.- Christian witness is intended to prepare for and to live the âcosmic liturgyâ 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 Chicagoâs âhistoric roleâ 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 âgroundbreakingâ document on the liturgy, âSacrosanctum Concilium,â the priest sent a letter to the Third German Liturgical Conference wondering whether man in an industrial and scientific age is âno longer capable of the liturgical act.â
âI think he put his finger on one of the key questions of mission in his time, and also in ours,â Archbishop Chaput remarked, explaining that the liturgical act is the transformation of personal prayer and piety into âgenuine corporate worshipâ and âthe public service that the Church offers to God.â
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.
âIt also requires an appreciation that the sacred signs and actions of the Mass -- standing, kneeling, singing and so forth -- are themselves âprayerâ.â
However, he warned, this awareness is obscured in a society organized around a ânarrowâ vision of technological progress in which truth is judged by what can be perceived and verified through research and experiment.
âIn practice, almost nothing of what we believe as Catholics is affirmed by our culture,â commented the archbishop. âEven the meaning of the words âhumanâ and âpersonâ are subject to debate.â
This has implications for Catholic worship in which we profess to be in contact with âspiritual realitiesâ and to receive the true Body and Blood of the Lord.
âWe 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 donât believe in sin or that there is anything they need to be saved from?â Archbishop Chaput asked. âWhat does the promise of victory over death mean to people who donât believe in the existence of any reality beyond this visible world?â
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 âquestion and shape the suppositions of any age.â While modern man is probably incapable of the liturgical act, this is no grounds for despair. Instead, we should âlet the liturgy be itself,â the priest has said.
Archbishop Chaput agreed with Fr. Barron that in recent decades the âprofessional liturgical establishmentâ chose to shape the liturgy according to the world, which has proven to be âa dead end.â Seeking relevance through âa kind of relentless cult of noveltyâ 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 âan authentic Eucharistic cultureâ to instill âa 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 ...â
To this end, the Archbishop of Denver offered several suggestions: the need to recover the âintrinsic and inseparable connectionâ between liturgy and evangelization; the need to see the liturgy as a participation in the âliturgy of heavenâ where Christians worship âin Spirit and truthâ with the Church and the communion of the saints; and the need to recover and live the early Christiansâ âvibrant liturgical and evangelical spirituality.â
âLiturgy is both the source of the Churchâs mission and its goal,â explained the prelate. âThe 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.â
The âpedestrianâ and self-focused nature of many contemporary liturgies results from the loss of the sense of this participation in the heavenly liturgy, he suggested.
âThe Eucharist â¦ is a cosmic liturgy that unites the worship of heaven with our own worship here on earthâ¦ Heaven and earth are filled with the glory of God,â he continued. Worship is a window through which âthe reality and destiny of our lives is glimpsed.â
This truth should âmake us strive for liturgies that are reverent and beautiful, and that point our hearts and minds to things above.â The ultimate purpose of Christian witness is to âprepare the way for the cosmic liturgy in which all humanity will adore the Creator.â
The archbishop encouraged the faithful to look to the early Christians, who found their identity in the liturgy and said âwe cannot live without the Mass.â
âThis 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 weâre ready to die rather than not celebrate the Mass?â
Describing the liturgy as âa school of sacrificial love,â he said that all Christians should see themselves as a Eucharistic offering, âa perfect offering holy and acceptable to God.â
âThe 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.â
Archbishop Chaput closed his lecture with the words of one of the dismissal prayers of the new Roman Missal: âGo in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.â
To read Archbishop Chaput's full lecture, click here.