Treasures of the Liturgy

From Liturgical Catechism by Rev. M.S. Canon McMahon (1930)

The liturgy

What is the origin of the word Liturgy?

Liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia (leiton—“public”—and ergon—“work”), which signified any public service performed by a citizen on behalf of the State.

How is Liturgy defined in the Catholic sense?

Liturgy is the public worship of the Church. It is that form of piety which is practised by the Church in fulfilment of its mission to praise and glorify the Blessed Trinity and to sanctify souls.

The Greek Church restricts the term “liturgy” to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the outstanding act of public worship.

In virtue of what power does the Church give praise and glory to God and promote the sanctification of souls?

In virtue of the sacerdotal power of Christ, which is the source of all supernatural life, and with which Christ Himself has endowed the Church.

The Church is the Living Christ, and therefore in its Liturgy it continues the prayer of Christ to His Eternal Father during His life on earth, expresses in gesture, symbol, and word the silent prayer of Jesus in the Tabernacle, and echoes the prayer and praise of the Sacred Humanity Which sits "at the right-hand of the Father."

What are the essential characteristics of every act of liturgical worship?

1. It is a public act of worship paid to God.

2. It is an act performed in the name of and on behalf of the whole Christian people.

3. It is an act accomplished by a duly accredited minister, one who is specially deputed by the Church to carry out the divine worship, which the Church, as a society, renders to God.

Of what does this worship of the Church mainly consist?

It consists of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of the Divine Office, of the Sacraments, sacramentals and processions.

How may we derive the greatest benefits from these manifold acts of public worship?

By our active participation in them; for it is in our active participation in them that we come most directly under the influence of the sacerdotal power of Christ exercised in the Liturgy.

What does this active participation imply?

It implies that we should unite with the whole Church in offering up the Holy Sacrifice, unite with the Church in the other forms of liturgical worship and prayer at which we may assist, and unite with the Church in its celebration of the mysteries of Our Lord's life in the round of the liturgical year.

Is this life of prayer in common with the Church mere association in prayer?

It is something far higher. The life of prayer in common with the Church proceeds from our being members of the Church, that is, of the Mystical Body of Christ, and from our conscious association with that Body and with its Head, Who is Christ, in offering homage to God.

Practice of early Christians

To what would the general adoption of active participation in the Church’s Liturgy lead?

It would transform society. Pope Pius X stated that it is the indispensable means of spreading the Spirit of Christ throughout the world.

Was this ideal participation in the liturgy of the Church, which was sought after by Pope Pius ever realised in the history of the Church ?

It was realised in the life of the early Christians who “were persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). It was their daily routine to assemble together for liturgical prayer, to partake in common of the Agape, to unite in the offering up of the Holy Sacrifice and partake of the Victim in Holy Communion. They acted consciously as members of the one Church, having one faith, one sacrifice, one holy Bread, one prayer, alike in all. All prayed together as one great family. The Catholics of every city formed one community, gathered around the Bishop who was the head. The Bishop was the true Father of the faithful of his diocese, who looked up to him for spiritual guidance and obeyed his every word. He was the bond of union with the Apostles. He was the guardian of sacred tradition and the representative of ecclesiastical authority. To follow him was to be on the right way. To pray with him in liturgical service was to pray in conscious union with the Church.

What was the result of this life in common in the case of the Early Christians?

They received into their veins the lifeblood of fraternal charity. “And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). Were not the very pagans forced to cry out: "See those Christians how they love one another” (cf. Panfoeder).

No one prayed for himself alone. Each one in the liturgical functions was raised above all that was merely personal. All together formed one Body. Compare the Secret of the Mass of the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: “that what each does offer in honour of Thy name may avail for the salvation of all.”

It was in their active participation in the Mass that the Early Christians acquired the strength and courage to shed their blood in defence of the faith, for the Mass is "that Sacrifice from which martyrdom receives its whole beginning" (Secret of the Mass of Thursday after the Third Sunday of Lent).

May we hope for a renewal of the glories of these ancient days?

It is but the literal truth to state that every Mass at which we assist is calculated so to renew the face of the earth. See a priest at the altar: he exchanges greetings frequently and carries on a dialogue with the faithful who are represented by the server, prays in the plural in union with the faithful, offers up the Holy Sacrifice in their name and in his own, calls the Sacrifice both his and theirs, and when, through the power of his priesthood, he consecrates the bread and wine in the person of Christ, he offers up the consecrated gifts with the faithful in union with Christ’s offering up of Himself, partakes of the Victim offered up and makes the faithful partakers of It too in Holy Communion.

Were the faithful as consciously and as closely united with the priest as the prayers of the Mass assume, and were priest and faithful to unite the offering of themselves with Christ's offering of Himself upon the altar in the spirit and in the way the liturgy of the Mass provides, the Kingdom of Christ would come upon the earth, for the Mass is "the source of all holiness" (the Secret of the Mass of St. Ignatius, 31 July).

Living the Mass

How does Pius X summarise his whole teaching on this point?

We must "pray the Mass": we must "live the Mass”.

What is meant by “praying the Mass”?

We pray the Mass in reciting the prayers of the Missal or prayers equivalent to them. That is the normal way of uniting ourselves with the priest at the altar. We must not consider the Mass as affording us a convenient opportunity of practising our private devotions. As members of the Church we should take an active part in the Holy Sacrifice, which the Church, as a society, offers up to the Blessed Trinity, through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ.

What is meant by “living the Mass”?

It means that at every Mass we should offer up ourselves in sacrifice, our life, our will, our hopes, our joys, our sorrows, and prolong that offering of ourselves through all our day, from Mass to Mass, so as to link every moment of our day to the daily or weekly sacrifice. From this intimate union of our sacrifice of ourselves with the Infinite Sacrifice [which] Christ offers to His Eternal Father upon the altar is derived all that makes for our sanctification. Each day, for instance, has its trials. We offer these with ourselves at the altar. When the moment of trial comes, the Holy Mass procures for us the necessary graces to endure or to overcome.

To spur us on to this high purpose of "living the Mass" we should ever bear in mind that every day we, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, are offered up in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to the glory of the Blessed Trinity in union with the offering Christ makes of Himself upon the altar.

Where are the various forms of liturgical worship and prayer to be found?

They are to be found in the liturgical books.

In the practice of liturgical prayer are we to lay aside our private prayers?

By no means. There remain the command and the promise of Christ. "But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth thee in secret will repay thee.” (Mt 6:6)

The needs of our souls are manifold, and some cannot be discerned or satisfied except in private prayer. It is in our meditations, our examinations of conscience, in many a private prayer and retreat that we best study and know ourselves, our personal dispositions, passions and wants.

How are the two species of prayer related?

Private prayers—meditation, morning and evening prayer, the Rosary, etc.—prepare the soul for the better participation in liturgical prayer by awakening that attention, recollection and intimate ardour which give life and animation to our use of the set forms of the liturgy; liturgical prayer gives the right direction to private prayer, guarding it against the spirit of illusion and of error, penetrating it with the spirit of dogma, the basic element of all true devotion.

Is the practice of liturgical prayer opposed to popular devotions?

Just as little as it is opposed to private prayer. Popular devotions that are approved of by the Church have an inestimable value: "For where there are two or three gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20). Popular devotions tend to develop the spirit of prayer in common—the ideal of the liturgy; while liturgical prayer, as it does with private prayer, guards popular devotions against all danger of excess or extravagance.


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