The Total Dedication of the Church to God
Those who have been blessed with the opportunity to visit one of our traditional Benedictine monasteries, whether in the United States, Brazil, or in France, have all been struck by the distinctly profound beauty of the liturgy performed in a monastic community. And indeed, St. Benedict has no qualms in regard to the liturgy celebrated in all his monasteries: “Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God.”1 But why do monks dedicate so much of their time and energy to the solemn celebration of the liturgy, when in our parishes we often content ourselves with low Masses and private devotions?
St. Benedict did not invent his Rule; he simply took the Tradition of the Church and applied it to the life of his monks: he wrote in the Prologue, “We are going to establish a school for the Lord’s service.” For this is what the holy Patriarch did, a school in which his monks would learn how to give themselves totally to God and thus become saints. To the monks, his sons, he gave the liturgy as one of the most efficacious means to unite them to God. St. Pius X in his motu proprio Tra le Sollecitudini said the same thing about 14 centuries later. This is what Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Society of St. Pius X, passed on to us his priests, according to St. Paul’s words, “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you.”2
Let us therefore try to understand why the liturgy is so important. Since the aim, or the end, of an action3 determines the nature of the action itself, let us consider today the purpose of the liturgy.
Origin of the Word “Liturgy”
The word “liturgy” (Latin: “liturgia”) was not invented by Holy Mother Church. It comes from the Greek, Leiton Ergon, which literally means: a public service. Among the ancient Greeks, it referred to the cooperation of a wealthy citizen in the public activity of the city, and in particular to religious (pagan) ceremonies. The Holy Scriptures in the original Greek uses this same word on several occasions to signify the religious ministry of the clergy.4 In time it came to signify all the ceremonies of the Church, and since the very center of all Catholic ceremonies is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, accordingly, Eastern Christians often use the simple word “liturgy” in reference to the Mass itself.5
The Liturgy, Act of the Virtue of Religion
Having explained briefly the origin and meaning of the word, we must now study its nature: The liturgy is the compendium of all our religious ceremonies, but what is a religious ceremony? We must divide our question into two parts: From what moral virtue are such ceremonies derived, and what is the end of such a ceremony? Or, to use the word “liturgy” instead of “religious ceremony,” what virtue does the liturgy depend upon, and what is the end of the liturgy?
In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas studies our human actions and classifies them according to which virtue each of these actions belong. The very principle our holy Doctor uses to achieve this beautiful classification can be summarized as follows: God is the first principle and end of all His creatures. In other words, all creatures have been made by Him, exist because of Him, and have Him as their End.6 St. Paul summarizes this with these words: “For in Him we live and move and are.” 7
Now as creatures endowed with reason, we have received the gift of free will, and consequently it is not enough for us humans to merely belong to God, we must actually and wilfully accept this by our deeds. And this is where virtues come in, and are classified as follows: The theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity will perfect all the actions by which we consider God Himself directly. The moral virtues will perfect all of the actions by which we do not consider God Himself directly but one of His creatures, which we use for Him.8 These moral virtues are very numerous, but they may all be reduced to the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
Religion in particular is related to justice:9 Religion is the virtue through which a reasonable creature gives due honor to God. It is a moral and not a theological virtue, because the acts whereby due honor is given to God “do not reach out to God Himself (as when we believe God we reach out to Him by believing); …indeed, due worship is paid to God, in so far as certain acts whereby God is worshiped, such as the offering of sacrifices, etc., are done out of reverence for God. Hence it is evident that God is related to religion not as matter or object, but as End.”10 The acts accomplished by the virtue of religion are all summarized by the word “worship.” Worship is the act of the virtue of religion: through worship, man acknowledges God as his Principle, his Ruler and his End. We say “a-knowledges” because man does not only know but actually makes wilful acts of acceptation.
The only true virtue of religion, and thus the only true worship of God, is supernatural. God could have created and left us in a purely natural state, without calling us to a supernatural union with Him, that is, a union that surpasses our nature and cannot be achieved by our natural forces. In that case, the natural virtue of religion, and its act, natural worship, would have been enough to fulfil our religious duty towards God.
