Why St. John Paul II believed the liturgy is not “private property”

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In his letter on the liturgy, Pope Francis echoed a theme that St. John Paul II reflected on in his encyclical on the Eucharist.

Pope Francis wrote much in his apostolic letter, Desiderio desideravi, about how the liturgy is not meant to be something focused on the individual.

The action of the celebration does not belong to the individual but to the Christ-Church, to the totality of the faithful united in Christ. The liturgy does not say “I” but “we,” and any limitation on the breadth of this “we” is always demonic.

Furthermore, Pope Francis explained how, “it is necessary to know how the Holy Spirit acts in every celebration. The art of celebrating must be in harmony with the action of the Spirit. Only in this way will it be free from the subjectivisms that are the fruit of individual tastes dominating.”

St. John Paul II reflected on a similar theme in his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, writing that the liturgy is not “private property.”

I consider it my duty, therefore to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone’s private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated. 

St. John Paul II believed many of the abuses seen in the liturgy were the result of an individualistic view of the Mass, where either the priest or the community took possession of it and failed to abide by the norms laid out by the Church.

This requires a more universal view of the Mass, where the priest acts “in the person of Christ.”

It is [priests’] responsibility to preside at the Eucharist in persona Christi and to provide a witness to and a service of communion not only for the community directly taking part in the celebration, but also for the universal Church, which is a part of every Eucharist.

As the Church continues to implement the reform of the liturgy, it is important to note how the Mass should not be left to the individual tastes of the priest or community. The Church herself has already given us norms as to how the Mass should be celebrated, and that will help us keep the liturgy a universal action.

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