Pope Francis said on Wednesday that it is essential for Christians to participate in the liturgy and the sacraments to encounter the Real Presence of Jesus.
“Every time we celebrate a baptism, or consecrate the bread and wine in the Eucharist, or anoint the body of a sick person with Holy Oil, Christ is here. It is He who acts and is present as when He healed the weak limbs of a sick person, or when at the Last Supper, He delivered His testament for the salvation of the world,” Pope Francis said at his general audience on Feb. 3.
“A Christianity without liturgy, I would dare say is perhaps a Christianity without Christ, without the whole of Christ,” the pope said.
Speaking via live-stream from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis underlined the necessity of the Sacraments in the life of a Christian.
“In Christian life, the corporeal and material sphere may not be dispensed with, because in Jesus Christ it became the way of salvation … Therefore, there is no Christian spirituality that is not rooted in the celebration of the holy mysteries,” the pope said, coughing as he spoke.
He then quoted the Catechism, which states: “The mission of Christ and of the Holy Spirit proclaims, makes present, and communicates the mystery of salvation, which is continued in the heart that prays.”
In the history of Christianity, there has often been a temptation to emphasize one’s individual prayer over the spiritual importance of public liturgical rites, the pope explained.
“Often this tendency claimed the presumed greater purity of a religiosity that did not depend on external ceremonies, considered a useless or harmful burden,” he said.
However, the liturgy is the foundational act of the Christian experience, he said. “It is an event … it is presence, it is an encounter. It is an encounter with Christ.”
“Christ makes himself present in the Holy Spirit through the sacramental signs: hence the need for us Christians to participate in the divine mysteries,” Pope Francis said.
When the first Christians worshiped, they did so by “actualizing the gestures and words of Jesus with the light and power of the Holy Spirit.”
“St. Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans: ‘I therefore urge you, brothers, by the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God; this is your spiritual worship.’ Life is called to become worship of God, but this cannot happen without prayer, especially liturgical prayer,” he said.
“This thought helps us all when we go to Mass: I go to pray in community, I go to pray with Christ who is present. When we go to the celebration of a Baptism, for example, it is Christ there, present, who baptizes. ‘But, Father, this is an idea, a way of speaking?’ No, it is not a way of speaking. Christ is present and in the liturgy, you pray with Christ who is next to you.”
The pope’s comments come at a time when public worship remains suspended in some parts of the world due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Pope Francis noted that even during times when Christians experience imprisonment or persecution, when the liturgical rite is at its most bare, “Christ makes himself truly present and gives himself to his faithful.”
“The liturgy, precisely because of its objective dimension, asks to be celebrated with fervor, so that the grace poured out in the rite is not dispersed but reaches the experience of each one. The Catechism explains very well: ‘Prayer interiorizes and assimilates the Liturgy during and after its celebration,’” he said.
Francis said that “certain forms of spirituality can be found in the Church which have not been able to adequately integrate the liturgical moment. Many faithful, although assiduously participating in the rites, especially at Sunday Mass, have drawn nourishment for their faith and their spiritual life rather from other sources, of a devotional type.”
He continued: “In recent decades, much has been done. The constitution ‘Sacrosanctum concilium,’ of the Second Vatican Council, represents a pivotal point on this long journey. It reaffirms in a complete and organic way the importance of the divine liturgy for the life of Christians, who find in it that objective mediation required by the fact that Jesus Christ is not an idea, not a feeling, but a living Person, and his Mystery, a historical event.”
At the end of his general audience, Pope Francis noted that the first International Day of Human Fraternity would take place on Feb. 4 thanks to a recent resolution by the United Nations.
The date marks the two-year anniversary of the pope’s signing of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” with Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi.
“I am very pleased that nations around the world are joining in this celebration, aimed at promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue,” the pope said.
“The aforementioned United Nations Resolution recognizes ‘the contribution that dialogue between all religious groups can make to improve awareness and understanding of the common values shared by all humanity.’ May this be our prayer today and our commitment every day of the year.”