Friday, March 11, 2016

Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life

            The idea of seeking Jesus in everyday life is something of a paradox.  And that’s because, as much as Jesus can be found in ordinary life, our search takes us beyond the everyday.  Jesus is in the everyday, but he’s also the bridge to God the Father and to a life beyond the everyday.  And so, as we begin these reflections on “Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life,” it should be admitted that our search will transform the way we see everyday life.  But that kind of vision is necessary so we see not only the ordinary, but also the extra-ordinary within the ordinary.  In other words, there’s always “more than meets the eye” when we’re seeking Jesus.  So, be open to “the more” that Jesus brings—whatever that happens to be.
I. The Object of Our Search

            Now, this will sound obvious, but it’s good to be reminded that in order to seek Jesus (or anything else) we first have to know what we’re looking for.  It can be very frustrating to expect Jesus to be or act in a certain way in our life if it’s not how he operates.  For example, we might expect Jesus to just wipe out terrorists; or we might expect him to make the Holy Spirit a force in life that we wouldn’t be able to resist.  But he doesn’t work like that.  It’s an enormous question to ask, “Who is Jesus?,” but it’s one that we have to consider before we start searching for him in everyday life.
            Our main sources for knowing about Jesus are Scripture and our Catholic Tradition.  And we could go on for a long time trying to describe who Jesus is (because there are so many facets to him).  But, for now, we’ll just look at some of who Jesus is.
            Just yesterday, in our readings for Daily Mass (John 5:17-30), Jesus makes a really tight connection between himself and God the Father.  In fact, he calls himself “the Son” of “his [my] Father.”  And we all know that “whoever has seen [him] has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  The Father and he are one.  But the Word became Flesh not for his own sake, but so that humanity might be drawn to the Father.  In other words, in seeking Jesus the Son of God, we’re also going to get God the Father (and the Holy Spirit).  And so, when we think about how Jesus has revealed himself to be, (as obvious as this is) we have to remember he’s the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; in order to know more about the Person we’re in search of, we also have to consider what God the Father and the Holy Spirit are doing.
            And so, right off the bat, we see Jesus as Creator (with the Father and the Holy Spirit).  “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,” the Word of God was there—though the Word wasn’t incarnate yet in the human form of Jesus.  Nonetheless, “Jesus” was there in the beginning.  And from creation, he reveals himself to be intelligent, wise, and eternal.  With Adam and Eve in the Garden, he reveals himself also to be an intimate Font of Life dwelling within the human person and the human race.
            If we jump forward in history, we see through the lives of God’s chosen People, he reveals himself to be a God of the Covenant; the Giver of the Law; the Voice within the Prophets; and the faithful caretaker of his people.  And then when we get to the Incarnation and the life of the Apostles, God reveals himself to be the lover of humanity and all creation, as the one and only lasting source of life, love, and happiness.  As we know, Jesus the God-man is capable of anger, but only in response to injustice against the innocence of creation; it’s never an arbitrary anger, but is always an intentional expression of God’s deep love and concern for all created things, especially “the widow, the alien, and the orphan”—those who are alone and forgotten, completely dependent on others, and defenseless.
            Now, these are just some of the “characteristics” of God that we encounter in Scripture and in the life of God’s people.  We also know some things about God from our Catholic Tradition.  For instance, we recognize God as love itself (1 John 4:8), and so God is also relationship itself.  We know that God is distinct from creation; God doesn’t depend on us for existence; rather, we depend on God.  And so, God’s “identity” isn’t bound up with us, as ours is bound up with him (after all, we are made in God’s image, and not the other way around).  From our Catholic Tradition, we also that God is entirely transcendent (“other”) and also entirely immanent (“near”).  God is knowable and close, but God is not exhaustible.
            St Francis of Assisi is known to have prayed very simply: “God, who are you?”  And that’s a good place for us to start: “Jesus, who are you?”  We know something about him.  We know he’s a bridge.  Through him we know God as Friend, as Companion, a healing Presence, a Worker of Wonder; we know him as King, Priest, Prophet, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel (“God-with-us”) and so on, and so on.  It’s important to consider that question: “Jesus, who are you?” because that’s who we’re in search of.  When we’re “seeking Jesus in everyday life,” we have to be sure we’re seeking Jesusas he has revealed himself to be—and not Jesus as we would have him be.   
II. The Ways God Comes to Us – Part I

            When we think about the notion of “everyday life,” there’s often an image of separation that comes to mind.  You know: There’s “church” and then there’s “everyday life,” and “ne’er shall the two mix.”  Or there’s the image (maybe subconsciously) that “seeking God” comes more easily, or is more fitting, to men and women who don’t have “everyday lives;” people like priests, deacons, monks and nuns.  But, if we look at all the ways God has made himself known throughout history, we see a different image.  We see that, in reality, God most often reveals himself in the “everyday.”  
            From the first day of creation, all the way up to the conception of John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth, God made himself known through everyday things.  In the Garden, his Voice was heard by Adam and Eve.  Later on, his will was mediated through Noah, and the Great Flood.  And the rainbow in the sky was revealed as the sign of God’s covenant with all creation.  And still later on, God’s will was made known through Abraham, and through circumcision.  He was made known to the people through Moses, and he was made known to Moses himself through the burning bush.  The Ten Commandments were carved into ordinary stone, and during the time of the Passover, God sent the plagues over Egypt in the form of frogs and lice, wild animals, diseased livestock, boils, thunderstorms with hail and fire, locusts and darkness, and the death of all the firstborn in Egypt.  Only the first plague—the turning of water into blood—would be out of the ordinary.  But still, God used water and blood, very ordinary things, to reveal himself to the Egyptians (though, it wasn’t a revelation of his “person,” as such).
            During the Exodus, God came to the people through the “pillar of cloud” and the “pillar of fire.”  Also, as we mentioned, God spoke to the people through the voice of the prophets.  And there’s that well known image of God’s voice coming in the sound of a gentle breeze:

So [the word of the Lord] said [to Elijah], “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him . . . (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Up until the time of the Incarnation, God revealed himself through the “everyday:” through everyday people, through everyday things, affecting the everyday life of the nation.  We would say that God’s presence was mediated through people (the community), through other rational beings (i.e., the angels), and through creation.  But we would also say that God’s presence was immediate and direct, through the “word of the Lord,” or the “voice of the Lord,” coming mostly to the prophets and King David, and the like—all of whom were ordinary people called to do extra-ordinary things.  Again, it’s the image of God coming to us in the everyday, but also pulling us out of the everyday.

