BASICS OF CATHOLICISM: 23. SACRAMENTS: PART 2: WHAT IS “LITURGY?”
Jan 27, 2020
In the last installment, a very general introduction to the sacraments was given by defining the word “sacrament” and in listing the seven sacraments within particular groups that indicate their effects. Each sacrament is offered and received within acts of worship, as the saving works of Jesus Christ (known collectively as the “Paschal Mystery”) are offered and accomplished on our behalf. The accomplishment of His works on our behalf within the worship of the Church is called “liturgy.”
The word liturgy comes from the Greek language. In its original secular Greek use the word indicated “public work” or “service in the name of/on behalf of the people” (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1069). When it was applied within Christianity (as St. Paul does in his letters), it refers to the work of God, and in particular, that of Jesus Christ on our behalf in redeeming us. That this word is applied to our worshipping expresses that it is primarily Jesus Christ who is at work in the sacred celebrations (which includes the whole body, the Head and the members). When we participate in liturgy, therefore, it is best understood as primarily the accomplishment of Jesus Christ’s saving works on our behalf in such a way that you and I (as members of His body, the Church) are called to rightly partake of these works by humbling ourselves to receive what He Himself offers us – bowing down to him in worship.
At the very heart of the liturgy are Jesus’ saving works that were accomplished once for all (See Hebrews 10:11-18). Through His one-time offering, God wills that all peoples in all generations will have access to the effects of Jesus’ saving works. In the liturgical worship of the Catholic Church these works of Jesus, and in particular their saving effects, are made present in ways or “signs” that we can perceive and receive – such as in washing with water; anointing with oil, etc. Thus the liturgy, while it is not the only activity of the Church, truly is the “source and the summit of the Christian life,” as from this “indispensable font” we receive the grace of God to truly live as His disciples and to become sharers in the eternal life in heaven (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1071-1075).
Practically speak, (as one example) when you and I partake of the Holy Mass, what is first and foremost made present is the one-time sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary – in the non-violent and unbloody manner established by His giving the same sacrifice of His Body and Blood at the Last Supper. You and I enter into and partake of this one-time offering through the power of God at work (who is outside time, and therefore always present as “one” rather than many moments) to make present here and now what we understand as happened once two-thousand years ago. It is by way of the offering of the bread and wine through the prayer of the priest of the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit that these offerings become the Body and Blood of Christ which we can see and taste, and thereby receive. Accordingly, you and I are able to receive directly the saving effects of Jesus’ saving works (through the Eucharist) while at the same time offering Him our worship – by humbly offering ourselves to worship His presence among us and in receiving Him with humble hearts.
Fear not if these concepts are confusing; it is my goal to express these more clearly in coming installments – and for each sacrament. For now, know that every act of receiving a sacrament is to receive what Jesus did for us – to save us from sin and death.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the paragraphs 1066-1112 define the word “liturgy” and speak of how liturgical worship is the work of the Trinity. In addition, paragraphs 1136-1209 describe the liturgy in practice.