greeted the representatives from other Churches and Christian communities who "have come to pray Vespers together with us in this cathedral."
"I implore the Lord to increase within us the sense of this unity of the word of God, which is the sign, pledge and guarantee of the unity of the Church: there is no love in the Church without love of the word, no Church without unity around Christ the Redeemer, no fruits of redemption without love of God and neighbor, according to the two commandments which sum up all of Sacred Scripture!"