            But with the Annunciation to Mary, and the immaculate conception of Jesus in her womb, God reveals himself in an out-of-the-ordinary way.  I mean, becoming pregnant “by the power of the Holy Spirit” is exceptional.  And yet, the idea of being pregnant is rather everyday; it’s expected.  God didn’t send his Son on a chariot and with a flash of lightning and power . . . he sent the Son in a rather usual way—in human terms; he became known to us as a baby.
            But this time in history—from the Incarnation to the Ascension—is when God was present to us directly.  He still revealed himself through the wind, and the clouds, and through fire and water, and so on.  But to see Jesus in the flesh, to look into his eyes, to feel his hands, and hear his voice—that was when God came to us directly, without anything between him and us (--sort of.  I’ll talk a little more about that later).  But even while God walked among us in the flesh, he still made himself known through other things.
            When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came in the form of the dove.  And the voice of the Father was heard coming from the cloud.  God wasn’t the dove or the cloud, but they made his presence known.  And then we have all the healings and miracles that Jesus did.  Whenever he healed someone and that person went around telling others, something of Jesus went with them.  Jesus became known to others through, say, that person’s joy, or the fact that something had changed for the better.  Those people revealed God to others.  And, among the human race, the Apostles stand out as instruments of God’s person—even while Jesus was still in the flesh.  After all, he sent them out in his name to bring the kingdom, the healing, and the presence of God to others.  Wherever there was healing, there was God.  Wherever demons were cast out, there was God at work.  When the multitudes of the poor and hungry were fed, there was God.  Even though God was present to us directly while Jesus walked the earth, God was still present in all those indirect ways as well.
            But, of course, the way we would often want to seek and find Jesus in everyday life is through an event like the Transfiguration.  So bright and luminous that you couldn’t possibly miss it!  So obvious you could see it with your own eyes.  But that’s very much an exception to the ways God makes himself known.  For this brief moment in time—two thousand years ago, lasting about thirty-three years—God made himself known to us very directly in the person of Christ, and even with the brilliance of the Transfiguration.  But that came to an end (sort of).
            As we know, God still makes himself known to us in some concrete signs and symbols.  And that’s what we encounter in the Mass.  Where’s God in the Mass?  Right there on the altar, under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine—“This is my Body; this is my Blood.”  God is right there at the ambo, through what looks and sounds like ordinary words on ordinary paper—“The Word of the Lord.”  God is present through the person of the priest who stands in the person of Christ the Teacher and Head—“He said to the Eleven: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them . . .and I am with you.”  God is present in the union of all the faithful gathered “together in one place”—“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am,” Jesus tells us.  And God is present, concretely, in all the sacraments; though, through rather ordinary ways: water, oil, the laying on of hands, the spoken word. 
            It’s easier to “see” God in the Mass because we have very concrete signs of his presence; of course, it takes faith to see God in these ordinary things like bread and wine, and a priest and community of people who are not yet entirely holy.  It takes faith to “see” God in Mass, but it’s easier.  However, outside of Mass, in “everyday life,” it’s harder to “see” God because the signs of his presence are less defined, and they’re less obvious—but they’re still there, and it still takes faith (and human reason) to see them.  And if we remember that God comes to us in the ordinariness of life—because that’s how he chooses to come to us—then our seeking Jesus will more fruitful.  Because we’ll be open to seeing God on his terms, and not our own.              
         III. The Ways God Comes to Us – Part II

            Now, on a side note—and it’s an important side note—God reveals himself also through less “personal” ways.  For instance, there wasn’t any personal relationship between God and Pharaoh in Egypt.  Instead, God simply revealed his power Pharaoh—through the ten plagues.  Also, God was at work healing some of the “enemies” of Israel; like Naaman the Syrian leper, and the widows of Zarephath.  And God was made known to the Israelites through the attacks on them by the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians.  Sometimes, God is present even in the misfortunes of life.
            Also, the Fathers of the Church in the first few centuries recognized that God had revealed his divine person to the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews, while at the same time, he revealed his divine wisdom to the Greeks.  The ancient Greeks had lots of wisdom and truth, but they didn’t know the God from whom that wisdom and truth came—they didn’t know God’s name, they didn’t him personally, they didn’t know God as Yahweh.  And yet, wherever there is truth, there is God.  And so, while we have a Hebrew Testament (the Old Testament), we also have a Greek Testament (the body of wisdom and learning that comes through the Greeks).  And the Fathers of the Church were quick to pick up on this.  And so, from the early years of the Church, with people such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, St Augustine—Greek wisdom (as a revelation of God’s wisdom) became part of Christianity.
            As I said this is a side note, but an important one; because from this “Greek Testament of Divine Wisdom,” we get the notion of what are called the “Transcendentals:” things that are found in most of creation, and yet are so universal they “transcend” creation and are actually reflections of the Creator.  And so, we see unity as an aspect of God.  We see goodness as an aspect of God.  Also, we see truth and beauty as aspects of God.  We see unity, goodness, truth, and beauty everywhere . . . and yet, they don’t belong to any one thing—because they belong only to God.
            And so, practically speaking, wherever we encounter real unity, we encounter something of God.  Wherever we encounter real truth, or goodness or beauty, we encounter something of God.  Obviously, we can readily see these “transcendentals” in the person of Jesus.  He is a unity (he is a person of absolute integrity; he’s undivided within himself and in his love for the Father).  Jesus is truth—“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  He is goodness itself—he is the measure of what is humanly good.  And he is beauty—morally and intellectually for sure, and perhaps even physically.
            As I said, this is a side note, but a very important one as we go about “seeking Jesus in everyday life.”

IV. The “Tools” in Seeking Jesus

            And so, we have some of the “tools” we need to go in search of Jesus.  We know we have to seek Jesus as he’s revealed himself to be; we’re searching for the real thing, and not something we’ve imagined him to be.  We know that he reveals himself most often in the everyday, and very seldom in “extraordinary” ways.  We know that sometimes he’s known through life’s challenges—not to break us, but to strengthen us and make us grow (you know, a plant doesn’t grow if it doesn’t have some manure scattered on it sometimes).  We know that Jesus reveals himself through the entire community; he even makes himself known to non-believers, and through people we might consider “enemies.”  And we know that God reveals himself in wisdom as well, and in what is: one, good, true, and beautiful. 
            Jesus also reveals himself through our individuality—through our good desires, through our gifts and talents, through our conscience, through deep feelings of peace, or joy, or suffering, or love.  And one last bit of information we need to remember is that, while we’re seeking Jesus, Jesus is also seeking us out.  He and we are like two people walking side-by-side; he’s looking at us . . . all we need to do is turn to see him.  (Of course, that’s what Lent is all about, isn’t it: turning to see God with fresh eyes, renewed faith, and deepened love.)  And so, let’s see if we can take these “tools” and apply them to some examples of “everyday life.”

V. Everyday Life: A Sampling

 1. [Image of a Lector reading from the ambo].  So, where is Jesus here?  It’s fairly easy: in the written Word, but also the spoken Word.  When we say “The Word of the Lord,” we mean it.  Jesus is also present (more or less) in the person who’s proclaiming the Word—it depends on how much they’ve internalized the Divine Word they’re passing onto others.


1a. [Image of a father guiding his son].  So, where is Jesus here?  Well, if we consider the last image, we see Jesus present in the conversation between parent and child.  We see Jesus who is Wisdom; there’s also Jesus present in the person of the son—Jesus who is a “perfect student” of God the Father.  We also see God present in the relationship between the two.  And the same would hold for friendships and any sort of human relationship; remember that unity or oneness is one of those “transcendentals” that reveals God’s presence.


2. [Image of the gathered faithful kneeling at Mass].  When you look at the image, most people are “engaged” in the act of praying.  Some are looking off to the side; some look like they might have something else on their mind.  But they’re all together in that one place, basically “doing” the same thing—they’re praying together to one and the same God, as brothers and sisters.  Where is Jesus here? 
            Well, we would see part of the “many parts of the one Body of Christ.”  Every person there, from the youngest to the oldest, is part of the living Christ.  We also see Jesus in the respect they have for one another as fellow worshipers—again, God is present in the relationship among them and between them: God is love itself.  Now, it is less obvious, but we also see the Son of God “drawing all things to himself.”  The faithful are gathered because Jesus has called them to himself.  And so, the very fact that they’re there is a sign that God is present and at work.

2a. [Image of a man and woman looking at each other with care].  Now, this is very similar to the image before it, though the connection might not be obvious.  Where is Jesus here?  Again, God is love itself, and so we see Jesus both within the two individuals and also between them.  It’s similar to the people gathered for Mass; Jesus is within everyone, and yet also binds them all together as a community of Christian love.  And, collectively, the gathered faithful gaze upon Christ, the Bridegroom, and he upon them—just as this man and woman gaze at each other.  Christ—or the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit—is what brings them together and keeps them together.  After all, God is love.
            Sometimes when two people are in a relationship, they’ll talk about their “relationship” as though it’s its own thing.  They might say: “Our relationship is really good,” or “Our relationship needs some work.”  It’s like there’s one person, another person, and then the relationship.  And that’s right!  God is love itself; God is relationship itself; there is God present within the two individuals and also between them.  And so, this is good, it’s true and beautiful, and it’s a unified whole.  Love isn’t just an image of Christ, it’s a potent way Jesus reveals himself as he is—he is love itself; and we participate in that.

3. [Split image of Ordinary and Extraordinary Form of Mass].  So, where is Jesus here?  Of course, in the Eucharist, and in the priest.  But where is Jesus in the split between these two images?


