Oct 15, 2004

Active Participation Reconsidered

Online Edition

– October 2004

Vol. X No. 7

Active Participation Reconsidered: The Liturgy and the Sanctifying Office of the Bishop Reflections proposed to bishops, of recent nomination, in Rome, September 17, 2004

by Francis Cardinal Arinze

Cardinal Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, gave this address to new bishops on September 17, and is reprinted here with the cardinal’s permission. – Editor

Saint Paul exhorts the elders of the Church in Ephesus: "Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the Church of God which He bought with the blood of His own Son". (Acts 20:28) At the summit of this service of the Church by the bishop in the name of Christ is the office of sanctifying through the sacred Liturgy. This topic deserves our reflection.

We shall begin by considering how the sacred Liturgy sanctifies. The bishop is the chief liturgist in his local Church. His sanctifying office appears especially in his celebration of the Liturgy. It is important that the bishop and his priest be closely associated with this office. The cathedral church deserves special mention. A word should also be said on how the bishop can help his people to receive more sanctifying fruit from the Liturgy. We shall close with a thought on the bishop’s role in promoting such liturgical adaptations and inculturation as may lead to greater holiness.

1. The Liturgy and Sanctification

For love of us and for our salvation, the Son of God came down from heaven (cf


). Jesus did the work of our redemption and gave perfect glory to God principally by the paschal mystery of His blessed passion, death, resurrection and ascension. He instituted the Church and sent her to preach His Good News and celebrate His sacred mysteries for the glory of God and the sanctification of humankind. (cf

Sacrosanctum Concilium

, 5,6; henceforth SC)

Christ always associates the Church with Himself in this work, especially in her liturgical celebrations. "The Liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the Liturgy the sanctification of man is manifested by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which is proper to each of these signs". (SC 7)

The Second Vatican Council insists that the Liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and at the same time it is the foundation from which all her power flows. This statement is dense. It merits further exploration. The various apostolic works of the Church (preaching, catechesis, school education, social assistance, pastoral conferences, spiritual retreats, etc.) all aim at making it possible for people to believe in Christ, to be baptized and to take part in liturgical celebrations and especially at the sacrifice and sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The more they do all this faithfully and with perseverance, the more they are drawn into the compelling love of Christ and are set on fire by sanctifying grace.

"From the Liturgy, therefore", says the Second Vatican Council, "and especially from the Eucharist, as from a fountain, grace is channeled into us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their goal, are most powerfully achieved". (SC 10)

The three main elements of the sacred Liturgy are the sacraments, the sacramentals and the Liturgy of the Hours. These are the major channels through which all who believe in Christ receive the graces of the redemption and so are sanctified. There are also other channels, such as private prayer, popular devotions and asceticism. But there is no doubt that the sacred Liturgy is the chief means of sanctification. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council therefore assert: "For well-disposed members of the faithful (and by faithful is meant every believer in Christ), the Liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, the fountain from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power". (SC 61)

2. Bishop Chief Liturgist

The bishop is endowed with the fullness of the priesthood, of the sacrament of Holy Orders. It is he who ordains priests as cooperators of the episcopal order and deacons for service. The bishop is the high priest of his flock. "In a certain sense it is from him that the faithful who are under his care derive and maintain their life in Christ". (SC 41) "People should think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God" (I Cor 4:1), says Saint Paul. Indeed, the bishop should see his offices of teacher and shepherd as ordered toward his office of sanctifier (cf

Lumen Gentium


Christus Dominus

15; John Paul II:

Pastores Gregis

32; Congregation for Bishops: Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops 2004, n. 143).

It follows that it should be the bishop’s concern of the first order that he and his local Church cultivate the worship of God and thus enable the diocese to fulfill its office as the new people of God, a holy nation, a priestly people. (cf

Lumen Gentium

21) All the rest of our reflections in this paper flows from this fundamental truth.

