Liturgy and Life. Inseperable After All.

Below is the translation of the catechesis of Pope Francis during his weekly Audience of Wednesday 10 February 2021.

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In the preceding catechesis we saw how Christian prayer is “anchored” in the Liturgy. Today, we will shed light on how the Liturgy always enters daily life: on the streets, in offices, on public transportation… And there it continues the dialogue with God: the person who prays is like someone in love who always bears the beloved in his or her heart wherever they go.

Essentially, everything becomes a part of this dialogue with God: every joy becomes a reason for praise, every trial is an opportunity to ask for help. Prayer is always alive in our lives, like embers, even when the mouth does not speak, but the heart speaks. Every thought, even the apparently “profane” ones, can be permeated by prayer. There is even a prayerful aspect in the human intelligence; it is, in fact, a window peering into the mystery: it illuminates the few steps in front of us and then opens up to the entire reality, this reality that precedes it and surpasses it. This mystery does not have a disquieting or anxious face. No, knowledge of Christ makes us confident that whatever our eyes and the eyes of our minds cannot see, rather than nothing being there, there is someone who is waiting for us, there is infinite grace. And thus, Christian prayer instills an invincible hope in the human heart: whatever experience we touch on our journey, God’s love can turn it into good.

Regarding this, the Catechism reads: “We learn to pray at certain moments by hearing the Word of the Lord and sharing in his Paschal Mystery, but his Spirit is offered us at all times, in the events of each day, to make prayer spring up from us. […] Time is in the Father’s hands; it is in the present that we encounter him, not yesterday or tomorrow, but today” (n. 2659). Today I meet God, today is always the day of the encounter.

There exists no other wonderful day than the day we are living. Those who live always thinking about the future, in the future: “But it will be better…”, but do not take each day as it comes: these are people who live in their fantasy, they do not know how to deal with concrete reality. And today is real, today is concrete. And prayer is to be done today. Jesus comes to meet us today, the day we are living. And it is prayer that transforms this day into grace, or better, it transforms us: it appeases anger, sustains love, multiplies joy, instills the strength to forgive. Sometimes it will seem that it is no longer we who are living, but that grace lives and works in us through prayer. It is grace that awaits, but always this, don’t forget: take today as it comes. And let’s think about when an angry thought comes to you, of unhappiness, that moves you toward bitterness, stop yourself. And let’s say to the Lord: “Where are you? And where am I going?” And the Lord is there, the Lord will give you the right word, the advice to go ahead without that bitter, negative taste. For prayer is always, using a profane word, is positive. Always. It will carry you ahead. Each day that begins is accompanied by courage if it is welcomed in prayer. Thus, the problems we face no longer seem to be obstacles to our happiness, but appeals from God, opportunities to meet Him. And when a person is accompanied by the Lord, he or she feels more courageous, freer, and even happier.

Let us pray always, then, for everyone, even for our enemies. Jesus counseled us to do this: “Pray for your enemies”. Let us pray for our dear ones, even those we do not know. Let us pray even for our enemies, as I said, as the Scriptures often invite us to do. Prayer inclines us toward a superabundant love. Let us pray above all for people who are sad, for those who weep in solitude and despair that there still might be someone who loves them. Pray works miracles; and the poor then understand, by God’s grace that, even in their precarious situation, the prayer of a Christian makes Christ’s compassion present. He, in fact, looked with great tenderness on the weary and lost crowd who were like sheep without a shepherd (cf Mk 6:34). The Lord is – let’s not forget – the Lord of compassion, of nearness, of tenderness: three words never to be forgotten regarding the Lord. Because this is the Lord’s style: compassion, nearness, tenderness.

Prayer helps us love others, despite their mistakes and sins. The person is always more important than their actions, and Jesus did not judge the world, but He saved it. What a horrible life is that of the person who always judges others, who is always condemning, judging… This is a horrible, unhappy life, when Jesus came to save us. Open your heart, pardon, give others the benefit of the doubt, understand, be close to others, be compassionate, be tender, like Jesus. We need to love each and every person, remembering in prayer that we are all sinners and at the same time loved individually by God. Loving the world in this way, loving it with tenderness, we will discover that each day and everything bears within it a fragment of God’s mystery.

