Liturgy and the Spiritual Life

posted 4/28/20

In yesterday’s reflection, I wrote about the importance of liturgy in our lives, distinguishing liturgical prayer from devotional prayer.  Devotional prayer is important, but liturgical prayer is necessary. In the context of liturgy we pray collectively and uniquely as the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.  When we pray in this way, we actually participate in the interior life of Jesus Christ.  The more intense our union is with the Church in liturgical prayer, the more intense our participation in Christ’s interior life will be.  This is something that we should take a moment to reflect upon.  To participate in the inner life of God is a wondrous thing.  And that’s what’s offered to us through liturgy.  I remember a priest in seminary said to us: “If you think Mass is boring, YOU must be boring.”  When we actually begin to understand what liturgical prayer is, we realize how right he was. 

Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, in his book The Soul of the Apostolate, writes beautifully about the vital importance of cultivating a “liturgical life.”  We often hear about people desiring a spiritual life, and Chautard argues that the liturgy is essential to an authentic spiritual life.  A reason for this is that spirituality, detached from liturgy, runs the risk of becoming excessively individualistic.  When this happens, the spiritual life can devolve into navel-gazing, the worship of a god made in our own image.  Chautard explains how an authentic liturgical life as a member of the Church protects against that tendency.  By participating as a Catholic in a liturgical ceremony, he writes, “I am united to the whole Church not only through the Communion of Saints, but by virtue of a real and active co-operation in an act of religion which the Church… offers as a society to God.  And by this notion the Church like a true Mother helps dispose my soul to receive the Christian virtues.”  The Church’s liturgy reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, something that precedes us and shapes us in right worship of the Lord God who shares His life with us through the same liturgy. 

Liturgy, in a privileged way, allows us to share in the life of the Church.  By sharing in the life of the Church we share in the life of Christ.  It’s important for us to become familiar with the liturgical seasons and the calendar of feast days as a way of entering more deeply into the life of the Church and the life of Christ.  I remember as a child being fascinated by the different vestments the priests wore during Mass, and the different colors that indicated the liturgical seasons.  I loved learning about the lives of the saints on their particular feasts, and hearing the passages from scripture read during the Mass.  These things feed the imagination and open the heart to receive the outpouring of grace that comes to us through liturgical life.  Chautard addresses the Lord Jesus when he writes that, through the Liturgy, each year “I witness the mysteries of Your hidden life, Your public life, life of suffering, and life in glory; and with her, I cull the fruits of them all.  Besides, the periodic feasts of Our Lady and the saints who have best imitated Your interior life bring me an increase of light and strength by placing their example before my eyes, helping me to reproduce Your virtues in myself and to inspire the faithful with the spirit of Your gospel.”  Thus we see that authentic progress in the spiritual life, desired by so many, is achieved by allowing our interior life to be grounded in the treasure that is the liturgical life of the Church. 

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