At Mass prioritise awe over aesthetics

Pope Francis encouraged diocesan leaders to prioritise awe, evangelisation, and silence before mere aesthetics in liturgical celebrations like the Mass.

Feb 03, 2023

 Pope Francis encouraged diocesan leaders to prioritise awe, evangelisation, and silence before mere aesthetics in liturgical celebrations like the Mass.

“A celebration that does not evangelise is not authentic,” the Pope said, quoting from his 2022 apostolic letter on liturgical reform, Desiderio Desideravi.

Without evangelisation, he added, the liturgy “is a ‘ballet,’ a beautiful, aesthetic, nice ballet, but it is not authentic celebration.”

Pope Francis spoke about the liturgy recently in a meeting with participants in an international training course for liturgical celebrations in Catholic dioceses.

The five-day course, organised by the Liturgical Institute of the Pontifical University of St Anselm in Rome, was on the theme “Living liturgical action in fullness.”

A pastoral approach to the liturgy allows religious celebrations to “lead the people to Christ, and Christ to the people,” which the Pope said is the “principal objective” of liturgy and an essential principle of the Second Vatican Council. “If we neglect this, we will have beautiful rituals, but without vigour, without flavour, without sense, because they do not touch the heart and the existence of the people of God,” said Pope Francis.

Francis underlined that the Council was not talking about aesthetic joy or the aesthetic sense but wonder and amazement.

“Awe is something different from aesthetic pleasure: it is encounter with God. Only encounter with the Lord gives you awe,” he said.

Sometimes, he warned, there is a danger of putting ritual first, of “putting the rite before what it expresses”.

To this end, the Pope said, the liturgical formation of priests is essential, since they go on to form the faithful, who see whether they celebrate Mass properly and in a prayerful way.

The Pope also stressed the importance of reverence in the Mass. He urged those who help organise liturgical celebrations to cultivate silence, especially immediately before the Mass, when people sometimes act like they are at a social gathering.

“Often sacristies are noisy before and after celebrations, but silence opens one up and prepares one for mystery,” said Pope Francis. “We must rediscover and value silence. Silence in the pews and in the sacristy “helps the assembly and the concelebrants to focus on what is going to be accomplished,” he said.

“Fraternity is beautiful, greeting each other is beautiful, but it is the encounter with Jesus that gives meaning to our meeting with each other, to our gathering,” he said. “We must rediscover and value silence.”

The Pope encouraged those who help a priest or bishop organise all of the ministers of liturgical celebrations, called masters of ceremonies, help “enhance the celebratory style experienced” in parishes.

He gave the example of when a bishop goes to celebrate Mass at a local parish.

“There is no need,” he said, “to have a nice ‘parade’ when the bishop is there and then everything goes back to the way it was. Your task is not to arrange the rite of one day, but to propose a liturgy that is imitable, with those adaptations that the community can take on board to grow in the liturgical life.”

“In fact, going to parishes and saying nothing in the face of liturgies that are a bit sloppy, neglected, poorly prepared, means not helping the communities, not accompanying them,” he added. “Instead, with gentleness, with a spirit of fraternity, it is good to help pastors to reflect on the liturgy, to prepare it with the faithful.

During his address, the Pope also reflected on the role of the master of liturgical celebrations, or “master of ceremonies”. This office, he said, is a diakonia, or service: the master of celebrations “collaborates with the bishops in the service of the community.”

Problems arise, he said, when the master of celebrations is at the centre of the liturgy. While he should co-ordinate everything behind the scenes, the Pope said, “The presider is the one that presides, not the master of ceremonies. In fact, the more hidden the master of ceremonies is, the better. The less you see of him, the better.” — Agencies

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