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Beauty of Church Revealed

Beauty in the Liturgy

© Sabrina Fusco / ALETEIA

Carly Andrews - published on 04/18/14

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Thursday night’s Liturgy of the Last Supper here in Rome could best be described as a Liturgy of “Beauty.”  

In the Mass, we are hoping for, working towards and reaching for God, but all too often this becomes dulled by a sense that somewhere, something is missing in our experience of Liturgy at a local level.        

However on Holy Thursday here at the heart of the Church, something was revealed. Something Real and True, Beautiful and Transcendent and it was here at the Easter Triduum retreat at the Vatican’s international youth Centre, Centro San Lorenzo, that young people from all over the world came together to accompany Christ in his last moments of life.

The retreat was organised by the Emmanuel School of Mission (ESM) and for most of these guys it was their very first time, as each looked for something special – an experience of the Divine – which perhaps they hadn’t found up to this point in their lives…

“My name is Felix Von Leider, I am German, I was born in Belgium,  I’m 19 yrs old, I decided to come to the ESM because I tried to be a Christian on my own, in the army, and I failed.”  

He explained “I had to retreat and step aside of my own pride and admit that I need a bit of humility to be a Christian – that’s why I’m here at this school.”  

For Felix, living Easter over the tomb of St Peter’s is particularly special because he is “the saint whom I feel most like during Christ’s passion: at times proud, at other times afraid.”  He explains that living this retreat at the beating heart of the Church is helping him to  “enter into a deeper understanding of what Easter actually is” and gain a sense of belonging to the Catholic Tradition.

Jenny Porter, 22, from Canada says “I came to do the ESM because I was searching for a deeper relationship with the Lord.

“I came to Rome specifically because it is the heart of the Catholic Church, and it was an awesome opportunity for me to come and live the history of the Church; my history.”

She continues: “This whole year at the ESM I’ve learned more about what it is to be Catholic – and to experience the fullness of the liturgy…where the beauty of the Church is fully revealed.”

Searching for fullness, for beauty

This is a sentiment shared by many who have perhaps lost the sense of Awesomeness and Majesty of the Liturgy in their own lives. Indeed, it is a sentiment that has led to the formation of the New Liturgical Movement which encourages Catholics to bring Beauty back into the Liturgy.  

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI particularly stressed the need for beauty in Liturgy and a tangible continuity with Liturgical Tradition, particularly in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy”.  He explains it is only in this way that the faithful can fully realise that each individual stands anchored in the same stream of Liturgy that flows from its source in the Passion of Christ right down to the present day – we are a People, The people of God that transcends time and space.  

At a local level this realisation can at times have a tenuous existence, as we head to Church on a Sunday, or even during the week, that sense of beauty, of awe, is often lacking in the mass, and perhaps in our hearts.

However at the CSL last night this was not the case. True Beauty was revealed down to the very basic preparation of the liturgy, and the result was an experience of the Divine…

Karen Nicholson, a Catholic theologian and artist from the UK is also participating in the ESM retreat. She shared her reasons for coming to Rome this Easter.

“I have been a member of several parishes in my lifetime but ended up attending the Latin rite to try to find this sense of belonging to not only The People of God, but to this stream of Liturgical Tradition that is “Cosmic” in its very nature, in other words, it is not only here on earth that the Liturgy takes place every Sunday or every Easter but that we share in the same Liturgy that takes place in Heaven, we share in the very same Liturgy as all the Angels and Saints.”

She continues: “this is why I came to Rome this year, to ‘find’ a sense of this Cosmic Liturgy, to find Beauty and Majesty.  Last night, at San Lorenzo, I found it.  From the very moment that the first note of music filtered through the air, everything worked together to provide what can only be described as Beauty.”  

“Everything from the lighting to that first sweet sound had been considered”, she recalls. “The congregation were encouraged to practice the music before the Mass began, so that once the Liturgy had started, the whole thing, from start to finish led one’s mind Heavenwards.  There was no doubt about it.  If I didn’t feel like I was taking part in the Liturgy of Heaven beforehand, I certainly did once it started.”  

“By the time the Mass had finished and Our Lord was taken to a shrine of silent repose, the eyes of the whole congregation followed Him in awed silence and automatically turned to follow him as if he were being taken out of our very hands, it was a moment of pure bittersweet Beauty, lifted out of the humdrum of daily life, and I know that I had finally found what I had come to Rome in search of – a moment of pure intimacy with the Lord and the Heavenly congregation, and with my Brothers and Sisters in The People of God.

"The Liturgy at San Lorenzo on Holy Thursday night was one of “Beauty” which helped me to realise that it truly is possible for each generation of believers to mark the Liturgy with their own culture and yet still retain a powerful sense of belonging to that Tradition that was handed down to us by the Apostles" she concludes.  

Indeed, it is possible to encourage a commitment of belonging to a local community while infusing that congregation with an understanding of not only belonging to the worldwide community of believers but also the Heavenly congregation and it is this that meets together in the Liturgy of the Church, which can only be achieved through consciously moving toward recapturing Beauty, Awe and Majesty in every aspect of our celebration, and it was this possibility that was played out, last night at the CSL, here in the Eternal City.

To see the full liturgy of CSL’s Holy Thursday in photo form, click here

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