3a. [Image of a man and woman standing apart, in tension].  And where is Jesus here?  Perhaps he’s in the truth that they’re better off separated.  There might be pain involved, but the truth is good.  Or maybe Jesus is still between them; maybe their relationship is just bruised, but not broken.  Maybe Jesus is moving their hearts toward reconciliation; maybe not.  Maybe Jesus is present as they each try to trust God’s will for them (as individuals and as a couple), like Jesus said in the Garden: “Not my will be done, but yours Father.”  Maybe there are hurt feelings, and Jesus inspires them to cry, and to be honest with themselves.  Jesus is present here on many different levels.

4. [Image of a boy and his dog under the Christmas Tree].  So where is Jesus in this adorable picture?  Well, I would say in companionship and faithfulness.  In the image of innocence and dependence upon others.  He’s present in the “Christmas Spirit.”  A lot of those fruits of the Holy Spirit are here: joy, charity, peace, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness.  Dogs and children often soften our hearts because, among other things, we see Jesus at work; we see the Holy Spirit doing his thing.

5. [Image of a soldier comforting another soldier].  Now, this image isn’t quite in the “everyday,” but it can be related to a lot of other everyday situations and circumstances.  Where do we see Jesus here?  Well, mostly clearly in the comfort and the assurance given.  The hands of the one are, very definitely, the hands of Christ; offering hope, healing, companionship.  But the soldier being comforted is also the presence of Christ.  Just consider the face of Jesus when he was hung on the Cross, and looked for support.  What did he say? “When you did these things to least of my brothers, you did them to me.”
            We might also see Jesus in the situation itself; a situation meant to challenge the individuals; a circumstance meant to challenge a nation.  God did not start the war, but for some reason, these two soldiers found themselves side-by-side in the midst of it.  For what purpose?

6. [Image of a person in a hospital bed alone].  Here’s a familiar sight to some.  And it’s a place where the question is often asked: “Where are you, Jesus?”  When Jesus walked among us in the flesh, he healed many people of their physical problems, but not everyone.  Why doesn’t Jesus heal this one?  But who knows what kind of healing might be at work here.  Maybe it’s a healing of the mind or the spirit.  Maybe Jesus is helping the person to accept the reality of illness and death.  We know that when Jesus took on our human flesh, he also took on our human weakness, our human sufferings.  Where is Jesus here?  We trust that he is suffering with the person.  But he’s also present in those who come to visit, who offer prayers, who are hopeful—and truthful. 

7. [Image of a flower’s center].  How about here?  Here, God is present not so much in his person; rather, God is revealed as the intelligent, intentional Creator, who pays attention even to the smallest detail.  The colors are vibrant and delicious.  And, at the center, is what Aristotle would probably call “the beauty of the truth of mathematics.”

7a. [Image of flower aside spiral].  Where’s Jesus here?  In the divine wisdom which puts into creation such things as: order and harmony, balance and patterns.  We instinctively see the same thing in some people.  Some people strike us as (outwardly) beautiful; we see (even if we’re not necessarily aware of it) we see proportions and ratios, balance and composition—we see in beautiful people the work of the One who is Beauty and Harmony itself. 
            From the Book of Wisdom we hear the call to see God through beauty: 

"Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them.  Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them. For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen."

8. [Image of a board meeting].  And we go from the beautiful to the more mundane.  When you’re tied up at a meeting, and there aren’t any windows to look out of, you might wonder: Where is Jesus?  Well, it depends.  Jesus could be present, saying, “You’re made for more than this . . . and you know it.”  Or Jesus could be saying, “Be patient, there are some things here you can learn—maybe even just the virtue of patience.”  Where’s Jesus?  I think it depends.

9. [Image of Christmas shoppers].  Now, this can be a little more exciting—going Christmas shopping.  Where’s Jesus in all this?  He could be in the mind of someone saying, “I just want to have a simple Christmas with family and friends; no gifts needed.”  Or maybe Jesus is in the hearts of some who get all excited about getting gifts for other people—there are some people who just love to give.  Perhaps there’s a young man who just bought something for his girlfriend, and he’s not sure she’s going to like it.  And maybe Jesus is there in his heart saying, “Don’t worry about.  Just be yourself, and let her fall in love with you.”  Jesus can be all over the place here . . . or, of course, he can be nowhere to be found.

10. [Image of a weeping woman].  Where is Jesus here?  Like the man in the hospital bed, Jesus suffers with her.  Maybe Jesus is present in those who will protect her and raise her up.  Maybe Jesus is at work in the one who abused her, making that other person’s conscience swell with guilt or sorrow or shame.  And maybe Jesus is present in you—in your reaction to her, in your desire to reach out and help.  That’s not just you reacting; it’s Jesus within you reacting.

11. [Image of Jesus].  And, lastly, where is Jesus here?  In the proportions of his face, in the moral beauty and integrity that are in his eyes?  Or in the wisdom, in the commandments, in the stories of faith that his image brings to mind?  Or is Jesus in the reaction you had when you saw his face?  We are made in the image of God, who is Goodness and Truth and Beauty—how else would we react when we see his face; for it’s nothing other than Jesus gazing upon himself.  And that brings a smile to the eyes, and peace to the heart.    

VI. Conclusion

            And so, in the end, “seeking Jesus in everyday life” requires us to first ask the question: “Who is Jesus?”  And then we have to ask: “How does he normally make himself known?”  And the answer is: “Normally in everyday life, and in the life of his Church.”   And so, that’s where we look for him.  After Jesus ascended into heaven, and the disciples were left standing there looking up into the sky, two men came along and brought them “back to earth.”  And they did that because here is where we’ll find him.  We’ll find the extra-ordinary through the ordinary.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Fully Conscious and Active Participation in the Work of God

I. Participation in the Work of God.

     We often look to the Second Vatican Council as our inspiration for “fully conscious and active participation” in what we do as Christians. After all, we get that phrase from the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963). In it, the Council affirmed that: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” And the Council goes on further to identify the reason why: “Such participation by the Christian people as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,’ is their right and duty by reason of their baptism. But to begin this presentation on “fully conscious and active participation,” it would be good, perhaps, to step away from Sacrosanctum Concilium for a bit, and revisit a story we all know very well—the events of Holy Thursday, in the Garden of Gethsemane.
          As we hear in the Gospel of Matthew (26:36-45a): 

          Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, 
          and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over 
          there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons 
          of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then 
          he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.
          Remain here and keep watch with me.”

          He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, 
          “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; 
          yet, not as I will, but as you will.” When he returned to 
          his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, 
          “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?
          Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. 
          The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

          Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My
          Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without 
          my drinking it, your will be done!” Then he re-
          turned once more and found them asleep, for they 
          could not keep their eyes open. He left them and 
          withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying 
          the same thing again. Then he returned to his disci-
          ples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and 
          taking your rest?”

On the one hand, I suppose it’s a somewhat humorous image—the disciples falling asleep. After all, how many times do we hear someone say: “Mass is boring; I just want to fall asleep!” But, on the other hand, the words of Jesus here really get at the heart of the idea of “fully conscious and active participation.”
          Jesus brings his disciples with him, and even brings three of them further into that sacred place where he is about to pray. And he says to them: “Remain here and keep watch with me” (μείνατε ὧδε καὶ γρηγορεῖτε μετ’ ἐμοῦ). Now, we think of “remaining” as a static thing; but “to remain” here means something active. It isn’t a passive “remaining;” instead, it’s an active “continuing,” an active “abiding in,” a conscious “being with.” Even though Jesus goes on a little ahead of them, he says: “Remain here”—be attentive to what I’m doing. Remain.
          And while his disciples are “remaining,” Jesus tells them to “keep watch.” Not in the sense of being a spectator; not in the sense of “watching,” but in the sense of “be alert.” And, Jesus says, do this “with me.” He tells the disciples to actively share in what he is doing. And, as we heard, what Jesus is doing is communing with the Father; he is praying to the Father. But it isn’t just any prayer that the Father’s Will will be done. Jesus is actively subordinating himself to God the Father. And that’s what Jesus is telling the disciples to do as well: “Remain here and keep watch with me . . . Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.”
          This little story from the Garden of Gethsemane gives us—in a nutshell—the image of what it means to be engaged in “fully conscious and active participation.” And it’s an important image to keep in mind because it comes from the life and teachings of Christ himself. Being consciously and actively participating is not a human command; rather, it’s a thoroughly divine call. And it’s a call we hear in other parts of Scripture as well.
          Again, from the Gospel of Matthew is the Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1-13), and Jesus says: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Stay awake—remain, keep watch with the Lord. And then Saint Paul says to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 5:6), “Let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.” And later on, he says to the Romans (13:11-12,14a): “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; . . . put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” When Jesus called his disciples and said: “Follow me,” this is what he had in mind—“Remain with me, keep watch with me, pray with me, unite yourself to me and to what I am doing.”
          And this is absolutely critical for us to understand. When the Church renews that call from God to be “fully conscious and actively participating,” it’s a call to participate in what God is doing. As much as we bring our own tastes and styles and preferences to our worship, liturgy isn’t about us, and it isn’t about what we’re doing. It’s about what God is doing, and intentionally cooperating with that.

