A good formulation about Liturgy is found in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council: Sacrosanctum Concilium. It states that the Liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed, and at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows” (SC n.10). This is not a proper definition. Wisely, the conciliar fathers avoided defining Liturgy. They preferred to conceive it as the celebration of the mysteries of Christ perpetuated in the life of the Church. This making present the mysteries of Christ happens symbolically, that is, sacramentally, through those gestures and words that constitute the Liturgy of the Church. In this sense, one understands why the Liturgy is, at the same time, the summit and source of the Church’s life.

Assuming the sacraments are the center of the Liturgy, as Sacrosanctum Concilium teaches us, we understand to deepen the furrows opened by Vatican II which, by recovering this understanding from the early centuries of Christian tradition, proposes something that simultaneously overcomes two impasses of post-Tridentine theology. The first refers to a formal and juridical understanding of Liturgy. Before Vatican II, what was taught in theological faculties and seminaries about Liturgy was limited to rubrics and other technical ornaments or accessories that accompanied the celebrations of Christian worship. The second impasse concerns sacramental understanding and practice. What was taught in the doctrine of the sacraments obeyed a generic definition of sacrament, applied indiscriminately to each and all sacraments.

The understanding of Liturgy as the celebration of the paschal mystery of Christ, which becomes present in a symbolic-sacramental way in the life of the Church, in turn, makes explicit the intrinsically theological dimension of Christian liturgy, besides making it possible to celebrate each sacrament as a unique expression of the paschal mystery of Christ present in the here and now of the Christian community. In this way, the uniqueness of each sacrament is recovered as each, in its own way, embodies the complexity of the interfaces of the paschal mystery of Christ celebrated in the Liturgy. In this sense, a comprehension of the sacraments in their insertion in the paschal mystery of Christ deserves our attention.

Everything said so far becomes understandable on the condition that the eminently symbolic dimension of human existence, of history, and of the world in general, is rediscovered. The Liturgy is, par excellence, the festive and therefore symbolic expression of the Christian faith. To this end, it becomes essential to open up to the constitutively symbolic dimension of life in general and of the Christian faith in particular. Hence the importance of considering symbol and sacrament from a very close relationship between both. Christian sacraments constitute, for all intents and purposes, an authentic radicalization of those anthropological constants characteristic of the existence of every human being and of all human beings. They also constitute a deepening of those historical and cosmic dimensions that make up the complex web in which the lives of people and other creatures are entangled.

Another issue highlighted here is the close relationship that exists between Liturgy and Church, between sacraments and Church. It is, in fact, a fruitful reciprocity between liturgy and Church or, more specifically, between sacraments and Church. If, on the one hand, the Church makes the sacraments, on the other, it is the sacraments that make the Church. The ecclesiality of the sacraments is therefore a theme of fundamental importance for the Liturgy.

Finally, for there to be a truly fruitful circularity between celebration and life, between Liturgy and the life of faith of Christian communities, it is necessary to deepen the indispensable question of the relationship between Liturgy, popular religiosity, and cultures. All faith is already inculturated and, therefore, will always express itself through cultural expressions. And it is for this reason that, as a symbolic-sacramental expression of the life of faith of Christian communities, the Liturgy can never abstain from dialogue with the cultural expressions of peoples and with popular religiosity.

Sinivaldo Silva Tavares, OFM, FAJE, Brazil