It’s tempting to take the whole of this homily to reflect on the wonderful 8-yr Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, and to paint a picture of this Pope who, as he said on the very day of his election as Pope, has remained a “simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.” In fact, his choice to abdicate shows his humility: it expresses the clear message that the papacy is not about the cult of personality, celebrity status etc. “It’s not about me” at all … It’s about being the ‘servant of the servants of God.’ So, as Pope Benedict has called the Church to a ‘Year of Faith,’ I think he’d probably rather I continue my preaching on the Catechism than preach a homily solely about him!
In fact it is highly relevant to this Pope’s reign that we are at present considering the articles in the Catechism that are concerned with the Liturgy, for it has been a particular concern of this Holy Father that we celebrate the Mass and other ceremonies with love and dignity.
- The Liturgy unites the Church of heaven and earth: in heaven the life of the saints is pure liturgy! — they celebrate directly their love and praise of God without signs; we on earth need these sacramental signs to transmit the love and grace of God to us.
- Sacramental signs are drawn from created life (bread, wine, water, oil), and human life (anointing, washing, breaking bread); some come down to us from the OT (esp. the Passover preceding the Mass).
- The Liturgy always involves both words and sacred actions: each and every rite uses both what is spoken and what is performed in action, so as to speak both to our mind and our body. Song is central too to the Liturgy (“he who sings, prays twice”): it raises our hearts when we sing our words of praise.
- Art and sacred images assist us in the Liturgy: to be surrounded by crucifixes, statues, icons, paintings, decorated windows etc. is very human, to convey the beauty of what we celebrate. The Liturgy should be beautiful, not something stark and bare!
- The Liturgical year is very important to us, so that we can celebrate the great sweep of Jesus’s presence amongst us, from Advent to Christmas, from His Baptism, and Temptations in the Desert to Passiontide, and on to Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. But heart of Liturgical celebration is the keeping of each and every Sunday. Sunday is the pre-eminent feastday. Then we keep the annual saints’ days — some throughout the Church; some only in specific places.
- The Liturgy doesn’t only mean Mass, but all the public prayer of the Church, and that includes the Divine Office, what we call the ‘Liturgy of the Hours’ — for example, the Morning Prayer celebrated here Monday–Wednesday; the Evening Prayer said on Sunday Holy Hours; the Night Prayer said at the end of the First Friday Holy Hour. These are prayers that unite the whole Church, based on Scripture and the psalms, a chorus of praise rising to God from the Church on earth.
- As Catholics we are not tied to any particular place to celebrate the Liturgy. We celebrate, as Jesus says, “in Spirit and in truth” and not in any particular place. I’ve been to Mass in people’s homes, on mountains, in train carriages, … yet obviously the norm for celebrating the liturgy is to celebrate in a dignified and worthy church, where we can gather to be inspired by the Word of God, and know His real presence in the Blessed Sacrament abiding in the Tabernacle.
- The Liturgy celebrated in the Latin Rite which we follow is not the only rite of the Church. Indeed there are many rites (maybe about 13) in the world. The faith is one and the same; the belief in Jesus’s presence in the Mass is the same, but not the liturgical rite: the actual way Mass and other sacraments celebrated can somewhat differ (e.g. Syro-Malabar; Ordinariate Use). This is legitimate diversity within the unity of one Catholic Church: all with apostolic succession.
These are some reflections on our Liturgy in general as we enter into these weeks of considering the Sacraments of the Church, these privileged encounters with the Lord Jesus. We heard in the Gospel just how awe-inspiring it was for the apostles to glimpse the divinity of Jesus. This divine Son of God is who it is who touches our lives, literally, in the Sacraments. We shall now spend some 10 weeks looking at the Sacraments one by one. Next week: not Baptism, in fact, but Reconciliation (for Lent) …