As we continue in the Eucharistic Revival, I return to the series on the Eucharist after a break for Advent and the Christmas season.
The entire Church shares in the three-fold mission of Christ, who is Priest, Prophet, and King. This mission is fulfilled through the diverse ministries and gifts in the Body of Christ. But each member of the Church is called and empowered to offer worship and sacrifice (the priestly role of sanctification); to speak God’s Word of truth in the contemporary situation of the world (the prophetic role of teaching); and to serve the needs of others in love (the kingly role of service).
The Church fulfills its mission of living the holiness of God in the world in many ways: individual and communal prayer, service to the poor and needy, faithful marriage and family life, education, health care, political life, and so on. Yet unique among these ways of showing forth the holiness of God is the sacred liturgy.
Christian liturgy is just that: the exercise of the very priesthood of Jesus Christ himself. Through signs, gestures, and words accessible to our senses, the sanctification of humankind is both signified and brought about. The liturgy is the whole of the public worship of God carried on by the Body of Christ, “Head and members” – Jesus and us. The celebration of each of the sacraments is a liturgical action. Liturgy also encompasses the other main form of prayer in the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, a daily cycle of prayer to which all are invited to participate. However, the Eucharistic celebration in which the community of faith (visible and invisible) offers praise to God for salvation in Christ is the pre-eminent form of the liturgy of the Church. The two main parts of the Mass are the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Christ, the Word made flesh, is present in both aspects. Thus these two parts of the Mass – the table of the Lord’s Word and the table of his Body and Blood – form one act of worship.
The word “liturgy” is taken from Greek and literally means “work of the people.” Liturgy is not something done only by priests and deacons, lectors and cantors, servers and extraordinary ministers. Liturgy is the responsibility of every person present. In fact, every liturgy is by definition a celebration of the entire Church –not only this congregation, but the whole Mystical Body throughout the world and throughout history.
By its very nature, liturgy demands full, conscious and active participation. “Full” means that each person does all those things, and only those things, which belong to his or her proper role in the liturgical assembly. For each person, regardless of having any particular liturgical function, and more important than any such function, full participation means responding to the prayers, attentively listening to the readings, and above all, having a prayerful disposition at this great mystery.
“Conscious” means that we are aware of what we are doing and its meaning. Our attention is to be focused on what we are hearing, singing, saying; that we are present, not only in body, but that our worship is truly done “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
“Active” means that we can in no way be mere passive spectators. Liturgy is not like a play or concert or sporting event in which we merely view the action. Liturgy demands participation by each person, or it simply is not all it is meant to be. Active participation means joining the public prayers (Creed, Lord's Prayer, responses); singing the hymns and responses; and being truly, personally involved in the event taking place.
The Church wishes for all of the faithful, if they have the proper dispositions and in a state of grace, to receive Communion each time they participate in the Mass. One may receive Communion for a second time if this second reception takes place as part of the person’s participation in Mass (Code of Canon Law, c. 917). In danger of death, a Catholic may receive the Eucharist for even a third time the same day (Code of Canon Law, c. 921 §2).