But as we know through Divine Revelation, God did actually elevate Adam and Eve to an intimate union with Himself, which can be achieved only with His help, a supernatural help. Consequently, the true virtue of religion is something supernatural: it is a virtue infused into the human soul by God Himself. God infused it into Adam and Eve on the day of their creation, together with supernatural grace and all the other supernatural virtues. All of these our first parents should have “passed” to us together with our body and our soul at our conception.
Unfortunately, we also know that original sin separated our first parents from God and consequently they lost all of these supernatural virtues not only for themselves but also for us. In His mercy God sent His Only-begotten Son to restore this destroyed union. This very fact of the Incarnation of the Son of God and His death upon the Cross has a very important consequence: Our link with God can now be only through our Lord Jesus Christ: in other words, the only true religion now is that which has been founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, our Mediator, or Bridge,11 between God and Man. Consequently, the only true Worship of God is that established by Jesus Christ.
At this point it is important to remember that our Lord Jesus Christ is both God and man: Consequently, as man He is the founder, the Sovereign Priest, of the true religion,12 and as God He is the end of the true religion,13 which means that Christ must not only be followed as Priest, but He also must be adored as God. Lastly, this very religion and worship founded by Christ, He entrusted to the Catholic Church, which He founded for that very purpose.14 Accordingly, the only true religion as well as the only true worship of God is that of the Holy Catholic Church. There is no other!
It is this true worship of the Catholic Church, founded and led by Christ the Sovereign Priest and directed to God, which we call the liturgy. Accordingly, the liturgy is not merely a privilege of the priests on their own, nor is it a mere set of external prayers established by the Church in the Middle Ages. It is much more than that! It is the very life of the Church which, through Christ the Priest, adores the infinite Majesty of the Most Holy Trinity. Through the liturgy, all Catholics, not only priests but also the faithful, are incorporated by Jesus our Pontiff into the adoration He always renders to His Father. This is why all the Prayers intoned by the Priest in the Liturgy end with the formula “Per Christum Dominum nostrum” (Through Christ our Lord). And for the same reason, to these priestly prayers the faithful always add a final “Amen” (Hebrew: So be it): The priest prays, the faithful pray, but it is Christ who prays in us!
The Glory of God and Our Sanctification
As we have said, the liturgy is the ceremonial worship of God by Christ through the Church. Its aim is the adoration of God our Creator and Savior. This we all know, and it is one of the reasons we refuse the new liturgy created after Vatican II: they have essentially replaced the adoration of God with a tasteless social gathering: the Sacrifice has been replaced by a meal.15
But we also remember that when the creature does submit itself to its Creator, this very submission does not change God Himself. The creature, by submitting to God, places itself in its right place before God, and consequently (the word consequently is very important), it reaches its perfection. Let us make a comparison: By remaining on the track, the train not only does what it is supposed to do, but it consequently can go very far, as far as the rails go. By worshipping God (the primary end of the liturgy), man consequently reaches his perfection and happiness (the secondary end of the liturgy). 16
Thus, in the liturgy and by the liturgy men are perfected because they adore God: they are purified and sanctified, made more and more similar to the High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is through and by the liturgy that grace is given to man: through the sacraments in particular, but also through the other ceremonies of the Church, which purify man from his sin and unite him more and more to God through Christ.
The whole liturgical environment created by Christ and organized by the Church wonderfully educates men to practice all the other virtues. Faith and hope are nourished by the theological teaching spread out before us in all the liturgical texts, love towards God is enkindled in man’s heart by the Holy Eucharist, and by the frequent evocation of the Passion of our Savior;17 fraternal charity is strengthened in us when we give each other (or witness) the Kiss of Peace just before Communion; humility and contrition for our sins take root in our hearts when we strike our breasts and kneel at the Confiteor...18
Finally, it is obvious, from the nature of the liturgy in general as well as from its end in particular, that we must always endeavor to seek the greater glory of God first every time we celebrate or attend the Divine Liturgy: this means that pastoral or educational efficiency should never take precedence over the glory of God! The liturgy is not made first of all to sanctify and educate us but to contemplate and adore God, and sanctification as well as education are only secondary, although not optional, and we would do well never to forget it: This is what St. Benedict taught his monks, this is the way they live, and this is why their liturgy is so peaceful and beneficial: they prefer nothing to the liturgy, the glory of God, and consequently the liturgy sanctifies them and fills them with faith, hope, charity and all of the virtues.
