The final message of the international Carmelite liturgical congress 16-20 April 2018
“Offer to God the Sacrifice of Praise” (Psalm 50:14)
The Carmelite International Congress on the Liturgy took place from 16-20 April 2018 at Il Carmelo in Sassone, Rome with 32 participants drawn from across the Order. The Prior General presided at the opening Eucharist and then welcomed the participants. He encouraged us to recognize the link between Carmelite Spirituality and Liturgy (Constitutions 71 & 86).
We began with a presentation of the lived reality of the Order in the area of Liturgy and the Carmelite Charism, informed by responses to the Order-wide questionnaire. The large response highlighted the importance of the Liturgy in the overall spiritual life of the Carmelite Order. Throughout the conference, we heard enlightening presentations on the state of liturgy in the various geographical areas of the Order.
The formal input surveyed the origin, development, spirituality and reform of the Carmelite liturgy from the beginnings on Mt. Carmel up to the suppression in 1972. By reviewing the historical and Mariological aspects, it became evident that this topic of Carmelite liturgy warrants further study and research and is of great interest to the friars.
The second day had a pastoral orientation; we were reminded that Vatican II was a pastoral council and we revisited Sacrosanctum Concilium. Participants were urged to know the Roman Rite and to take care in preparing and presiding at the liturgy. We were also encouraged to discover new pastoral possibilities through collaboration with all who participate in the liturgy.
In the afternoon we considered the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the community. The religious community is a church in miniature. As the Eucharist builds the church, so also the Eucharist builds the religious community. Various ways of looking at community were considered – gathered around the Word, offering the sacrifice of praise, as a praying sacrament and centered on the Eucharist. Carmelites are called to bring their contemplative way of living into the Liturgy and keep it always as a Paschal, an Easter reality in keeping with the Resurrection orientation of the Carmelite liturgical tradition. The place of silence, of Mary, of the Word of God and communion were all emphasized.
On Wednesday, the participants enjoyed a marvelous day at the Casamari Cistercian Abbey and experienced the warm hospitality of the monks. All were struck by how their life and architecture reflects the religious and liturgical spirituality of the monks.
On the fourth day, we explored the relationship between liturgy and Carmelite spirituality. We recalled Blessed Pope Paul VI´s conviction that liturgy is the first school of our spiritual life. We were therefore challenged to ask whether we live the liturgy we celebrate. We were invited to re-discover the elements inherent in our tradition, not as an exercise in nostalgia, but as actors in the present life of the Church. For this exercise, Mary and Elijah provide us with rich, evocative models. Particular stress was laid on the Christocentric life of Carmel as a praying fraternity. Our fraternity is in turn, a fruit and sign of our prayer and our point of contact with the world.
The mystagogical experience of the Easter Season provided a template for the participants as we explored the experience of the elements of Carmelite spirituality and how Carmel celebrates and passes on its charism and life. Our spirituality is expressed in Liturgy, not just by what we do, but what God does in mystery in and through the Liturgy. Carmel is a contemplative community in the midst of the people, and we were asked how contemplation, prayer, silence and Lectio Divina can be manifested. Eucharist, together with listening to the word have been central to Carmel since the very moment of our eremitical foundation. These are the values and ways of praying that will always be at the root of the transmission of our identity.
The final day of the conference was dedicated to formation in the broadest sense of the term. The Word of God is always formative for Carmelites, and we were reminded that pondering the Word is an essential element of our charism and Carmelite identity. Through a deep reflection on the Rule of St. Albert, we were led to a more profound understanding of how the Carmelite is called into community and towards the Lord, a movement led by discretion, into encounter, relationship and healing.
From the beginning of the Conference to the end, concerns regarding proper liturgical formation in the Order were voiced. Ways and means for addressing this area of our life were explored. The need for liturgical formation in our novitiates and houses of studies is critical, as well as making ongoing formation available for all the members of the Order. Advanced liturgical studies within the Carmelite tradition certainly seem to be necessary.
The Commission for Liturgy and Prayer should be commended for taking the initiative to organize this Conference. As the prayer life of the Order is vital, the hope is to see similar initiatives proposed in the near future. Above all, Liturgy is prayer, and Carmel is a school of prayer always in need of fresh and new inspiration and zeal.
Sassone, Rome, Italy
20 April 2018