The Ritual Prayer of the Liturgy and Life in the Spirit

By Fr. Aaron Johanneck


(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

     Just a few weeks ago the Church celebrated the great Solemnity of Pentecost.  We recalled and celebrated that day when the Holy Spirit descended upon those gathered in the upper room and filled them with the power and grace to boldly proclaim Christ Jesus risen from the dead even in the face of great hardship and opposition.  It is by the Holy Spirit that Christians throughout the centuries have spread and defended the Catholic faith with perseverance and joy.

     When we think of the Holy Spirit we often think of creativity, freedom, and spontaneity.  As St. Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  The sacred liturgy of the Church is formal and ritual prayer that is governed by the Church’s approved liturgical books.  This might lead one to wonder whether the liturgy limits the Holy Spirit by stifling the life of the Spirit.  One might argue that celebrating the Church’s liturgy with more “flexibility” and “spontaneity” would better promote this life.  The truth is that reverently and faithfully celebrating the liturgy promotes and brings about the true life in the Spirit.

     The Holy Spirit is very much active in the Church’s liturgy.  It is the Holy Spirit who disposes the faithful to receive the graces available to them in the liturgy.  It is the Holy Spirit who recalls the mystery of Christ and all that He has done for us.  It is in the Holy Spirit that the mystery of Christ is actually made present, or re-presented, putting the faithful in real contact with the saving events of Christ’s life and applying their fruits to our lives today.  It is through the priest’s invocation of the Holy Spirit that the bread and wine become the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ.  It is also the Holy Spirit who, especially through the sacred liturgy, brings the faithful into communion with Christ, building us up as His Body.  (cf. CCC 1099-1109)

     The Holy Spirit guides the development and promulgation of the liturgy.  Before Jesus was handed over to death, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (cf. John 16:13).  The Holy Spirit has been active in the development of the sacred liturgy through the centuries.  This means that when we celebrate the liturgy in fidelity to what the Church authoritatively hands on to us, we can be sure that we are being faithful to the Spirit and that His life is being formed in us.  Our “spontaneous” decisions are not always from the Holy Spirit.  They can also be influenced by our own proud human spirit, or even by the Enemy.  An essential way that we discern the spirits is by looking to the Church.  The Holy Spirit does not work apart from the Church but from within. 

     The Holy Spirit leads us to humility and obedience.  It is through these virtues that we are led to the true life in the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit leads us to live our lives in imitation of Christ who was obedient to the Father in everything.  He surrendered Himself totally to the Father in love. 

     The ritual and formality of the liturgy invites us to that same humility, obedience, and surrender.  By reverently and faithfully celebrating the liturgy we die to ourselves and crucify our own desires so that Christ, through the Spirit, may live in us.  “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20).   This is the true life in the Spirit that our faithful participation in the sacred liturgy produces in us and that will be a source of great renewal in the Church.