By Bishop James Conley
Because we are Catholic, sacred liturgical worship should be at the center of our lives.
Jesus Christ is present among us in the Church’s sacred worship. In the mystery of Holy Mass, we are present to the Paschal mystery, the sacrifice of Christ’s death on Calvary. Our liturgical worship is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, and expresses our love for God. We are made, literally, to worship God.
Jesus, drawing from the words of the Old Testament, taught that his disciples should “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and that each one of us should “love your neighbor as yourself.” In the worship of the Church we work in communion with one another, to love God entirely. And in sacred liturgy, God, who loves us, strengthens us to love him more perfectly and to love our neighbors selflessly and generously.
In worship, we are sanctified—made holy—by the grace of union with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In sacred worship, we are configured to Christ; we offer our lives in union with his great act of selfless love on the cross, and thus we are formed to love the world as he does. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council taught that sacred worship of God 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.”
In heaven, we will join the saints and angels in an eternal and perfect act of worship. This is the destiny for which God made us. In heaven, we will proclaim the words of the prophets and the psalmist, hear the voice of God and, through worship, share a loving communion with Christ himself—the incarnate Word of God.
Worship is an expression of our love and fidelity to God, and a mystical union with his Word, who, as St. John the Evangelist says, “is God, and is with God.”
Worship matters. And because worship is a communion with the Word of God, the words we use in sacred worship matter too.
This week, the Church celebrates the 16th anniversary of Liturgiam authenticam, an instruction of the Church issued to guide the translation of liturgical texts toward the “full, conscious, and active participation” of all Catholics in sacred worship, by calling for renewed attention to the importance of every word we speak and hear when we worship God.
Liturgiam authenticam reminded the Church that when we pray together, in liturgical acts of worship, we draw our prayers from the words of Sacred Scripture, revealed by God, and from the tradition of the saints and martyrs who have come before us, and witnessed in their lives and in their wisdom the importance of our common liturgical prayer. The instruction taught that the words and expressions of our liturgy must be “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 to prayer, and worthy worship is offered to God the Most High.”
Liturgical worship does much more than simply deliver information about God. It forms our hearts and our minds and our imaginations, to give us a keen sense of the supernatural in our midst. Liturgical worship, in a very real way, transcends time and space; it takes us from this world, and puts us in contact with the divine.
There is an ancient maxim in the Church’s life—lex orandi, lex credendi—the norms of our prayers are the norms of our beliefs. Sacred liturgy teaches the faith, because its words take root in our hearts. Liturgiam authenticam reminded the Church that because we believe as we pray, our prayers must be absolutely faithful to the deposit of faith which we have been given. We are formed for holiness by the words of the liturgy when they faithfully transmit the revelation of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.
The fruit of Liturgiam authenticam was a new English translation of the Roman Missal, the official prayerbook of the Mass, which the Church began praying five years ago. This new translation of the Mass strove to express the words of sacred liturgy clearly, directly, and faithfully—not introducing interpretations or innovations, but drawing directly from Scripture and the Church’s ancient tradition, so that our worship might clearly reveal and teach the faith, and so that we might express our love of God in union with the saints who have come before us.
As the Church celebrates the gift of Liturgiam authenticam, we have an occasion to give thanks to God for the “truths that transcend the limits of time and space,” which are proclaimed by the Church in sacred worship. We have occasion to give thanks to God that through sacred worship, “the Holy Spirit leads the Christian faithful into all truth and causes the word of Christ to dwell abundantly within them.” Together, we have occasion to give thanks that God has given us a foretaste of eternity, which frees us, and transforms us, and sanctifies us, so that we can love the Lord, now and forever, with all our hearts, souls, and minds, in the gift of sacred worship.