Saturday, February 2, 2008

Liturgy: Partcipation in the Work of God by the People of God

For those of you who read my last post, you already know I’m beginning a series on the Catechism of the Catholic Church – and I’m starting in Part Two on the liturgy.

Alright, so maybe I should begin at the beginning – but I’m just not in the mood. I’ve written a lot about Part One (on the Creed) and if I start there I’ll certainly feel like I’m repeating myself again and again – and being that it’s Groundhog Day today, I really don’t want to be playing a Catholic Bill Murray today… Love the movie, but it’s not for me!

I will, however, give you a brief breakdown of the four parts of the Catechism:

Part One: The Creed – this gives us the story of our salvation
Part Two: The Liturgy – this is about how we join into the story
Part Three: The Commandments – this is your script; what part you play in the story
Part Four: Prayer – this is what makes you agile and strong in the story

What can I say, I like epic stories. Nevertheless, I thank Jeff Cavins for the above story format.

Now on to the liturgy which begins on paragraph 1066 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you’re a good Christian, you will always keep two key doctrines in mind: the Incarnation and the Trinity. These are two VERY important things that makes Christianity UNIQUE and DIFFERENT from other religions. Christians that go around watering down these two doctrines (like Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code) are all denying their Christian Faith in doing so. Anyhoo, you’ll notice these two doctrines spoken of over and over and over again in the Catechism.

“In the Symbol of the faith [that is, Part One on the Creed] the Church confesses the mystery of the Holy Trinity and of the plan of God's ‘good pleasure’ for all creation: the Father accomplishes the ‘mystery of his will’ by giving his beloved Son and his Holy Spirit for the salvation of the world and for the glory of his name.”

In paragraphs 1066 and 1067, the Catechism is recapping Part One. To sum it up, God sends us His Son and Spirit to save us from sin and bring us into a family or People of God, the Church. The principle work of this salvation occurred at Calvary when Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate, suffered for our sins and then rose from the dead on the third day. The fruits of Christ’s paschal sacrifice are applied to us through grace via the work of the Holy Spirit. Don’t forget, all this is a great mystery (which is not something we can’t know anything about, it’s something we can’t know everything about)!

1068 “It is this mystery of Christ that the Church proclaims and celebrates in her liturgy so that the faithful may live from it and bear witness to it in the world…” (emphasis mine).

Okay, so if we want to receive life from the work of Christ, we must ordinarily participate in the Church’s liturgy. So what then is liturgy? While liturgy literally means a “public work” the Catechism teaches us that: “…in Christian tradition [liturgy] means the participation of the People of God in ‘the work of God’” (CCC 1069). In liturgy, the People of God are gathered to participate in the saving work of Christ, who reconciles us to God the Father by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The concept of liturgy is not something new. The pattern can be found in the Old Testament, particularly with Moses at Sinai, the repentant King Josiah, and Ezra/Nehemiah upon the Return from Exile. In all three cases we see a public gathering of the People of God, the proclamation of God’s saving work and divine revelation, followed by the acceptance of faith by the people which is sealed in sacrifice. In the Christian tradition, the Mass is the gathering of the People of God, who hear His Revelation, profess the Faith, and seal it with the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist.

Though we tend to think of liturgy in terms of the Mass, liturgy, or public work of the People of God in the work of God, occurs in all seven sacraments and even in our day to day work, prayers, and sacrifices. We must never forget, however, that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, from which we draw strength, purification, and holiness.

The Catechism goes on to say something very interesting to back this up: the Church “shares in Christ's priesthood (worship), which is both prophetic (proclamation) and kingly (service of charity)” (CCC 1070). In liturgy, particularly the Eucharistic liturgy, we as members of the Church participate in Christ’s priesthood – but his priesthood also included a prophetic and kingly dimension. It is precisely because these two dimensions are rooted in Christ’s priesthood that our evangelization and loving service take on a liturgical aspect! At the same time, liturgy is at its apex in the celebration of the seven sacraments, which are the source of our evangelization and love and that which we seek to bring other to through evangelization and love (or in the words of Vatican II’s sacrosanctum concillium, quoted in CCC1074: "The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows.")

And while I’m talking about bringing others to the sacraments, it is important to reject certain aspects of false ecumenism which seek to bring others into the sacraments without bringing them into the Catholic Church. “As the work of Christ liturgy is also an action of his Church” (CCC 1071). To participate in the liturgy is to participate in the life of the Church – and if one is not a member of the Church, he is not to participate. The Catechism goes on to say that liturgy “must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. It can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful…” (CCC 1072, emphasis mine).

Lastly, there is a HUGE need to catechize Catholics regarding the liturgy. Quoting Pope John Paul II, the Catechism states: “Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of men” (CCC 1074). This implies catechesis in general, but also about catechesis regarding the liturgy. People today focus so much on MORALITY (and how we get around it!) and PRAYER (like Hindu meditation!) that we forget Parts One and Two on the story, how we get in it, and WHY it’s so important!

CCC 1075 concludes this opening with a little humility. Basically, the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us the bare essentials of liturgy and sacrament. There’s more work to be done and our local bishops are supposed to catechize us. Moreover, we are called to take time to read, study, and pray upon these wonderful mysteries we call sacraments.

Tomorrow: The Sacramental Economy and the Liturgy as the Work of the Trinity!

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