The Catechism is divided into 4 parts: Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, Prayer.
Today we start to consider the 2nd part of the Catechism — the part on the Liturgy, and the Sacraments. What does the word ‘Liturgy’ mean anyway? Well, it originally meant a ‘public work’ or a ‘service’ or a duty done. It ties in with the fact that the Liturgy is the public expression of our faith. The faith that we have examined over the past three months in the Creed is not meant to be an academic exercise, like a subject studied — it has to be a lived reality, something celebrated and active, not something merely that we think about.
It is a profoundly human thing to worship God. It is a normal and innate expression of our human nature, to do some active work of divine service. We see it in early pagan cultures, and we see it more refined in our Jewish forebears. If we look at the 1st reading, we see, in a simple form in the early days of the Jewish faith, the Old Covenant of God with Moses, a form of Liturgy, of worship: the faithful Jew is bringing to God the first fruits of his produce, in thanksgiving. The worshipper offers his gift, the priest lays it before the altar, and in the words of the prayer laid down are expressions of remembrance, thanksgiving, and worship. This Liturgy is simple, but moving … it shows the worshipper making public expression of His love for the Lord who has saved his people in the past, and who protects and blesses him now in the present.
It is no surprise, then, that for the Christian, we have a form of public worship that brings us together. We respond to the Father for His gifts, with Christ in His action as Saviour, and invoking the Holy Spirit for our sanctification. We are, as it were, caught up into the very loving actions of Christ. The Liturgy is not something of our own making, something that we invent: no, it is something that we receive from God, something that we share with Christ. Jesus our Lord, God made man, has given us the perfect Liturgy — beyond anything pagan, and fulfilling the previously Jewish rituals — which is His own self-offering. We, baptized into Him, are His Body, and so we are able to share with Him in His perfect prayer to the Father. God in Christ has given us this way to worship, give thanks, and plead our cause: Our Lord Jesus having come to the earth, stands with us, and unites us with the Father; He unites heaven and earth. There is (there can be!) no better way to sing praise to God than united with the Son of God. The Catholic Liturgy is the highest possible expression of man’s prayer to God.
The 1st great document of the 2nd Vatican Council was on the Liturgy. Published just 1yr into the 3yrs of the Council, in 1963, the constitution, known by its Latin first words, Sacrosanctum Concilium, set about reminding the Church of the beauty and importance of what we celebrate, not only in the Mass, but also in whatever other celebration of prayer and sacraments we offer up. These words of the Council explain the purpose of our public praise:
The liturgy is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. It involves the presentation of man’s sanctification under the guise of signs perceptible by the senses … In it full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members. From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.
This is why it is important to celebrate the Liturgy well, and to treat it with the great dignity it deserves. In this 2nd season of the Year of Faith, and with a great effort this Lent, I appeal to you to make your own reflection on how you come to Mass, how you prepare, how you participate, how you pray. How many times have I heard people — non-Catholics — say to me that they went to e.g. a Catholic funeral, and how beautiful it was: yes, because it is God-centred and not man-centred! The other week a musician in a string quartet at a wedding here said, “It was lovely, you really seemed to believe in what you were doing — not all weddings are like that!” Of course! What would be the point otherwise? Let’s not ever forget or take for granted what we have received from Jesus through the tradition of the Church: let us love the Liturgy, for in caring for our celebrations of faith we are truly loving God.