The Liturgy

by Fr. Adam Purdy, SSPX

In our spiritual lives we are often urged to assess the esteem we give to creatures. Men become inordinate in their pursuit of wealth, reputation, and various creature comforts. In all cases, it is not a question of what the thing is in itself, but rather what it means to us. Herein lies the true depth to the expression conversio ad creaturam1 involved with every sin. We are therefore moved to check these attachments in order to obtain spiritual progress.

On the other hand, the role of creatures in our sanctification is a most important one. Psychologically speaking, there is nothing in the soul that does not first come through the senses, that is, from the material world. As this is true intellectually, so it is true spiritually. Let us make note of the humanity of Jesus Christ as well as the sacraments, both material creatures instrumental in our sanctification.

Men are body and soul; as such, all of our actions engage our bodies and souls in some way. While grace resides in the higher faculties, we are not to think of the body as simply excess baggage. A well-disciplined body is a most effective tool for the sanctification of the soul.

Looking at the grand scheme of things, the Word goes forth in the Incarnation to bring sinful men back to God who is Spirit. “I came from the Father and am come into the world; again I leave the world, and I go to the Father.”2 In taking flesh, He commits to use the material world in order to restore the spiritual to men. This use of the material order on the part of the Word is the liturgy of the Church.

The liturgy is the public prayer of the Church—the Mass, the sacraments, the prayers of the missal, the blessings of the ritual, the breviary, etc. All these are material, sensible expressions organized in times and seasons, feasts and ceremonies. While the established signs instruct us in our duties to God, our interior dispositions also find expression in these signs. Ritual is the exterior expression of the interior dispositions of worship.

This description of the liturgy is the one closest to our senses; the one that appears immediately. It is, however, incomplete without further development. The deeper the development goes, the more we understand that the liturgy and all prayer life are summed up in one word—Christ.

To come to a higher understanding of the liturgy, we must focus on the work of Christ and the work of His institutions. For easiness in meditation these are listed as follows:

Let us begin with the end and purpose of the liturgy—the ‘work’ of the Son of God, in His Divinity, the ‘prayer’ of Christ within the Bosom of the Trinity.

God is Father. Eternally long before the created light rose upon the world, God begets a Son to whom He communicated His Nature, His perfections, His beatitude, His life, for to beget is to communicate being and life. “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” Both, although distinct from one another, are united in a powerful, substantial embrace of love, whence proceeds that Third Person, whom Revelation calls by the mysterious name: the Holy Ghost.

But the Son, who by nature is the only Son of the Eternal Father, appears here below only to become the First-born of all who shall receive Him, after having been redeemed by Him: “The first-born among many brethren.” Alone born of the Father in eternal splendor, alone Son by right, He is constituted the head of a multitude of brethren, on whom, by His redeeming work, He will bestow the grace of Divine life.

That same Divine life which proceeds from the Father into the Son and from the Son into the humanity of Jesus, will circulate through Christ in all who will accept it: it will draw them even into the Bosom of the Father, where Christ has gone before us, after having paid, with His Blood, the price of this divine gift.5

To be drawn even into the Bosom of the Father! Jesus says the same at his discourse at the Last Supper: “As Thou Father, in Me, and I in Thee: that they also may be one in us”6; and “I in them, and I in Thee; that they may be made perfect in one.”7 This refers to that repose, where union with God will be eternally consummated: “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then the Son also himself shall be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God will be all in all.”8 The purpose of our life is union with Christ in His ‘work’ within the Bosom of the Trinity; to do what Christ does within the Trinity; to participate in the eternal knowing and loving of God in His intimate life.

Our usual understanding of the liturgy never goes this far; properly speaking, this is not called liturgy. For our purpose we do not disconnect the idea, for St. Thomas joins these ideas in one: “O sacred banquet at which Christ is consumed, the memory of His Passion is recalled, our souls are filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us.”9 The end, future glory, is contained and signified in the sacraments, and therefore the ‘prayer’ of Christ remains united to the liturgy.

Life in Christ, within the Trinity, is the very end of the liturgy, the end of our spiritual life. Exterior expressions made in the liturgy are to draw us to this end; these expressions point to the inward meaning and purpose, to the very life of the liturgy itself—“that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”10

In explaining the other points, let us turn to St. Thomas Aquinas. In his treatise on the Sacraments, he explains the instrumental causality of the humanity of Christ in the sacraments. To say this in lay terms: what role does the humanity of Jesus play in distributing divine life? What is the value of His body and soul? What does He accomplish as man in the sacraments?