II. The Liturgy

          So, the call to participation comes from God—through Scripture, through the Holy Spirit, and through the life of the Church. Again, we hear from Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” Now, suppose that someone came up to us and said, “Could you help me on this project I’m working on.” And we said, “Oh, sure, I can help.” Well, at some point, we’re going to ask, “What are you working on?” In other words, “What am I getting involved with here?” And we ask the same question when it comes to the liturgy. When the Church says that fully conscious and active participation is demanded “by the very nature of the liturgy,” we have to ask: “What is the nature of the liturgy?” And we have to take the time to consider it, because if we don’t, we’ll have no idea what we’re supposed to be participating in. 
          In fact, asking that question—“What is the liturgy?”—asking that question is an important step in answering the other question we’re addressing tonight, namely: “How to participate in the liturgy?” One way we participate consciously is to be aware of what’s happening; that way we can let the liturgy be what it is, and just let ourselves get wrapped up in it—instead of expecting the liturgy to be something it isn’t and then fighting with it. So . . . what is the “nature of the liturgy?” What are we getting ourselves into?
          We’ve already made something of a connection between “the liturgy” and “the work of God.” And this connection is affirmed by the Church. From the Catechism (1069), we read that: 

          The word “liturgy” originally meant a “public 
          work” or a “service in the name of/on behalf of 
          the people.” In Christian tradition it means the 
          participation of the People of God in “the work 
          of God.” 

And the Catechism then directs us to the Gospel of John (17:4), when Jesus is praying to the Father, saying: "I glorified you on the earth, having accomplished the work which you have given me to do.” Jesus came to accomplish a work (which is, of course, the work of salvation; the work of redeeming humanity and opening the way for us to “eternal” or “fullness of” life). Jesus came and he did his work. 
          But the “work of Jesus” continues on in the life of the Church. Saint Paul wrote to the Colossians: “I rejoice in [my] sufferings borne for you; and for the sake of [Christ’s] body which is the church, I make up for—in my flesh—that which is still lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Col 1:24). And the “afflictions of Christ” Saint Paul refers to is the “work of salvation,” the “work of Christ,” the “work of God.” Jesus did what he was sent to do—he got the ball rolling. And we’re called and sent by our baptism to do our work; which is to continue what Christ started. In fact, our work isn’t ours at all—it’s God’s work; it’s a “holy work.” And we more or less cooperate in that work, depending on how “active” we are in our participation.

Now, since the Second Vatican Council, the word “active” has been a confusing word to understand and implement, in the context of liturgy. In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Latin phrase we translate as “active participation” is participatio actuosa. And Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) writes briefly about this in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy:

          To express one of its main ideas for the shaping 
          of the liturgy, the Second Vatican Council gave 
          us the phrase participatio actuosa, the “active 
          participation” of everyone in the opus Dei [work 
          of God], in what happens in the worship of God. It 
          was quite right to do so. . . . But what does this 
          active participation come down to? What does it 
          mean that we have to do? Unfortunately, the word 
          was very quickly misunderstood to mean something 
          external, entailing a need for general activity, as 
          if as many people as possible, as often as possible, 
          should be visibly engaged in action.

And it’s fair to suggest that Sacrosanctum Concilium itself contributed to this misinterpretation of participatio actuosa. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy we read that: 

          To promote participatio actuosa, the people 
          should be encouraged to take part by means of 
          acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, 
          and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, 
          and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times 
          all should observe a reverent silence.

All these recommendations by the Council clearly affect our external prayer and participation—as they should. But there’s an important clause in that paragraph that’s easily overlooked. And it’s the clause: “by means of."
    Participatio actuosa is encouraged “by means of” acclamations, responses, etc. In other words, what the Council is suggesting as ways to actively participate are merely means to an end. To be singing is not the goal of liturgy. To be speaking our responses with strength and volume isn’t the goal of liturgy. And it’s not the goal of liturgy to be doing “Catholic calisthenics;” you know: sit, stand, kneel. All those are fine and good, and they play an important role in the liturgy—but only as means to the end goal of participating in the work of God. In other words, participatio actuosa involves external actions, but it isn’t the sum total of our external actions. In fact, it’s first and foremost an interior participation. 

Now, before we go on talking more about participatio actuosa, we’re going to take a slight detour through history; because it’s not only the Second Vatican Council that advises us to be consciously and actively participating. Much of our history as a Church has something to say about it. In addition, we’ll take a look at the word “liturgy” itself, and learn something valuable as well.

a. The First Three Centuries. As we might expect, the liturgy has a very long and convoluted history. It wasn’t until the 4th Century that the Church began to have a set ritual called “liturgy,” and that’s because up until that time Christianity was underground and illegal. The core of the liturgy was there—the reading of Scripture, the Breaking of the Bread, the Eucharistic Prayer—but those parts weren’t developed yet into a single act of worship. The early Christians continued the “work of God” through their underground worship. 
          But, in those first three centuries, people also continued the “work of God” by being martyred, and by accepting the risk of execution should they be found praying to God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and practicing their faith. But in 312 A.D., with the Edict of Milan, the Emperor Constantine made Christianity not only legal, but also the officially sanctioned faith of the entire Roman Empire. And so, almost overnight, the numbers of Christians grew exponentially. The “age of the bloody martyrs” was affectively ended, and a new stage in continuing the “work of God” started: the “age of the white martyrs, the spiritual martyrs.” And that’s when the idea of liturgy (and (Christian) priesthood and the laity) began to blossom. But it blossomed simply as a means to participate in what God was doing in the world, for the salvation of the world.

b. Etymology of “Liturgy.” So the word “liturgy” becomes associated with Christian worship. And if we take a look at the word “liturgy” itself, we’ll be able to see why. This will also help us understand more deeply the question of how we participate in the liturgy. 
          “Liturgy” comes from two Greek words: λειτος (leitos) and εργον (ergon). Leitos means “regarding the people or the nation,” and ergon means “a work or activity.” (This is where we get the words laity (from leitos) and ergonomic (from ergon).) And so, we get the compound word λειτουργίά (leitourgía), which we translate as liturgy. And the ones who participate in the leitourgía are called λειτουργός (leitourgós), which means something like a servant or a minister
          But in the early centuries of the Christian era, the word liturgy was in common usage. Often, it was used in reference to the work of civil servants. So, to perform a liturgy (a leitourgía) was “to render service to the people (leitos) as a common political entity (again, leitos) by discharging a true task (ergon) for society.” And there were other uses of the word liturgy (or leitourgía) in the ancient world as well, but most often it was in the political realm. But, even if we don’t use the word in that way anymore, we can still understand the concept. Just think of our elected leaders in city, state, and national government. (Ideally,) they work as a unified body—not for their own interests—but for the good of society as a whole. That’s what the body of civil servants (the leitos) does; it performs a work (an ergon) for the good of society.
          And so, the word leitourgía (or liturgy) was very easily adapted to what Christians were doing (and are still doing). The community (the Church) is the body of the faithful (the leitos) doing a work (an ergon) for the salvation of the whole world. When we participate in liturgy, we act as a body—not as individuals, and not for our own interests—but for the good of the world. And this understanding of liturgy (which is built right into the word liturgy itself) is important to grasp because it leads us deeper into a deeper meaning of “fully conscious and active participation.”
          Consider this: Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s the “work of salvation;” that’s what “liturgy” is. He came to serve and to give his life (that’s the ergon, the “holy/selfless work”), and he did it as a ransom for many (for the benefit of the leitos; for the good of the people). We’ll come back to this passage, but it’s very central to our understanding of how we participate in the liturgy. 

