Upon his return from a pilgrimage to Rome, St. Francis visited the Church of San Damiano in Assisi. While at prayer, he beheld a vision wherein the image of the Crucified Christ spoke to him, asking him to "go and repair My House." Francis throught that he meant to fix the physical church building, which had gone into disrepair. But, the command of Jesus carried a deeper significance.
And now, the call comes again, this time, not necessarily from Jesus, Himself, but, from his Vicar on Earth, Pope Benedict XVI. The Italian Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting in Assisi this month to discuss issues vital to the life of the Church in Italy. Benedict has asked the bishops to take a long and hard look at the liturgy. The following text, as translated by Zenit, lists the Holy Father's exhortations to his brother bishops:
1. You have met these days in Assisi, the city in which "a sun was born to the world" (Dante, "Paradiso," Canto XI), and who was proclaimed by the Venerable Pius XII as patron of Italy: St. Francis, who keeps intact his freshness and timeliness -- the saints never have a sunset! -- due to his having been conformed totally to Christ, of which he was a living icon.
As our own, the time in which St. Francis lived was also marked by profound cultural transformations, fostered by the birth of universities, by the growth of municipalities and by the spread of new religious experiences.
Precisely in that time, thanks to the work of Pope Innocent III -- the one from whom the Poverello of Assisi obtained the first canonical recognition -- the Church undertook a profound liturgical reformation. Eminent expression of this is the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which counts among its fruits the "Breviary." This book of prayer includes in itself the richness of theological reflection and of the praying experience of the previous millennium. Adopting it, St. Francis and his friars made their own the liturgical prayer of the Supreme Pontiff: In this way, the saint listened to and meditated assiduously on the Word of God, to make it his own and then transmit it in the prayers of which he was author, as in general in all his writings.
The Fourth Lateran Council itself, considering with particular attention the sacrament of the altar, inserted in the profession of faith the term "transubstantiation," to affirm the presence of the real Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice: "His Body and Blood are truly contained in the Sacrament of the altar, under the species of bread and wine, as the bread is transubstantiated into the Body and the wine into the Blood by the divine power" (DS, 802).
From attendance at Mass and reception with devotion of Holy Communion springs the evangelical life of St, Francis and his vocation to follow the way of the Crucified Christ: "The Lord -- we read in the Testament of 1226 -- gave me so much faith in the churches, which prayed simply thus and said: We adore you, Lord Jesus, in all the churches that are in the whole world and we bless you, because with your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world" (Franciscan Sources, No. 111).
Found also in this experience is the great deference that he had toward priests and the instruction to the friars to respect them always and in every case, "because of the Most High Son of God I do not see anything else physically in this world, but his Most Holy Body and Blood which they alone consecrate and they alone administer to others" (Franciscan Sources, No. 113).
Given this gift, dear brothers, what responsibility of life issues for each one of us! "Take care of your dignity, brother priests," recommended Francis, "and be holy because He is holy" (Letter to the General Chapter and to all the friars, in Franciscan Sources, No. 220). Yes, the holiness of the Eucharist exacts that this mystery be celebrated and adored conscious of its greatness, importance and efficacy for Christian life, but it also calls for purity, coherence and holiness of life from each one of us, to be living witnesses of the unique Sacrifice of love of Christ.
The saint of Assisi never ceased to contemplate how "the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, humbled himself to the point of hiding himself, for our salvation, in the meager appearance of bread" (ibid., No. 221), and with vehemence he requested his friars: "I beg you, more than if I did so for myself, that when it is appropriate and you regard it as necessary, that you humbly implore priests to venerate above all the Most holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the holy names and words written of Him that consecrate the Body" (Letter to all the Custodians, in Franciscan Sources, No. 241).
