Christian witness is intended to prepare for and to live the “cosmic liturgy” in which all mankind adores God, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput declared in a lecture on Thursday evening. Noting the cultural obstacles to liturgical understanding, he said the renewed liturgy should create Christians who would die rather than not celebrate Mass.
Delivering the Hildebrand Distinguished Lecture at the Liturgical Institute of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois, the Archbishop of Denver praised Chicago’s “historic role” in the renewal of the liturgy and the evangelization of America. He said the 10th anniversary of the Liturgical Institute shows that this legacy continues.
He opened with a reflection on the respected liturgist and theologian Fr. Romano Guardini. Soon after the Second Vatican Council published its “groundbreaking” document on the liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” the priest sent a letter to the Third German Liturgical Conference wondering whether man in an industrial and scientific age is “no longer capable of the liturgical act.”
“I think he put his finger on one of the key questions of mission in his time, and also in ours,” Archbishop Chaput remarked, explaining that the liturgical act is the transformation of personal prayer and piety into “genuine corporate worship” and “the public service that the Church offers to God.”
This act requires an inward awareness of the unity of the whole person, body and soul, with the spiritual body of the Church, present in heaven and on earth, he added.
“It also requires an appreciation that the sacred signs and actions of the Mass -- standing, kneeling, singing and so forth -- are themselves ‘prayer’.”
However, he warned, this awareness is obscured in a society organized around a “narrow” vision of technological progress in which truth is judged by what can be perceived and verified through research and experiment.
“In practice, almost nothing of what we believe as Catholics is affirmed by our culture,” commented the archbishop. “Even the meaning of the words ‘human’ and ‘person’ are subject to debate.”
This has implications for Catholic worship in which we profess to be in contact with “spiritual realities” and to receive the true Body and Blood of the Lord.
“We preach the good news that this world has a Savior who can free us from the bondage of sin and death. What can our good news mean in a world where people don’t believe in sin or that there is anything they need to be saved from?” Archbishop Chaput asked. “What does the promise of victory over death mean to people who don’t believe in the existence of any reality beyond this visible world?”
The archbishop said Chicago priest Fr. Robert Barron is one of the few to have wrestled with such issues. For him, the liturgy is not to be shaped according to modern suppositions; rather, the liturgy should “question and shape the suppositions of any age.” While modern man is probably incapable of the liturgical act, this is no grounds for despair. Instead, we should “let the liturgy be itself,” the priest has said.
Archbishop Chaput agreed with Fr. Barron that in recent decades the “professional liturgical establishment” chose to shape the liturgy according to the world, which has proven to be “a dead end.” Seeking relevance through “a kind of relentless cult of novelty” has only resulted in confusion and division between the faithful and the true spirit of the liturgy, continued the archbishop.
He said liturgical renewal should build “an authentic Eucharistic culture” to instill “a new sacramental and liturgical sensibility that enables Catholics to face the idols and suppositions of our culture with the confidence of believers who draw life from the sacred mysteries ...”
To this end, the Archbishop of Denver offered several suggestions: the need to recover the “intrinsic and inseparable connection” between liturgy and evangelization; the need to see the liturgy as a participation in the “liturgy of heaven” where Christians worship “in Spirit and truth” with the Church and the communion of the saints; and the need to recover and live the early Christians’ “vibrant liturgical and evangelical spirituality.”
“Liturgy is both the source of the Church’s mission and its goal,” explained the prelate. “The reason we evangelize is in order to bring people into communion with the living God in the Eucharistic liturgy. And this experience of communion with God, in turn, impels us to evangelize.”
The “pedestrian” and self-focused nature of many contemporary liturgies results from the loss of the sense of this participation in the heavenly liturgy, he suggested.
“The Eucharist … is a cosmic liturgy that unites the worship of heaven with our own worship here on earth… Heaven and earth are filled with the glory of God,” he continued. Worship is a window through which “the reality and destiny of our lives is glimpsed.”
This truth should “make us strive for liturgies that are reverent and beautiful, and that point our hearts and minds to things above.” The ultimate purpose of Christian witness is to “prepare the way for the cosmic liturgy in which all humanity will adore the Creator.”
The archbishop encouraged the faithful to look to the early Christians, who found their identity in the liturgy and said “we cannot live without the Mass.”
“This is the kind of faith that should inspire our worship. And this is the kind of faith that our worship should inspire. Can we really say today that we’re ready to die rather than not celebrate the Mass?”
Describing the liturgy as “a school of sacrificial love,” he said that all Christians should see themselves as a Eucharistic offering, “a perfect offering holy and acceptable to God.”
“The liturgical act becomes possible for modern man when you make your lives a liturgy, when you live your lives liturgically -- as an offering to God in thanksgiving and praise for his gifts and salvation. You are the future of the liturgical renewal.”
Archbishop Chaput closed his lecture with the words of one of the dismissal prayers of the new Roman Missal: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
To read Archbishop Chaput's full lecture, click here.