Liturgy and the Work of God.
Liturgy or the common worship of the Church is something we experience when we are immersed in the richness of faith and prayer life of the Church. In the Christian tradition liturgy “means 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 the liturgy.” The ‘liturgy of the hours’ or the ‘divine office’ marks the rhythm of the day and sanctifies it with morning, evening and night prayer. Thus “by tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God.” For the Catholic Church this culminates in the celebration of the paschal mystery in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist known as the Mass, the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission. This “is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.”
During Pope Benedict’s XVI visit to Scotland and the British Isles he taught the faithful through many speeches and homilies but it was perhaps through the papal liturgies, which were such an integral part of his visit, that he communicated most powerfully and serenely the essence of his message. The highest task of the Church is to give glorification to God from whom salvation comes and for this reason worship gives us a glimpse into heaven itself, allowing “light to fall from that divine world into ours.” Eastern Christians often refer to the liturgy as the ‘divine liturgy’ as it comes from God and is independent from human control. Like the faith which it articulates it is something that we receive and not something we create.
Today Pope Benedict XVI is concerned that there has arisen a “fundamental breakdown of liturgical consciousness,” adding that “I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.” He therefore points out various requirements for authentic liturgical observance: silence, beauty, facing east, the Cross, and the practice of kneeling all of which point to the grandeur and cosmic dimension of the Church’s liturgy. For when all is said and done the function of the Church is to turn us toward God and to enable God to enter into the world.
From His speeches
“We need to make space for silence, because it is in silence that we find God. And in silence that we discover our true self.” (Pope Benedict’s Message to Young People Piazza, Westminster Cathedral, Saturday, 18 September 2010 12:20pm
And From His other Writings….
“We are realizing more and more clearly that silence is part of the liturgy. We respond, by singing and praying, to the God who addresses us, but the greater mystery, surpassing all words, summons us to silence. It must, of course, be a silence with content, not just the absence of speech and action. We should expect the liturgy to give us a positive stillness that will restore us.” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, P.209)
“The Church is to transform, improve, ‘humanize’ the world – but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together, beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection. The Church must maintain high standards; she must be a place where beauty can be at home; she must lead the struggle for that ‘spiritualization’ without which the world becomes the ‘first circle of hell’. Thus to ask what is ‘suitable’ must always be the same as asking what is ‘worthy’; it must constantly challenge us to seek what is ‘worthy’ of the Church’s worship.” (The Feast of Faith. Approaches to a Theology of Liturgy, P.124-125)
“Liturgy, in truth, is an event by means of which we let ourselves be introduced into the expansive faith and prayer of the Church. This is the reason why the early Christians prayed facing east, in the direction of the rising sun, the symbol of the returning Christ. In so doing, they wanted to show that the whole world is on its way toward Christ and that he encompasses the whole world. This connection between earth and heaven is very important.” (Light of the World. The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times, P.105)
“This turning toward the east also signifies that the cosmos and saving history belong together. The cosmos is praying with us. It, too, is waiting for redemption. It is precisely this cosmic dimension that is essential to Christian liturgy. It is never performed solely in the self-made world of man. It is always cosmic liturgy. The theme of creation is embedded in Christian prayer. It loses its grandeur when it forgets this connection. That is why, wherever possible, we should definitely take up again the apostolic tradition of facing east, both in the building of churches and the celebration of the liturgy.” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, P.70)
“Facing east, as we heard, was linked with the ‘sign of the Son of Man’, with the Cross, which announces the Lord’s Second Coming. That is why very early on the east was linked with the sign of the Cross. Where a direct common turning toward the east is not possible, the Cross can serve as the interior ‘east’ of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community. In this way we obey the ancient call to prayer: “Conversi ad Dominum”, Turn toward the Lord!” (The spirit of the Liturgy, P.83)
“Here I would like to refer to the gesture which is central to worship, and one which is threatening to disappear, namely, the practice of kneeling. We know that the Lord knelt to pray (Lk 22:41), that Stephen (Acts 7:60), Peter (Acts 9:40) and Paul (Acts 20:36) did so too. The hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:6-11 speaks of the cosmic liturgy as a bending of the knee at the name of Jesus, seeing in it a fulfilment of the Isaian prophecy (Is 45:23) of the sovereignty of the God of Israel. In bending the knee at the name of Jesus, the Church is acting in all truth; she is entering into the cosmic gesture, paying homage to the Victor and thereby going over to the Victor’s side.” (The Feast of Faith. Approaches to a Theology of Liturgy, P.74)
Questions for reflection, discussion and further study:
- What are the main concerns of Pope Benedict XVI regarding the liturgy?
- Why should silence and beauty be such an essential part of authentic worship?
- “Liturgy can only attract people when it looks, not at itself, but at God, when it allows him to enter and act.” What is your response to this statement?
 John 6:29 & John 17:4. The Work of God (Opus Dei) Rule of St Benedict Chapter 16-21 & 43: “Let nothing, therefore, be put before the Work of God.” Liturgy should be seen as the “Opus Dei in which God himself first acts and we become redeemed people precisely through his actions.” New Song for the Lord, P148 Quoted in Rausch, 129.
 Ratzinger, Joseph, Cardinal, (Pope Benedict XVI) (1986), The Feast of Faith. Approaches to a Theology of Liturgy, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 62.
 Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Catechism of the Catholic Church, (1994) Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1066, P244.
Sacrosanctum Concilium 84.
 Ibid, 1324, P297.
 Sacrosanctum Concilium 2.
 Ratzinger, 1986,155.
 Ratzinger, Joseph, Cardinal, (Pope Benedict XVI) (2000), The Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 21.
 Ratzinger, 2000, 165.
 Ratzinger, 1986, 84.
 Milestones P146-49, at P148 Quoted in Rausch, 123.
 Sacramentum Caritatis 35 Beauty and the Liturgy.
 Benedict XVI, 2010,155.
 Ratzinger, 2000,199.