Saint Anselm’s famous description of theology, fides quaerens intellectum, can be used analogously to describe the study of liturgy. Since the Pontifical Liturgical Institute forms part of the Athenaeum of Sant’Anselmo, it is fitting turn to the thought of our holy patron in order to meditate on the meaning of liturgical scholarship. I propose the following definition: fides in liturgia celebrata quaerens intellectum. Understood in this way, the scientific study of liturgy requires a liturgical piety; and liturgical piety, in turn, requires a liturgical culture.
The goal of liturgical scholarship is to arrive at the point of understanding (intellectum) what we celebrate. To this end, many and various disciplines must be harmoniously integrated: history, philosophy, theology, languages, human sciences and all the arts. Sant’Anselmo is proud to offer a program which lays strong emphasis on studying the sources: this requires a working knowledge of Latin and at least an introductory knowledge of Greek. As I never tire of explaining to the students, the purpose of sinking one’s roots deep down into the tradition is to bear abundant fruit for the needs of today. The very fact that our method (ad fontes!) requires apology, however, indicates that in an age of immediacy like our own, the urgent needs of the present can blind us to the value of the past. Such blindness has a corollary: it means that we cannot look toward the future with any clarity of vision. So I return to my refrain: in order to understand the liturgy a serious apprenticeship in the tradition is essential.
The publication of the five-volume manual Scientia Liturgica (Handbook for Liturgical Studies) during the academic year 1997-1998 is a sign of the vitality of liturgical scholarship at Sant’Anselmo. The faculty of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, along with other liturgical experts of international stature, under the expert direction of Prof. Anscar Chupungco, has produced an excellent resource tool to accompany the study of the liturgy. Our journal Ecclesia Orans is another expression of the high quality of liturgical scholarship which we strive for. We are grateful to all those who publish the fruit of their research in Ecclesta Orans, and to all our readers who are engaged with us in the common task of serving the Church in the area of liturgical studies.
Fides in liturgia celebrata quaerens intellectum. If liturgical scholarship should become somehow removed from the liturgical celebration (quod absit omnino!) it would lose its reason for being. The liturgical scholar must also be a leitourgos, steeped in the daily, weekly and yearly celebration of the divine mysteries, so that the sacred realities celebrated with fidelity and devotion become second nature, interiorized, as natural as living and breathing. Nourished by the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, the yearly cycle of feasts and fasts, the interplay of sacraments and sacramentals, the liturgical scholar lives immersed in those mysteries which he then strives to understand. To put it another way, the celebration of the liturgy is theologia prima, upon which the intellectual study of the various liturgical disciplines is based as theologia secunda.
It is important to stress that the liturgy is fìdes celebrata. This fides is not only the personal faith of the individual believer (Credo) but also the faith of the entire Church (Credimus) into which each and every Christian is baptized. Faith is given to us as a gift, quite unmerited, it comes from outside ourselves; only then is it appropriated, interiorized and made one’s own. The same applies to the celebration of the liturgy. The liturgy is given to us by the Church as the work of God; it is a divine action, an objective gift, which then becomes incarnate in the Church; it is also the patrimony of centuries and millennia of worshipers. The celestial liturgy has been shown to us, the veil has been removed; our earthly celebration is a participation in the liturgy of the heavenly Jerusalem.
While our students sometimes have difficulty with the demands of liturgical scholarship, they usually have a deep love for the celebration of the liturgy and a profound liturgical piety.
The third element I wish to consider is liturgical culture. By that term I mean the entire complex of customs, practices, traditions, symbolic actions, ways of doing things – whether carried out in the church, in the home or in the public square – which combine to form a cohesive world view whose center and focus is the liturgy. In the parts of the world where secularism holds sway, such liturgical culture has practically vanished, leaving behind only vague remnants, of interest to museum curators and specialists in folklore. As a monk, I am happy to say that a living liturgical culture can still be found in the monastic context, but even there secularism has made its inroads. I have also experienced parishes and other communities whih enjoy a strong liturgical culture. But they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
As an educator, I must say that this lack of a liturgical culture is perhaps the most serious obstacle to liturgical scholarship that we face today. In fact, however, the problem is even deeper: there has been not only a collapse of Catholic culture in many parts of the world but also a decline in human culture itself. Since technology has assumed such a dominant role, the humanities and the arts have often been neglected. As a result, many students – through not fault of their own – come to us with an insufficient intellectual and cultural formation.
The three elements I have mentioned – liturgical scholarship, liturgical piety and liturgical culture – are intertwined and interdependent. Weakness in one area leads to weakness in the others. Strength in one area invigorates all the rest.
The Pontifical Liturgical Institute is committed to liturgical formation understood in this broader sense. We strive to celebrate the sacred mysteries with love and reverence. We labor to understand what we celebrate by means of solid and disciplined scholarship. We hope, in this way, to respond to an urgent need of the Church today: the building of a liturgical culture.