I’ve been reading Pope Francis’s letter, Desiderio Desideravi, which he sent on 29th June to the whole Church, to help us contemplate the beauty and truth of the Liturgy. The title of the letter is from the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22: 15)

Pope Francis reminds us that the liturgy is a place of encounter with Christ. Liturgy is the divine worship of the Church and includes the Divine Office as well as the celebration of the sacraments, though in this letter he talks mostly about the Eucharist.

These are some of the points he makes which struck me:

  • The Lord desires to eat the Passover with us.
  • We are drawn to the celebration by his desire for us and everyone is invited. For our part, we are to let ourselves be drawn.
  • The liturgy is not something we do – it is an action of the Holy Spirit; too much creativity on our part or too much rigidity both impoverish the celebration.
  • The Spirit plunges us into the paschal mystery, to transform every dimension of our life, conforming us more and more to Christ.
  • Wonder is an essential part of the celebration – wonder at the amazing thing which happens.
  • Modern people have become illiterate and no longer able to read symbols – we need to learn again.
  • We celebrate as one body not as individuals.
  • Silence occupies a place of absolute importance; it is a symbol of the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit.
  • Sunday is a gift that God makes for his people and for this reason the Church safeguards it with a precept.
  • We need to rediscover the meaning of the liturgical year and of the Lord’s Day.

How can we as Oblates, with our Benedictine tradition and practice, take this letter to heart?

As we know, liturgy is central in the Rule of St Benedict. The monastic day revolves around the Work of God, celebrated seven times a day, Sunday marks the beginning of the cycle of offices and the monastic year is centred on Easter. The goal of this liturgical life is “to prefer nothing to the love of Christ”. It seems that St Benedict has already incorporated all of these points into his Rule.

My own Benedictine practice began at Minster Abbey in the summer of 1973 when I came to help on the sisters’ farm. I began to attend the office; the psalms were mostly new to me and I have to confess that I found them long and sometimes tedious. The office I loved was Compline with the same three psalms known by heart, the Nunc Dimittis, the Salve Regina, the dark and the silent prayer afterwards: an almost tangible beauty.

Over the years of sporadic visits, and a year as a postulant, I often struggled with the office, seeing it more as a duty to be done than an encounter with Christ. However, there were exceptions – some psalms which I grew to love, and Tenebrae each Good Friday and Holy Saturday, a 90-minute immersion into the ocean of prayer.

Now, as an Oblate, I join in morning prayer daily at home and, especially when in Minster, I have a deeper appreciation of the whole liturgical way of life: office and Eucharist together. I am learning to listen with the “ear of the heart” and this letter encourages me to go still deeper.

Pope Francis finishes his letter with the words:

“I would like this letter to help us to rekindle our wonder for the beauty of the truth of the Christian celebration, to remind us of the necessity of an authentic liturgical formation, and to recognize the importance of an art of celebrating that is at the service of the truth of the Paschal Mystery and of the participation of all of the baptized in it, each one according to his or her vocation.

All this richness is not far from us. It is in our churches, in our Christian feasts, in the centrality of the  Lord’s Day, in the power of the sacraments we celebrate. Christian life is a continual journey of growth. We are called to let ourselves be formed in joy and in communion.” (Paragraph 62)

Amen!

 

Helen Granger, Oblate of Minster Abbey

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