(Editor's Note: This four-part series will analyze the nature of the liturgy and the norms of the revised General Instruction in order that Catholic Exchange readers may, through a solid liturgical catechesis, be able to deepen and renew the genuine spirit of the liturgy of the Church. We will publish new installments every Friday in Touched by Grace.)
This theological vision is grounded in four basic truths: (1) the celebration of the Eucharist is first of all Christocentric; (2) every celebration of the Eucharist requires the bishop or his priest; (3) participation of the faithful is the goal to be considered before all others; and (4) the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.
The Celebration of the Eucharist is First of All Christocentric
To state that the Eucharist is Christocentric means that the Mass is a participation in the action of Christ Himself, of His sacrifice for us on Calvary, of His paschal meal as shared originally with His Apostles, and of His very Passover from death to life. In the Eucharist, our participation is a joining in the death and resurrection of Christ in His unique offering on the night He was betrayed (Sacrosanctum concilium 5).
Whenever we “eat this bread and drink this cup, [we] proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26). By the recalling of Christ’s death and resurrection which happens at the Eucharist, the Church finds herself bound to Christ and taken into His death, only to be raised up with Him in His resurrection. To be centered upon Christ in the Eucharist is to join ourselves with His actions, to participate in His self-offering and self-donation. “The Church’s intention [at Mass] is that the faithful not only offer this victim but also learn to offer themselves and so day by day to surrender themselves, through Christ the Mediator, to an ever more complete union with God and with each other, so that at last God may be all in all” (GIRM 79).
Every Celebration of the Eucharist Requires the Bishop or His Priest
The members of the Church join themselves to Christ’s sacrifice of praise not merely as individuals but as members of His Body, the Church. It is through the Apostles and their ordained successors, the bishops, that such worship is made possible.
Today that apostolic ministry is continued through bishops and their priests. “It is in the Eucharistic cult or Eucharistic assembly that [bishops and priests] exercise in a supreme degree their sacred functions; there, acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 11:26), the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ the Lord offering himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father” (Lumen gentium 28).
Through the ministry of priests, then, the “spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ” (Lumen gentium 2). This Eucharistic action, “over which the priest presides, is the very heart of the congregation. So priests must instruct their people to offer to God the Father the Divine Victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the offering of their own lives” (Lumen gentium 5).
Participation of the Faithful Is the Goal to be Considered before All Others
Active participation in the liturgy is both a duty and a right of every member of Christ’s faithful in consequence of baptism. One of the effects of baptism is to make us members of the Body of Christ, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart (see 1 Pt 2:9). The active participation of the faithful in the liturgy must be understood as far more than the distribution of roles and community singing. The active participation desired by the Church is not just a matter of what one does at Mass, but rather a fundamental disposition which flows into a way of life. Those who take part in the liturgy should go forth from the assembly conscious of their responsibility to proclaim the message and mystery they have just celebrated. Exterior and interior participation cannot be separated; both need to be developed and nourished by reflection and meditation on the sacred texts the Church has given us.
“The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s Word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body. They should give thanks to God. Offering the immaculate victim, not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves” (Sacrosanctum concilium 48).
The Eucharist Is the Source and Summit of Christian Life
“Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations” (Sacrosanctum concilium 7). The Second Vatican Council teaches that Christ is present in the Church’s liturgical celebrations in various ways: in the person of the priest; in His word; in His Church’s prayer; in the sacraments of which He is the author; and most especially in the Eucharist (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium 7).
The mode of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is unique. In His Eucharistic presence, Jesus remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave Himself up for us (cf. Gal 2:20), and He remains under signs that express and communicate this love (see Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1380).
Therefore, “the celebration of Mass, the action of Christ and the people of God arrayed hierarchically, is for the Church universal and local as well as for each of the faithful the center of the whole Christian life” (GIRM 16). In the Mass we have the high point of the work that in Christ God accomplishes to sanctify us and the high point of the worship that the human race offers to the Father, whom we adore through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit. All other liturgical rites and all the works of the Christian life are linked with the Eucharistic celebration, flow from it, and have it as their end (GIRM 16).
On the basis of the four principles explained above, the Church offers us a revised Roman Missal with its General Instruction so that believers, gathered together by the sacrificial banquet of the Eucharist, may know that the Risen Lord is in the midst of His own people and that He continues to offer us “the fullness of every grace and blessing from heaven” (Eucharistic Prayer I — Roman Canon).
(Fr. deLadurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)