May 2021 Print

Questions and Answers

By Fr. Juan Carlos Iscara, SSPX

Is there a precise definition of the Liturgy?

The term “liturgy” comes from the Greek leitourgia (λειτος, pertaining to the people, and εργον, work), indicating a service done for the common welfare. In ancient Greece, it designated any service rendered to the community at personal expense, or at least without remuneration. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in ancient times, the term was used to designate also the worship of God (cf. Ex. 29:30, II Chronicles 13:10), and with that meaning it has passed into Christian usage.

In his encyclical, Mediator Dei, Pius XII has given us the real definition: “The Sacred Liturgy is the public worship which Our Redeemer as Head of the Church renders to the Father, as well as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its Founder, and through Him to the Heavenly Father.” As a definition, it is precise and exhaustive.

Worship is the acknowledgment of God’s supreme excellence and the expression of man’s submission to His absolute dominion. As such, it is an act of the virtue of religion, which inclines man to give to God the honor and adoration due to Him as the Creator and supreme Ruler, as well as the last End of all things.

Public does not refer to the number of faithful who attend divine services, or to the external quality of those acts, but to the fact that what is done or said represents and affects the whole body of the faithful, even when none of them are physically present.

Not all acts of worship are liturgical in the strict sense, but only those performed in the name of Christ and the Church. These constitute the piety of the Church, comprehended in the ecclesiastical liturgical books.

Liturgical actions are distinct from the non-liturgical devotions, developed because of the spiritual needs of the faithful, and with the permission of the Church. The Church has never opposed these devotions, has even made them hers by her approval (e.g., Rosary, Way of the Cross, etc.), but they cannot prevail against the Liturgy or take its place. Nevertheless, there is no opposition between liturgical and personal piety: devotional practices, not strictly connected with the Liturgy, are highly praiseworthy and absolutely indispensable.

Christ is the principal minister of the worship of the New Testament, the Eternal High Priest of the new Covenant. Through the Liturgy and as principal minister, Christ not only renders the honor due to God, but at the same time, and precisely because He is the Head of the Church, He gives and sustains supernatural life in the members of this Mystical Body. Thus, Christ is present in all the liturgical actions, and the work of redemption is always continued in the Liturgy.

The sacred rites have a double, simultaneous end: to render the honor due to God, and the sanctification of men. The ultimate reason why the Liturgy sanctifies men is that through it the faithful enter into contact with the mystery of salvation, which is the mystery of Christ. The act by which He redeemed the world—His passion, death, resurrection and ascension—is made present and operative in the sacred rites of the Liturgy, which is nothing else than the priesthood of Christ in action.

The community of the faithful renders public worship to God. The theological foundation for this assertion is the dogma of the Mystical Body of Christ. The Head of this Body is the High Priest and Victim, Who renders to the Eternal Father adoration, thanksgiving, expiation and impetration, and, at the same time, sanctifies and consecrates the members of the Body and the whole universe. The glory of Christ, now consummated at the right hand of the Father, is reflected in the individual members.

All the members being ruled under the same Head, the faithful are not alone in their pilgrimage towards heavenly kingdom, but they are part of the Body, associated in that supernatural society that includes the living and the dead, and whose Head is Christ.

Only the Catholic Church can render legitimate worship to the Eternal Father. To be able to do so, she has received from the Incarnate Son of God the Mass, the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of the Cross, and the Sacraments, the seven sources of salvation, which the Church, with maternal care, has surrounded with the Divine Office and other devotions.

We know that we have to love our neighbor as ourselves, but, how should we love ourselves?

It is necessary to have clear ideas about the true love of charity for oneself, because there are many ways of loving oneself that have nothing to do with the supernatural charity that must rule the relations with our neighbors.

First, there is sensual love, disordered and immoral, that the sinner professes to his body, granting it all kinds of illicit pleasures. There is also the purely natural love of keeping oneself in existence and seeking one’s own good. It is not a supernatural virtue, since it is something purely instinctive and natural, but it is not a disorder in itself. Such self-love is common to all men, good and evil alike. There is a better kind of love, the supernatural love of desire, by which the eternal happiness of the glory of heaven is desired. It is good and honest, but imperfect, and, in fact, it belongs to the virtue of hope, not to charity. Finally, there is the supernatural love of charity, by which we love one another in God, through God and for God. This is a most perfect love and of the highest dignity, since, having God as its formal motive—although it falls materially upon other men—it belongs properly to the theological virtue of charity and receives from it its sovereign excellence.

According to these distinctions, then, supernatural charity for oneself is the supernatural act by which we love ourselves in God, through God, and for God. The love of charity for oneself extends to our own person and to everything that belongs to us, both in the natural and in the supernatural order, since everything must be related to God.

Thus, in relation to natural life, man has an obligation to love his own body and preserve his own life. The body should not be loved for itself, but for God, as an instrument of the soul to render honor to God and practice virtue (Rom. 6:13-19), and as a living temple of the Holy Ghost (I Cor. 6:19-20), sanctified by grace (I Cor. 3:16-17) and capable of eternal glory by redundancy of the glory of the soul (I Cor. 15:42-44) .

The duty to preserve natural life prohibits doing anything against the health of the body and demands the use of ordinary means to recover that health when it has been lost. But we are not obliged to use extraordinary means, unless our own life is necessary for the family or the common good and has founded hope of success in the use of the extraordinary means at our disposal. However, it is permissible to practice voluntary mortification, even very severe, to atone for one’s own sins or those of others or to conform ourselves to Jesus Christ, even if this entails the unintended reduction of our life on earth.

However, for this perfect mortification and self-immolation to be lawful and meritorious, it must be regulated by Christian prudence. Nothing can be done against obedience or directly seeking to shorten one’s life.

One can also—and sometimes must—sacrifice one’s life for the sake of charity towards one’s neighbor or the temporal common good. And so, for example, it is lawful and highly meritorious to dedicate oneself out of charity to the care of people with contagious diseases, even with the near danger of contracting the same disease and causing death. The parish priest is obliged to administer the last sacraments to the sick, even if it is with immediate danger to his own life.

As a corollary of the obligation to preserve his own life and to seek the maximum human perfection, man must procure, out of charity for himself, a dignified human future, in proportion to his personal abilities and the social environment in which he lives. Honestly striving to improve one’s status and social condition is not only licit, but it is even obligatory, under the control and regime of charity for oneself.

But we must not forget that supernatural life is incomparably more important than natural life. Regarding this, charity towards ourselves prescribes two fundamental things: one negative, avoiding sin at all costs; the other positive, practicing virtue with the maximum possible intensity, striving to reach the heights of Christian perfection.

If charity is love, and love consists in wishing well to the person we love, it follows that the more we love ourselves with true love of charity, the more we will endeavor to procure the greatest among all possible goods, the increase and development of the supernatural life in our souls. A greater degree of grace in this life corresponds to a greater degree of eternal glory in heaven. There cannot be a greater act of charity for oneself than to work with all our might in the great undertaking of our own sanctification, and this even at the cost of the loss of all earthly goods, bodily health and life itself.