Liturgy Matters — Why go to Mass? Part III

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

By Dr. Judy Bullock

This final article on why we go to Mass focuses on the second half of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy’s statement about the purpose of the liturgy: human sanctification.

How might this lofty goal be accomplished? Esteemed liturgist and theologian Mark Searle adapted S. K. Langer’s concept of “ritual as rehearsal of right attitudes” expressing the importance of the communal participation at Mass as a “rehearsal of values.”

Where might we get these Christian values if not in the liturgy? They seem to be in short supply in politics, where blame and personal attacks are the norm. They seem to be lacking in the advertising of consumer goods and services where the message is: The more we purchase the happier we will be.

These values are rare in the programming on our TVs, the internet and in movie theaters where violence, revenge, exploitation and promiscuity are the rule rather that the exception. The society in which we live appears to be rehearsing different kinds of values, ones in which personal desires are paramount and immediate gratification is set forth as the goal for life.

In the best of circumstances, the rehearsal of Christian values begins in the home. Within most families, efforts are made to create an atmosphere of love and concern for each member of the family and for others outside the home. Showing and expressing love and respect by example and by verbal reminders helps to instill an attitude of compassion.

It is in the celebration of the liturgy, however, that God’s self-revelation is most apparent if we are open and attentive. It is in God’s communication with all of creation that we learn how to respond in like manner. We learn the art of dying to self in this celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.

At Mass we are all witnesses to the message of the Gospel. We are reminded of our Christian responsibility to live in a manner that is kind, loving, unselfish and courageous. It is in repeating these actions, these words, these rituals over and over that we may come to know the mind of God and learn to respond in like manner.

Searle points out, “Liturgical rites and texts invite us to express emotions that are not necessarily ours. We are called upon to express contrition and humility when we feel neither particularly sorry nor particularly humble. We are called to be alternatively joyful and repentant, to say ‘I believe’ to things we are not sure of, to stand, to kneel, cross ourselves and genuflect, whether this is the way we feel or not.”

We hear the words of God in the proclamation of the Scripture, the words that shed light for each of us in our own circumstances. We declare out loud those values we hope to embrace and put into practice when we go out into the world. We are reminded of what is most important and how we can model our lives on Jesus Christ. We are formed by rehearsing these values with the Body of Christ in the celebration of the liturgy, with Christ our Head.

Searle says it this way, “In the end, then, liturgy is not an option, but a duty; not a favor we do to God, but the work of God in which we are privileged to participate; not something we put on for the faithful, but something Christ has instituted for us to carry out in memory of him; not something we look to merely for our own spiritual advantage, but a work that God has initiated for the salvation of the world.”

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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