"In the bishops, therefore, for whom priest are assistants", says the Second Vatican Council, "our Lord Jesus Christ, the supreme High Priest, is present in the midst of those who believe". (

Lumen Gentium

21) The central role of the bishop is shown especially in what the Council says of him with reference to the Eucharistic celebration. "Every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the bishop, to whom is committed the office of offering the worship of Christian religion to the divine Majesty and of administering it in accordance with the Lord’s commandments and with the Church’s laws, as further defined by his particular judgment for his diocese". (

Lumen Gentium

26; cf also

Ecclesia de Eucharistia


This explains why the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (n. 92) states that the bishop is the chief celebrant in his diocese at the Holy Eucharist. It is not a question of pride or honor but of theological and ecclesiologist truth. It is not an act of humility for a bishop to cede this place to one of his priests. Indeed the General Instruction just mentioned says that where for good reasons the bishop does not celebrate the Mass at which he is present, he should preside (and here is the correct meaning of "preside" now often popularly used to mean celebrate), that is, he should in alb, stole and cope conduct the Liturgy of the word and give the blessing at the end of Mass.

It follows that as the first dispenser of the mysteries of God in the particular Church committed to his care, the bishop is the moderator, promoter and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the diocese. It is his duty to inspire priests, deacons and the lay faithful with a genuine liturgical sense, so that they know and love the texts, have a deep sense of the inner meaning of what is taking place and are thus led to active and fruitful participation in the Eucharistic celebration. To the same end he is on the watch that liturgical celebrations be carried out with due dignity, for the maximum fruits of sanctification for the diocese. (cf General Instruction of the Roman Missal 23) He is careful to see that abuses do not creep in, and where they have appeared, that they be removed.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council want bishops to be aware of their sanctifying role: "Hence they should constantly exert themselves to have the faithful know and live the paschal mystery more deeply through the Eucharist and thus become a firmly knit body in the solidarity of Christ’s love. ‘Intent upon prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4), they should devote their labor to this end, that all those committed to their care may be of one mind in prayer and through the reception of the sacraments may grow in grace and be faithful witnesses to the Lord". (

Christus Dominus


3. Bishop Sanctifies through the Liturgy

Placed at the summit of the sacred ministry, the bishop is the living sign of Christ present in His Church. Christ is the Bridegroom. The Church is the Bride. By virtue of sacramental consecration and by hierarchical communion with the pope and the members of the episcopal college, the bishop is intimately joined and, as it were, mystically wedded to the Church whose "spouse" he is rightly called, in the likeness of Christ. At episcopal ordination, the new bishop is given the ring with the significant words: "Receive the ring, a sign of faith: and, adorned with unblemished faith, keep unsoiled the spouse of God, the holy Church. (cf Roman Pontifical: Ordination of a Bishop; also Congregation for Bishops: Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops 16,17) When the faithful kiss the bishop’s ring, they are paying tribute to Christ, Bridegroom of the Church.

Bishops, in the name of Christ the Bridegroom, channel the graces of redemption to God’s people principally through the sacred Liturgy.

The sacraments occupy first place. The bishop baptizes or sends priests and deacons to baptize and enroll people in Christ’s Mystical Body and thus opens to them all the other ways of participating in the life of the Church. The ordinary minister of Confirmation is the bishop. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated by the bishop or by his priests sent by him and in union with him. Penance as sacrament is moderated by the bishop and in a world in which there is a blurring of the sense of sin, this role is even more urgent. Holy Orders are conferred by the bishop. Marriage and the Anointing of the Sick are administered under his watchful pastoral care. (cf

Lumen Gentium


May I say a further word on the bishops as minister of the sacrament of Confirmation. The ecclesiological and pastoral tradition of the Latin Rite is that the bishop is the ordinary minister of this sacrament. Vatican II calls him the originating (


) minister. (

Lumen Gentium

26) The bishop should not easily cede his place, except in case of real need, since a celebration of this kind ensures a real contact with communities and individual faithful. For many of them it remains a memorable and once-for-all occasion all their lives. Here as ever we should build on these human factors to ensure the impact of a call to a serious Christian engagement. (cf

Pastores Gregis

38; Congregation for Bishops: Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops n. 145)

Some of the sacramentals are reserved to the bishop because of their deep ecclesiological significance. Examples are dedication of churches and altars. But the piety of the faithful rightly wants to see the bishop bless abbots and abbesses, conduct religious profession ceremonies, dedicate shrines, crucifixes and pilgrimage centers and perform major blessings of people, places and things. All there are abundant sources of graces.

The prayer of the Church for the various hours of the day and the night assumes a particularly striking symbolism when the bishop, the High Priest, leads his priests, deacons, consecrated people and lay faithful in offering this incense of praise, especially in the cathedral church.

It is to be expected that every bishop makes a careful study of both the

Pontificale Romanum

and the

Caeremoniale Episcoporum

. Only thus will the bishop be sure that he is drawing from authentic sources.

