The celebration of the Sacred Liturgy transforms us. Through it, the Lord Jesus calls us to conversion; He reconciles us with the Father and one another; He draws us into deeper communion with Himself; He moves us to works of charity and justice; He gives us the courage to speak the truth in love; He leads us beyond our own feelings and preferences and assists us in putting the needs of others ahead of our own. This is why the Sacred Liturgy produces much fruit in the Church and why Vatican II described it as a fountain from which God's richest blessings flow.
Set free and set on fire
"Worship sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world." With these words, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2097) reminds us that true worship of God leads to conversion, to liberation from sin and selfishness. It distances us from attitudes and habits that are contrary to love and truth. This does not happen without our free and willing cooperation, but it is primarily the work of God.
Freedom from sin, achieved through the Sacred Liturgy, especially in Baptism and Confession, enables us to engage with "actuosa participatio" in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, and thereby to grow in holiness. Active participation in Liturgy is much deeper than merely external actions. To allow the Lord truly to transform us, we must prayerfully surrender to His grace, and be ready to make a gift of self.
A noble simplicity within the liturgical rites assists the faithful to participate with understanding while being conscious that the Paschal Mystery celebrated is far greater than the human mind could ever grasp in its fullness. The greatness of the mystery fills us with awe and wonder; it deepens our desire to be one with Christ in giving fitting worship to the Father.
Jesus tells His disciples (Lk 12:49f), "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!" With these words, the Lord Jesus is not talking about the sacrament of Baptism as we know it. Rather, He points to His own Passion, death and Resurrection by which He redeemed the world. Through the Liturgy, in which we take part in these great events of our salvation, Christ stokes the fire of His love within us. It is no wonder that, after the breaking of the bread with the Risen Lord, the two disciples who walked with Him to Emmaus, say (Lk 24:32), "Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"
Praying as a priestly people
As members of His body, the Church, Christ gives us the honor and the grace of entering consciously and whole-heartedly into the Sacred Liturgy. This happens through our intelligent participation in the concrete parts of the Liturgy. First, in the Liturgy of the Word, as we listen and respond, the Lord Jesus Himself instructs us, exhorts us, and helps us to conform our minds to that of His Body, the Church. By mystically uniting our minds and hearts to His, He encourages us and invites us trustingly to come to Him with our needs and those of the entire human family.
Next, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest, acting in persona Christi, offers Christ, the spotless Victim and perfect sacrifice, to the Father as the lay faithful share in this offering. In return, the Lord Jesus draws us all into an ever closer communion with Himself and with each other. In this way, the Mystical Body of Christ grows in grace and is equipped for works of charity and truth in daily life.
The Eucharist, then, is not something alongside our moral life but is rather its dynamic center. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas called the Eucharist "viaticum," i.e. food for those on a journey to our true home in paradise. Through Holy Communion, our soul receives charity itself, Christ the Lord. St. Thomas writes (Summa, I-I*I, q. 23, a.8), "…it is charity which directs the acts of all other virtues to the last end, and which, consequently, also gives form to all others acts of virtue: and it is precisely in this sense that charity is called the form of the virtues." Charity gushes forth from the Eucharist like pure water from a deep spring.
Washing one another's feet
In the Gospel according to John, the account of the Last Supper includes key information that was not reported in the Synoptics, but which holds profound meaning for the Church: namely, the Lord Jesus' washing of the feet of the Apostles. After the washing, the Lord says, "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."
In light of Christ's example at the very time that He instituted the Eucharist, who could doubt that the Eucharist equips us to serve others and indeed actively prompts us to do so? In a real though invisible way, our communion with Christ through His Body and Blood binds us more closely to the poor, the sick, the hungry and the most vulnerable members of the human family, with whom He identifies Himself. Loving and generous union with the Eucharistic Christ is loving and generous union with the poor.
Herein lies the beginning and end of the Church's mission to the world. In his encyclical on the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II wrote (#22), "The Eucharist thus appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit." Through the Eucharist, Christ sanctifies and redeems us, enabling us to bear witness with confidence to His Gospel of Life.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix.