By IHE Intern Noah Sell
The role of the Liturgy in the life of a Catholic is something not often discussed. Although it is generally acknowledged that the faithful should do more than just attend Mass on Sunday, often the proposed remedy is encouraging the faithful to personal prayer. While that is a fine endeavor, it often feels like the faithful are instructed to attend Mass for spiritual nourishment on Sunday but are then cast out in the world to live the faith on their own with no instruction for the next six days. Are we forgetting that the Church has prayers and instruction for us every day of the year?
The faith is not lived in isolation, and it is not a mere mental exercise. It is not just a list of moral teachings or a book to learn from. It is a full, comprehensive worldview and way of life. It is not just one or another of these pieces or two or three of them together. It is all of these and more, fully integrated in the life of the Church. All these things come together and find their expression in the liturgy. The liturgy is the prayer of the Church, communally uniting themselves together in the Body of Christ and to the prayer of Christ to the Father. It is where doctrine, scripture, morality, social teaching, and all other aspects of the faith are expressed, preserved, and handed to future generations, where the fullness of the Church, past, present, future, militant, triumphant, and suffering, are united.
While the primary aim of the Liturgy is the worship and glorification of God, nonetheless secondarily it is a means of sanctification. This sanctification is the spiritual molding of the human person by participation in the prayer of the Body of Christ. This is accomplished not just by going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist 52 Sundays a year plus Holy Days, but by living the life of the Church every day. The prayer of the Church is the highest form of prayer and the most efficacious, therefore it should be the bedrock of the Christian spiritual life. It is made for everyone, not just clergy and saints. As the eminent liturgist, Dom Prosper Gueranger, wrote it is “milk for children, and solid food for the strong” and takes “every kind of taste according to the different dispositions of those who eat.” Actives and contemplatives alike and those of all spiritual dispositions can draw from its waters.
The liturgy, regardless of the rite, through the representation of the sacrifice of Calvary, the psalms and canticles of the scriptures, the lessons from scripture, the fathers, and the lives of the saints, the creeds and collects, the rituals and blessings, the movements and gestures, and the sights, smells, and sounds, communicates the truths of the faith to us, teaches us how to pray and orders our lives.
The ancient principle of lex orandi lex credendi means that the law of prayer, the liturgy, is the law of belief. Orthodox doctrine is to be found in the liturgy and the liturgy teaches orthodox doctrine. The catechism says the Liturgy is “the privileged place for catechizing the People of God.” The totality of Catholic doctrine is found in the Liturgy, communicated in every word and gesture of the liturgy. Christians of ages past were not taught by sitting in catechism classes like we may do today. They were of course taught by their parents and the clergy, but they learned every day by living and praying in the life of the Church.
Often we ask, as the Apostles did, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus responded by teaching them the Our Father. Today we have even more instruction. Not only do we have the Our Father but whole of the Church’s Liturgy. Participation in the corporate prayer of the Church teaches us to pray privately. By this participation bodies and minds are taught and trained, and our souls are filled with grace so that we may better contemplate the divine mysteries and follow the will of God on earth in order to eventually ascend to eternal union with Him in Heaven.
The liturgy orders our lives when we conform ourselves to its rhythms, be it daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, or yearly. It is the sacralizing of time. In the short term, it gives structure to our prayer through the hours of the Divine Office and the Liturgy’s weekly cycle communicates that Sunday, the Lord’s Day is the summit of the week as the Lord should be the summit of our lives. In the long term, we relive the history of salvation and the sacred mysteries throughout the year and celebrate the saints. To the Catholic, December 13th 2022 is not the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, a human convention, but the Feast of Saint Lucy and Tuesday in the third week of Advent, a divine convention.
All sounds well and good, but practically how does a Catholic open the gifts the Liturgy has to offer? The simple answer is by living it. Participation in the liturgical life of the Church (the Mass, the Divine Office, Feasts, Fasts, Vigils, Octaves, Processions, and cultural customs born out of the liturgy) is how we receive these gifts. This can be done by actually attending and assisting at Liturgies, but with our time constraints as laity we cannot attend everything, nor is everything offered to us. We can however, incorporate the liturgy into our personal prayer, filling the six days we are not at church. It can be incorporated simply by being attentive to the liturgical calendar. On any given day learn about and pray to the saint being celebrated and contemplate where you are in the liturgical season. Engage the liturgical texts of the day, what better material for meditation is there? Read about the meaning behind the rites and symbolisms of the Mass, even the smallest gesture is of spiritual significance. Acquaint yourself with the Divine Office, even if you don’t pray it every day. Bring the liturgy outside your prayer and into the rest of your life. In past ages, Catholics have kept innumerable pious cultural customs and traditions born out of the Liturgy of which we have only a few vestiges today, Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Halloween, etc. Consider reviving old traditions or making your own. The Liturgy has immeasurable riches waiting for us, we just have to unlock them.
 Gueranger, Prosper. The Liturgical Year. Translated by Laurence Shepherd. Vol. 1. New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2013.
 CCC 1074.
 Lk. 11:1.
© 2024 The Institute for Human Ecology. All rights reserved.