c. The Roman Church (313 A.D. to ca 800 A.D.). And so, back to history. In the 4th Century, liturgy started to develop—the “common work of the faithful in cooperating with the work of God for the good of the world” began to be formalized, and started to become what we know today as “liturgy,” or ritualized communal prayer.
          Now, from the beginning, starting with the Apostles and the early disciples and their relation to Christ, we see an organization taking shape within the Church. Even in the story from the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus separating off Peter, James and John from the rest of the disciples. He brings those three closer into the “sanctuary” of the Garden. And then Jesus himself goes on a little further into the Garden to commune with the Father. There’s something of an order to what Jesus is doing. And, later in the Acts of the Apostles, we see this order already affecting the “shape” of the Church, with all the talk of bishops, deacons, presbyters, preachers, apostles, teachers, prophets, the community, and so on.
          The “work of God”—the “liturgy”—is done by all members of the faithful—by virtue of our baptism into the “work of Christ,” and each according to his or her “place” in the body. And this reality of an ordered, structured Christian community came to be symbolized and signified in the way the liturgy happens. And so, there appears a chair designated for the bishop. And there’s another spot designated for the lector. And there’s another area designated for the faithful. And so on, and so on. At this time in the early Middle Ages, it wasn’t about separation of the community and putting some higher and some lower, and making some more active and others less active. It was simply about seeing (within the liturgy itself) the Body in all its distinct parts, working together as one, for the glorification of God and the sanctification of the world. But this began to change.

d. The Early (800 A.D. to ca 1073) and High Middle Ages (1073 to 1517). What we know as “the Mass” continued to develop and change. More parts were added for the ordained priest. Choirs began to have a more prominent role in singing the liturgy—when the liturgy was sung; it was during this time that Masses also became more silent. And this period of development in rather complex and convoluted (and beyond the scope of this presentation), but suffice it to say, by the time Martin Luther came onto the scene in the early 1500s, the laity were mostly “attendants” at Mass, rather than what we would see as “active participants.” And, coincidentally at this time, many of our “traditional” devotions came into being. They were a way that the people could still pray at Mass (and outside of Mass), even if they were increasingly separated off from main action of the liturgy. It was also at this time that the “Liturgy of the Hours” became more highly developed, and became the responsibility of monks and clerics.
          On a side note, I’ll just remark that “liturgy” itself is a broad term; it’s not specific to any one form of prayer. For instance, “Mass” is one form of liturgy (and then we know about the “Liturgy of the Word” and the “Liturgy of the Eucharist” which are part of the Mass). And then the “Divine Office” (or Liturgy of the Hours) is another form of liturgy. But both forms of liturgy—during the Middle Ages—became less “considerate” of the lay faithful, and more focused on the clergy and monks and nuns. That was the scene into which Martin Luther came, and it was the scene he tried to overcome. 
          In fact, it might be possible to argue that the first “modern” call to active and conscious participation in the liturgy came from Martin Luther. Of course, it came at a very great price to the unity of the Church. 

e. The Tridentine Years (1570 to 1970). While Luther started the Reformation and actively tried to restore the participation of the laity in the worship and life of the church, the Catholic Church actually clamped down harder in making sharp distinctions between clergy and laity—especially with regard to the liturgy.
          But, it should be said, that even in the midst of the chaos of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Church retained its basic understanding that all the faithful—because of baptism—have the responsibility to be active in “offering spiritual sacrifices.” In 1566, the Roman Catechism (put out shortly after the Council of Trent) called this basic participation in the liturgy the “Internal Priesthood.” We read from the Catechism:

          Regarding the internal priesthood, all the faithful 
          are said to be priests, once they have been washed 
          in the saving waters of Baptism. Especially is this 
          name given to the just who have the Spirit of God, 
          and who, by the help of divine grace, have been 
          made living members of the great High­priest, 
          Jesus Christ; for, enlightened by faith which is 
          inflamed by charity, they offer up spiritual 
          sacrifices to God on the altar of their hearts. 
          Among such sacrifices must be reckoned every 
          good and virtuous action done for the glory of God. . . .

          The external priesthood, on the contrary, does not 
          pertain to the faithful at large, but only to certain 
          men who have been ordained and consecrated to 
          God by the lawful imposition of hands and by 
          the solemn ceremonies of holy Church, and who are 
          thereby devoted to a particular sacred ministry. 

The Church calls all the faithful “priests” because of baptism, and calls them to “offer up spiritual sacrifices to God on the altar of their hearts.” And this is at the core of the idea of “conscious and active participation.” This passage from the Catechism of 1566 is just as valid and true today as it was back then. But, the Church in the 16th Century (and up until 1970) did not develop this line of thinking any further. (There were pockets here and there, especially in France, that did develop the idea of lay participation somewhat; but, generally speaking, that wasn’t the case.) And so, practically speaking, the participation of the faithful in the “holy work” of the liturgy just wasn’t there. Many of the faithful (laity and clergy alike) had “fallen asleep” during those four hundred years. They weren’t actively or consciously engaged in the “work of God” anymore. But, of course, many were engaged. And they were participating to the point of realizing that something was drastically wrong with the Church’s liturgy.

f. The Liturgical Movement and Vatican II. In 1903, Saint Pope Pius X issued a document on sacred music, entitled Tra le sollecitudini. And in it, he calls for the "participation” [or "active participation"--in the Italian] of the faithful in the liturgy—primarily through song. But he also supported the idea of receiving Communion often, even to the point of lowering the age for First Communion. With Pius X and a string of other theologians and popes, most notably the theologian Romano Guardini and Pope Pius XII in his document Mediator Dei (1947), a liturgical movement had begun, geared toward the “reactivation” of the laity’s participation in the liturgy. Pius XII said the people in the pews were “dumb and silent spectators” (that is, they were an unthinking, disengaged audience)—not as a criticism, but as a statement of truth about the situation. 
          And so, when the Second Vatican Council was convened, the call for “fully conscious and active participation” in the liturgy was a natural outgrowth of the Liturgical Movement in the early 20th Century. But, as Pope Benedict alluded to earlier, the call for “participatio actuosa” was misunderstood. And so, there are some who would say the “fully conscious and active participation” of the faithful in the liturgy has not improved; instead, it may have actually gotten worse. 

And so, our little journey through history is completed, and we’re back to the idea of participatio actuosa. As we heard, Vatican II proposed this be achieved by means of: “acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.” Of course, with four hundred years of non-participation by the laity, it was like a rubber band wound so tightly that its release would be sharp and radical. And it was.
          Today, we so often define “participation” in terms of externals: singing, holding hands, hearty acclamations, moving physically closer to the altar, doing this ministry, doing that ministry. Participation today is all about “doing,” just as Pope Benedict observed. The means to active participation have become the goal; they’ve become the definition of "active participation."  But the kind of participation—the kind of “doing”—demanded by “the nature of the liturgy” is first and foremost and internal doing. And that facet of how to participate in the work of God was, to a large extent, rejected or seen as backwards and as hopelessly “pre-Vatican II.” Unfortunately, there is still a mentality which talks of “interior participation” as being “pre-Vatican II,” and “external participation” as being “in the spirit of” Vatican II. And so, we still struggle today with the idea of participatio actuosa—what that means and how to “do” it.
          But perhaps it would be more helpful to think of actuosa not in terms of being “active,” but instead as being “actual” or “actualized,” or “real.” For instance, when a person is baptized, he or she has the potential to participate in the work of God; to live out the work of Christ. Or when each of us goes to Mass, we each have the potential to participate in the liturgy. When Pius X and Pius XII looked out at the masses of people gathered for liturgy, they saw “dumb and silent spectators,” yes . . . but they also saw potential participants in the work of God; potential sharers in the work of Christ in the liturgy. And so, the idea of participatio actuosa could be understood to mean: Moving from potential to actual participation. And this is a thoroughly Catholic idea: the idea of that life (in general) is always moving from a state of potential being toward a state of actual being. It’s an idea that runs throughout the history of Catholic thought, going all the way back to Aristotle in Ancient Greece.
          With that understanding, we would say that our calling is to “fully conscious and actual, real participation” in what’s happening in the liturgy. Whether that’s through external actions or internal disposition, or both, our goal is to participate intentionally and really in the work of God. That’s what the liturgy is, and that’s what the liturgy helps us to do. The question, then, is: How to do it? And that’s what the next part of the presentation will try to answer. 

