During a recent conversation with a member of our parish, he told me that over the past few years he has come to a greater love and appreciation for the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He attributed this awakening to his experience of reverence in the liturgy. In particular, he said that attending Eucharistic exposition and benediction, with the Latin chants and the incense, has made a deep impression on him and increased his devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Since our conversation, his words have stayed with me. As I reflect on them, they bring to mind one of the ancient sayings of the Church, which is: lex orandi, lex credendi.
This expression dates back to the fifth century, and its literal translation from Latin is “the law of praying is the law of believing.” The Catechism tells us that, “when the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the Apostles… The Church believes as she prays” (CCC 1124). This is important because prayer is an essential part of our relationship with God. In all of our relationships, especially the most important ones, learning to communicate well is vital. We get to know each other better through our interactions, including the way we speak to one other. Really good friends can know each other so well that they are able to communicate what they are thinking with merely a look or a subtle gesture.
When we apply this to our relationship with God, we see that the way we pray expresses our understanding of Who God Is. We understand Who God Is through our life in the Church, and the greatest form of prayer we have is the Church’s liturgy, most especially the Mass. The words of the Church’s liturgy articulate truth about God. The way we pray those words in the liturgy also expresses truth about God and our relationship with Him. Through the Church’s liturgy we learn how to communicate with the Lord. The words, gestures, postures, vestments, incense, music, and beauty of the church building are supposed to help us to participate together in the reality of what we’re doing, revealing our faith in the truth of what we profess as members of the Church.
The phrase lex orandi, lex credendi sometimes concludes with: lex vivendi (“the law of living”). How we pray reveals and informs what we believe. Both are supposed to transform the way we live outside of the liturgy, making our lives in the world an extension of our worship as members of the Church. When we understand better the reality of what we do as the Church in the liturgy, it should fill us with greater reverence in the way we worship. Likewise, when we worship with greater reverence, it should increase our understanding of the reality of what we’re doing. All of this should fill us with greater reverence for everything in God’s creation, and transform our daily tasks and interactions into sacred work that makes visible to everyone we meet the truth, goodness, and beauty of the One we worship.