The Liturgy and  Sacraments in general                    (E.J.Tyler)

1.  Christ is not just of the past but lives now

 Whenever we think of Buddha, we think of a great religious figure who lived two and a half thousand years ago and who began a great religion. When we think of Confucius, it is the same. He was a figure in the past who has had immense influence on the religious life of millions. His teachings and example are a powerful legacy for millions now. Mahomet who lived nearly a thousand years later has had a great effect on the religious life of millions. Each of them have been figures of history. Christ was very much a great figure of history. I remember many years ago hearing one lecturer say that there is more proof that Christ was a fact of history than there is for Julius Caesar. Whatever about that comparison, there is no doubt that when we contemplate Christ we are contemplating historical facts. One of the assertions of Islam is that Christ did not rise from the dead, and indeed that he did not die on the cross as all. This is a purely gratuitous assertion that has no basis in facts. Our religion is based on hard facts of the past. But, and this is the point here, Christ is not just a very great man of the past. He is our present Lord. The Christian views Christ as a living person who is the present object of his love and life. He is not just a figure of the past to whom he looks back for inspiration and teaching. In this respect Christianity is profoundly different from many of the religions of man. When we turn to Jesus, we look not primarily to the past but to someone who lives now, and this living person who is our Lord can be located. He dwells in the life of the Church, and in the Church’s liturgy and sacraments. That is why the liturgy must have a most important place in the spiritual life of any Catholic. 

2.  The liturgy celebrates the living and present Christ   

 So when we speak of the liturgy we refer to the Church’s celebration of the person of Christ and in particular of his paschal mystery. We celebrate him. We celebrate what he did for us in his infancy and public ministry, and most of all in his Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension into heaven and in the sending of the promised Spirit. But of course it is far more than a celebratory memorial. At the death of some prominent person there is often a memorial service in a public building, and many come to celebrate his life and achievements. My ancestors on my mother’s side lived in an extensive valley called Burragorang Valley which was flooded over when the Warragamba Dam was built to supply water to Sydney. For some decades the surviving families of that Valley met once a year as a memorial of their times in the Valley. We remember how Steve Irwin suddenly died, killed in the water by a stingray. There were many public memorials of his life, and they continued for some time. Recently I was reading the Essays of an English Calvinist pastor by the name of Thomas Scott who lived from about 1747 to 1821. Through his books he had quite an influence on the young John Henry Newman, and in particular his Essays were carefully read by Newman when a boy and youth. In one of his Essays he speaks of the Eucharist and recognizes its importance, but of course being a Calvinist he absolutely rejects the teaching of the Catholic Church about it, and regards it as a memorial only.

3.   The liturgy makes present Christ and his action.

So then, in the liturgy the Church celebrates Christ’s actual presence and the presence in a sacramental sense of the mysteries of his life and work. In the Liturgy and the Sacraments our Lord is present and offering us himself and the blessings won for us by his death and resurrection. The pinnacle of the liturgy is the Eucharist, and this is why the Eucharist is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and it is likewise the font from which all her spiritual power flows. The great reality within and behind all liturgical action is the person of Christ. When the Church engages in her liturgical action, it is Christ who is engaging in it and offering himself and his gifts to the Church’s members. In this way he continues the work of our redemption, and it is done in and through the Church. In the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Christ communicates to us himself and the fruits of the redemption, until he comes again. So we must get into the way of looking on the liturgy and the Sacraments as not just services of prayer and ceremony which we participate in as members of the Church.

4.  The liturgy involves God the Trinity 

 The action of the liturgy and the sacraments are actions of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit here on earth, which the Church - and therefore each of us who are members of the Church - shares in. In the Liturgy we who are the Church, share in the activity in our midst of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is active in the liturgy filling us with every heavenly blessing in his gift of Christ his Son. Christ our Lord makes himself and his saving work present in the Eucharist and in the Sacraments, and all is done by the power and the action of the Holy Spirit who abides in the Church as in his Temple. It is very important that we have a deep appreciation of the Sacraments and see them as the direct actions, under signs, of God, within the life of the Church. They constitute our encounter with Christ and the Holy Trinity. Christ has entrusted the Sacraments to the Church in entrusting himself to the Church as her Head. Through them the divine life he brings is given to us. There are seven of them, each of them a great channel of grace and the particular grace is signified by the signs associated with the sacrament being administered. They are baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, which make up the sacraments initiating the believer into the life of the Church. There are Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, which are channels of healing and restoration, and there are Holy Orders and Matrimony which are Sacraments of special vocation. Inasmuch as Christ has entrusted the Sacraments to the Church, they are the Church’s actions, and in turn they build her up due to the grace of Christ which they bring to the Church’s members. 