Christ produces the inward sacramental effect, both as God and as man, but not in the same way. For, as God, He works in the sacraments by authority, but as man, His operation conduces the inward sacramental effect meritoriously and efficiently, but instrumentally. For it has been stated above (48, 1, 6; 49, 1) that Christ’s passion, which belongs to Him in respect of His human nature, is the cause and justification, both meritoriously and efficiently, not as the principal cause thereof, or by His own authority, but as an instrument in so far as His humanity is the instrument of His Godhead, as stated above (13:2, 3; 19:1).11

Christ as God has power of authority over the sacraments. This means that God alone is the author of grace; He is the principal agent of grace as He alone creates grace, and He alone touches the soul. However, God chose an instrument, a tool, in order to carry this grace to souls. This tool is the humanity of Jesus Christ. The Eternal Word of God takes flesh: Et incarnatus est.12 In this work of the Holy Trinity, the Divine Nature and the human nature are united in the one person of the Word. Human nature is assumed to act as an instrument to reconcile men to God.

Reconciliation is accomplished through the redemptive work of Christ, namely His Passion. “He hath borne our infirmities…and by his bruises we are healed.”13 “Who his own self bore our sins in his body upon the tree; that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed.”14 “Giving thanks to God the Father, who has made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us in to the kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins.”15

What then is the need of further instruments? What would bring His work to men centuries after He lived? What would preserve in souls the graces merited by the Passion? How would souls be nourished in the physical absence of Jesus?

Jesus Christ instituted the sacraments as signs and causes of grace. These are the material/sensible means to dispense the spiritual graces of His Passion to souls. The material element is important; it is the execution of the material element that gives the confidence and assurance that the spiritual effect is delivered to the soul.

St. Thomas continues: “Consequently, just as Christ as God has power of authority over the Sacraments, so, as man, He has power of ministry in chief, or power of excellence. And this consists in four things. First in this; that the merit and power of His Passion operates in the sacraments as stated in Q. 62, Art. 5. And because the power of the Passion is communicated to us by faith, according to Rom. 3:25, ‘Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation through faith in His blood,’ which we proclaim by calling on the name of Christ: therefore, secondly, Christ’s power over the sacraments consists in this, that they are sanctified by the invocation of His name. And because the Sacraments derive their power from their institution, hence, thirdly, the excellence of Christ’s power consists in this, that He, who gave them their power, could institute the sacraments. And since cause does not depend on effect but rather conversely, it belongs to the excellence of Christ’s power that He could bestow the sacramental effect without conferring the exterior sacrament.”16

Thus is clear the role and power of the humanity of Christ in the sacraments:

In His choice of instruments, Christ does not settle for inanimate elements only, but He institutes the priesthood, incorporating men, not as inanimate, but knowing and willing instruments. These instruments are given the power to wield the sacraments, in effect, to wield the Passion of Christ.

All of this seems quite logical when we consider the state of man—the sacraments are on account of man. The sacraments are not some mystical creations that hover above us, dropping graces like rain; they are an exact fit, molding around us, adapted to our very nature. It is not need that warrants existence, but rather Christ’s perception of our needs who supplies in every part and measure of our nature.

The Church, also perceptive of the nature of man, fashioned the ritual of the Church. For the first centuries this development was restricted for reasons of persecution. With the peace of Constantine, the liturgical rites developed.

This ritual, externally a series of material elements—words, gestures, actions—serves to accomplish many ends. As the external is a sign of the internal, these material elements demonstrate the Faith. Lex orandi, lex credendi.17 The authors of these signs designed them to indicate certain things to the mind. The words used are a catechism of Catholic teaching, exposing the mysteries of our Faith; the gestures, with their sense of the sacred and the spirit of adoration, indicate what hides within the signs; the entire structure and ambiance strengthen our dispositions of faith, hope and charity, inspiring true worship of God.

Let us conclude with a passage from St. Paul, which shows that for the sake of mankind, even God would bind Himself to a material element (flesh and blood) to bring about the redemption of mankind. “Christ died for us; much more therefore, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son; much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”18 And again St. Paul writes: “Therefore because the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner hath been partaker of the same: that, through death, he might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil: and might deliver them, who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to servitude.”19


1 St. Augustine’s definition of sin: aversio a Deo (turning away from God), conversio ad creaturam (turning toward the creature).

2 John 16:28.

3 Hebrews 10:5.

4 I Cor. 4:1.

5 Marmion, Christ the Life of the Soul.

6 John 12:21.

7 Ibid., 17:21.

8 I Cor. 15:28.

9 Ant. O Sacrum Convivium, Feast of Corpus Christi.

10 John 10:10.

11 Summa Theologica, III, Q. 64, Art. 4.

12 “And He was made flesh,” Nicene Creed.

13 Isaias 53:5.

14 I Peter 2:24.

15 Col. 1:12-14.

16 Summa Theologica, III, Q. 64, Art. 4.

17 The law of praying is the law of believing.

18 Rom. 5:9-10.

19 Hebrews 2:14-15.