Pope Benedict XVI has reminded Catholics that the liturgy belongs to Jesus Christ and his Church, and it should not be changed according to individual whims.
“It is not the individual — priest or layman — or the group that celebrates the liturgy, but it is primarily God’s action through the Church, which has its own history, its rich tradition and creativity,” the Pope said during his Oct. 3 general audience in Rome.
“This universality and fundamental openness, which is characteristic of the entire liturgy, is one of the reasons why it cannot be created or amended by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the universal Church,” he stated.
With more than 20,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope explained how the Church is made most visible in the liturgy, where “God enters into our reality, and we can meet him; we can touch him.” The liturgy is where “he comes to us, and we are enlightened by him.”
The primary importance of Jesus Christ within the liturgy has been a constant theme of Pope Benedict’s teaching during his seven-year pontificate. He has often expressed concern that bad teaching can lead some Catholics to view the liturgy “horizontally,” as the creation of a parish or group in which the community celebrates itself.
“The liturgy is not a kind of ‘self-manifestation’ of a community,” he told pilgrims.
Pope Benedict noted that when priests or parishioners reflect on how to make the liturgy “attractive, interesting and beautiful,” they can “risk forgetting the essential; that is: The liturgy is celebrated for God and not for ourselves.”
To help counter such erroneous concepts, Benedict’s papal liturgies are always celebrated with a prominent crucifix placed centrally upon the altar.
The liturgy is God’s work, and he is the subject, the Pope said, adding that this means when it comes to the liturgy, we must “open ourselves to him and be guided by him and his body, which is the Church.”
“If the centrality of Christ does not emerge in the celebration, then it is not a Christian liturgy, totally dependent on the Lord and sustained by his creative presence,” he said.
“God acts through Christ, and we can only act through him and in him.”
This conviction must grow in the hearts and minds of Catholics each day because “the liturgy is not our — my — ‘action,’ but the action of God in us and with us.”
Pope Benedict said in conclusion, “Let us ask the Lord to learn every day to live the sacred liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, praying in the ‘we’ of the Church, that directs its gaze not in on itself, but to God, and feeling part of the living Church of all places and of all time.”