In the letter, Pope Francis called for liturgical formation beyond the academic environment to be accessible to all Catholics, in order to revive a sense of wonder at the mystery of the sacrifice of the Mass.
“The full extent of our formation is our conformation to Christ,” he explained. “I repeat: it does not have to do with an abstract mental process, but with becoming Him. This is the purpose for which the Spirit is given, whose action is always and only to confect the Body of Christ.”
The pope also spoke about the importance of an ars celebrandi, the “art of celebrating” the Mass.
“Let us be clear here: every aspect of the celebration must be carefully tended to (space, time,
gestures, words, objects, vestments, song, music…) and every rubric must be observed,” he said. “Such attention would be enough to prevent robbing from the assembly what is owed to it; namely, the paschal mystery celebrated according to the ritual that the Church sets down.”
“But,” he continued, “even if the quality and the proper action of the celebration were guaranteed, that would not be enough to make our participation full.”
Liturgical formation must teach people how to read and understand symbols, he said, referencing the writing of Romano Guardini, a 20th century German Catholic priest and intellectual.
“The task is not easy because modern man has become illiterate, no longer able to read symbols; it is almost as if their existence is not even suspected,” Francis said.
Francis said he has noticed that a Catholic community’s manner of living the celebration of the Mass is conditioned by the way the pastor celebrates it, and when the manner of celebration is inadequate, the “common root” is “a heightened personalism of the celebrating style which at times expresses a poorly concealed mania to be the center of attention.”
“Often this becomes more evident when our celebrations are transmitted over the air or online, something not always opportune and that needs further reflection,” he noted. “Be sure you understand me: these are not the most widespread behaviors, but still, not infrequently assemblies suffer from being thus abused.”
“The action of the celebration” of the Mass, he said, “is the place in which, by means of memorial, the Paschal Mystery is made present so that the baptized, through their participation, can experience it in their own lives.”
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“Without this understanding, the celebration easily falls into a preoccupation with the exterior (more or less refined) or into a concern only for rubrics (more or less rigid),” he said.
“Christian faith is either an encounter with Him alive, or it does not exist,” he said. “Liturgy guarantees for us the possibility of such an encounter. For us a vague memory of the Last Supper would do no good. We need to be present at that Supper, to be able to hear his voice, to eat his Body and to drink his Blood. We need Him.”
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.