This is the second of two articles on Part II of Pope Benedict
XVI's post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis,
"The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Celebrated." The first article
focused on the Pope's examination of the liturgy as action. This
article concentrates on Pope Benedict's explanation of full participation
in the liturgical action. Both articles show the Pope's comprehensive
commitment and dedication to the principles of
liturgical reform as expressed by the Second Vatican Council's
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the decades of worldwide
liturgical reform following the Council.
If one were to try to encapsulate the meaning of the
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to a single theme, it would have
to be the ecclesial assembly's comprehensive realization of full,
conscious, and active participation in the Church's liturgy. Moving
the faithful to understand and act on their right and duty to participate
in the mystery of the Church's liturgy can be seen as the
core aim and purpose of the liturgical reform ushered in over the
last forty-plus years since the Second Vatican Council. By nature
of the importance of this foundational purpose of the Constitution
and its consequent reform, the theme of participation has been
highly interpreted and even debated during the last four decades.
Pope Benedict XVI begins his section on participation by clarifying
what he first understands as authentic participation.
For Pope Benedict, eucharistic participation necessitates a depth of
understanding. In SC, 52, the Pontiff emphasizes that participation
is more than "mere external activity" and demands a full awareness
of the sacred action and a deep consideration of the central
role it must play in the daily lives of the faithful. In other words,
the Eucharist plays a fundamental role in mediating the vocation
of the Christian whereby the faithful are full and essential participants
in the life of the Church. The exhortation to participate
requires that the faithful understand the meaning and purpose of
their baptismal priesthood and how their priestly anointing renders
them as ministers of the Church's word and sacrament.
SC, 53, accentuates the priesthood of the faithful and its
relationship to the liturgical life of the Church. The bedrock of
our Christian vocation is our common priesthood. All ministry
flows from the priesthood of the baptized. This fundamental
ecclesiological concept is what supports the foundational liturgical
principle of full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy.
It points to the place from which all liturgical ministries emanate.
And yet Benedict XVI emphasizes that the pivotal place
that the baptismal priesthood plays in the Church does not militate
against understanding and appreciating the ordering of liturgical
ministry and, therefore, the purpose and place of the
Church's hierarchical roles in eucharistic celebration. Key to this
is the Church's teaching that every celebration of the Eucharist is
led by the local Ordinary either in person or with the help of the
Bishop's presbyters. The entire local Church gathers for every
eucharistic celebration throughout the diocese around the central
presidential role of the local bishop. The presbyters stand in for
the Bishop as the presider of Eucharist in each local Church setting.
Often Catholics do not understand such ordering basic to
the liturgy. Moreover, the Pope emphasizes that presidential ministry
is singular in its scope in that the bishop or priest presides
over the whole eucharistic liturgy. The deacon and trained lay
ministers of liturgical service assist the presider.
It is worth taking a short diversion here to give some background
to the liturgical theology re-established after the Second
Vatican Council that strongly stresses the ordering of the liturgical
presidential ministry centered on the Bishop's ministry and all
that flows from that ordering. The Second Vatican Council
returned the Church to the ancient practice of the Bishop's functioning
as the pastor of the local Church and the diocese as the
centerpiece of the local Church's liturgical life. This was brought
to even greater light in Pope Paul VI's 1972 Motu Proprio Ministeria
Quaedam, with his suppression of "minor orders" and the establishment
of lay liturgical ministries (David N. Power, Gifts that
Differ: Lay Ministries Established and Unestablished, Collegeville,
MN: Liturgical Press, 1992). Here, Paul VI re-established the practice
that not only the presbyter but deacon and lay liturgical ministers
assist with and share in the one presidential ministry of
SC, 54, relates active participation to inculturation. Adapting,
and even creatively assimilating the liturgy to a local culture, is
necessary for the local community's true involvement in the
Church's ritual and symbolic life. If the Roman liturgy cannot
speak to culture and vice versa, then the Church's continual incarnation
is circumvented. Nevertheless, Benedict XVI warns that
certain abuses have occurred in attempting to inculturate the liturgy.
He admonishes the local Churches to follow the directives
as regards inculturation given by the Holy See. He draws a direct
line from the principles for liturgical inculturation established by
the Second Vatican Council through the General Instruction of the
Roman Missal and John Paul II's Fourth Instruction and Post-
Synodal Exhortation on inculturation (John Paul II, Ecclesia in
Africa, Ecclesia in America, Ecclesia in Asia, Ecclesisa in Oceania
and Ecclesia in Europa).
Active participation in the Eucharist is dependent upon a
developed interiority in the life of the members of the assembly.
The eucharistic liturgy will not be an abounding source for
Christian life if the faithful are not disposed to its riches. SC, 55,
underscores that an inner disposition to the Eucharist can be fostered
and cultivated by silence before the liturgy commences, the
discipline of fasting, and the practice of penance. The Pontiff
highlights that approaching the altar to receive Communion
marks a complete participation. Where it is not possible for the
faithful to receive Communion, Pope Benedict emphasizes a
teaching by John Paul II whereby one can cultivate a desire for
full communion through the practice of spiritual communion.
