Pope Francis has much insight into liturgy, though he is rarely credited with being “a liturgical pope.” This post begins a series that will examine and reflect upon the multifaceted thought of Pope Francis concerning liturgy, as it has been expressed in numerous teachings, homilies, statements, and addresses. The series is an invitation not only to notice, but also to take Pope Francis’s liturgical insights to heart, considering how they might inform (and challenge) our own liturgical praxis and spirituality.
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In the following extract from a homily preached in 2015, Pope Francis broaches the sensitive topic of what liturgy has to do with life. In particular he addresses the question of what it means to offer “authentic” worship.
“This act [the purification of the Temple] is a reference to authentic worship, to a correspondence between liturgy and life; an appeal that applies in every age and even for us today — that correspondence between liturgy and life. The liturgy is not something unusual, over there, far away, and while celebrating I think about many things, or I pray the Rosary. No, no. There is a correspondence, between the liturgical celebration which we then carry in our life; and we must always persevere in this, we still have a long way to go.
The Conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium defines the liturgy as “the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” (n. 14). This means reaffirming the essential bond that unites the life of a disciple of Jesus with liturgical worship. This is not primarily a doctrine to be understood, or a rite to be performed; naturally it is also this, but in another way, it is essentially different: it is a font of life and of light for our pilgrimage of faith.
Therefore, the Church calls us to have and to foster an authentic liturgical life, so that there may be harmony between that which the liturgy celebrates and that which we experience in our lives. It means expressing in life what we have received through the faith and how much we have celebrated here (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 10).”
- At times the term “authentic” has been used as a buzzword, lacking any objective measure or meaning. However, here the meaning of authentic is anchored (in the second paragraph) in two ways: by reference to the life of Jesus, and by reference to the pilgrimage of faith. Thus, worship being true to its own nature, values, and spirit — the usual meaning of authentic — does indeed have an objective measure. It is found in the life of Jesus and in walking the way of faith.
- The words “correspondence” and “harmony” bespeak a close relationship, yet allow ample space for analogy, example, and illustration, and thus avoid the trap of over-specifying the relationship between liturgy and life or narrowing it down to one or two things.
What is true worship? Francis frames the question of authentic worship as a perennial one, as real for people of today as in the past.
For Francis, worship is authentic when it corresponds to life and becomes the gateway to a more abundant life as revealed in Jesus Christ. He goes beyond Pius XII, a pope who inaugurated important liturgical reforms (for example, the simplification of the rubrics, a re-translation of the Psalter, and the reform of the liturgies of Holy Week), yet who really did think it was acceptable to pursue other devotions during Mass. Pope Francis affirms, in concert with Vatican II, that direct engagement by the faithful in the action of the liturgy itself is key to authentic celebration.
Echoing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (no. 14) he reiterates the role of the liturgy as “the primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit.” This insight, which emerged from Pope Pius X’s motu proprio Tra le solecitudini and became the watchword of the Liturgical Movement of the first half of the Twentieth Century, found its way into the text of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy at Vatican II. The affirmation still has resonance. By including it here, Francis is touching on a theme critically important for the liturgical renewal of the past century.
Francis portrays the liturgy as generative (“a font of life”) yet never distant (“liturgy is not something unusual, far away, over there”). This is consistent with many of his other statements which insist on the closeness of God. Here, that closeness becomes available precisely through the intimate relationship the believer has with God, realized through the liturgy.
The liturgy provides us with “light for our pilgrimage of faith,” which is something essential. It is worth noting that the metaphor of pilgrimage, or way, or journey, is deeply characteristic of Pope Francis’s thought (and also characteristic of Vatican II). He does not focus our attention on fixed points, or an ideal stasis, as if we can find our security in feeling we have arrived or know all the answers. Instead, Francis continually reminds his listeners that the Church is in motion, and that processes are the arena of the Holy Spirit’s work. The Spirit accompanies the Church through history and is the guarantor of the Church’s fidelity. Discerning the work of the Holy Spirit is key.
The relationship between liturgy and life, according to Francis, requires our participation and engagement. He calls the faithful to continually seek correspondence between liturgy and life — a process that requires our persistence (“we must always persevere in this”). Perseverance, a gift of God, helps us to endure dry spells in our spiritual life without despairing. Yet flourishing is the ultimate goal. A willing response is needed for the liturgy to be fruitful beyond its celebration (“expressing in life what we have received in faith”).
Finally, Francis asserts that “the Church calls us to have and to foster an authentic liturgical life” so that there will be harmony between what goes on in the liturgy, and the sort of lives we lead. Moral and ecclesial conversion are clearly required for an authentic liturgical life.
Beyond the Text:
The phenomenon of disaffiliation from the Church (the rise of the “nones” and the “dones”) has rendered the question of the relationship between liturgy and life more pressing now than ever. What are the implications for evangelization of Pope Francis’s vision of the close connection between liturgy and life?
What does “harmony” between liturgy and life look like in practice? What are the signs that a community’s liturgy is fruitful beyond its celebration?