Liturgy Series Part 3

Mass is a conversation of love
between God and His people

By Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

October 2, 2002

Language is powerful. We know from daily life that our words and gestures matter in every conversation. What we say and don't say, do or don't do, can be packed with meaning. So quite naturally, the same applies in our life of faith — especially in our worship.

Here's an example. Nearly all of us, at one time or another, talk about the way our local pastor "says" Mass. But as we saw last week, the priest doesn't merely recite the liturgy like the words of a novel. He doesn't simply "say" the Mass. He celebrates it. The liturgy is not just a story we tell each other. It's a living sacrifice happening right now. The priest, taking on the person of Jesus Christ, is the head of the body of believers. He presides over the assembly and leads the faithful in an act of sacrifice. Nothing in what he does is passive.

Here's another example. Nearly all of us sooner or later talk about "going to" Mass as if it were a play or "attending" Mass like a ballgame. But if that's all we do, we miss the whole point of our worship.

Catholics certainly go to church, but they participate in the liturgy. Like the priest, but in a different way, lay people actively take part in the sacred "conversation" between God and humanity, which the liturgy embodies. We offer our praise and love to God through the sacrifice of the Eucharist. At the same time, in the flesh of God's Son who is both high priest and victim, the agent of our salvation, God gives His love back to us.

In every marriage, a husband and wife become one. They give each other the gift of themselves. They share a "communion" of joys and sorrows, body, mind and spirit. In that sense, the sacrament of matrimony is an echo of the perfect love that animates every Mass. We were made for God, and as Augustine says, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. The communion at the heart of the Mass is the mingling of body, blood, joy, sorrow and soul between God and the people He redeems. Worship is a conversation of love. Nothing about this conversation is passive, any more than the love within a family is passive or the cross was passive. So when a Catholic says that he "doesn't get anything" out of Mass, you can probably assume that — like a failed marriage — he hasn't put much into it either.

Language is powerful, and the liturgy is a conversation of love. That's why we feel so uneasy when a priest innovates with the words or gestures of the Mass, or is undignified or indifferent in his worship. That's why we sense that something is very wrong when lay people begin to act like ordained ministers, or misuse the liturgy to serve political agendas, or choose to be passive or frivolous spectators. When these things happen, they confuse the meaning of our conversation with God; they serve as a countersign to the communion the Eucharist creates.

This is why unity in the way we celebrate Mass together, including unity in our prayers and even our physical gestures of worship, is so vital. Unity of form — how we worship — reinforces and expresses what we believe, the communion the Eucharist intends.

The ordained priesthood exists to serve the common priesthood, which all Catholics share through the gift of their baptism. These two sharings in the priesthood of Jesus Christ are complementary. They are not the same thing. They do not have the same tasks in sanctifying the world. But both priest and people are called to offer the Mass and join themselves to Christ's sacrifice. We do that well when we worship well through full and active participation. And when we truly worship well, the Eucharist, by its nature, will lead us to love our roles in God's work of salvation, respect the roles of others, and glorify God.