The liturgy as a school of prayer, as a "special place in which God addresses each one of us ... and awaits our response", was the theme of Benedict XVI's catechesis during his general audience, held this morning in St. Peter's Square.
The Pope explained how, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "we read that the word 'liturgy' originally meant a 'service in the name of/on behalf of the people'. If Christian theology took this word from the Greek, clearly it did so thinking of the new People of God, born of Christ Who opened His arms on the Cross to unite mankind in the one peace of God; 'service in the name of the people', a people which exists not of itself but which has come into being thanks to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ". [I think this is a key point. There is something important about understanding that the Mass and Eucharist are not about the individual first, but rather it is about the faithful coming together to worship. That is what the Holy Father is saying.]
"The Catechism also states that in Christian tradition, the word 'liturgy' means the participation of the People of God in the work of God". In this context Pope Benedict recalled how the document on the liturgy had been the first fruit of Vatican Council II. "By beginning with the issue of liturgy, light was very clearly thrown on the primacy of God, on His absolute precedence. ... Where the gaze on God is not decisive, everything becomes disoriented. The fundamental criterion for the liturgy is that it should be oriented towards God, in order to ensure we participate in His work. [A misconception which came about after Vatican Council II is being corrected. The act of worshipping should be directed at God, the Father 100% of the time. Our participation in the liturgy is not based on how much we do, but on how well we do it.]
"Yet, we might ask ourselves", the Holy Father added, "what is this work of God in which we are called to participate? ... And what makes the Mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, Who brought salvation, real for me today? The answer is this: the action of Christ through the Church and the liturgy; in particular the Sacrament of the Eucharist which causes the sacrificial offer of the Son of God Who redeemed us to be present; the Sacrament of Penance in which we pass from the death induced by sin to new life; and the other Sacraments which sanctify us". [Get that, sacrifice and sanctification]
Quoting again from the Catechism of the Catholic Church the Pope affirmed that "a sacramental celebration is a meeting of God's children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit; this meeting takes the form of a dialogue, through actions and words'. Thus", he explained, "the first requirement for a good liturgical celebration is that it be prayer and dialogue with God, first listening then responding. ... Sacred liturgy offers us the words, it is up to us to enter into their meaning, absorb them, harmonise ourselves with them. ... One fundamental and primordial element of dialogue with God in the liturgy is concordance between what we say with our mouths and what we carry in our hearts", he said. [Clearly, the Holy Father is trying to shift the meaning of active participation to actual participation. We don't have to be doing something or even saying something all the time in order to fully participate. We can internalize the matter and we can actually participate without opening our mouths or eyes one time during the Holy Sacrifice. While we can and it is laudable that we do, at times, it is not a lessening of our participation if we don't, so long as we orient our hearts, our minds and our souls to the adoration, supplication and worship of God, the Father at Holy Mass.]
The Pope then referred to a particular moment in which the liturgy calls upon us and helps us to find such concordance: the celebrant's invitation before the Eucharistic prayer: "sursum corda", meaning "let us lift up our hearts"; lift them up, that is, "out of the mire of our concerns and desires, our worries and our distraction. Our hearts, the most intimate part of us, must open meekly to the Word of God and join the prayer of the Church, in order to be oriented towards God by the very words we hear and pronounce".
"We celebrate and experience the liturgy well", the Pope concluded, "only if we maintain an attitude of prayer, uniting ourselves to the mystery of Christ and to His dialogue of a Son with His Father. God Himself teaches us to pray. ... He has given us the right words with which to address Him, words we find in the Psalter, in the great prayers of sacred liturgy and in the Eucharistic celebration itself. Let us pray to the Lord that we may become increasingly aware of the fact that the liturgy is the action of God and of man; a prayer that arises from the Holy Spirit and from us; entirely addressed to the Father in union with the Son of God made man". [Our dialogue is internal. We must pray and we must unite our souls, our hearts, and our minds to God the Father, in Christ the Son, through the Holy Spirit. That is the purpose of the Mass. The Mass is a vehicle to bring us the Sacrament. It is the means by which we worship as Christians. It is the authentic and proper way for all Christians to commune with God. But in order to do this we must pray. We must understand that prayer is threefold. It's object must be worthy of God. It must include faith which includes implicit trust in God. And it demands our attention. We must be attentive to what we are doing. If one of these things is lost, the prayer is not fulfilled. Christ taught us to pray. He furthered this by giving us the Mass. And it is through understanding the end as well as the means that we can truly understand what is proper in the liturgy.]
Following the catechesis the Holy Father addressed greetings to, among others, faithful from Latin America, including a group of Chilean parliamentarians whom he reminded of Catholic politicians' duty "generously to seek the common good of all citizens, in a manner coherent with the convictions held by the children of the Church".
As I was looking at this article, I realized that the act of worshipping is not just an outward action, but it is an internalization of what God the Father created us for. We were created to worship Him Who Is. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, man lost that freedom to worship Him. As God expelled them from the Garden, He promised Adam and Eve that He would restore that freedom. We find that freedom in the Sacrifice on Calvary. Through the re-presentation of Christ's death in an unbloody way, we gain that freedom that was lost. If our end on Earth is to worship God the Father, then it is fulfilled in the manner in which He gave us, the Holy Mass.