Again, the Catechism reads: “Prayer in the events of each day and each moment is one of the secrets of the Kingdom revealed to ‘little children,’ to the servants of Christ, to the poor of the beatitudes. It is right and good to pray so that the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace may influence the march of history, but it is just as important to bring the help of prayer into humble, everyday situations; all forms of prayer can be the leaven to which the Lord compares the kingdom” (n. 2660).

The human person – men and women, all of us, – the human person is like a breath, like a blade of grass (cf Ps 144:4; 103:15). The philosopher Pascal once wrote: “There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him.” We are fragile beings, but we know how to pray: this is our greatest dignity and it is also our strength. Have courage. Pray in every moment, in every situation so the Lord might be near to us. And when a prayer is said according to the heart of Jesus, it obtains miracles.

Christianity Without Liturgy? The Answer is No.

Below is the translation of the catechesis of Pope Francis during his weekly Audience of Wednesday 3 February 2021. For those with any interest in liturgy, it is well worth reading:

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In the history of the Church, there has often been a temptation to practise an intimist Christianity, which does not recognise the spiritual importance of public liturgical rites. Often, this tendency claimed the supposed greater purity of a religiousness that did not depend on external ceremonies, which were considered a useless or harmful burden. At the centre of the criticism was not a particular ritual form, or a particular way of celebrating, but rather the liturgy itself, the liturgical form of praying.

Indeed, in the Church one can find certain forms of spirituality that have failed to adequately integrate the liturgical moment. Many of the faithful, although they participate assiduously in the liturgy, especially Sunday Mass, have instead drawn nourishment for their faith and spiritual life from other sources, of a devotional type.

Much has been achieved in recent decades. The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Second Vatican Council represents a pivotal point in this long journey. It comprehensively and organically reaffirms the importance of the divine liturgy for the life of Christians, who find therein that objective mediation required by the fact that Jesus Christ is not an idea or a sentiment, but a living Person, and His Mystery a historical event. The prayer of Christians passes through tangible mediations: Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments, liturgical rites, the community. In Christian life, the corporeal and material sphere may not be dispensed with, because in Jesus Christ it became the way of salvation. We might say that we must pray with the body too: the body enters into prayer.

Therefore, there is no Christian spirituality that is not rooted in the celebration of the holy mysteries. The Catechism writes: “The mission of Christ and of the Holy Spirit proclaims, makes present, and communicates the mystery of salvation, which is continued in the heart that prays” (2655). The liturgy, in itself, is not only spontaneous prayer, but something more and more original: it is an act that founds the whole Christian experience and, therefore, also prayer. It is event, it is happening, it is presence, it is encounter. It is an encounter with Christ. Christ makes himself present in the Holy Spirit through the sacramental signs: hence the need for us Christians to participate in the divine mysteries. A Christianity without a liturgy, I dare say, is perhaps a Christianity without Christ. Without Christ in full. Even in the sparest rite, such as that which some Christians have celebrated and continue to celebrate in places of incarceration, or in the seclusion of a house during times of persecution, Christ is truly present and gives Himself to His faithful.

The liturgy, precisely because of its objective dimension, demands to be celebrated with fervour, so that the grace poured out in the rite is not dispersed but instead reaches the experience of all. The Catechism explains it very well; it says: “Prayer internalises and assimilates the liturgy during and after its celebration” (ibid.). Many Christian prayers do not originate from the liturgy, but all of them, if they are Christian, presuppose the liturgy, that is, the sacramental mediation of Jesus Christ. Every time we celebrate a Baptism, or consecrate the bread and wine in the Eucharist, or anoint the body of a sick person with Holy Oil, Christ is here! It is He who acts and is present just as He was when He healed the weak limbs of a sick person, or when at the Last Supper He delivered His testament for the salvation of the world.

The prayer of the Christian makes the sacramental presence of Jesus his or her own. What is external to us becomes part of us: the liturgy expresses this even in the very natural gesture of eating. The Mass cannot simply be “listened to”: it is also an expression incorrect, “I’m going to listen to Mass”. Mass cannot merely be listened to, as if we were merely spectators of something that slips away without our involvement. The Mass is always celebrated, and not only by the priest who presides over it, but by all Christians who experience it. And the centre is Christ! All of us, in the diversity of gifts and ministries, join in His action, because He, Christ, is the Protagonist of the liturgy.

