"In and through the liturgy, the church shows the world the way the world is meant to be done (Kavanagh). In the liturgy, we have blueprint and design for healthy and holy living: gathering, prayer, praise, song, lament, Word, Body, Blood, confession, thanksgiving, dismissal. The Eucharistic liturgy, the very source and summit of our faith and worship (Sacrosanctum Concilium) involves the self-offering of the Church before Christ and the offering of the entire cosmos before her Creator. We make our offering on behalf of the cosmos and for the salvation of the cosmos. Our prayer and worship is a cry to the triune God that all may come to know, love, and serve him fully."
-Father Porter Taylor
A friend of mine wrote these words a few days ago, and they resounded deeply with me, primarily because I've been reflecting lately upon how the liturgy, particularly the Eucharistic liturgy, functions within a parish that is deeply passionate about mission. At first glance, it can seem that the Eucharist is celebrated as an internal ritual, not focused on the needs of the world at all. If we are troubled by that apparent view, we would be more troubled by the ancient Church's insistence that even catechumens be excused from the nave prior to the celebration of the Eucharist. Yet, discernment requires looking beyond what is obvious, seeing the heart of things. And my friend has done that quite well! The Eucharist not only shows us what holy living looks like, it provides a vision for what the whole of the cosmos should, and someday will, be.
Every Sunday, we remember the summary of the law: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
We say this at the beginning of the liturgy because it constitutes the very first thing that needs to be said about Christian worship, which isn't that we must tune our hearts to feel the right things about God, or that we must be in the right frame of mind, but that the whole purpose of Christian worship is the love of God and love of neighbor.
The first should be obvious, but often isn't! Christians worship God and him alone. No other thing in the created order can take priority. All idols must be set aside, even our own desires.
But, the second - the love of neighbor - isn't so obvious. How is it that we Christians love our neighbors through the liturgy, especially when they're not present with us! One of my favorite authors, Martin Thornton, once wrote about how the Church's prayers, indeed her whole life, was to be lived vicariously, because at the heart of her faith was a belief in the vicarious action of Christ Crucified, an action done for us, on our behalf. Thus, the Church strives to be a true representation of this vicarious work, attempting in her ascetic and liturgical life to undertake a work on the world's behalf. A proper translation of the Greek "leitourgia" is certainly that of "work on the behalf of the people," or simply "work for the people." If we come to this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving without bringing with us the very people, especially the suffering, who are in our hearts, there is something deficient about this action.
We live in a time in which our culture demands the paltry sacrifice of our words in the face of human suffering. When tragedies hit, when this group or that is marginalized, we must join the chorus of those who signal their care and concern. One wonders what the ceiling for human outrage will come. The Christian will absolutely speak and act in the face of injustice and suffering. But, that action should always be rooted in gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise of God, especially in the midst of disaster and misery. The Eucharist provides us with a great witness, to witness to the world what the true end of creation is: that of being an arena for unending and bountiful praise, having been reconciled by the Blood of Christ.