Liturgy: Our Grateful Response to God’s Great Gift
In Christian tradition, the word “liturgy” describes the participation of the People of God in the work of God. “Through the liturgy, Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in with, and through his Church.” Liturgy refers to the celebration of divine worship, the proclamation of the Gospel and active charity – in other words, liturgy directs us to service to God and neighbor. In each of these, the Church shares in the one priesthood of Christ in both its prophetic and kingly aspects. Liturgy, as the work of Christ and an action of his Church, makes the Church “present and manifests her as the visible sign of the communion in Christ between God and men.”
The Father’s blessing
In order to understand the importance of the liturgy in God’s plan of communion, it is necessary to explore the notion of blessing. Blessing is “a divine and life-giving action.” God the Father is the source of blessing, which is conveyed in word (eu-logia) and gift (bene-dictio). God’s work is, in a word, merciful.
Mercy is only conceivable when a relationship exists in which one party has power over another. In order to show mercy, one must have power over the one to whom mercy is shown. For example, the expression “I throw myself at the mercy of the court” is the recognition by the accused that something or someone holds the power to decide his or her fate.
God, of course, is omnipotent (all-powerful). However, the Father exercises this power by constraining rather than asserting it. This is because, as St. Bonaventure argues, the Father’s power is actually the humility of his love, a love that is so complete but one that does not dominate the other or absorb the other.
That the humility of love is real power can be seen in the case of Jesus Christ, simultaneously the incarnation of the Father’s love for humanity and his power.
The divine blessing and liturgy
The liturgy of the Church fully reveals and communicates the divine blessing by acknowledging and adoring the Father as “the source and the end of all the blessings of creation and salvation.” We are further filled with his blessings in his Word during the liturgy and through his Word, the “Gift” that contains all gifts, i.e. the Holy Spirit, is poured into our hearts.
However, as a participation in the work of God, the liturgy is also our response of “faith and love to the spiritual blessings the Father bestows on us.” So again we have this dynamic of God acting first and then we respond. The Church, in her liturgy, blesses the Father “for his inexpressible gift” in adoration, praise and thanksgiving. At the same time, until the consummation of God’s plan, the Church “never ceases to present to the Father the offering of his own gifts and to beg him to send the Holy Spirit upon that offering, upon herself, upon the faithful, and upon the whole world, so that through communion in the death and resurrection of Christ the Priest, and by the power of the Spirit, these divine blessings will bring forth the fruits of life ‘to the praise of his glorious grace.’”
The work of Christ in the liturgy
In the liturgy, the work of Christ by his Cross and Resurrection “abides and draws everything toward life. The Paschal Mystery is not only a real event in history. Because he destroyed death and because Christ participates in the divine eternity, he “transcends all times while being present in them all.”
It is through his presence, with the power of the Holy Spirit, in the liturgy that the “dispensation or communication of his work of salvation” occurs. “Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister…but especially in the Eucharistic species.” This goes to the heart of the liturgy’s place in God’s plan of communion.
The Fruit of the Spirit in the Liturgy
The Catechism captures the role of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy vividly: “he prepares the Church to encounter her Lord; he recalls and makes Christ manifest to the faith of the assembly. By his transforming power, he makes the mystery of Christ present here and now. Finally the Spirit of communion unites the Church to the life and mission of Christ.”
The Spirit is the agent of divine communion, working without ceasing to build communion where it does not exist and to restore it where it is broken. This same Spirit abides in the Church. It should come as no surprise then that the most “intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy.” It is the presence of the Spirit that makes the Church the “great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God’s scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy.”
– Quotes from the Catechism (1066-1109) unless otherwise noted.
Doug Culp is the CAO and secretary for pastoral life for the Diocese of Lexington, Ky. He holds an MA in theology from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.