Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sacramentum Caritatis: Initial thoughts

Well I've finished my initial read, as well as a second glance at the document. The image that came to mind was that of a soaring eagle, something that lifts our minds, our thoughts and our hearts to a higher level, upwards, heavenwards. I was struck by just how Christ-centered everything is and just how much Scripture is quoted along with magisterial statements and the Synod propositions. There's a wealth of quotations from the Fathers as well (St. Augustine kept cropping up a lot). The sense I got was: everything leads (ought to lead) to Christ, everything flows from him - this is what this sacrament of love is about, it's at the center if you will of God's cosmic plan of salvation, of the re-creation of the whole world, the whole cosmos in Christ -- it's the new worship in Christ, the logike latria, the "rational worship" that St. Paul mentions.

And like the rays moving outwards from a monstrance, the document covers pretty much every aspect of the Christian life and links it to the Eucharist -- the Trinity, the Church's life, the paschal mystery, the liturgical celebration itself (including Eucharistic adoration, the concept of active participation, music, chant, Latin, incluturation, architecture, the placement of the tabernacle), the other sacraments (including a discussion of priestly celibacy), catechesis, evangelization and mission, prayer, the role of Catholic legislators and politicians, the social teaching of the church, concerns about secularization and globalization, environment and the ecology, and how the Blessed Mother embodies the eucharistic life of the one who is transformed in Christ.

This is not really a "how-to" manual for the liturgy (that's the GIRM), nor is it just simply saying, "hey, do liturgy this way!" It's scope is much wider, and loftier. There's a sense in which we are being asked to think about these things at a different level, to focus on the central doctrines, and most especially on the Person at the center of it all. A broad cosmic and biblical vision dovetails easily with an attention to detail; theory and its practical applications are closely tied, and one doesn't really get the sense that all this is somehow divorced from reality, even as one wonders and realizes that no one place will conform in every aspect to the ideals laid down here.

The document reads relatively easily (especially compared to the previous Pontiff!), and though the language tends to the academic, and is a bit repetitive, I never found it to be dry.

The other phrase that came to mind was also from St. Paul, and also from his Letter to the Romans, a phrase that is quoted in the text itself: "do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed in your minds." In the face of all kinds of proposals for "change" from the world, the Church will remain firm: for instance, priestly celibacy in the Latin rite is confirmed and encouraged, while the entire church is urged to redouble its efforts to promote vocations.

Finally it should be clear that while there is no new teaching, certianly no new doctrine in the strict sense of that word, what this document does is cement an interpretation of the Second Vatican Council that is by now almost settled in the upper echelons of the hierarchy and in some segments of the church: one that wants to move away from the time of ongoing experimentation, that emphasizes continuity with the past rather than a radical break, and, especially in the area of the liturgy, slowly but surely redirects our attention away from an inflated preoccupation with ourselves to the Triune God, and the sacrifice of Christ, which is the hinge of history.

I haven't really gotten into the various practical things this document says and suggests. Those might show up on here as I reread and then share some stray thoughts here and there.

Much better and more comprehensive treatments of this documents are out there: start at Amy's and go from there!

And absolutely, do read it yourself!

Of course, not everyone will be pleased, and certainly, not everyone will be pleased with everything. I, for one, am truly grateful for this extended eucharistic catechesis presented by our Holy Father.

Grazie, Papa Bene! :-)

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