What does the word “liturgy” mean?
January 3, 2021, 12:00 PM
The word liturgy comes from an ancient Greek term that means “a public work” or “a work on behalf of the people.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “In Christian tradition it means the participation of the People of God in the work of God” (CCC 1069). In a broad sense, everything we do as Christians by the grace of God is “liturgy.” In the stricter sense (and common use of the word) it refers to the official prayer of the Church.
Liturgy includes the celebration of all the sacraments, the liturgical year, the Liturgy of the Hours (the constant, corporate prayer of the Church, consisting of psalms, biblical canticles, and various readings), and most of all the Mass, which is sometimes called “the Divine Liturgy.” Because it is the official prayer of the Church, liturgy is also the prayer of Jesus Christ, who is one with the Church as a head is one with its body. As important as personal prayer is, the Church’s communal prayer with and through Jesus is the highest form of prayer. As the Church teaches in Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, “Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.”
Liturgy is the deepest prayerful “inter-action” of the Church with Jesus Christ as we join ourselves to His prayer – His eternal offering to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. You might recognize a prayer said by every priest around the world at Mass: “Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is Yours, almighty Father, forever and ever!” In the liturgy, everything we do as Christians is taken up into Jesus’ offering, and all the grace we live by as Christians flows from it. That is why the liturgy “is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed… [and] the font from which all her power flows.”
The liturgy takes our lives, here and now, and situates them in the context of the big picture – salvation history, giving us the strength to do our part in the work of God on earth today.