Why does it matter if we go to church on Sunday rather than praying on our own? We can read the Bible at home, pray, and do good works without ever stepping foot in a church. Nevertheless, liturgy, especially the Eucharistic liturgy—the act of coming together as the Body of Christ to offer praise and prayer to God, to listen to his word, and to be nourished by Christ’s Body and Blood—is an essential aspect of our faith. Sacrosanctum concilium states quite clearly why the liturgy is central to our faith:
Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons [and daughters] of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper (SC, §10).
Liturgy creates a space for the Christian faithful to come together in prayer. As the space for worship, the liturgy is essential to our faith because it draws us closer to our source of life (God) and shows us the goal towards which all Christian activity is directed (that is, for the glory of God).
Coming Together in Prayer
The act of coming together in prayer is not a new concept that was promoted by Vatican II. Rather, it is ingrained in the fabric of the Christian faith, etched into Christian identity from the very beginning. In the New Testament and early Church documents, we find evidence that prayer in common was an essential part of the lives of the early Christians. Christ himself states that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).
Prayer in common is an integral aspect of our identity as Christians because Christianity is not a private or individual faith. It is personal and uniquely expressed in each person through their talents and gifts, but it is a communal faith. We are baptized into Christ’s Paschal Mystery which makes us members of the Body of Christ. From the moment of our entrance into the faith at baptism, we are part of something that transcends our finite humanity. Being joined together in prayer reveals Christ’s presence in our fellow Christians and in the world. In the Church’s liturgy, Christ’s presence is made manifest in the Eucharist and in all the sacraments, in the proclamation of the Word of God, and in the community of believers gathered together (SC, §7). Because of Christ’s presence in the liturgy, it is both the source and goal of Christian living.
The Source and Goal of Christian Activity
Liturgy is the source of Christian life. Not only is liturgy the place in which baptism occurs, thus making us Christians, but it is also the place where we can receive daily nourishment for Christian life. We grow as Christians as we immerse ourselves in the Word of God and learn to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The Body and Blood of Christ we receive in the Eucharist nourishes and conforms us more closely to Christ, so that we may be the face of Christ for others in the world. We express our faith in the liturgical action of coming together as the children of God to offer praise and prayer to the One who is the source of our life.
Just as liturgy is the source of Christian life and activity, it is also the goal towards which all of our activity should be directed. As people who are nourished by the presence of Christ in the liturgy, our actions in the world ought to be a witness to our faith in Christ. The way we treat others, how we act in our homes and workplaces, and the choices we make all reflect our belief in Christ’s salvific actions and the coming Kingdom of God. All of this is brought before God in the liturgy as we acknowledge him to be the source of our life and the goal towards which we strive.
So why does it matter if we participate in the liturgy? Because it is the embodiment of our Christian faith, acted out in community, Word, and prayer. As we come together in the liturgy, we celebrate our faith and offer ourselves to God through the Holy Spirit in the presence of Christ.
CONTINUE BY READING PART 2 OF THIS SERIES:
Editorial Statement: During the month of April, Church Life Journal will consider the nature of the liturgical imagination in art, music, sacramental prayer, and ritual action.
Featured Image: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Christmas Mass, c. 1440; Source: Wikimedia, PD-Old-100.