The Divine Liturgy: Sacred Action of Christ and His Body, The Church
In the sacred, earthly liturgy the work of our redemption is accomplished as we participate in the fullness of divine worship, consume the Risen Lord, and receive a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy celebrated in the holy city of God (SC 1, 2, 8, 47).
"At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice . . . in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries . . . and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us" (SC 47).
Pope Benedict XVI elevates the consecrated host during the divine liturgy.
While these tragic numbers are of little surprise to Catholics who are attentive to the effects of an increasingly secularized America, they are nonetheless greatly disturbing. All we need do is recall these words of our Lord in order to understand that our fidelity to God is of the highest priority: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Mt. 7:13-14).
There are not only Catholics who hold a diminished view of "religious services," but other Christians as well. Evangelical and Mainline Protestant weekly attendance is even less, at 28% and 26% respectively. Setting aside a comparison of Protestant religious services with the divine liturgy of the Catholic Church, Christians in America often fail to recognize the importance of public worship given to God in any form.
In the 1950s the level of Catholics who weekly attended the Liturgy of the Mass was at about 80%, but by the 1960s adherence to the Third Commandment -- interpreted in the New Covenant in Christ as "remember to keep holy the Lord's Day" -- began to drop off significantly. While there are a number of apparent causes for this problem, the continued moral decline of America is generally to blame. A society that increasingly fails to recognize the seriousness of sin and the obligation to adhere to the natural moral law, advances a disordered view of human autonomy in which public worship to God is perceived as something of little or no value. Stated another way, the less important fidelity to Christ is in our life, the less we feel impelled to give him his due worship. Consequently, justice toward God, which is called the "virtue of religion" (CCC 1807), continues to evaporate.
There is also the issue of lack of sound catechesis. If more Catholics truly understood what the divine liturgy is, if they were more aware of the incomparable graces that flow from heaven and infuse the faithful who participate in it with divine life, we would find our churches overflowing during the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. Vatican IIs Sacrosanctum Concilium was about the nature of the divine liturgy, and taught that "Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy" (SC 14). The nature of the liturgy is that it is an "action of Christ the priest" and of his body, the Church (SC 7 § 4) who offers adoration and praise to the Father. The liturgy is therefore the "summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed" and is "the font from which all her power flows" (SC 10).
The divine liturgy, then, is the apex of the Christian life, and participating in it is the greatest honor bestowed upon the disciples of Christ, for through it an indescribably intimate encounter with Christ occurs in reception of the Eucharist, the highest of the sacraments in which Christ's body, blood, soul and divinity is consumed. Those who eat Christ's flesh and drink his blood receive supernatural life (Jn 6:54), which raises human nature beyond what it formerly was, as it is transformed, elevated and perfected by the Risen Lord's real, true, and whole Presence. Thus, in the reception of this sacrament of indescribable love, our "mind is filled with grace," and we are given a "pledge of future glory" (SC 47). It is clear that living the Christian life to its fullest is inseparably bound up with the divine liturgy. That is why holy mother Church requires her children to participate in it on each Sunday and other Holy Days of obligation.
While the divine liturgy is the life-blood of the Christian, seeing it with clarity, however, is not simply a matter of catechesis only, just as understanding the organic reality of the Church with the eyes of faith cannot be attributed merely to fruit borne from an intellectual argument. Something more is needed, something which only God can supply: the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Although these are free gifts received in virtue of the sacrament of Baptism, we must do our part to sustain and nourish them by giving ourselves over ...
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