What is the Liturgy?
The Catholic Mass consists completely of ritual. The procedures by which all Catholics follow at Mass, and the components of the Mass, consitute what we call the Liturgy.
In ancient Greece, leitourgia referred to public acts undertaken by citizens for the benefit of the state. The word Liturgy is fitting for Catholics then because at Mass we undertake our own form of public acts that are pleasing to God. This action consists in the recitation of prayers, responses to invitations by the priest, ministerial work, and much more.
The Liturgy is beautiful because it unites the Catholic Church, and we believe it to be the most fitting way to worship God; in fact, God is present in a very special way during the Liturgy.
We sit, stand, kneel, sing, respond, share signs of peace, profess our faith, pray petitions, hear God’s Word, and celebrate Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, in the same manner every Mass. We call the layout of the Mass the Liturgy, and it is a fundamentally important aspect of our Church. The Liturgy ensures that all Catholics celebrate the same, so that we can all be members of a Universal Church.
The word Liturgy comes from the Greek leitourgia, a type of public work undertaken by citizens for the benefit of the state. This is fitting because God calls us to public work. At the Mass, we all cooperate – the priest, the ministers, and congregation – to do the work of God’s Son. Not only does the Liturgy ensure that we are part of the Church community, but also the Liturgy builds and strengthens the community!
How else can we think of the Liturgy? Try imagining the Liturgy as a large plane that extends both into the past and into the future, and that connects everyone in the Church. This plane also has a vertical element that pierces into heaven. And so with the celebration of Mass, this Liturgical plane takes us back to the time of Christ, and forward to the future of the Church, and left, right, up, and down throughout the Universal Church and heaven. This visualization allows one to recognize a truth, namely that when we celebrate the Liturgy, we connect with everything.
How exactly does the Liturgy connect us with God? Think about the Holy Holy; when we recite this dialogue we invoke the saints and angels in heaven to celebrate with us. So along with the Mass on earth, those in heaven, in communion with God, celebrate the Mass also. The Liturgy truly represents a union of all things please to God.
So how can we use this small knowledge of the Liturgy to improve our experience of the Mass? We can recognize that in order for the Liturgy to have full effect, it cannot just be about ourselves, it must be about the community. God saves a people, not an individual; we reflect on this through the plural language of the Liturgy.