In SC, 56, Benedict addresses the controversial subject of
liturgical participation or the lack of it among Christians who are
members of ecclesial communities not in full communion with
the Catholic Church. First of all, Benedict recognizes the symbolic
dissonance that is cast by the inability to communicate
between churches, because the sacrament of the Eucharist is to
symbolize unity, not disunity. Christians who cannot share the
Eucharist are signs of the divisions that separate us. Nevertheless,
the Pope stresses the correlation between eucharistic communion
and ecclesial communion, and that it does not make sense to share
the Eucharist if there remains the sober reality of ecclesial division.
The Pope recognizes, however, that individual non-Catholic
Christians can be admitted to the Eucharist, the sacrament of
Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick when exceptional circumstances
permit participation. Canons and Church teaching make
exception in cases where the ministry deems it right and proper
for that individual's eternal salvation.
In the global and technologically savvy world, the Church is
constantly challenged by questions concerning ecclesial and sacramental
participation through telephonic means. In a world
where access to information is readily available on the Internet
and through other electronic media, some would defend ecclesial
participation exclusively through those means. For these communities,
as long as the word of God is disseminated to individuals,
the task of the Church is complete. Our Catholic sacramental
sensibilities, however, militate against such thinking. In SC, 57,
Benedict XVI says, "Visual images can represent reality, but they
do not actually reproduce it." Moreover, the Church fully realized
necessitates a living assembly. No other means can substitute for
the Church gathered. That is not to say that the telephonic media
cannot complement the work of the gathered assembly, especially
by providing access to the liturgy for those who cannot attend.
The televised Mass for the elderly and the sick provides an alternative
and exceptional means for providing a pastoral need.
In SC, 58, Benedict XVI extends the subject of providing
spiritual assistance beyond the regularly gathered assembly by
admonishing the entire Church community to embrace its
responsibility to care for those who are sick and for those who are
disabled. It is not a matter of some specialized or auxiliary ministries
in the Church to provide access to these populations that, in
the past, too often have been rendered invisible to the gathered
assembly. The local Church must recognize its incompleteness
without them. Especially the subject of those with physical and
developmental disabilities warrants consideration in new ways
(Jennie Weiss Block, Copious Hosting: A Theology of Access for
People with Disabilities, New York: Continuum, 2002). Full, conscious,
and active participation of the assembly in the eucharistic
liturgy must also look to the culture of disability to broaden the
notion of access in contributing to the assembly's self-identity.
Especially by first engendering sensitivity to the inhospitable barriers
and obstacles that we have created by the nature of our inaccessible
buildings and liturgies, we will initiate new ways of
conceptualizing eucharistic participation.
Spiritual care for the imprisoned, addressed in SC, 59,
clearly identifies prisoners as part of the ecclesial community who
make up the eucharistic assembly of each diocese. Every local
Church needs to ensure access to Communion and participation
to the imprisoned.
With the economic and political flows of the global world,
and new migrations of peoples, especially to the Northern
Hemisphere, there is the need for ecclesial communities to welcome
the stranger as an essential part of their Christian identity.
SC, 60, underlines that Roman Catholics must accommodate the
ritual traditions of Eastern Rite Catholics and other ritual traditions
specific to immigrants as an important part of the ministry
For special and often rare occasions, the local Church must
gather great numbers of the faithful for eucharistic celebrations
where the assembly is far larger than usual and therefore cumbersome
and even awkward for engendering authentic participation.
SC, 61, stresses that for these occasions, there remains the need
for planning and orderliness, especially for the proper coordination
of the concelebrating presbyterate.
SC, 62, takes up the Latin language as a feature for fostering
authentic participation especially when there are large international
gatherings of the faithful. With the exception of the readings,
homily, and the Prayer of the Faithful, the use of Latin,
especially for commonly recited prayers and the use of Gregorian
chant for music selection, help to express the universality of the
Church for liturgies with a diverse representation of cultures and
Benedict XVI's last paragraph (63) in the section on actual
participation speaks to small groups that gather to celebrate the
Eucharist. He focuses on the reason and purpose of such gatherings,
which is to foster fruitful participation and complement the
work of the entire assembly. Small gatherings that celebrate the
Eucharist should never splinter or fragment the life of the local
Church but should serve to bolster the overall pastoral life of
SC, 64 and 65, emphasize how conscious, active, and fruitful participation
in the Eucharist is both needed and cultivated by a rich
interior appreciation of the sacrament through both mystagogy
and reverence. The first of these two paragraphs addresses mystagogical
catechesis, delineating the particulars of a liturgical methodology
that arises out of the Church's ancient tradition yet
remains relevant to contemporary sacramental formation. Basic
to this aspect of Benedict's teaching on a mystagogy of the
Eucharist is that fruitful participation necessitates education and
formation and that these two need to happen in a certain way.
Therefore, mystagogy involves a particular process and must
always respect three elements.