The figure of the bishop performing pastoral visits to his parishes, religious houses, schools and hospitals, celebrating the Holy Eucharist, praying the Liturgy of the Hours with his priests and some of his people, preaching the word of life, and bringing God’s blessing to the sick and the old — here is a precious image of the good shepherd.

What Pope John Paul II says of the priest applies with greater force to the bishop: "In virtue of his configuration to Christ, the Head and Shepherd, the priest stands in this spousal relationship with regard to the community. Inasmuch as he represents Christ, the Head, Shepherd and Spouse of the Church, the priest is placed not only in the Church but also in the forefront of the Church. In his spiritual life, therefore, he is called to live out Christ’s spousal love toward the Church, his Bride. Therefore, the priest’s life ought to radiate this spousal character which demands that he be a witness to Christ’s spousal love, and thus be capable of loving people with a heart which is new, generous and pure, with genuine self-detachment, with full, constant and faithful dedication and at the same time with a kind of "divine jealousy" (cf II Cor 11:2), and even with a kind of maternal tenderness, capable of bearing "the pangs of birth" until "Christ be formed" in the faithful. (cf Gal 4:19) (

Pastores dabo Vobis

22) Happy the dioceses which have bishops who measure up to this stature. The people of those dioceses will indeed be sanctified.

4. Priests Are Close Associates of the Bishops

In the promotion of the sanctification of the people of God, those most closely associated with the diocesan bishop are his priests. The ordination rite calls priests "prudent cooperators with the episcopal order". Priests "constitute one priesthood with their bishop, although that priesthood is comprised of different functions". (

Lumen Gentium

28) Priests, as it were, make the bishop present in parishes, chapels and other institutions in the diocese. They sanctify and govern under the bishop’s authority that part of the Lord’s flock assigned to them. The bishop is the leader of the


, of that intimate brotherhood which binds all the priests of a diocese together because of the common sacred ordination that they have all received.

It is therefore no wonder that the Second Vatican Council applies to the bishop-priest relationship such concepts as father-son, co-workers and friends. It is clear that no bishop can single-handedly carry out his sanctifying office through the Liturgy without the close cooperation of his priests. One has only to think of sacramental administration and all its heavy and constant demands. But the blessings also do entail much sacrifice and discipline if they are to be carried out in an edifying manner. Add to this, the indispensable place of catechesis and the homily and the guidance of popular devotions, and one sees better the absolute necessity of good relations and cooperation between the bishop and his priests, if the people are to be duly sanctified through the public worship of the Church.

It is therefore no surprise that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy underlines the importance of the liturgical instruction of the clergy in seminaries, religious houses of study and theological faculties. (cf SC 14-17) The on-going liturgical formation and updating of priests already in the ministry is also necessary. (cf SC 18) The homily, as the major source of religious instruction for most Catholics in the week, is to be given due attention. (cf SC 35, 52; General Instruction of the Roman Missal 65-66) The parish is in a certain way the nearest available manifestation of the Church for most Catholics. If they are to be sanctified through the Liturgy, it is there that efforts should begin. (cf SC 42) The bishop, as a pastor, is very aware of this.

The Decree on the Ministry of Bishops of the Second Vatican Council therefore draws the obvious conclusion that the bishop "should be concerned about the spiritual, intellectual and material condition of his priests, so that they can live holy and pious lives and fulfill their ministry faithfully and fruitfully". (

Christus Dominus

16 d)

5. Special Role of the Cathedral Church

In the sanctifying office of the bishop through the sacred Liturgy, the cathedral church has a place full meaning, symbolism and importance. The cathedral is the principal church of the diocesan bishop. In it he has his


, his seat of teaching the true and life-giving faith. In it the altar of sacrifice is central, the tabernacle where our Eucharistic Lord is adored is prominent, the pulpit and the ambo are easily visible, the places for the clergy in the sanctuary are clearly marked out and the greater space in the sacred edifice for the people of God is suitably equipped with pews which also provide for kneeling. Since we humans move from the visible to the invisible, it is important that sacred architecture respect the true nature of a cathedral church. Sometimes one sees what looks like an all-purpose theater or even an airport hangar which somebody calls a cathedral, all in the name of modern architecture. Such an error would be at once theological, ecclesiological and also psychological.

