By Father Aaron Johanneck
We continue this month exploring the nature of the Sacred Liturgy, that is, the sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours, and other prayers and blessings of the Church all centered on the Holy Eucharist.
In November we discussed the liturgy as the prayer, praise, sacriﬁce, and oﬀering of Christ to the Father. Last month we looked at the liturgy as a foretaste of and real participation in the heavenly liturgy, which is the perfect and eternal worship of the angels and saints gathered around the throne of God. These two aspects of the liturgy are described in the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” or “Sacrosanctum Concilium.”
A third way in which the nature of the Sacred Liturgy is described in this document (and in a few of the other Council documents as well) is as the source and summit of the life of the Church. The Fathers of the Council put it this way: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font [or source] from which all her power ﬂows” (SC, no. 10).
In describing the liturgy as the summit, the peak, or the height toward which all of the activity of the Church is directed, “Sacrosanctum Concilium” continues, “For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacriﬁce, and to eat the Lord’s supper” (no. 10).
This is the height toward which all of the work of the Church is directed: to lead all to the worship and adoration of God in a manner that is possible only in the Church’s liturgy, particularly in the Holy Sacriﬁce of the Mass, where we are brought as close to heavenly worship as is earthly possible.
The Fathers describe the liturgy as the source or font by stating,
“The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, ﬁlled with ‘the paschal sacraments,’ to be ‘one in holiness’… the renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on ﬁre” (no. 10, citing various prayers of the Mass).
The liturgy is the source of the grace and strength that allows all of us to carry out the work of the Church. This work includes not only formal ministry, but also the everyday evangelizing and witnessing which, by virtue of our Baptism, all Catholics are called to do in our families, at work, and in all of our spheres of inﬂuence. The liturgy increases the love of God within us and conforms us to Christ so that we can carry Him into the world.
Finally the Fathers state, “From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctiﬁcation of men in Christ and the gloriﬁcation of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most eﬃcacious possible way” (no. 10).
So we see that there is a sort of “sacramental cycle.” Through our participation in the liturgy we receive the grace to go about our work as Christians, all of which is directed to the glory of God and to his worship and praise. These, of course, are best carried out in the Sacred Liturgy, the source and summit of the Christian life.