The Purpose of the Liturgy is Miracles with the Living God
Today, in the wake of so many complex errors inflicted upon the faithful, it is always best to start with some basics. Too often in academic discussions we tend to gloss over the obvious. The basics of this discussion have to do with defining Liturgy and reminding people of the single sentence explanation of the Mass. Given the awesome reality of the Mass — principally that it is the means by which God chose to be among us until He comes in glory, the basics bear repeating over and over today. What happens at Mass may be summed up in a single sentence: Jesus arrives in His Human body to be with us. Why? Because He loves us and wants to do miracles for us greater than those He did in the Gospels. The Liturgy, what it means, what it does, and why Jesus asked us to do these things should be central to all aspects of considering the Mass. We’ll briefly consider each of these aspects–both for our own edification and that this article might serve as sound catechesis.
Liturgy is Public Worship of God
In most common discussion today, people are shifting their description of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass towards the more mundane word “Liturgy.” There’s nothing wrong with this use from a technical sense. For instance, at least since the fourth century, the Oriental Rites have referred to it as the “Divine Liturgy” usually specifying the source with “of St. Basil” or “of St. John Chrysostom” and so forth. Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.–whose credentials on things theological are impeccable–describes the word’s meaning succinctly. The following quote from Fr. Hardon highights an important distinction on the public nature of the Liturgy. See the distinction he makes away from private devotion herein:
The original Greek term leitourgia (from leos [people] and ergon [work]) was used of any public duty or service. But by the time of the Greek translation of the Old Testament in the third century before Christ, it had come to apply particularly to the services in the Temple. Liturgy in present-day usage refers to the official public worship of the Church, and is thus distinguished from private devotion. Within this ambit of the Church’s service, it is the special title of the Eucharist and the administration of the sacraments with the annexed use of the sacramentals.1
Liturgy means the “official public worship of the Church.” Why? Why distinguish this from “private devotion?” Primarily because the liturgy is something that Jesus asked us to do this for Him. Private devotions are things we are moved to do for God — for ourselves and for Him. The official public worship, on the other hand, is something each individual is compelled to do as a Church as a Body… that is, the Body of Christ. A worthy diversion here is to point out that the members of the body do what the intellect and will command when moving as a body. Unfortunately today, many want to be the head of this Body and do their own thing. No — the point of Liturgy is that the Body of Christ is lead by Christ, who becomes man before them — it is a public thing requiring uniformity of the parts. There is no room here for each person to do whatever he wants.
We see in this distinction the liberalizing forces of the last decades on the Church. We need not survey the inventory of abuses instigated even recently that blur or obfuscate this concept of a public act versus private devotion. Several examples will do. For instance, the “techno Mass” or the charismatic excesses of liturgies wherein concepts of the individual or the society are woven into the Mass in a way that so differentiates it, that only a small targeted group of people would have interest or tolerance for what happens therein. How, when such practices alienate the majority in favor of coddling a few, is that “public worship of the Church?” This is not to say that private devotions cannot be with guitars, or with arm-in-arm group hugs. But can that, as a public function of the Church, embrace everybody in the Church? If the Church is the Body of Christ, then it should have some bodily function common to all the members. That common function is the Sacraments, as instituted by Christ. Most specifically, it is the commemoration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
God Comes to Us in the Mass to Work Miracles
Here, at this point in the discussion, we can detect the problem of the day: namely, people see the Mass as a social event that happens to have a consequence of prayer to God. What an error of priority! No! The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (and the ceremonial liturgy accompanying it) is the principal means of maintaining Christ’s human presence in the Church on earth. Get the language here: Christ becomes humanly present, albeit hidden under the appearance of bread and wine. No wonder Jesus commanded us to do this! Why do I scream and shout that this is the top priority? I will let Fr. Hardon, who taught and convinced me of this aspect of God’s desires explain:
Christ during His visible stay on earth worked these miracles of course as God, but always through His humanity. In other words, the miracles performed by Jesus in Palestine were always the result of human words spoken, or the result of the touch of Christ’s human hands. On one dramatic occasion a women was suddenly healed of years of hemorrhaging the moment she tugged on Christ’s garments.2
Think about what he is telling us: Christ did miracles through His human body. That same human body is present to us, at least until He returns in Glory, only through the Mass. I would have circled the word “only” in red, and highlighted it in yellow if I could. That qualifier must be understood. In no other way does Jesus become humanly present here. In no other way has Jesus determined to work miracles since He became man, than through His human hands touching people and His human mouth speaking words. In essence, the Mass is the very key to miracles and God’s power changing the world around us. Once this is understood, and so easily taught to others, it becomes very clear that we don’t need contemporary music to engage kids, or wild gesticulations to keep the emotional folks interested. We need to convey what the Mass is, and what Jesus intends the august Sacrament to do for us — work real miracles in the lives of the people of His body. Miracles!
