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November 19, 2017
Part five: Given by Christ, received by the Church
By Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted
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The Sacred Liturgy is not man-made. It is not something that human beings, even out of the best of motives such as strong faith and the love of God, can produce. Even the best liturgical committees do not make Sacred Liturgy. We, on our own, do not know how to relate to God, how to please Him. Even if we did, without His grace, we would still be incapable of doing this.

In order to worship God, that is, in order to have Sacred Liturgy that is right and fitting, God must freely bestow this gift upon us human beings. That is precisely what He did in giving us His only begotten Son. The gift of worship, then, is one with the Father's gift of His only begotten Son; and it reaches its fullest realization in the Paschal Mystery, that is, in the death and Resurrection of Christ.

The Sacred Liturgy is given, not invented

In the Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) wrote (p. 22), "…real liturgy implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship Him. In any form, liturgy includes some kind of 'institution'. It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity — then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation. Liturgy implies a real relationship with Another, who reveals Himself to us and gives our existence a new direction."

In the Old Testament, which reveals key steps by which God prepared the way for the coming of His only Son, we also find a dramatic example of false worship in the account of the golden calf that the Israelites fashioned in the desert. What was false is not that they wanted to worship false gods, ones other than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were not, in fact, seeking "other gods". Rather, what made their worship false is that they wanted to worship God according to their own designs, in a way that brought God down to their own human level. However, this led to a ritual of self-affirmation, which in turn led to self-gratification.

True worship lifts us beyond ourselves into the realm of God. Since we cannot do that on our own, we have to rely on the Triune God for the dynamic love that has the power to redeem us and also for the liturgical form that He provides to do this.

Real action

When Jesus came into our world, when He became incarnate through the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary, and when He died and rose again to redeem us, He offered the Father worship that is pleasing to Him. Never before was this possible. For only God can worthily worship God; only the Son of God can love the Father in a way that He deserves and that is capable of making restitution for the sins of the human race. True worship comes from God, is made possible by Him and is directed to Him.

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote (Idem, p. 173), "The real 'action' in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God Himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God Himself acts and does what is essential. He inaugurates the new creation, makes Himself accessible to us, so that, through the things of the earth, through our gifts, we can communicate with Him in a personal way."

We receive this gift of worship, we participate in it by faith and through the help of His grace. In fact, the Church encourages us to be fully engaged and conscious participants in the Sacred Liturgy, while at the same time aware that the participation itself is possible only with God's grace. By becoming one with us in our humanity, the Lord Jesus, in and through His Body the Church, brings us into communion with Himself as He worships and adores the Father.

Cardinal Ratzinger continues (Idem, p. 174), "The point is that, ultimately, the difference between the 'actio Christi' and our own action is done away with. There is only one action, which is at the same time His and ours — ours because we have become 'one body and one spirit' with Him. The uniqueness of the Eucharistic liturgy lies precisely in the fact that God Himself is acting and that we are drawn into that action of God. Everything else is, therefore, secondary."

Preparation of liturgical texts

Since it is God Himself who is acting in the Sacred Liturgy, we clergy and laity approach the Sacred Liturgy with a spirit of reverence and obedience. It is not something over which we have "control." But, at the same time, it is something in which human creativity and participation are expected and required. The Church in "Liturgiam Authenticum" (#3), describes this as a "great and difficult duty." Then, it goes on to say, "Even so, the greatest prudence and care are required in the preparation of liturgical books marked by sound doctrine, which are exact in wording, free from all ideological influence, and otherwise endowed with those qualities by which the sacred mysteries of salvation and the indefectible faith of the Church are efficaciously transmitted by means of human language into prayer, and worthy worship is offered to God the Most High."

If such care and effort have gone into the preparation of the English translation of the new Missal, then, is it not reasonable to assume that much care and effort is required on our part to receive these translations in a spirit of faith and to maintain fidelity to the received forms, rubrics and words of the sacred texts?

Let us remember the primary purpose of the language employed in the sacred texts: namely, to capture and express eternal truths about God and His love. As Liturgiam Authenticam states quite candidly (#19), "The words of the Sacred Scriptures, as well as the other words spoken in liturgical celebrations…are not intended primarily to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful; rather, they express truths that transcend the limits of time and space. Indeed, by means of these words God speaks continually with the Spouse of His beloved Son, the Holy Spirit leads the Christian faithful into all truth and causes the word of Christ to dwell abundantly within them, and the Church perpetuates and transmits all that she herself is and all that she believes."

The words we use when we pray at Mass, together with the sacred mysteries that we celebrate, change us; they call us to conversion; they move us to works of charity and justice; they give us the courage to speak the truth in love; they draw us beyond our own feelings and preferences and assist us in putting the needs of others ahead of our own. This is why the Sacred Liturgy produces much fruit in the Church and why Vatican II described it as a fountain from which God's richest blessings flow.

Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix.