The sacred liturgy has a central place in the life of every Christian. The public worship of the Church accompanies the Christian from birth to death, from entry into and exit from the valley of tears that is life on earth.
The entire sacramental system in the Church is the gift of Christ to guide and accompany his disciple all the days of his or her earthly pilgrimage. In Baptism we are made members of Christ and of his Church and are thus rendered capable of participating in the official prayer of the Church. It is through the sacraments that we are given spiritual life (in Baptism) and are strengthened in that life (in Confirmation). For the restoration of that life if it is lost by mortal sin, or for growth in the spiritual life of effort to follow Christ, we have the Sacrament of Penance. The life of the spirit is nourished in the Holy Eucharist. In sickness and especially in danger of death, the Christian is assisted by the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Holy Orders gives sacramental grace to those men who are to serve as priests in the Church of Christ, while the Sacrament of Matrimony gives grace to spouses who are to live as Christian husband and wife and thus to provide new members for Church and society. It is thus clear that the sacraments accompany the Christian all through life.
The sacred liturgy comes to the aid of the Christian in a special way when the Christian is sick and especially if there is danger of death. To begin with, the Church brings the sick Christian the Sacraments of Penance, Anointing of the Sick and the Holy Eucharist now called Viaticum because a powerful accompaniment for the sick on his or her last journey. Holy Mother Church has beautiful and comforting prayers for the dying and for the dead. Special Masses are provided in the missal for burial, for yearly commemoration of death and for general celebrations for the souls of the faithful departed.
The Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office) has theologically rich texts for the yearly commemoration of deceased Christians on 2 November and for individual Christians who have passed on to the next life. Throughout the liturgical seasons (especially in Advent, Lent and Easter time) the Hours of the Divine Office are full of rich faith teachings from the writings of famous Fathers of the Church or from Popes. The Church also nourishes her children with beautiful texts on such major festivities as Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, on Marian feasts like the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation and the Assumption, and on memorials of Saints especially the martyrs. The first Eucharistic Prayer in the Roman Missal names some of the most famous early Church martyrs like the Apostles and the Roman Martyrs who brilliantly gave their lives for Christ. The suffering souls in purgatory are not forgotten. They are those “who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace” (Roman Missal: Euch. Prayer I).
Liturgical worship is also promoted among the followers of Christ who honour the Saints in their sanctuaries. Altogether exceptional is the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Her shrines especially those in Lourdes, Fatima, Czestochowa, Guadalupe, Aparecida, Lujan, Loreto and Pompei are world famous and have been adorned with beautiful liturgical texts for Holy Mass and Divine Office. Pilgrims come to these sanctuaries in large numbers. National Patrons like Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine of Siena in Italy, Saint Therese of Lisieux in France, Saint Boniface in Germany, Saint Patrick in Ireland, Saint Faustina in Poland and Blessed Cyprian Michael Tansi in Nigeria have shrines where the faithful express their faith and pour out their hearts in prayer, penance and manifold devotions.
The Second Vatican Council wants the followers of Christ to rejoice in considering that the sacred liturgy celebrated on earth puts them in link with the Church triumphant in heaven. “In the earthly liturgy by way of foretaste”, it teaches, “we share in that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, and in which Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle (cf. Apoc. 21:2; Col 3:1; Heb 8:2); we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory (c. Phil. 3:20; Col 3:4)” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 8).
The sacred liturgy also nourishes and guides our community prayer and our personal prayer, as will be considered in future reflections. We must thank God that the sacred liturgy occupies a rather central place in the life of the Christian.
- Francis Card. Arinze.
Vatican City, 1 June, 2021.