Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth

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The 20th installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 218-223 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The month of November is an especially fitting time to reflect on the meaning of the Church’s liturgy. This year, Nov. 29 marks the First Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year. Let us resolve to begin this year by deepening our understanding of the Church’s liturgy and her sacramental life.

We can begin with the word “liturgy” itself, which comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “public service.” In general, it refers to the public prayer of the Church, such as the Mass and the sacraments. Delving into the Church’s sacred tradition, however, Pope Pius XII and the Second Vatican Council gave us a deeper understanding of the word liturgy, which is reflected in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


The liturgy is, above all, the celebration of the Paschal Mystery — Christ’s death and resurrection. It is the highest and best means by which Christ, our high priest, continues to act on our behalf to sanctify us, to redeem us from our sins and to enable us to share in the life of God, both as individuals and as members joined together in the Church, the Body of Christ. These outward signs, which are an essential part of the Church’s ceremonies, show us how Christ sanctifies us and are also the effective means by which he does so. Sharing in the holiness of Christ, the head of the Church, we are united as members of his Body in offering God fitting and acceptable worship (Compendium, 218).

Thus, we can readily understand why the liturgy is rightfully called “the source and summit” of the Church’s life and mission. It is the font from which the Church continually receives Christ’s saving power, which is utterly necessary for her mission to proclaim the Gospel and to lead all people to salvation. The aim of all that the Church does is to give honor and glory to God by gathering people everywhere to share in what Christ has done to save us through the liturgy (219).

Hand in hand with the liturgy is the phrase “sacramental economy.” We are familiar with the word “sacrament” and the word “economy,” but many are not familiar with the combination of the two. First, recall that a sacrament is an effective sign of God’s grace entrusted to the Church by Christ. Among other things, economy refers to how wealth, the fruit of human labor, is distributed nationally and globally. In God’s saving plan, the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, are the means by which the fruits of Christ’s saving work are extended and distributed among God’s people “until he returns in glory” (220). Of course, the liturgy and sacramental economy are interrelated: sacramental economy dispenses among the faithful the fruit of the saving events that the liturgy celebrates and makes present.

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All too often we think of the liturgy as something we do for God. But in fact, the liturgy is first and foremost the work of the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see the role of each Person of the Trinity by considering the prayers of the liturgy itself.

Most liturgical prayers are addressed to God the Father. The Church begs the Father that we might share, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in what Christ has done to save us. Through the liturgy, the Father “fills us with his blessings in the Word made flesh who died and rose for us and pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts” (221). Filled with these blessings from above, we ascend in worship, praise and thanksgiving to God, the Father of life and love.

The second Person of the Trinity, Christ the Son of God made man, is our great high priest who acts on our behalf in and through the liturgy. The “work” that Christ accomplishes in the Mass and sacraments is the re-presentation of the Paschal Mystery. In other words, the mystery of love at the heart of God’s plan for the world’s salvation — the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ — is “signified and made present” (222). This means that the words and gestures of the liturgy not only remind us of Christ’s saving deeds, but also make them active in our midst. How does this happen? “By giving the Holy Spirit to his Apostles, Christ entrusted to them and their successors the power to make present” his saving work, through the Eucharistic sacrifice and, indeed, all the sacraments (222). In the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ acts through sacramental signs to give grace — a sharing in divine life — to his people of every time and place.

Finally, we should have the highest appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy and the Church’s sacramental life. As we have seen, the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church and thus her living memory. The Spirit prompts the Church to ponder Christ in her heart; recalls and re-presents Christ to the members of the Church already enlightened by faith; makes Christ truly present; unites the Church to Christ and his mission; and makes the gift of her union with Christ bear abundant fruit in the Church and in the world (223).

May this new liturgical year be a time when we allow the Holy Spirit to deepen in us the new life Christ won for us by his death and resurrection, so that we may truly worship the Father “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24).


Why might the word “liturgy” — a Greek word for “public service” — be used to describe the Mass, sacraments and Liturgy of the Hours?

Generally speaking, do Catholics today understand the liturgy to be the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, truly making present Christ’s death and resurrection? What implications might this perspective have on one’s participation in Mass?

Why is the liturgy called “the source and summit” of the Christian life?

What are some ways each Person of the Holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — are active through the celebration of the Mass and sacraments? In what way is the Father the source and goal of the liturgy? (Compendium, 221).