The liturgical life of the diocese centers around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church. There we have the most visible manifestation of the universal Church in the particular Church or diocese. As the mother-church of the diocese, the cathedral should be a model of excellent and prayerful liturgical celebrations. Liturgical beauty and good sense should show itself in the vestments, altar equipment and faithful observance of liturgical regulations. Seminarians and priests thus learn from the cathedral the

ars celebrandi

. The people recognize in such a well-ordered cathedral the

mater et magistra

[mother and teacher] of all other churches in the diocese. (cf

Pastores Gregis

34; cf Congregation for Bishops: Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops 8; cf also

Ecclesia de Eucharista


6. Preparing People for More Fruitful Liturgical Participation

The better prepared people are for participation in the sacred Liturgy, the more fruits of sanctification they will reap from the church’s public worship.

To begin with, faith and conversion are needed. The bishop helps prepare people for initial faith and continued growth in it by preaching, by catechesis, by biblical instruction and by other initiatives in the diocese in this apostolate. Conversion is a response to proclamation. It is expressed initially in the faith of the baptized. It has to go on growing throughout Christian life through greater openness to God’s action in each individual. (cf SC 9)

Personal prayer and a disciplined ascetical life have an irreplaceable role to play in preparing people for more fruitful participation in the Liturgy. The Christian, in addition to liturgical prayer, and in preparation for it, should get accustomed to praying to God in secret. (cf Mt 6:6) Saint Paul says that we should pray without ceasing (cf I Thes 5:17) and that we should live ascetical lives by carrying about in our bodies the dying of Jesus. (cf II Cor 4:10-11) In the Mass itself we pray that we may be made an everlasting gift to the Eternal Father. (Roman Missal: Eucharistic Prayer III) Insistence on such points is also part of the bishop’s office of promoting the people’s sanctification through the Liturgy.

Popular devotions of the people of God (like the Way of the Cross, the Rosary, Novenas, Pilgrimages, Processions) are warmly commended by the Second Vatican Council. They are to accord with true doctrine, and with the norms laid down by the Church. As far as possible, they are to be inspired by a genuine liturgical spirit and are to lead the people toward the Liturgy. The bishop’s role is a key one in giving leadership, light and encouragement to his priests and people on this question. In 2001 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a directory on popular devotions and the Liturgy. Many bishops’ conferences have prepared translations in their people’s languages. (cf

Pastores Gregis

40; Congregation for Bishops op.cit. 152, 154)

7. Adaptation, Inculturation and Structures

Questions on liturgical adaptation and deeper inculturation, as well as structures for liturgical promotion, also affect the people’s call to holiness.

We all know that inculturation should be normal in evangelization. "Even in the Liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather she respects and fosters the spiritual adornments and gifts of the various races and people". (SC 37)

It is easier to enunciate the principles than to do actual inculturation. And even two good bishops can disagree on what is best done in a concrete case. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal in paragraphs 386-399 gives guidelines on the areas where bishops’ conferences can propose adaptations in the Roman Mass and where they can go into deeper inculturation in the sense of

Ad Gentes

22 and

Sacrosanctum Concilium

37-40. In all cases they will act in understanding with the Holy See which grants the required


before something new is introduced into the Liturgy. Detailed advice is already set out in the Instruction

Varietates legitimae

(1994), which can be both a useful guide to the bishop and a source of material for him to use in guiding and stimulating sensible work in this domain. Unfortunately, in some places the field has in part been spoiled by hasty and superficial action. Pope John Paul II, in his recent encyclical,

Ecclesia de Eucharistia

, (n. 51) speaks in favor of inculturation, but of sane and careful inculturation. "The ‘treasure’ (of the Holy Eucharist) is too important and precious to risk impoverishment or compromise through forms of experimentation or practices introduced without a careful review on the part of the competent ecclesiastical authorities".

While inculturation retains its importance, one can say that what hurts most the religious sensitivity of the people in the Liturgy are frequent changes, introduction of unapproved rites by priests according to each celebrant’s idiosyncrasy, and the using of the liturgical assembly on Sunday to test the latest products of a priest’s fertile imagination.

Here can be mentioned the important role of diocesan liturgical and music commissions. (cf SC 45, 46) These are not just structural arrangements. They are part of the effort to prepare the ground for the sanctification of the people through the Liturgy.

My brothers in the episcopate, the sanctifying office of the bishop through the Liturgy is a demanding one. May the most Blessed Virgin Mary obtain for all of us the grace to answer our call.

RELATED: See Cardinal Arinze Page



The Editors