III. Images of the Liturgy

          The idea of being “fully conscious” in our participation suggests that we should be fully aware and knowledgeable about what we’re doing in liturgy. That’s why the Scripture passages we cited earlier are helpful. That’s why understanding the meaning of the word “liturgy” itself is helpful. Parting of consciously participating is to keep these understandings in mind as we’re doing the work of the liturgy. This is one of the things we “do” to prepare for Mass. We don’t just walk in off the street and consciously participate in the liturgy. We have to call to mind what we’re about to do, so we can consciously and intentionally do it. So, as a help to conscious participation, it’s good to keep some images in mind.

a. The Body of Servants. First (and these are in no particular order), is the image of that body of civil servants, who gather with one mind and heart to do selfless work for the good of society. And the work we do mirrors (and is) the work of Christ. Remember, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to offer his life as a ransom for many.” In the liturgy, we gather—not to be served, but to offer God our prayers, our intentions, our bodies, minds, and wills. In the liturgy, we try to identify ourselves more closely with the sacrifice of Christ, so we can be the presence of God in the world, just as Christ was. And, in that, we act for the good of the world because we go out into it as happy and willing servants of God. So, that’s one image to keep in mind—the body of civil servants who hand themselves over to be transformed by God (and into the face of God) for the good of society.

b. The River of Life. Second, is an image that comes from the book of Revelation:

          Then the angel showed me the river of life, rising 
          from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing 
          crystal-clear. Down the middle of the city street, 
          on either bank of the river were trees of life, which 
          bear twelve crops of fruit in a year, one in each month,
          and the leaves of which are the cure for the nations.

Father Jean Corbon, O.P., writes very extensively on the image of liturgy as the flowing waters of the river of life. The river is, essentially, the Holy Spirit—the flowing bond of love between God the Father and God the Son. But, in heaven—in the holy city, the New Jerusalem, this river of life is not contained within God himself; instead it spills over into the life of all who live there. And, in fact, the life of all depends on this flowing river. And so, in the liturgy, this river of living water (the overflowing life of the Holy Spirit) is opened up to us. But the peculiar thing about this river is that it flows from its Source and back to its Source. That’s what the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ accomplished.
        The life of God became incarnate in the person of Jesus; the river of life flowed within him and through him. And so, through the Incarnation, the river of life extended down to earth. But with the Ascension, that same river made a loop back to where it came from. Imagine, for a moment, the life of God as one piece of fabric, and the life of earth as another piece. Well, Christ is like the needle, and the river of life (the Holy Spirit) is like the thread in the needle. Jesus comes down, pierces the fabric of life on earth, and is then drawn back into the fabric of God—thereby connecting heaven and earth by this thread we call the “river of life,” or the Holy Spirit. And so, to consciously and actually participate in the liturgy, is to jump into the river and let it take us where it will—not where we want it to go. Remember Jesus’ prayer in the Garden: Not my will be done, but yours, Father. 
          Imagine the river of life pouring down from heaven, out onto the Altar, through the words of Scripture, in those words we hear: “Take and eat, this is my Body; Take and drink, this is my Blood.” The river of life pours out on us, but will we jump into that river, and be saturated by it, and let it reconnect us with our God? That is a holy and selfless “work”—to jump into the river of life, and be transformed by it for the glory of God and the good of the world. So there’s another image of “liturgy:” an endlessly flowing river of life, which comes from God and returns to God. And the “work” we do is to jump in the river, and let it take us. 

3. Reflection of the Heavenly Liturgy. A third image of the “liturgy” that might help us participate more consciously is the image of the heavenly liturgy. You know, when we sing the Gloria, or when we sing the Holy, Holy, Holy we’re joining in a song which is already being sung . . . by the angels. At every Mass, there’s the invitation that goes something like this:

   Through him the Angels praise your majesty,
   Dominions adore and Powers tremble before you.
   Heaven and the Virtues of heaven and the blessed Seraphim
   worship together with exultation.
   May our voices, we pray, join with theirs
   in humble praise, as we acclaim: 
                    [Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts . . .] 

Or when we pray at the Intercessions, “Lord, hear our prayer;” or at the Lamb of God, “Lord, have mercy on us,” we’re joining with countless voices already turned to God and worshiping him: the voice of the entire of communion of Saints—a body of powerful intercessors who worship God with adoration and trust and humility. What we “do” in the liturgy is a reflection and a shadow of what’s already happening in heaven.
          Even the physical layout of the church building reminds us of that. Christ, the Lamb of God, the Light of Heaven is at the center; around which are gathered all the faithful who come to offer praise and worship and adoration. The multitude of hosts in heaven minister to God—they offer a leitourgia (a liturgy) to God, as do all who gather at the Altar and consciously and actually participate in the holy “work” of turning hearts and minds to God. 
          From the Book of Revelation we also get the familiar images of: candles (Rev 1:12-13), the altar (Rev 8:3; 9:13), the chair (Rev 4:1 & Dan 7:9), priests and elders (Rev 4:4,10), the scroll (the Word; Rev 5:1), incense and intercessory prayers (Rev 5:7; 8:3), the singing of hymns (Rev 5:8; Rev 14:1; 15:3), kneeling (Rev 4:10; 5:14), golden vessels and vestment (Rev 1:12,13; 5:8; 8:3; 15:16,17), the gathered multitudes, the holy city and a lot more. Even though we may not sing our hymns very angelically, or our bones creek when we stand or kneel, it’s all a reflection of what’s happening in heaven—not in the future, but right now. And we’ll come back to this point a little later. 

4. The Bridal Chamber. Now, an image of the liturgy we don’t hear enough of is one which Jesus gives us when he refers to himself as “the Bridegroom” and the community of believers as “the Bride.” Just before communion, the priest holds up the Body and Blood of Christ and says: “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” And this last line is taken from the Book of Revelation, which actually reads: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
          By seeing the liturgy as the Bridal Chamber, the “work” we do to participate is to be the Bride. It’s a rather more graphic image, but with this understanding of the liturgy, the altar becomes the bridal bed upon which Jesus, the Bridegroom, gives himself to the Church, the Bride—who, in turn, gives herself to the Lord on the altar of her heart. Often times, in older churches, we’ll see a canopy over the altar. And one reason for this was to highlight the image of the altar as a bed (think of a canopy bed), and to showcase the real “work” of the liturgy as revolving around what happens in that bridal chamber. 
          And so, as we sing to God, or offer prayers, or just kneel in his presence and worship and adore him, it’s helpful to remember we gather not only as the Body of Christ, but also as the Bride of Christ, who comes to consciously and really participate in the shared love between the Bridegroom and the Bride. This “work of love,” of course, transforms us for the glory of God, for our good, and the good of those we meet.

5. The Meaning of “Mass.” A final image that can help us participate more consciously in the liturgy is the image of offering. At the heart of priesthood is the idea of sending an offering to God. And, as we know, by baptism we become part of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Every person at Mass has the potential to do the “priestly thing.” Each person has the potential to send an offering to God. And this is actually why we call the Mass the “Mass.” 
          The word “Mass” comes from the Latin word “missale,” which comes from the Latin verb “missiculáre,” which means “to send often.” And so, the word “Mass” means “to send.” And we immediately might think of the end of Mass: “Go in peace, the Mass is ended”—emphasis on the word: Go. And that’s true. We are sent out on mission from the Mass. But there’s more to it.
          Prior to Vatican II, the Mass was divided into two large elements: the Mass of Catechumens, and the Mass of the Faithful. And at the end of each of these, various people were “sent out.” At the end of the Mass of Catechumens, the catechumens (the ones still learning about the faith) were sent. And at the end of the Mass of the Faithful, the baptized faithful were sent out (this is the final sending we still have at the end of Mass today). And, even though the structure of Mass has changed somewhat since Vatican II, the idea of the “Mass” remains. We are sent out—by God—as an offering to the world, for the good of the world. Just as God sent his Son into the world and offered him to the world, so he sends us as an offering to the world. But even before that, we come to Mass to do the hard and holy work of sending an offering to God. All the prayers we make, all the songs we sing, all the gestures we do, all the opening of our hearts and minds to receive Christ in Word and Sacrament are all part of a big offering of ourselves that we send to God. And this is alluded to in all the Eucharistic Prayers. 
          In Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon) we join the priest in praying this prayer:

          In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God:
          command that these gifts be borne
          by the hands of your holy Angel
          to your altar on high
          in the sight of your divine majesty . . .

