How Does the Liturgy Shape Our Lives?

How Does the Liturgy Shape Our Lives?
How Does the Liturgy Shape Our Lives?

Being the science fiction fan that I am, I finally had occasion to watch the blockbluster movie, Avatar. The main character, Jake Sully, who does not have use of his legs, entered a computer machine that allowed him to connect to an avatar. To the natives of the planet Pandora, the avatar looked liked the indigenous peoples, the Na’vi. Jake Sully has to learn the culture of the Na’vi. Learning the language, the customs, and the rituals takes him an astonishing three months. For many of us, it probably would have taken much longer. In the attempts at colonizing Pandora, some humans side with the Na’vi. During the course of the movie, Jake becomes open to the possibility of learning the Na’vi culture that moves his heart to be empathetic to the Na’vi’s plight.

Though liturgy is not science fiction, there is something that is quite similar by comparison, that in the action of liturgy, that is, in the participation in the liturgy, our hearts have to be open to being moved by the Holy Spirit present through the liturgical event. For instance, during the Liturgy of the Word, the scriptures are proclaimed. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy is clear that these scriptural words become Christ the Word in our liturgical assemblies. Christ “is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church” (CSL, 7). It is Christ speaking to us, calling us to become better disciples, to become holy.

It is not only the scripture, but also other texts and rituals during liturgy that shape us: The Collects, the Eucharistic Prayer, the music, the space, the environment, the bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, the blessed or consecrated oil, the baptismal water, and so forth. Words, music, space, and rituals not only educate or inform us, but, we believe, that Christ is active, is present, in the liturgical event and sacraments. In liturgy, not only are our minds shaped, but also our hearts and our feet in order to live what we pray in liturgy.

An example is the Eucharistic Prayer. In the revised translation of Eucharistic Prayer II, we pray twice for the Holy Spirit to transform something or someone.

You are indeed Holy, O Lord,
the fount of all holiness.
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray,
by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall,
so that they may become for us
the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit changes bread and wine and those who participate in Communion. The Eucharistic Prayer proclaims that the Lord is holy and “the fount of all holiness;” a marvelous image of God’s overflowing love, goodness, and truth. God freely pours out holiness. In liturgy this holiness is offered to those who participate in order to grow in holiness to which the Triune God calls us. And if we are to become holy in faith, we, too, must become fountains that share compassion, goodness and truth in our daily lives. To paraphrase Saint Augustine: We are to become what we pray.

Jake Sully, in the movie Avatar, had a profound change. Faith in the God of Jesus Christ whom we worship, calls us to change our hearts. In liturgy, the Triune God calls us to holiness, strengthens our faith, nourishes us and sends us, hopefully, changed, in order to grow in communion, in unity, with one another and with God. The Triune God invites us to be shaped in and through liturgy. The texts, symbols, music, space, environment, and gestures communicate God’s call to us to become what God intends: His holy people.

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  • Written by Kristopher W. Seaman. Preparing Your Parish for the Revised Roman Missal: Homilies and Reproducibles for Faith Formation © 2011 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 3949 South Racine Avenue, Chicago IL 60609; 1-800-933-1800; Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved. Photo © John Zich. This image may be reproduced for personal or parish use. The copyright notice must appear with the text. Published with Ecclesiastical Approval (Canon 823, 1).