Last fall, I began contributing a regular column to the newspaper of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, The Good News. In it I'm trying, as the title of the column suggests, to help people not only to understand the Liturgy in and of itself, but understand how it is meant to form how we live our faith. So, here is the first column I published, last September. I'll post my columns here periodically for my web readers as well.
Every Sunday, Catholics in the Diocese of Kalamazoo and throughout the world gather in their parish churches. In our churches we continue to do the things we have been doing for 2000 years: We hear the Word of God, we pray, and we sing. But even more than that, we fulfill the Lord’s command to “do this in remembrance of me”. In fulfilling the Lord’s command we offer God the worship that He asks of us, and we are given the most amazing gift of all, the gift of the Lord Jesus Himself.
This way we have of offering worship “in spirit and in truth” is called the Liturgy. The Liturgy most familiar to us is the Liturgy of the Mass. But there are others – there is the Liturgy of Baptism, a liturgy of Confirmation, and the other liturgies by which the Sacraments are celebrated and ministered to us. In fact, though you may not be accustomed to think of it as such, even the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a liturgical one, for in it the forgiveness of Christ is given to us through His Church. There is even a Liturgy of the Hours, by which Christians for centuries have sanctified each and every day and offered it to God.
We offer our worship to God through the liturgy. We are given sanctifying grace in the Sacraments through the liturgy. We are given Christ Himself, in His Body and Blood, in the liturgy. In the liturgy Christ makes Himself known to us, and He invites us to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of His life, death, and resurrection. So, quite literally, our life in Christ is bound up inextricably with the liturgical life of the Church. The fathers of Vatican II summed it up best in their Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy when they wrote “…the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all Her power flows.”
If the liturgy is so vital to our life in Christ, then the better we understand it, the more fully we are able to enter in to it, then the more fully we will be able to live our lives as Catholics. The liturgy, as the council fathers also wrote, “ pertains to the whole Body of the Church.” In other words, we are all participants, sharers, in the liturgical “work” of the Church. And our spiritual well being, our capacity to sanctify the world according to our Baptismal vocation, depends on how fully we are integrated into that work.
An ancient principle of the liturgy is “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” That means, “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” In other words, how we pray forms what we believe – what we do in church shapes our life outside of church. Since the Holy Spirit is at work through the Church in Her liturgy, the more closely we live that “lex orandi”, the rule of prayer, according to the mind of the Church, the more rich and fruitful will be the faith that we live.
Hence, this column. In the coming months we’ll be exploring the meaning of the liturgy. The Church has set before us riches of great depth and scope: everything from the 22 different Eastern rites of the Church to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (sometimes known as the “old” Latin Mass), which our holy father recently made more widely available to enrich the life of the Church. My purpose is not only to help the reader to understand the liturgy, but to enter in to the liturgy. The liturgy isn’t just “what we do on Sundays” – it’s given to us in order to communicate Christ’s life to us, and empower us to then go out into the world as disciples. And that power is there – Christ is waiting to give it to us, if we will just “Live the Liturgy”.