But it’s not merely us sending the offering—it’s in union with Christ: as the priest chants: “Through him and with him and in him . . .” 
          Pope Benedict calls this “action” of self-offering in union with the self-offering of Christ the heart of the liturgy. He writes:

          The real liturgical action, the true liturgical act, is 
          the oratio, the great prayer that forms the core of the
          Eucharistic celebration. . . . The sacrifice of the Logos 
          [the Sacrifice of the Word made Flesh] is accepted 
          and forever. But we must still pray for it to become 
          our sacrifice, that we ourselves . . . may be transformed. 
          ... That is the issue, and that is what we have to pray for.

          The point is that, ultimately, the difference between the 
          actio Christi [the action of Christ] and our own action 
          is done away with. There is only one action, which is 
          at the same time his and ours—ours become we have 
          become “one body and one spirit” with him.

The “royal priesthood” we exercise—whether as clergy or laity—should be a conscious and real participation in the ongoing self-offering of Christ to God the Father in a spirit of love and adoration. We sing to God because Christ sings to God. We offer intercessions to God because Christ offers intercessions. We are humble before God because Christ is humble. And when we send these offerings to God (as a “nation of priests”), we do it not only with Christ and because of Christ, but most especially as Christ the High Priest does. His offering is our offering; and our offering is his offering. 
          And so, when we think of “the Mass,” we should have the image in our head of sending an offering. But it’s not just one offering; it’s more of a “double offering.” We participate in Mass by sending our offerings to God—and—by being sent into the world by God as an offering for the good of the world. We stand between the altar and the world, and we are “missiculáred”—we are “Mass”-ed, we are “sent and offered”—to them both. So, next time we say we’re “going to Mass,” we might just as easily say we’re “going to make an offering and to be offered.” Of course, if someone isn’t conscious of the reality of “the Mass;” if they’re not actually participating in the “work of the Mass,” well . . . then they’ll just be there—neither offering anything to God, nor being offered to the world. The Mass will little effect on them. and so, while it might seem trivial, understanding the Mass as “the Mass” is important to fully conscious and active participation.


          As you come to Mass, realize the importance of preparing yourself to consciously and actually participate. We just touched on five images that can help us see and engage the “work of God” more deeply and more fully. And there are more images and understandings of the “work of God” in the liturgy. But as a preparation to engage in that “holy work,” spend some time beforehand intentionally considering how God is moving you to see and engage the liturgy that particular day. Is it going to be through the lens of a selfless civil servant gathered with other selfless civil servants? Or will it be through the lens of the Bride coming to the marriage bed of the altar? Will it be through the lens of a priest coming to send a self-offering to God, and to be sent by God into the world as a sacrificial lamb for the good of the world? Approach the liturgy with intentionality, with an image in your head, with conscious awareness of what you’re about to do as a participant in the “work of God.” Preparation is a major step in consciously and actually participating in the liturgy. 


        Another way we participate in the liturgy is what Sacrosanctum Concilium mentioned: “by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.” Again, these are means to participation; they aren’t the end goal. However, these external expressions are an important part of our self-offering to God (and to the Church). And we take as an example the Incarnation.
          The Son of God worships the Father in spirit and in mind—but also in a body. He healed people by speaking to them, by touching them, by simply walking by them. He sang hymns, and prayed to the Father with tears and by the way he stood, or knelt; by the way he was crucified. And sometimes he went off—in his human body—to be alone, to be silent with the Father. Jesus sent his priestly offering to God in mind, in spirit, and in body. And we do the same—not because we’re told it’s what we’re supposed to do; rather, we do it because Christ does it.
          The liturgy is the “work of God” in Christ. And we offer what Christ offers. And so, we more actively and actually participate in the work of the liturgy “be means of:” acclamations and responses (our Amens and Allelulias and Hosannas in the highest!), by means of singing the psalms, by joining in the voice of the Church when we sing hymns and songs and chants, by standing and sitting and kneeling and offering the sign of peace—as we’re physically able, and sometimes by just being . . . silent. Sometimes you just have to be silent with awe and wonder and gratitude that we’re asked to help God do his work on earth.


          Now, the liturgical “work” we do in the Mass doesn’t stand by itself. It isn’t enough to simply come to Mass—even if we’re really participating in it. And that’s because the Mass is a “corporate” work—it’s the work of the leitos; the unified body of ministers and servants. The individual takes second place to the work of the community (and I’ll talk more about that later). And so, while Mass is a place to offer ourselves to God with our neighbors, and it’s a time to receive God through Word, Eucharist and the Holy Spirit alongside our neighbors, the “work” of the Mass isn’t geared toward the individual.
          We come to Mass to offer ourselves, yes; but it’s not the place to hash out our individual relationship with God. And so, to more fully participate in the self-offering of the liturgy, we have to spend time with God outside the Mass. And that’s where popular devotions and private prayer come in. They blossom from our desire to participate in the liturgy, and they feed back into our ability to more consciously and actually participate in the Mass.
          Popular devotions came into their own following the Council of Trent in the 16th Century. And they were meant to be a supplement to the Mass, as we already talked about (although, with some people they almost became a substitute for the Mass). So we have devotions such as: the Rosary, Novenas, Eucharistic Adoration and the Holy Hour, wearing scapulars, devotions to various Saints. There are also: the Stations of the Cross, the veneration of icons, pilgrimages to holy shrines and other holy places. We have lots of “traditional” devotional prayers: the Anima Christi, a morning offering, the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel, the Prayer before a Crucifix, consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and so on, and so on.
          Not every devotion is meaningful to everybody, of course. So—on a practical level—explore a little bit and find devotional practices and prayers that are helpful, that are meaningful. With popular devotions—unlike the Mass—there is the element of personal spirituality involved. But, at the same time, the devotions themselves are not of our own making . . . they still belong to the community at large. That’s why we can sit down as a small group and pray the Rosary together, or the St Michael Prayer together, or say a Hail Mary together; they’re devotions “of the people” (they’re “popular”), but we can still pick and choose which ones touch us on a more personal level.
          A very great benefit of popular devotions is that they open us up to the wider Church community. They open us up: to Our Blessed Mother, to the communion of the Saints, to the life of the Angels, to our departed loved ones and friends. And because the devotions can be so widely popular around the world and throughout time, they keep us in touch with the Church as a truly cosmic reality. And this openness to the size and breadth and depth of the Church feeds right into our conscious and actual participation in the Mass; because in the work of the Mass, it isn’t just the local parish working and praying and offering—it’s the whole Church, the entire body of the faithful. And so that’s a very practical and spiritual way that popular devotions help us to engage Mass well.


