Part two: Liturgy as the worship of God

In part one of this series on the new English translation of the Roman Missal, we looked at the way that beauty reveals God and how it lifts our hearts to offer Him fitting worship and praise. Now, in part two, we shall turn to the purpose of the liturgy: namely, true worship of God. In part three (i.e. next time), we shall consider the fruits or benefits of the Liturgy: how the Liturgy sanctifies men and women.

The essence of religion

“The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve” (Mt 4:10). With these words, the Lord Jesus reminds us that the essence of religion is the worship of God. God created the universe for this very purpose. In addition, He set men and women, created in the divine image, over all other created things; He entrusted them with dominion over the world and wrote on their hearts the command to worship God who created all things. God gave this command out of love, not because He has any need of our worship, but because it is a blessing for us to worship Him. Worshipping God allows us to grow to full maturity in His sight, and to satisfy the deepest longings of the heart.

God is indeed worthy to be praised. This is the reason for the First of the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods besides me” (Ex 20:2). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains (#2084), “God’s first call and just demand is that man accept Him and worship Him.”

To worship God means acknowledging, in all humility and honesty, that all we have and all that we are comes from Him. It consists in submitting to His holy will, not grudgingly but gladly. The Blessed Virgin Mary offers us the perfect example of how to do this. We see this especially in her Magnificat, where she says (Lk 1:46ff), “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior…The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear Him.”

Through Him, with Him and in Him

On our own, however, relying only on our own resources, we human beings could never truly or adequately worship God. “To accomplish so great a work,” Vatican II told us in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (#7), “Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations… Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work in which God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is His beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the eternal Father.”

In the Sacred Liturgy, Christ exercises His Eternal Priesthood, not independent of the Church but in full and fruitful communion with her. He alone is worthy to offer fitting worship to the Father. What He offers is His own Paschal Mystery, that is His Passion, death and Resurrection, by which the whole world is redeemed and through which the Father is glorified. The Catechism explains it in this way (#1085), “In the Liturgy of the Church, it is principally His own Pascal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present. During His earthly life Jesus announced His Paschal mystery by His teaching and anticipated it by His actions. When His Hour comes, He lives out the unique event of history which does not pass away: Jesus dies, is buried, rises from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father ‘once for all.’ His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by His death He destroyed death, and all that Christ is — all that He did and suffered for all men — participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life.”

When we participate in the Sacred Liturgy, therefore, we participate in this “divine eternity” through the priesthood of Christ and thereby offer truly pleasing worship to God. This is why the Church proclaims a great “Amen” when the ministerial priest, acting in persona Christi, lifts up the Sacred Species and says, “Through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever.”

Human language for divine purposes

The Lord Jesus is the one and only Eternal High Priest, the unique Mediator between God and man. He also is the Word of God, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us (Cf. Jn 1:1-18). In the Incarnation, we see a humble, created reality of this world (namely the human nature of Christ) transfigured in such a way that it becomes capable of true worship of God in heaven. It is not surprising, then, that human words and the human voice play vital roles in the Sacred Liturgy. The words used by the priest and the congregation are in fact essential because they manifest the sacred conversation between Christ, the divine Bridegroom, and His Bride, the Church.

The words used in the Liturgy, and the silence filled with meaningful and yet wordless content, assist us in our encounter with the Blessed Trinity. The Eucharistic sacrifice — itself brought about through a few humble words — is entirely Christ’s, though He offers it to the Father in union with us. For this reason, it is inappropriate for the priests or laity to substitute other words for those given us by the Church in the sacred orations. What matters, within the Liturgy, is not human creativity but an encounter with the living God, that He does what is necessary.

In regard to the words given us by the Church for the Liturgy, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI), wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy (p. 165f), “Unspontaneity is of their essence. In these rites, I discover that something is approaching me here that I did not produce myself, that I am entering into something greater than myself, which ultimately derives from divine revelation. That is why the Christian East calls the liturgy the “Divine Liturgy”, expressing thereby the liturgy’s independence from human control.”

The Holy Father goes on to use rather strong words to underscore the importance of not substituting our words for those of the Church’s liturgy (Ibid., P. 169), “The more priests and faithful humbly surrender themselves to this descent of God, the more ‘new’ the liturgy will constantly be, and the more true and personal it becomes. Yes, the liturgy becomes personal, true, and new, not through tomfoolery and banal experiments with words, but through a courageous entry into the great reality that through the rite is always ahead of us and can never quite be overtaken.”

The Word has become flesh to help us worship God well. In the Sacred Liturgy, that same Word humbly comes to us through the liturgy’s beautiful words, inviting us to worship God with the same Holy Spirit who filled the Blessed Virgin Mary as she said, “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix, Ariz.

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