5. The Sacraments are necessary for salvation.

 Christ is necessary for salvation, so the Sacraments are necessary. In the Sacraments Christ himself confers sacramental grace, the forgiveness of sins, our adoption as children of God, conformation to Christ and membership in his Church. By the power of the Holy Spirit our Lord transforms the one who receives them worthily. This transforming presence and action is called the grace of the sacrament, and it helps the person grow in holiness. By contrast if a person deliberately and knowingly refuses to receive the Sacraments, that person’s salvation would be in very serious danger. So let us be on guard against viewing the Sacraments as just ceremonies of the Church that we take part in. They are our meetings with Christ who is present in the midst of his disciples. The ministry of the word and the ministry of the sacraments are the two greatest actions of Christ and of the Church.

6    We ought have a profound reverence for the Sacraments. 

We ought approach the Sacraments  with a lively faith seeing them as Christ present and active on our behalf in the life of the Church. It is because they are Christ’s actions that the efficacy of the Sacraments does not depend on the personal holiness of the minister, but of course the fruits of the Sacraments do depend on the dispositions of the one receiving them. It was the same in our Lord’s day. Our Lord was there in the midst of people, but the fruits of his presence among them depended on their dispositions. This was the case even with the Twelve. Christ had little effect on Judas because of Judas’s dispositions.

   This reverence ought be present wherever Mass is celebrated. I have seen Masses celebrated in homes and in small chapels and the reverence there has left a lot to be desired. The Church’s regulations about the ritual ought be observed carefully out of reverence. I have seen Masses celebrated in homes and small chapels with the utmost reverence. We will have this reverence if we have learnt to reverence Christ himself and if we have learnt to recognize his presence in the liturgical life and action of the Church. Likewise because of the presence of Christ we ought manifest a reverence for the Church itself, entering it with reverence and observing reverently the practices recommended by the Church, such as the sign of the cross with holy water, a reverent genuflection, maintaining silence, gazing prayerfully in the first instance at the tabernacle, but also at other sacred images and statues in the church to help us maintain constant prayer in the church. We ought maintain an attitude of reverence for the Tabernacle, for the altar, for the pulpit from which the word of God will be read and proclaimed. When we see the baptismal font it ought remind us of our baptism and help us to renew the promises of our baptism. So too with the Confessional room, it ought remind us of the forgiveness of sins that is so available to us in the life of the Church. Reverence will be fostered by recognizing constantly Christ’s divine presence and action.

7.  Christ is the heart and head of the Church  

The point to be remembered is that the great reality within the Church is the person of Christ. It is he who is the Church’s head and it is above all he who prays in the prayer of the Church. In any other religion when we think of the members of that religion praying, it is simply a matter of those people praying and performing the ceremonies of their public worship. But when the Catholic Church prays it is the person of Christ who is present and praying. The Church’s members unite themselves to him in what he is doing. In fact, when we think of Christ we ought think always of his members both in heaven and on earth, because he has united himself to all of us such that we are in him and he is in us. The prayer of Christ in heaven involves the angels and the saints and particularly Mary the Mother of God, the martyrs and apostles, all in heaven because they are in Jesus as members of his body. So too on earth, Christ prays and offers to his heavenly Father a worthy sacrifice of praise. We all act in Christ our head.

8. Signs and symbols 

The earthly liturgy is interwoven with signs and symbols drawn from creation and human cultures and is influenced by the events portrayed in both the Old and New Testaments. We ought make full use of the richness and symbolism of these signs. The signs employed in the liturgy come from created things such as light, water, fire, bread, wine, oil. Others come from social life such as washing, anointing, breaking of bread. Still others come from the history of salvation in the Old Testament, such as the Passover rites, the sacrifices, the laying on of hands. Some of the signs are normative and unchangeable, and were taken up by Christ himself to be made the channels of his presence, his activity, and his grace. The words that accompany the actions give to them the character of being signs, and as signs they are the expression of what Christ is doing sacramentally. They bring about what they signify - which is to say, in them Christ is doing what the sacrament indicates. This is why all that is done in the liturgy ought involve respect for the Church’s norms, her doctrine and her life of prayer because it is Christ who is doing this.

9.  The Sunday.

The Sunday is the foundation and the kernel of the entire liturgical year.  If we celebrate each Sunday really well, we shall be well on the way to living an excellent liturgical life. The Sunday is the Lord’s Day. We celebrate the resurrection, when together with the ascension and the sending of the Spirit, the work of our redemption was completed. We all come together in Christ on the Sunday. We gather together with and in him, and he speaks to us in his word and makes present his offering of himself at Calvary uniting us to himself in this self-offering. Then Sunday by Sunday we celebrate in union with Jesus the various mysteries of his life and teaching during the entire liturgical year. On set days we celebrate the mother of God and the angels and the saints. As well as this there is the praying of the prayer of the Church, the divine office, which very many laity pray. In that prayer the entire Church prays with our Lord. It is a wonderful prayer to enter into.

10. The liturgy and the Sacraments are the indispensable source of growth in holiness for the Church’s members. When participating in Mass or receiving the Sacraments, or praying the Divine Office, we ought enter heart and soul into what we are doing, knowing that what we are participating in is the prayer and the ministry of Christ who is united in this action with his Church.

(Comp. 218-249)