        And, lastly, we have private prayer. This is prayer between you and God; it’s a heart-to-heart conversation between the Lord and his beloved son or daughter; between the Divine Friend and his beloved brother or sister. As we hear Jesus say every Ash Wednesday: “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:6). 
          “Go into your inner room;” go into that deeper part of ourselves where God lives, where God waits for us, that place where God knows everything about us. Go there and just “be” with God. When Jesus says: “Pray always,” he means “nurture a certain delight in knowing that ‘I am with you always, until the end of the age.’” In her autobiography, St Therése of Lisieux talks about her “secret delight.” And it’s nothing other than her personal relationship with the Lord. That’s what put a smile on her face, and made her desire life, and kept her simple of mind and heart. That’s what she brought to Mass and offered to God and the Church.
          Now St Therése is one of those “spiritual giants,” like St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, St Francis of Assisi, St Benedict, St Margaret Mary, and so many others. And it would be a mistake to think we need to have same kind of personal relationship with God as they had. It would be a mistake to think that. After all, God made one person to be Therése of Lisieux. He made one person to be Mother Theresa. And we are not those people. Instead, Christ calls us to our inner room to foster our own relationship with him. The saints and angels are there to help us, if we want. But it’s our own relationship with God that we focus on in our private prayer.
          As we’ve progressed from liturgy to popular devotions, and now to private prayer, explaining exactly how to consciously and actively participate gets more difficult. When it comes to private prayer and our own spirituality, it’s hard for one person to say to another: “Well, just pray this way;” or “Just pray that way.” It’s hard to do that, and we shouldn’t necessarily try to do that anyway. When it comes to private prayer, about the most we can for each other is to encourage that prayer. And that’s simply because our individual relationships with God are just that—they’re individual; they’re personal. And so, while there are things that can help with personal prayer, what I’m offering tonight are just suggestions and ideas.

a. Prayer Space. One way to help our personal prayer is to make a space specifically for prayer, and reflection and just “being with” God. It used to be in many homes that you had a “family room” as well as a “living room.” And the “living room” was kind of a special place. There wasn’t a television in there; nothing to distract people from engaging one another. And that’s the goal, perhaps, of a making a special prayer space. 
          Over in the rectory, my prayer space is just basically the corner of a room. There’s a comfortable chair (which I only sit in when I’m praying); there’s a crucifix on the wall, a few images of saints, a couple prayer books and some candles on a stand. And in this corner is also a window so I can look outside. And, for at night, there’s a lamp there—but it’s one of those amber colored bulbs, and only 25 Watts. So when it’s on, it still the “environment” of that prayer space more subdued. And that’s all that corner in the rectory is used for: it’s used for prayer, and reflection; that’s it.
          And this can be important because we recognize the value of “space” as something that helps with prayer. If we didn’t value “space” we wouldn’t have church buildings set aside specifically for Mass; we wouldn’t have chapels and shrines set aside. And so, making a specific prayer space in your home—even if it’s just a chair with a table next to it—setting aside a space just for your own personal prayer can be very helpful; not only for your personal relationship with God, but also in your ability to participate more consciously and actively as a member of the community gathered for doing the “work of the liturgy.”

b. Music and the Arts. Another way we might commune with God, on a personal level, is to expose ourselves more often to experiences of beauty and deep meaning. Music, painting, sculpture, even some types of dance can open ourselves up to the life of God—God who is beauty itself; who is goodness itself; who is truth itself. God may not be the music itself, or the painting itself, but those experiences can point us to God the Creator of everything beautiful and true and good.
          And this type of “prayer” can be helpful with our participation in the Mass because what’s happening in the Mass—in the liturgy—can be kind of abstract. It’s real, but abstract. Just like the experience of music, or the experience of good art. Those things are real, but very abstract. And they can help us break out of our habits of “linear thinking” and “analytical thinking,” and instead open us to things and realities that are beyond our comprehension. Music and the arts can help us appreciate the depth of mystery that surrounds God and what we do in the liturgy. 

c. Spiritual Writings. Now, as I mentioned before, the whole community of saints—the whole community of the Church—is here to help us in our spiritual growth. And a beautiful testament to that is this library of spiritual writings that stretch back, literally, thousands of years.
          It can be a real treat to sit down and read, say, “The Confessions” of Saint Augustine, and to find in him a kindred spirit. Or maybe you feel like reading “The Rule of St Basil,” or “The Rule of St Benedict;” writings meant for the discipline of monastic life. Or maybe you enjoy Archbishop Fulton Sheen, or Thomas Merton, or Henri Nouwen; maybe Hildegard of Bingen from the High Middle Ages, or perhaps St Francis of Assisi. Of course, there’s also Sacred Scripture. Even though our personal prayer is personal, we have a whole community of holy men and women who can offer “food for thought,” or an inspiration, or reassurance by what they’ve written. Spiritual writings are one of those “treasures” of the Church available to everyone.

d. Home Altar and Decor. The next idea kind of goes along with the “Prayer Space.” In some cultures it’s very common to see a “home altar” set up somewhere (at home). It might be a table, or a shelf on the wall, or a piece of furniture in the corner. And it’s a place to set images—maybe favorite Saints or Angels. It can be a place for candles, and maybe pictures of our loved ones we pray for. Or there might have a prayer book open on it, from which we’d offer some daily prayers.
          And the idea behind the “home altar” is that we bring the action of the priestly offering right into our everyday lives at home. It’s not the same as liturgy, of course. We’re not trying to duplicate the Mass at home; instead, it’s a visual reminder that we’re constantly offering prayers to God, and that God is always present to us—even at home.

These are just a few ideas to help nurture a personal relationship with our God. And they’re all rather “external” things. And that’s all fine and good. But perhaps the most important help to our personal prayer is to remember that God wants to be with us; he wants to share life with us. And so personal prayer is all about building trust, growing in love, sharing our heart with the Heart of Jesus, and letting God be a companion through life, through death, and into eternal life.


          Before we end this presentation, it would be helpful, I think, to talk a little bit about the relationship between Catholic Liturgy (and conscious and active participation in that) and Evangelical Worship (as we see in the megachurches that are popping up all over the place). And it’s important to touch on this because Catholic Liturgy is, I think, somewhat of a foreign idea to many of our younger Catholics (and even to some of our more seasoned brothers and sisters). There’s a very pronounced tension in Catholic families between the older generations who are diehard Catholics, and the younger generations who would more readily and easily go to other churches for worship. And this is somewhat because of the way we worship.
          As near as I can tell, there is no equivalent of the Catholic Liturgy in the Evangelical world. And I don’t mean the “structure and form” of worship; I mean there’s no equivalent to the understanding of the communal worship of God.
          In Catholic liturgy, the individual takes second-place to the community. The individual is at the service of the larger community. When we gather for liturgy, it’s never about “me;” it’s about “us” joining in the larger “work of God.” Liturgy is a communal work (headed up by Christ). But in Evangelical worship, this is different.  Here, the community is at the service of the individual. That’s perhaps why there’s more “church-shopping” in the Evangelical world (and increasingly among Catholics today); it isn’t so much about what the community is doing—as long as it’s something I like. When they gather for worship, it is about the community gathered; but it’s a style of worship meant to appeal to people’s like and dislikes. This is very different than Catholic liturgy.
          But it should be said that Evangelical worship does have an equivalent in the Catholic world: it aligns with our understandings of popular devotions and private prayer. For instance, who gathers together to pray the Rosary? Well, the people who enjoy and like the Rosary, of course; the Rosary is meaningful to them as individuals. And so, they come together to pray in that particular way. And that’s a similar view of worship we find among Evangelicals: a community of people gathered to worship God in a way that satisfies them individually. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s fine and good; but it’s not the same as liturgy.
        Also, in Catholic liturgy, as we know, it’s a communal “working” with God for the good of the world. But in the Catholic understanding of things, the community which gathers is the whole community: all the Angels, all the Saints and the entirety of heaven; people from every parish in every place of the world; every man, woman, and child of God who ever lived, is living, or will live gathers to do the communal work of liturgy. But in Evangelical worship, the community that gathers is this particular group of people, at this particular moment in time, in this particular place, doing their particular thing. These are two very different understandings of what it means to gather and worship God.  They both have their place, and they both have the potential to be authentic worship of God; but they are not interchangeable.


          Why do we lose so many people to the Evangelical churches? Well, among other reasons, they either don’t understand or appreciate or value what happens during Catholic liturgy. There’s been a push for many years to somehow blend the Evangelical style of worship with the external rituals of the Catholic liturgy. But they’re largely incompatible. And that’s because Catholic liturgy has less to do with the external rituals, and has more to do with the underlying spirit of “working as a single body, cooperating in the work of God, and offering ourselves to God and to the world, for the good of the world.” That’s the “spirit of the liturgy.” And that’s the “work of God” in which we’re called—by our baptism—to consciously and actively participate.