Monday, April 30, 2018
Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
There is no shortage of ways to pray. Every well-catechized Christian says the basic vocal prayers by heart; many possess rich prayer devotionals for all occasions. Some pious exercises like the rosary and the Way of the Cross are widely accepted. There are also those who deepen their interaction with God through mental prayer, be it meditation, contemplation or “lectio divina.”
However, the official and public prayer that is known as the liturgy occupies a privileged place in the Church.
Jesus Christ, teacher and shepherd, also extends his supreme and eternal priesthood on Earth through the sacred liturgy. The Second Vatican Council taught the primacy of the liturgy with these words: “Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree” (SC, 7). It adds: “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” (SC, 10).
The seven sacraments belong to the liturgy of the Church. Some are received only once in a lifetime, but others are celebrated frequently, especially the Eucharist. In all parishes and oratories, many faithful gather daily to make the Holy Mass their daily bread.
The celebration of the sacraments requires an ordinary minister, namely, bishop, presbyter or deacon, who acts in the name of Christ, Head of the Mystical Body. Baptism admits an extraordinary minister. In marriage, a cleric with Major Orders participates as a qualified witness. Whoever presides over the liturgies must comply with the prescribed norms, observing especially the approved texts; it is not permissible to mutilate, add or change the words of the prayers. The active participation of parishioners also matters; they must participate devoutly and actively. Hence, these celebrations are called “liturgical actions.” Everyone has an active role in the celebration, each one from his or her state and ecclesial function.
The celebration of the sacraments consists of the Liturgy of the Word, that is, biblical readings with homily, and then the Liturgy of the Sacrament. Christ is involved in everything, as the last Ecumenical Council taught: “He is present in the sacraments, so that when someone baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church...” (SC 7). Through the liturgy, the mysteries of salvation are made present. Hence, we talk about a liturgical “today.” What happened “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27) is renewed here and now.
Liturgies should not turn into shows, but neither should they lack aesthetic value. Everything must contribute to enhancing the union with God. Hence the importance of the architecture, including the altar, ambo and baptistery. In addition, vestments, sacred vessels, table linen, candlesticks and other objects dedicated to divine worship should be of good taste. The beauty of the liturgy evokes Dostoyevsky's phrase, “Beauty will save the world,” with God being the “pulchrum” (beauty) par excellence. The conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy dedicated one chapter —the sixth— to sacred music and the seventh to sacred art and objects (SC, 112-130).
There is also an official prayer called Liturgy of the Hours, mandatory for the clergy. However, the number of lay people praying it is increasing, especially Lauds and Vespers.
The Liturgical Year determines the liturgies of the Mass and of the Hours. At its center is the Passover of the Lord, celebrated according to four major times: Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. There is also another time called Ordinary, which makes present the words and actions of Jesus during his public life.
Without underestimating the devotions of popular piety, such as processions and novenas, knowledgeable Catholics will give priority to liturgical prayer.