“…. worship, rightly understood…. not
only saves mankind but is also meant to
draw the whole of reality into communion
with God” (27).
The real “action” in the liturgy in
which we are all supposed to participate
is the action of God himself. This is
what is new and distinctive about the
Christian liturgy: God himself acts and
does what is essential” (173). Spirit of the
Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI
We arrived 20 minutes early to 9 a.m. Easter Mass – and found the Church half full already. Apparently, we were not the only ones who anticipated a full house in our first “normal” Easter in two years. By 9 a.m. the place was packed, and it was standing room only. Our crew of eight adults and five small children filled our pew but we scooted a little closer and fit another family with babies into the end.
So Mass was full. It was full of people and music and incense and bells – and crying. The sanctuary was full of priests and deacons and cantors and lectors – and the church was full of children and their families. In addition to the procession at the beginning and end of Mass, there were intermittent “processions” of parents, in and out of the church with wailing children. Other parents (old and young) cast sympathetic smiles and tried to pay attention to the liturgy more than the commotion.
It required some effort.
Which is why we call it liturgy.
One definition for liturgy is “the work of worship, the ritual and sacred work of a religious community.” In other words, liturgy is “a work.” It’s very apparent from the crew of people in the sanctuary and the choir loft, that some significant
work has gone into preparing for the big celebrations of Holy Week and Easter. But what might escape us is the “work” that we do in the pews. Because in our participating – however distracted or disrupted – we are “working” at worship. As we join in with words of praise and thanksgiving, repentance and intercession, as we listen to the readings, we are actually “working.”
Sometimes we find Mass particularly beautiful or meaningful or the homily hits just the right note. Sometimes we feel a strong sense of communion or God’s presence or consolation. But even if we go to Mass and receive none of those – our time is not wasted. Even if our attention is divided, even when we are “just going through the motions,” it still matters that we do what we can. When we exert ourselves to overcome distraction, to pay attention, we enter a changed reality more fully. But this is not an all or nothing proposition. We are doing the work of worship. Our work is a work of response – to God’s initiation, to God’s work for and in us.
The work will bear fruit. Over time, it can build in us “the life of heaven.” Even while we are not yet in heaven, it forms heaven itself within us. Liturgy “practiced” persistently re-directs and re-orders our attention to deeper realities than those that press upon us in the day to day. Here we remember and celebrate God our Creator, Jesus our Savior and the Holy Spirit who empowers us for life in God. Here Jesus’ saving actions are made present and “heaven kisses earth,” bringing us the antidote for our wounds and failings, our sins.
This is work worth doing.