2. The genuine believer, in every age, experiences in the liturgy the presence, the primacy and the work of God. It is "veritatis splendor" ("Sacramentum Caritatis," No. 35), nuptial event, foretaste of the new and definitive city and participation in it; it is link of creation and of redemption, open heaven above the earth of men, passage from the world to God; it is Easter, in the Cross and in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is the soul of Christian life, called to follow, to reconciliation that moves to fraternal charity.
Dear brothers in the episcopate, your meeting puts at the center of the works of the Assembly the examination of the Italian translation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal. The correspondence of the prayer of the Church (lex orandi) with the rule of the faith (lex credendi) molds the thought and the feelings of the Christian community, giving shape to the Church, Body of Christ and Temple of the Spirit. No human word can do without time, even when, as in the case of the liturgy, it constitutes a window that open beyond time. Hence, to give voice to a perennially valid reality calls for the wise balance of continuity and novelty, of tradition and actualization.
The missal itself is placed within this process. Every true reformer, in fact, is obedient to faith: He does not move arbitrarily, nor does he arrogate to himself any discretion about the rite; he is not the owner but the guardian of the treasure instituted by the Lord and entrusted to us. The whole Church is present in every liturgy: To adhere to its form is the condition of the authenticity of what is celebrated.
...4. On this way, I exhort you to appreciate the liturgy as perennial source of education to the good life of the Gospel. The latter introduces to the encounter with Jesus Christ, who with words and deeds constantly builds the Church, forming her in the depths of listening, of fraternity and of mission. The rites speak through their intrinsic rationality and educate to a conscious, active and fruitful participation (cf. "Sacrosanctum Concilium," No. 11).On April 20, 2005, in his first message as Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI said that:
Thus, the Holy Father made the celebration of the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice, the cornerstone of his pontificate. He continues the charge that Jesus made to St. Peter: to feed and tend his sheep and confirm his brethren in the Faith. Part and parcel of this charge is ensuring the integrity of the liturgy. The Second Vatican Council, so often misunderstood and unjustifiably maligned, calls the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the source and summit of our life as the Church. However, abuses have crept into the Mass that have caused confusion among the faithful as to who can do what, when and where. That fact was not lost on the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who just a few weeks prior to his election as the Successor of St. Peter, offered this meditation on the 9th Station of the Cross:4. My Pontificate begins in a particularly meaningful way as the Church is living the special Year dedicated to the Eucharist. How could I fail to see this providential coincidence as an element that must mark the ministry to which I am called? The Eucharist, the heart of Christian life and the source of the Church's evangelizing mission, cannot but constitute the permanent centre and source of the Petrine ministry that has been entrusted to me.
The Eucharist makes constantly present the Risen Christ who continues to give himself to us, calling us to participate in the banquet of his Body and his Blood. From full communion with him flows every other element of the Church's life: first of all, communion among all the faithful, the commitment to proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel, the ardour of love for all, especially the poorest and lowliest.
This year, therefore, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi must be celebrated with special solemnity. Subsequently, the Eucharist will be the centre of the World Youth Day in Cologne in August, and in October, also of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, whose theme will be: "The Eucharist, source and summit of the life and mission of the Church". I ask everyone in the coming months to intensify love and devotion for Jesus in the Eucharist, and to express courageously and clearly faith in the Real Presence of the Lord, especially by the solemnity and the correctness of the celebrations.
I ask this especially of priests, whom I am thinking of with deep affection at this moment. The ministerial Priesthood was born at the Last Supper, together with the Eucharist, as my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II so frequently emphasized. "All the more then must the life of a priest be "shaped' by the Eucharist" (Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2005, n. 1; ORE, 23 March, p. 4). In the first place, the devout, daily celebration of Holy Mass, the centre of the life and mission of every priest, contributes to this goal.
Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words!The exhortations made by Pope Benedict to the bishops in Assisi and the meditation he offered as Cardinal Ratzinger are no different. He makes an urgent plea to the bishops of Italy, and, to his brother bishops around the world to repair the Lord's liturgy and to restore it to its proper dignity.