What “Faith” Means in the Context of God’s Miracle-Working Power
There is a small requirement on those who are to perform these miracles and receive them. Fr. Hardon puts this prerequisite in terms even children can understand. There are places in the Gospels where we learn that Christ could not, get the verb here, could not perform miracles. Jesus is omnipotent, so how could He be unable to do something? Because, in His words, the people lacked faith. Faith in what? Fr. Hardon explains:
I am not exaggerating. I am not indulging in hyperbole. We all need miracles in our lives. Let’s be sure we know what we are saying. During His public ministry the Savior assured His followers they would continue working miracles in their favor. Even more; He promised that the miracles they would perform would be greater than those which His contemporaries witnessed during His visible stay in Palestine.
However, let’s have no misunderstanding; Christ the Almighty Son of God, who became man, worked miracles during His visible stay on earth only in favor of those who believed. Those who believed that the man they called Jesus was no one less than Almighty God. We should therefore expect this same Jesus to continue working miracles. But I repeat, only for those who believe that the same Jesus is still on earth, but now demanding our faith twice over. He wants us to believe that He is in the Holy Eucharist with the fullness of His humanity, and also to believe that His human nature is united with the second person of the Holy Trinity.3
It’s both that simple and dreadfully overlooked. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the Sacrament in which Our Lord walks among us again as a human, with a human body, and with human presence. Believing that God became man; and today, believing that–what seems to be merely bread and wine–is the precious Body and precious Blood of Jesus is the double key to what we must believe to enable Jesus to work miracles again. With this key, the omnipotent power of Christ to move mountains, to heal the blind, and even the power to convert the most obstinate and obdurate sinners is fully available to us. This key is the ultimate statement of the Mass — the same Jesus who conquered death, who made blind people see, who resurrected the dead and stinking body of Lazarus to life returns to walk among us.
Any other effect of the Mass or purpose is truly secondary to this reality. God is not symbolically present. He is not there merely in “spirit” conjured up by the well wishes of some incantations. No, just like the miracles of Christ in Palestine, a human hand and a human mouth of a priest take bread, and a human tongue utters the words Jesus commanded be said. Through those human things and actions, God incarnates again under the appearence of bread and wine. This is the very same Christ Who works miracles, Who is God, and Who commanded us to commemorate the Mass.
God, the Lover of Mankind, is the Reference Point for Measuring Liturgy
Why did Christ command us to offer this Mass? It’s so easy. Because He wants to be with us! Only through recognizing God’s desire to be with us can the perspective of the purpose of the Mass then be appreciated. St. Basil the Great came to realize this of Our Lord and subsequently referred to Him as “the Lover of Mankind.” Our one sentence explanation of the purpose of the Liturgy then is, “the purpose of the Liturgy of the Mass is to perform the actions commanded and preferred by Our Lord to make Himself physically present to us because He loves us and wants to be with us.”
So much for “gathering” or “celebrations.” To the extent that the Mass does not consider the Bridegroom’s real physical presence among His people, there is no celebration and no reason to gather. Without digressing, that’s why Mass attendance is so low, and why we see so many abuses — namely, people no longer believe God comes to the altar and to them in Holy Communion. If they did believe what we summarized here, there’d be none of this foolishness.
1. Cf. Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., The Liturgy and the Sacraments, op. cit.
2. Cf. Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Christ the Miracle Worker in the Eucharist. op. cit. This essay is remarkable in that it appears to be the central hub of understanding the supernatural power offered to us in the Sacraments, but yet, so infrequently do we here discussions of the very real power Christ intends for us to work miracles, and the very simple conditions of that power: namely that we have faith that God became man, and as the same human man is present to us in the Holy Eucharist. With those conditions met, Jesus can (the only condition I’ve seen on His omnipotence) work miracles greater than He did before the first Easter. Wow!
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