First, mystagogy interprets the rites in the light of the events
of our salvation. As unpopular as it might be to modern historicalcritical
sensibilities, the Christian Church, from its beginning, has
always interpreted Jesus' life and the Paschal Mystery, in particular,
in relation to the Old Testament. In other words, the Hebrew
scriptures were seen as foreshadowing the salvific events of Jesus
Christ. Second, the central concern of mystagogy is presenting the
meaning of the signs that the ritual embodies. Catechesis should
increase sensitivity to the arrangement of symbols in the liturgy
and help the faithful enter into the rich and meaningful world
that the Church's rituals offer. Third, mystagogy should bring to
light the significance of the rites for the Christian life as they transform
human affective, intellectual, and moral sensibilities. The
multi-dimensional richness of the rites provides new and hopeful
ways for people to appreciate how they are included in God's self-offer
SC, 65, approaches the issue of interiority fostered by reverence
for the Eucharist. Different cultures convey unique gestures,
postures, and other ritual decorum that embody the respect and
veneration for the divine. Human beings participate uniquely
through such expression.
In the history of Christian worship, when the prayer generated by
both the gathered Sunday assembly and the shrine are experienced
as complementary actions, a richer liturgical spirituality is
exhibited among the faithful (Mark Wedig, "Recovering the
Concilium Sanctorum: A Contemporary Ecclesiology Inclusive of
the Communion of the Saints," Liturgical Ministry 12 [Winter
2003]:1- 8). More specifically, when Christians are able to make a
direct connection between the eucharistic celebration and eucharistic
adoration, the more abundant is their participation in the
ritual life of the Church. In SC, 66, Benedict XVI emphasizes the
intrinsic relationship between celebration and adoration in order
to speak to the dimension of meaningful participation that integrates
the action of the eucharistic assembly with its devotion at
the shrine. Quoting Saint Augustine, the Pope illustrates this
eucharistic connection in that "no one eats that flesh without
adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it." Such personal
encounter deepens the social mission embodied by the Eucharist
that helps humanity to overcome its failure to be in communion
both with God and other human beings.
SC, 67, recommends the practice and discipline of eucharistic
adoration as both individual and communal action. Christians
often have found refuge and solace from a violent world by their
devotion to the reserved Eucharist. The retrieval of spiritualities
that connect the reserved Eucharist to social action and mission
help the faithful to experience the power of sign and symbol in a
world that suffers from a lack of religious imagination. Pastoral
formation needs to encourage the practice of eucharistic adoration,
so that these connections can be made.
Eucharistic devotion has taken on various inculturations
throughout the history of the Catholic Church. The great Corpus
Christi processions that gathered the faithful in the streets of
urban Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere united the Church
to greater civic participation. In SC, 68, the Pope advocates the
retrieval of the public rituals that arose from eucharistic devotion,
uniting the faithful in prayer beyond the boundaries of their
The last paragraph of this section on participation, SC 69,
takes up the location of the tabernacle in order to emphasize the
importance of the reserved Eucharist as readily conspicuous to all
who enter the church building. Benedict XVI stresses that the
Synod of Bishops wanted to ensure that the reserved sacrament
remains close to the sanctuary, and in those cases where there is
no Blessed Sacrament chapel, that the tabernacle can be placed in
the sanctuary on a high altar no longer in use. The tabernacle
should not interfere with the position of the chair and must lend
dignity to its placing. It is noted that the provisions concerning
the tabernacle in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal need
to be respected. For instance, the GIRM emphasizes that final
judgment belongs to the local Ordinary.
This article has addressed that part of Sacramentum Caritatis that
emphasizes the meaning of full, conscious, and active participation
in the eucharistic celebration. Benedict XVI and the Synod
of Bishops carry forth the theology of the liturgy articulated by
the Second Vatican Council and the decades of reform that followed
the Council. In several cases, Benedict's post-apostolic
exhortation tries to correct interpretations of the Council's teachings
and liturgical practices erroneously conceived, but throughout
this document the liturgical reflection and practice of the last
forty-plus years of liturgical reform in the Catholic Church is
comprehensively emphasized and respected.
1. How does a local community's full, conscious, and active participation
in the Eucharist depend on its understanding of the
priesthood of the baptized? Give concrete examples of this, for
good and for bad, in your parish community.
2. Why does the Second Vatican Council restore the local Bishop's
central place in the liturgical life of the diocese? Why do all other
liturgical ministers assist in the ministry of the Bishop?
3. Sacramentum Caritatis relates liturgical incultuation and participation.
Give examples of the success of this in your local setting
and explain why it helped participation. Give examples of
the failure to inculturate the liturgy in your local setting and
explain that lack of success.
4. Pope Benedict XVI says, "Visual images can represent reality,
but they do not actually reproduce it." Explain what he means by
this in relationship to telephonic representations of the liturgy
and why the Church necessitates a living assembly for liturgy.
5. What does Sacramentum Caritatis mean by mystagogy? Why is
this ancient approach to Christian education and formation being
suggested as the appropriate means for contemporary catechesis?
Is mystagogy being appropriated in your parish setting?
6. It is stated in Wedig's commentary that "In the history of
Christian worship when the prayer generated by both the gathered
Sunday assembly and the shrine are experienced as complementary
actions, a richer liturgical spirituality is exhibited among
the faithful." Why is the Church better served by both Sunday
assembly and shrine? Give concrete examples of both.