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Bringing heart and head together at Mass

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‘Christ draws us through beautiful liturgy, through artwork, beauty and architecture,’ said Fr Benjamin OFM CAP. Photo: George Al-Akiki
‘Christ draws us through beautiful liturgy, through artwork, beauty and architecture,’ said Fr Benjamin OFM CAP. Photo: George Al-Akiki

The Mass is the “source and summit” of our Christian life, where we gather each Sunday to receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion.

But how can we be best “disposed” to meet Our Lord at Mass each Sunday, to make our participation more meaningful, and to increase in love for God and neighbour?

A new lecture series celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, will be of interest to sacramental co-ordinators, clergy and all Catholics interested in deepening their understanding of liturgy.

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Theologian Fr Benjamin Johnson OFM CAP will deliver the first talk at 6:30pm on 8 November 2023 at the University of Notre Dame’s Broadway Campus, on the “proper dispositions” Catholics can cultivate to receive the full effects of the liturgy.

While Catholics tend to focus on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, there’s much more to Mass than just the act of receiving Holy Communion.

“It’s very important that we establish and articulate clearly the teaching on Transubstantiation, but we can’t stop there,” Fr Johnson said.

“Yes, Christ comes to us body, blood, soul, divinity in the Eucharist. But what for? To transform our hearts. We want to get to that step.”

Sacrosanctum Concilium famously said “something more is required than the mere observation” of the Mass, and called for the “active participation” of the laity.

Fr Johnson’s talk will discuss how Christians can cultivate this “active participation,” beginning with an awareness of “those dispositions of the heart, which allow the full effects of Christ’s love to take greater fruition within our lives.”

Minds, bodies, voices must all be brought into harmony and awareness, the council fathers wrote in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

“We need openness of heart and mind, where we can begin to perceive more and more the sacramentality of the liturgy. So, the material aspect of our voices, our singing, our participation, standing, kneeling,” Fr Johnson said.

“The bread, the wine, the music, the vestments, the altar, the candles, the artwork, the whole liturgical architecture—it should reinforce in an educational way, forming and guiding the heart, as to the depth of the mystery one’s seeking to enter into further.

“Or be drawn into, I should say—it’s more that Christ draws us through beautiful liturgy, through artwork, beauty and architecture. These draw us into the mystery of what’s being celebrated there.”

The 60 Years of Sacrosanctum Concilium series will feature two further lectures on 15 and 22 November at the University of Notre Dame, and will culminate on 29 November at the Chapter Hall of St Mary’s Cathedral.

Vatican II expert Dr Shaun Blanchard will lecture on the roots of the council’s liturgical reforms, and 2020 Ratzinger prize recipient Professor Tracey Rowland will discuss liturgical language in the pontificates of John XXII, Paul VI and Benedict XVI.

The final lecture, from Professor Clare Johnson, will discuss liturgical maturation in the current day, and “how Pope Francis seeks to bring to maturity the liturgy as envisioned by the council fathers, their predecessors, and successors.”

The series is delivered by UNDA in concert with the liturgy office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, and Professor Johnson’s paper will be the next instalment of the highly-regarded Scholarship at the Cathedral series.

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