Saturday, February 7, 2009

Being a Liturgist in the Midst of the World

The English word liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia. This word is compound of: leitos + ergon. The Greek leitos is an adjective meaning pertaining to the people (laos) and ergon is a noun meaning "work." So perhaps originally the compound meant, "the peoples' work." In the ancient Greek world, the word signified a service done for the common welfare of the people. Liturgy represented any service rendered to the community at personal expense or without remuneration. This service could be either secular or religious. The word could be translated into English as 'worship,' 'ministry,' or more generally as simply 'service.' In the Greek world this really reminds me of the modern idea of a 'volunteer.'

This Greek word enters the biblical tradition through the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The word is used over 100 times for the worship of the LORD by the Jewish people. The most frequent use is specifically of the work of the priestly ministry in the Temple sacrifices and only rarely does it apply to a secular setting. Since the New Testament was composed in Greek we would expect to find this word there as well. The word is quite rare, however, due to the disappearance of the OT priesthood and sacrifices in Christian worship. The verb occurs three times and is used both of congregational "worship" and of "service" in the sense of sharing financially with others in the Church. While the noun leitourgia is used only six times in the New Testament.

In Acts 13:2, we read;

2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off. NAB

St Paul notes in Romans 15:26-27;

26For Macedonia and Achaia have decided to make some contribution for the poor among the holy ones in Jerusalem; 27 they decided to do it, and in fact they are indebted to them, for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to serve them in material blessings. NAB

Using the noun St Paul also refers to "the ministry of service" in 2 Corinthians 9:12; and Philippians 2:30. The writer of Hebrews refers back to the Old Testament usage in order to show that Jesus' new ministry supersedes the Old.

Hebrews 8:6

6 Now he has obtained so much more excellent a ministry as he is mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises.

Hebrews 9:21

21 In the same way, he sprinkled also the tabernacle and all the vessels of worship with blood.

Hebrews 10:11;

11 Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; NAB

Zechariah's priestly service in the Temple in Jerusalem is described by St. Luke as "the days of his liturgy (leitourgias)." St Luke notes, "Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home. (Luke 1:23, NAB) The RSVCE, and NJB translate "service" while the NAB translates, "ministry."

St Paul uses the term in a very interesting manner in Romans 15:15-16. he notes;

"15 But I have written to you rather boldly in some respects to remind you, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the holy Spirit" NAB.

This could just as easily be translated "the grace given me by God to be a liturgist of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles. " In this usage St. Paul has spiritualized the normal manner of OT worship. The priestly sacrifice remains but now it is a spiritual sacrifice. He is offering up the Gospel and the Gentiles as a priestly service. There is a parallel here to St Paul's usage earlier in Romans 12:1 where he writes;

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 2 Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. NAB

We can see from this passage that we are all called to make our lives holy sacrifices to God. Every aspect of our life is affected. The "Temple" of our sacrifice is now the world around us. These are the three principle insights of Second Vatican Council.

1. The Universal call to holiness and apostolic witness.

2. The "Unity of Life."

3. Secularity of the Lay vocation or the idea that we live "in the midst of the world"

There is a universal call to holiness based on our baptism which results in an apostolic outlook toward the world around us (Lumen Gentium 30-36). This is a big idea in this council document, it is the chapter heading. There is also a natural unity to the Christian life which informs every aspect of our existence. Finally the lay person has a special mission to be "secular" or to live in the midst of the world interacting with secular affairs and influencing them in the light of Christ.

How this idea of the council to be 'lived out' through the Liturgy? In 1947 Pope Pius XII wrote Mediator Dei, The Church's first encyclical on liturgy. Pope Pius XII reminds us that; "The worship rendered by the Church to God must be, in its entirety, both interior as well as exterior." (Mediator Dei, 23). Earlier Pope St. Pius X in his Motu Proprio, On the Restoration of Sacred Music (1903) commented that in order to acquire the Christian spirit the "first and most indispensible source" is "active participation in the sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church". Pope Pius XII continues; "It is unquestionably the fundamental duty of man to orientate his person and his life towards God" MD 13. He defines liturgy as;

"The sacred liturgy is, consequently, the public worship which our Redeemer as Head of the Church renders to the Father, as well as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its Founder, and through Him to the heavenly Father. It is, in short, the worship rendered by the Mystical Body of Christ in the entirety of its Head and members."

Pope Pius XII connects this idea to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ;

The Church prolongs the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the sacred liturgy. She does this in the first place at the altar, where constantly the sacrifice of the cross is represented, and with a single difference in the manner of its offering, renewed. She does this next by means of the sacraments, those special channels through which men are made partakers in the supernatural life. She does this it, finally, by offering to God, all Good and Great, the daily tribute of her prayer of praise. " (MD 3)

The Church prolongs the priestly ministry of Jesus

1. By means of the sacred liturgy.

2. By means of the sacraments.

3. By offering to God, "the daily tribute of her prayer of praise." (MD 3)

The liturgy includes public worship, the sacraments, and the tribute of our daily prayers. Our lives should be centered on the Eucharist, enriched by the other sacraments and over flowing with prayer and contemplation in the midst of the world. As the Father of Second Vatican Council later repeat; "Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy." (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14) In our daily lives we must strive to promote fully conscious and active participation which both interior as well as exterior.

No comments:

Post a Comment