By Father Mark G. Boyer - The Priest, 2/1/2011
Words and Gestures in the Liturgy, by Antonio Donghi. Liturgical Press (Collegeville, Minn., 2009). 106 pp., $18.95.
As we make our way toward implementing the third edition of the Roman Missal, some reflective reading on Words and Gestures in the Liturgy is offered by Antonio Donghi, a priest of the Diocese of Bergama in Italy and a teacher of liturgy and sacramental theology.
In the introduction, Donghi states, “The joy of celebrating our faith happens in a multiplicity of verbal and gestural languages to which we do not always pay enough attention.” Basically, this 106-page book is about paying attention to the little things of everyday existence.
According to Donghi, these are put “at the service of God in obedience to the will of the Lord, so that the human being — who in faith, hope, and love grasps the transcendent — is directed toward God in freedom and joy, finding there a center of gravity.”
Donghi proposes that we learn to read “the multiple signs that are filled with the word of God.” He writes, “If we become docile students of the Spirit in understanding the richness of liturgical language, joy will erupt from our spirit, and we will celebrate our faith with expressions that are not merely verbal but that also envelop the whole human being reborn in God”
The book presents thirty-two, two-to-three-page reflections on the following words and gestures in the liturgy: the sign of the cross, the gathering, standing together, kneeling together, genuflecting, being seated, being silent, proclaiming, listening, striking one’s breast, walking in procession, observing, singing, baptismal bathing, sprinkling, laying on of hands, anointing, praying, blessing, eating and drinking, incensing, presenting the gifts, lighting, presiding, bowing, exchange of peace, breaking the bread, entering into church, dipping, fasting and kissing. Each of the reflections is grounded in its use during liturgical celebration.
Donghi covers the topic throughout its use in various sacraments and sacramentals. For example, in the reflection on lighting, he begins with the paschal candle lit during the Easter Vigil. To light a candle, he writes, is to proclaim our faith that Christ is the light of the world.
After several paragraphs reflecting on the paschal candle, Donghi states, “Light suggests energy, a will to live, a desire for fullness and communion, the overcoming of stagnation or coldness.” He adds, “That tiny flame, while it floods its surroundings with light, speaks of heat, of the force of life, of overcoming solitude, of the vitality and the worth of things, of the pilgrimage of life notwithstanding the difficulties we face in our daily lives.”
He moves on in his reflection on lighting to baptism and the act of handing the newly baptized a candle lit from the paschal light. “The light that has been lit is an acceptance of salvation and a desire to grow in this salvation to the joy of the final coming of the Redeemer,” writes Donghi.
After reflecting more on the importance of light, Donghi writes, “To light a candle is a sign that God offers us the capacity to let the power of the Most High shine before all the world.’’ He adds, “That candle is a sign of the mystery of the incarnation that the Spirit enlivens in us. In every moment we offer ourselves to God so that God will send the Spirit to light in us the fire of divine love, a love which can give to our life that heat and that light that enable us to walk our way through time.”
Words and Gestures in the Liturgy would be excellent in the parish for an adult small group. It would also be useful for catechists in RCIA sessions. Bishops, priests, and deacons will find it a valuable way to prepare to implement the third edition of the Roman Missal. TP
FATHER BOYER, a priest for 34 years, is the author of 30 books primarily in the areas of biblical and liturgical spirituality as well as numerous articles in various magazines, including The Priest, for which he wrote Homily Backgrounds 1987-1993. He teaches part-time in the Religious Studies Department of Missouri State University, Springfield, Mo.
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