Pope: St. Paul teaches us that ‘spiritual worship’ involves reconciliation with God

ppbxvi070109 Pope Benedict XVI

Despite coping with a cold, Pope Benedict XVI pressed ahead with his series of audiences on St. Paul’s teachings, this time focusing on his understanding of worship in Christ. This “spiritual worship” involves the world being reunited to God through Jesus’ sacrifice, the Pope said.  

Pope Benedict began his first general audience of 2009 by saying, "I hope I will be able to make myself clear despite my sore throat," which received applause from the faithful gathered in the Paul VI Hall. He also expressed his wish “that this year, in spite of the inevitable difficulties, may be a year of joy and peace. Only if we are united with Jesus will it be a good and happy year."

Launching into his examination of St. Paul’s teaching on “spiritual worship,” the Pope said that "In the past, people used to talk of an 'anti-worship' tendency in the Apostle, of his 'spiritualization' of the idea of worship.” “Today we are better able to understand how Paul saw in the Cross a historical watershed that radically transformed and renewed the reality of worship."

As he continued, the Holy Father turned to the third chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Having spoken of the redemption in Jesus, Paul continues with a mysterious formula, saying: “God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by (Jesus’) blood.”

This referred to the Jewish practice from the day of Yom Kippur when the “Mercy Seat” was “sprinkled with the blood of animals, blood which symbolically brought the sins of the last year in contact with God. The sins, thrown into the abyss of divine mercy, were absorbed by God, overcome, forgiven,” the Pope explained.

This rite, Paul says, was an expression of the desire that a person be able to really place all their faults in the abyss of divine mercy and make them disappear. This served as a necessary “point of contact between human misery and divine mercy. This contact has a place in the cross of Christ,” Benedict XVI taught.

 “St. Paul tells us: With the cross of Christ, the supreme act of divine mercy became human love. Ancient worship with the sacrifice of animals in the Temple of Jerusalem is finished.”

In the twelfth chapter of his Letter to the Romans, Paul says: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” Pope Benedict called these words by Paul “an apparent paradox. While sacrifice requires, by rule, the death of the victim, Paul speaks of it as the life of the Christian.” The expression “offer your bodies “refers to the entire person: presenting oneself.” It coincides with “a call to ‘glorify God in your bodies,’ in the entirety of everyday life.”

However, this call to “glorify God in your bodies” is in danger of being misunderstood, the Pope cautioned. “This new worship could easily be interpreted in a moralistic sense: by offering our lives we ourselves make the new worship. In this way, worship with animals is substituted by moralism in which man does everything himself with his own moral force. And this was certainly not St. Paul's intention."

Paul, the Pope said, "is the heir of these developments, of the desire for true worship, in which man himself becomes worship of God. The time of animal sacrifice, of the sacrifice of substitution, has come to an end, the time of true worship has come."

Only through union with Christ "can we become 'living sacrifice' in Him and with Him, and offer 'true worship.'” The Holy Father provided further explanation, saying, “Jesus Christ, in His donation to the Father and to us, does not replace us with Himself, but carries our being in Himself, our sins and our desire. He represents us and assumes us to Himself. In communion with Christ, achieved in faith and in the Sacraments, we become a living sacrifice, despite all our shortcomings, and 'true worship' is achieved."

This concept of worship is employed by St. Paul when he describes his missionary work among the peoples of the world to construct the universal Church as a priestly activity, the Pope explained. “The goal of missionary activity is, we could say, cosmic liturgy: that all people united in Christ, the world, may become glory of God," he said.

The Pope concluded that in the Pauline concept of worship, there is "the aspect of hope” because in Christ the world is reunited to God and becomes a “mirror of divine love.”

“This dynamism is ever present in the Eucharist, this dynamism must inspire and shape our lives. May we begin the new year with this dynamism."

At the end of the catechesis, the Holy Father thanked the audience for its patience with his weak voice.

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