When the first Christians began to worship, they did so by actualizing Jesus’ deeds and words, with the light and power of the Holy Spirit, so that their lives, reached by that grace, would become a spiritual sacrifice offered to God. This approach was a true “revolution”. Saint Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (12:1). Life is called to become worship to God, but this cannot happen without prayer, especially liturgical prayer. May this thought help us all when we go to Mass: I go to pray in the community, I go to pray with Christ who is present. When we go to the celebration of a Baptism, for example, it is Christ who is there, present, who baptizes. “But Father, this is an idea, a figure of speech”: no, it is not a figure of speech. Christ is present, and in the liturgy you pray with Christ who is beside you.

In Time of Pandemic

Overnight, we have heard the news the Church has authorised a new Mass proper “In Time of Pandemic”, in response to requests for specific prayers for use in these uncertain times.

The rubrics regarding the usage of this Mass proper read:

This Mass can be celebrated, according to the rubrics given for Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions, on any day except Solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lend, and Easter, days within the Octave of Easter, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day), Ash Wednesday and the days of Holy Week.

The Collect from the Proper is perhaps something we could pray as part of our daily prayer:

Almighty and eternal God,
our refuge in every danger,
to whom we turn in our distress;
in faith we pray
look with compassion on the afflicted,
grant eternal rest to the dead, comfort to mourners,
healing to the sick, peace to the dying,
strength to healthcare workers, wisdom to our leaders
and the courage to reach out to all in love,
so that together we may give glory to your holy name.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

Pope’s Urbi et Orbi Blessing

Overnight, Pope Francis gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing in the light of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic event. Below, via the ZENIT website, you can find the translated text of the Pope’s address prior to the imparting of the blessing.

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets, and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel, we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits, and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents, and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves, we founder: we need the Lord like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support, and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross, we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross, we have been redeemed. We have hope: by his cross, we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity, and solidarity. By his cross, we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

Original text in Italian; English translation via zenit.org.

The Awesome Power of Eucharist

The Eucharist is not celebrated to simply consecrate the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, but to transform the assembly into the Body of Christ. This transformation takes place a through a participation in the Eucharist that empowers those present to proclaim to the world the kingdom of God from which flow unity, justice, peace, and love. This is the ultimate goal of the Eucharist, the res tantum described by scholastic theologians.

Mark Francis, “Reflections on Clericalism and the Liturgy”, in Worship 93 (July 2019), p. 200.

Review: Field Hospital Catechesis: The Core Content for RCIA Formation

Field Hospital Catechesis: The Core Content for RCIA FormationField Hospital Catechesis: The Core Content for RCIA Formation by Nick Wagner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What does the bankruptcy of US steel manufacturers have to do with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults? Everything, according to Nick Wagner.

The story that begins this insightful book and guide outlines the need for those involved in the task of catechumenate ministry – and that is every single Christian! – needs to focus on getting back to basics. The image of the ‘field hospital’ is a well-known one made popular by Pope Francis and further illuminates the need for those who are called to the task of evangelisation – again, every single Christian! – to attend to the pressing and immediate needs of those who they engage with, rather than the secondary issues that we might consider important to focus on.

Drawing on the teaching of Pope Francis, particularly in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Wagner reminds us powerfully and clearly that the task of evangelisation, of preaching ‘the Good News’, is not about doctrine and dogma, nor about well developed and exhaustive programs, but about introducing the person of Jesus to those who need to know him and how much we are loved by God. The focus of the first proclamation of the kerygma, to which we should return over and over again, reminds the reader that the primary task of the Christian disciples is to make other Christian disciples through the explicit proclamation of the Christian faith, a faith that is rooted in the person and story of Jesus Christ.

This book offers suggestions and potential practices for use at a variety of points of the Christian journey – first proclamation, initiatory catechesis, and ongoing catechesis – that focus primarily on the three stages of the story of Jesus, i.e. The Beginning, The Climax, and The End. Embracing the possibilities outlined in this volume raises the potential of a new commitment to the missionary dimension of the Church above all things.

What might we gain if we were to do such a thing? Potentially, everything. What do we have to lose if we don’t? Wagner himself answers it best:
There is a real risk to this kind of teaching. If we do not control the learning environment and we do not focus on those few doctrines that Pope Francis says “are at times more philosophical than evangelical,” we run the risk of change. Our seekers might change, our RCIA process might change, our parish might change. We might change. For most of us, change is scary. It involves dying and rising – and we’re not always certain about the “rising.”

But the alternative to change – to conversion – is certain death, with no possibility of resurrection. That is a much greater risk.


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