1 Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 43. It is interesting to note that St. Benedict uses nearly the same words when considering the love of Christ and the Liturgy: “Nihil amori Christi praeponere” (To prefer nothing to the love of Christ, in Chapter 4) and “Nihil operi Dei praeponatur” (Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God–that is, the Liturgy). Christ and the Liturgy, everything is said!
2 Cor. 11:23.
3 In philosophy we would say the final cause.
4 E.g. Num. 1:50 (God said to Moses about the priests, “Appoint them over...whatsoever pertaineth to the ceremonies...and they shall carry the tabernacle...and they shall minister [λειτουργ σουσιν–perform its liturgy]”); Luke 1:23 (About St. Zachary, the father of St. John the Baptist: “And it came to pass, after the days of his office [λειτουργιας–his Liturgy] were accomplished, he departed to his own house.”); Heb. 8:1-2 (St. Paul, about our Lord Jesus Christ: “...we have such a High Priest....A minister [λειτουργος–Liturgist] of the holies and of the true tabernacle...”).
5 Eastern Catholics usually say they are going to attend the “Divine Liturgy,” that is, Holy Mass; and the title inscribed on the first page of Greek or Slavic Missals (Rite of St. John Chrysostom) is usually “Divine Liturgy of our Father Saint John Chrysostom.”
6 As previously said, in philosophy we say that God is our end, or final cause.
7 Acts 17:28.
8 It is interesting to note that St. Ignatius makes this distinction in his Spiritual Exercises in the very first meditation, that of the Principle and Foundation:
0 1st Part of the meditation: We are made for GOD and we must know, love and serve Him: this is precisely achieved through the Theological Virtues: God is the immediate object.
0 2nd Part of the meditation: God created all things for man, in order that man might use these to serve God: this is precisely achieved through the Moral Virtues: A creature (e.g. a car) is the Immediate Object of the virtue (e.g. Prudence in using the car), and God is the ultimate End (e.g. I drive the car prudently for this or that reason, but ultimately to serve God in my state of life).
9 St. Thomas studies the virtue of Religion in the Summa Theologica: II-II, Q. 81.
10 II-II, Q. 81, Art. 5, Corpus.
11 In Latin, “Pontifex” (Pontiff, or Bishop) comes from “Pontem Faciens,” that is “He who establishes (faciens) a bridge (pontem).”
12 Cf. III, Q. 22 & 26.
13 Cf. III, Q. 25.
14 Cf. III, Q. 8 & Q. 57, Art. 1.
15 Much could be added on this subject, and we will come back to this point in another article, but the point is that the New Liturgy of Vatican II does not give to God the glory we owe Him, and thus does not please Him.
16 On a more general level, St. Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our heart is without rest until it rest in Thee.” It is by giving ourselves to God that we not only fulfil our duty but consequently reach happiness!
17 St. Thomas Aquinas used to weep of Hope and Love at Compline in Lent when singing the Media Vita which the Dominicans still recite every evening.
18 The Capuchins have a very beautiful custom: They twist their chord around their neck, remove their sandals and kneel at the door of the cell of their Confessor when asking to go to confession. When two Benedictines wish to end a quarrel or make up for a lack of charity, they kneel down beside each other and give one another the kiss of peace in silence just before going to bed, according to the precept of our Blessed Lord, who asked us not to let the sun set upon a quarrel. And the Dominicans prostrate themselves totally on the floor before their superior when they have made a serious fault. All these little monastic traditions which enshrine the Liturgy of the monks and nuns help them tremendously to live a life of supernatural virtue.