Taste and See
3/1/2018Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
As Holy Week approaches, we can take steps to be more attuned to the beauty and riches of the Church’s liturgy
LENT IS A SEASON of repentance and renewal leading us to the apex of the Church’s liturgical life: Holy Week. During that most sacred week in this Year of Grace, we will gather to retrace the way of Jesus from his entrance into Jerusalem in triumph to the institution of the Eucharist and priesthood at the Last Supper to his saving passion, death and resurrection. In the liturgies of Holy Week — Palm Sunday, the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil — we truly share in the great events that brought us new life in Christ. Those saving events become present and available to us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us not take the Church’s liturgy for granted. In and through the liturgy, we celebrate the marvelous things God has done to save us. To “celebrate” means to give joyful thanks for these great events and to render them present in the Church. This is true of every liturgical celebration, but it is especially evident during Holy Week. The rites of Holy Week are both solemn and beautiful, with a power and majesty all their own. As one who has been privileged to celebrate Holy Week liturgies for many years, I remain humbled and awestruck as the mystery of God’s plan of salvation unfolds before the eyes of faith.
OUR SPIRITUAL PALATE
I encourage everyone to attend and participate in the liturgies of Holy Week. Nothing is more worthy of our time and attention. Some people, however, say they don’t get anything out of the liturgy. They claim that it’s boring, meaningless or baffling, and they don’t find it spiritually nourishing. They are in the presence of untold riches without realizing it. They are like people who arrive at a marvelous banquet without much of an appetite — or like those who would prefer a sugary drink to a fine vintage or fast food to gourmet fare. Just as one’s appreciation for fine food and drink requires a developed palate, so too we must develop our “spiritual palate” if we would partake well in the banquet of Christ’s sacrifice.
The psalmist calls us to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 34:8). For us as Catholics, this verse stands as an invitation to participate in the eucharistic liturgy, wherein we partake of Jesus’ gift of self on the cross and unite ourselves to his sacrificial love. His presence and sacrifice become our spiritual nourishment as we receive the risen Lord’s body, blood, soul and divinity. Responding to the psalmist’s invitation to experience the Lord’s goodness requires that, in God’s grace, we develop our inward taste for the sublime nourishment available to us in the Eucharist. In a phrase, the psalmist is urging you and me to hunger and thirst for holiness.
How, then, do we develop our spiritual palate so that we might arrive at the liturgy ready to partake of its riches and more fully “taste and see the goodness of the Lord”? While not ruling out the sudden inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I would argue that normally we appreciate the Church’s liturgy when we have an active life of private prayer. When we pray fervently in private each day, we truly begin to internalize the beauty, majesty and power of the Church’s liturgy — whether it is Holy Week or any other time.
PREPARING OUR HEARTS
There are certain steps that we can all take to grow in appreciation of the liturgy.
First, spend time every day being recollected in prayer. Take time to let the Lord speak to your heart and shed his light on the events of your life, your relationships, your struggles with sin and weaknesses, and your opportunities to love others or grow in virtue. Being with the Lord, allowing his heart to speak to our hearts in love, makes us long to know and love him more deeply. It prepares us to share in the liturgy more actively and, in turn, liturgical prayer enriches our personal life of prayer.
Second, be sure to make regular use of the sacrament of reconciliation. This sacrament, in which our sins are forgiven, is like a cleansing of the spiritual palate. It rids us of the bad taste left by the “junk food” of sin and distracted living while preparing us for the good things the Lord has in store for us.
Third, engage in lectio divina (divine or spiritual reading). Think of how much more we would appreciate the liturgy if, in advance, we were to prayerfully read and reflect upon the Scripture readings and prayers to be proclaimed at Mass. If we took a little time to do this, we would arrive at Mass ready to listen and better prepared to take part in the liturgy.
Fourth, why not dedicate some time to read and study what the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the shorter Compendium teaches about the liturgy and the sacraments? The Catechism draws its teaching from the Second Vatican Council and other sources in the Tradition. Its teaching is reliable, profound and beautiful.
All of this brings us back to Lent and Holy Week. This is preeminently the time for us to raise the bar of our life of prayer. As Holy Week approaches, may we truly “taste and see the goodness of the Lord!”