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An Introduction to Church Teaching on the Liturgy

What is the liturgy?

The liturgy is the public worship the Church offers to the Father in union with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. As the Church teaches:

Two parts:

a. “The sacred liturgy is, consequently, the public worship which our Redeemer as Head of the Church renders to the Father…”


b. “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.” (Pius XII, Mediator Dei 20, emphasis added)

“The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1368)

What is the purpose of the liturgy?

For the Church to offer worship to God and for the people to be made holy through the infinite merits of Jesus sacrifice. As the Church teaches:

“Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work [of the liturgy] wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #7, Second Vatican Council)

How important is the Liturgy?

The liturgy is the most important work of the Church. As the Church teaches:

“Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #7, Second Vatican Council, emphasis added)

“The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #10, Second Vatican Council)

Why is the Mass called a “sacrifice”?

Through his Passion, Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice to the Father.  This sacrifice of Jesus is made present to us in an unbloodied manner at every Mass through the priest. As the Church teaches:

“At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #47, Second Vatican Council)

“The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different. In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367)

“In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ’s body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1353)

What is the connection of Mass to heaven?

In the Mass we are united to the saints and angels in heaven in the worship of God. Mass becomes a kind of participation in the heavenly liturgy even while still on earth. As the Church teaches:

“In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #10, Second Vatican Council)

“Celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice therefore, we are most closely united to the Church in heaven in communion with and venerating the memory first of all of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, of Blessed Joseph and the blessed apostles and martyrs and of all the saints.” (Lumen Gentium, #50, Second Vatican Council)

How do we participate in in the liturgy?

We participate in the liturgy both externally and internally. Our eternal participation includes gestures, singing, and responses. Our internal participation involves contemplation and prayer. When we come to Mass we offer Jesus to the Father and we unite our lives, our prayers, and the needs of the world to Jesus’ sacrifice. As the Church teaches:

“In the Eucharist the Church is as it were at the foot of the cross with Mary, united with the offering and intercession of Christ.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1370)

“For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.(199) Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist.” (Lumen Gentium, Second Vatican Council, # 34)

“Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active.” (St. John Paul II, Ad Limina Address to Bishops in the United States, 1998).