Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, in his book “Faith in the Public Square,” defines our liturgical life in this way: “The calling of the human person is to name the world aright, that is, to acknowledge it as God’s gift and to work so as to bring to light its character as reflecting God’s character, to manifest its true essence… Human beings orchestrate the reflection of God’s glory in the world by clothing material things with sacred meaning and presenting the world before God in prayer.”
Church documents affirm this truth:
“The liturgy is the source of achieving in the most effective way possible human sanctification and God’s glorification.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 10)
“Each day is made holy through the liturgical celebrations of the people of God.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, No. 3)
Every Sunday at Mass the church reflects God’s glory to the world. It is through Christ in the Eucharist that the material things of this world are clothed with sacred meaning and offered back to God. Sunday after Sunday, this process of human sanctification and God’s glorification continues without end. Our liturgical year provides us with the pattern by which we can mark this sanctifying process. Its cycle reflects Christ’s paschal mystery — the sacred memory of his life, passion, death and resurrection, for which we are the caretakers. Year after year we walk this journey of sanctifying the world through Christ.
The seasons of our liturgical year begin with reflection upon the mystery of incarnation, the means by which God entered human materiality. For four weeks of Advent we contemplate and quietly prepare ourselves to break open our hearts ever-wider and receive this mystery once again.
Meister Eckhart, a 14th century monk, spoke so eloquently of the incarnation. “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”
Just as in Advent we contemplate the mystery of incarnation, during the Christmas season we joyfully celebrate that mystery. Christmas reminds us that we, too can give birth to holiness, in ourselves and in our church. Remember, in the church year, Christmas is a season, not just a day.
The season of Lent is a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter. Throughout the weeks of Lent, the worshipping community walks the journey of prayer and preparation with those to be baptized at Easter, and by that accompaniment renews their own baptismal commitment to live the way of Christ. This is the essence of the 40 days of the Lenten season.
The Triduum (Latin for “three days”) is celebrated from sundown on Holy Thursday to sundown Good Friday (day one), to sundown Holy Saturday (day two) to sundown Easter Sunday (day three).
From sundown to sundown is a practice of naming days which we inherited from our Jewish ancestors. These days are considered to be one glorious celebration of life, death, and resurrection in Christ. This feast of light and life is the highlight of our liturgical year. All those we accompanied in prayer during their Lenten time of preparation, are baptized at the Easter Vigil, and we renew our own baptism.
Remember, Easter, too, is a season, not just a day. It is, in fact, 50 days of rejoicing with the newly baptized, and celebrating the glory of God as known through the resurrection of Christ. It comes to a close on Pentecost which celebrates the church, the visible sign of Christ’s continuing presence on earth.
In the liturgical calendar, the 33-34 remaining weeks outside of the designated seasons listed above are referred to as “Ordinary Time,” because each week is numbered or named by “ordinals,” (e.g. 2nd, 5th, 24th, etc.). These days are “devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects,” (General Norms, No. 43) and to worship that gives “perfect glory to God,” (General Norms, No. 18), “achieving in the most effective way possible human sanctification and God’s glorification” (Constitution, No. 10).
“Worship is not only a matter of words, but is a foretaste of the God-related destiny of the world, that longer-for state of creation in which everything can be clearly seen as bearing God’s glory and love” (“Faith in the Public Square”).
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