Liturgy and the Neochatecumenal Way in the teaching of Benedict XVI
In the life of the great ecclesial community
The Fathers of the Church (in particular Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia) in their prebaptismal sermons especially during Lent, introduced, one could say led by hand, guided catechumens, that is, those preparing for baptism on Easter night, to discover, come to know and commit to memory the Christian faith through the profession of faith – the Creed - and gave them a model of prayer – the Our Father. Throughout this period of preparation, waiting for baptism which, like all the sacraments, is a gift you receive welcoming you into the great Church, into her regenerating womb, catechumens were initiated into the faith, into listening and understanding the Word of God. They participated only in the first part of the celebration of the sacred mystery. After the Gospel - and this is still seen today in eastern liturgies – the deacon turned to the catechumens, he enjoined them to leave the Church, sending them in some way to a waiting – a joyful waiting – until they could participate in the one sacrifice of Christ, celebrated Easter night by the bishop in the great and unique Mother Church which in Baptism gives them new birth in Christ.
Thus cathecumens, welcomed into the Church singing the pauline verse “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ, Alleluia”, were no longer called “catechumens” but “newcomers”, that is, grafted, inserted. Where? In Christ, in the one and great Church. And from that moment they participated fully in the sacred mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ. They were no longer at a stage in the catechumenate but the fullness of belonging of all Christian faithful, to the life of Christ in the Church.
In line with the great Fathers of the Church, their catechises and their mistagogie, we find Benedict XVI's Address to members of the Neocatechumenal Way on 20 January; the audience, which he himself designates to be among those he gives annually to founders and their members in the ecclesial reality. It is a lecture in liturgical theology valid and useful for the Way and for the whole Church.
The Pope from the beginning has been stressing the value of missionary and evangelical commitment of the Way, a commitment that must always be carried out – and the Holy Father reminds us twice - “with the whole Church and with the Successor of Peter”; seeking “in profound communion with the Apostolic See and with the Pastors of the particular Churches, in which you are inserted”. It seems the Bishop of Rome never forgets his role as the principle of communion with every Pastor of the Catholic Church: “The unity and harmony of the Ecclesial Body are an important witness to Christ and to his Gospel in the world in which we live”.
Benedict XVI, as a good shepherd, still and rightly does not rest in bringing to light the generosity and the missionary effort of the Way – and the difficulties that it encounters in its work of evangelization – and in encouraging its members, priests, lay people, entire families to persevere in their zeal of proclaiming everywhere, even in places very far from Christianity, the Gospel, ever in love for Christ and Church.
After introductory words, the Pope explains the meaning of approving the Way in those celebrations that “are not strictly speaking liturgical but are part of the itinerary of growth in faith”. Benedict XVI reminds the Neocatechumenate and the entire Church that liturgical celebrations are those approved by the Church in different texts of the Magisterium of the Bishop of Rome or of the various ecumenical councils that regulate and approve the Church's liturgy.
The Pope points out how the approval of celebrations in the Catechetical Directory of the Neocatechumenal Way must be read strictly bound to the Sensus Ecclesiae and in harmony with the needs of the building of the Corpus Ecclesiae. The Pope shows his heart as the Pastor of the Church “which understands your richness but also looks at the communion and harmony of the whole Corpus Ecclesiae”.
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