Catholics in Ireland are now faced with so many challenges to their Faith, that it is sometimes said “Why be so concerned if everything is not exactly right in our liturgy – there are more important things going on in the Church. As long as people are still going to Mass what does it matter?”
In the attempt to reply to this, let us confine ourselves to a few points that are so fundamental in that no discussion about the rights and wrongs of any liturgical celebration can be valid without them. The first point to consider is revelation. To put it at its simplest, God has commanded us to worship him in a certain manner. How do we know this?
We find there are several ways. Primarily the instinct to worship is ingrained in our own human nature. God made us with an instinct to look upwards and outwards from ourselves, and much evidence of this can be found in primitive societies where humanity venerated something or someone greater than itself. God, in other words, revealed himself in our own human nature.
In our sophisticated world, however, this deep instinct is somewhat dormant. Nonetheless, the impulse to worship God, the creator and sustainer of life lies deep in humanity. When the true object of the worship is not acknowledged, unhappily human beings turn to something else thus leading to the misplaced adulation of created things rather than the Creator himself.
For Catholics, the spiritual roots lie in Judaism and by reading the Book of Genesis, we can discover how our first parents related to God. Revelation is further explained in Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council document on Revelation. This document shows how God provides constant evidence of himself in created realities and how this evidence is manifested to his people. Even after the fall of humanity, God kept the bond by promising redemption through the one who would save his people and open the way to eternal salvation. In the Old Testament we encounter God who saved the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt so that they could worship him in freedom.
The manner of this worship is explicitly commanded by God through the extensive sacrificial system recounted in chapter 26 of Leviticus. Nevertheless, the most important feast was the Passover which commemorated the delivery of the Hebrew people from slavery. God commanded his people to commemorate the Passover every year – and it is in our acknowledgement of this that the present liturgy of Mass is best understood. In the Passover story in Exodus 12, the sacrificed lamb points beyond itself to the Lamb of God, the substitute victim who becomes a ransom for many. In Exodus the blood of the lamb is what saved Israel from the death of the first-born, the ransom claimed by God.
We have many other reminders of the centrality of the “first-born” in the scriptures. St. Luke emphasises Jesus as the “first-born” and in his letter to the Colossians St. Paul describes the Lord as “the first-born of creation.” But the words in the Gospel of St. John when he introduces Jesus as “the Lamb of God” become pivotalin the Mass when used by the priest as he holds up the host before Holy Communion “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world…”
As faithful Jews, the apostles celebrated the Passover meal in the company of the Lord and as we know, it was here that the Jesus instituted the Sacrifice of his own Body and Blood. Jesus had directed that a large furnished room be prepared. In keeping true to the Lord’s instructions the Church has always regarded this command as applying also to herself when she gives directions about the preparation of people’s hearts and minds and of the places, rites, and texts for the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal.)
If we only understand our Sunday Mass to be a contemporary celebration that happens to have a long history, we can miss the point entirely. At every Mass we are reminded of God’s relationship with his chosen people through the Old Testament readings. But because God’s Word is alive we are not simply listening to the historical background of the Eucharist. We are connected with it and are brought into the reality of its fulfillment in the New Testament. The intervening psalm and the Alleluia are our own response to the Word of God.
The second most important point to consider is that the liturgy is an action of Christ himself. No other action of the Church equals the effectiveness of the liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium tells us that “Every liturgical action because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his body, which is the Church, is a preeminently sacred action.”
The actual work of redemptionis carried out in the liturgy. The Old Testament is the foreshadowing of the work of redemption which was completed by the paschal mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and this takes place in every Mass.
It is important to mention also the eschatological dimension of the liturgy. Here we enter into eternity. To take just one example, when we join in praying the Sanctus it is not only the voices of the assembly that praise God – “heaven and earth are full of your glory.” Although we are pilgrims we are permitted to unite with the hosts of heaven in glorifying God. This is the heavenly city we are journeying towards.
In trying to answer why we have to get liturgy right, it is clear that it is of the utmost importance that we should not get it wrong. We get it wrong when we lose sight of the fact that it has been ordained by God himself – that it is Jesus who acts, that our redemption is being won, that we are in the company of the heavenly hosts, that we are journeying towards eternity ourselves. Writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict shows that when true worship of God is separated from the life of man, man is deprived of the vision of eternity. While that is bad enough, we are also violating a fundamental principle: “God has a right to a response from man, and where that right of God totally disappears; the order of law among men is dissolved, because there is no cornerstone to keep the whole structure together.” (The Spirit of the Liturgy).
This is the true concept of community – that we are indeed part of the body of Christ. As we are cells in the body that is the Church, we are cells in the body of Christ.“For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament of the whole church.” (SC 5)
It is in the liturgy that the “complete and definitive public worship is performed by the mystical body of Jesus Christ, that is by the Head and its members.” (SC 7) In summary we have to say that how we enact liturgy has been revealed by God, it is carried out by Christ and through this means our redemption is achieved, as we journey towards our own eternal salvation. The liturgy is therefore the bond that unites heaven and earth.
Anno Brandsma was born to Tjitsje and Titus Brandsma on February 23rd,1881, at Wondseradeel in Friesland, Holland. He was the second youngest in a family of six, four girls and two boys. Five of the six would later enter religious life. He received his secondary education at a Franciscan school but attracted by the Carmelite Order’s devotion to Mary Mother of God and their prayer spirituality, he opted to pursue his priestly vocation with them. After Joining the Carmelite order, … Read More
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A major factor considered by ‘Western’ Governments in responding to the Russian attack on Ukraine has been the question of whether this or that type of action would hurt the ‘West’ more than it would hurt Russia. Seemingly that has been considered primarily with regard to stopping importation of Russian gas and oil. The Ukrainians’ top priority is to defeat the invasion, and they point out that it is being financed from the proceeds of gas and oil sales. The … Read More
On the night before he died, in referring to himself as the “true vine” Jesus was using a potent image. Vines were familiar to the apostles as part of their lives but they had also learned in scripture about the false vines of the past. The Old Testament recounts tales of Israel like a vine that had been planted and looked after by God but due to the people’s infidelity, the vine failed to deliver its fruit and became corrupt. … Read More
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Attempting to deal with the perennial problem of passing the Faith on to the next generation engages many of us and taxes our own creativity to the utmost. It has been said that it is much harder to bring the new evangelization to a Christian nation than to those people who have never heard of Christianity. What about our country? The deeply held belief that Ireland is still fervently Catholic can be reinforced when we see the crowds at pilgrim … Read More