The liturgy as a school of prayer, as a “special place in which God addresses each one of us … and awaits our response”, was the theme of Benedict XVI’s catechesis during a general audience, held in St. Peter’s Square.
The Pope explained how, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “we read that the word ‘liturgy’ originally meant a ‘service in the name of/on behalf of the people’. If Christian theology took this word from the Greek, clearly it did so thinking of the new People of God, born of Christ Who opened His arms on the Cross to unite mankind in the one peace of God; ‘service in the name of the people’, a people which exists not of itself but which has come into being thanks to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ”.
“The Catechism also states that in Christian tradition, the word ‘liturgy’ means the participation of the People of God in the work of God”. In this context Pope Benedict recalled how the document on the liturgy had been the first fruit of Vatican Council II. “By beginning with the issue of liturgy, light was very clearly thrown on the primacy of God, on His absolute precedence. … Where the gaze on God is not decisive, everything becomes disoriented. The fundamental criterion for the liturgy is that it should be oriented towards God, in order to ensure we participate in His work.
“Yet, we might ask ourselves”, the Holy Father added, “what is this work of God in which we are called to participate? … And what makes the Mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, Who brought salvation, real for me today? The answer is this: the action of Christ through the Church and the liturgy; in particular the Sacrament of the Eucharist which causes the sacrificial offer of the Son of God Who redeemed us to be present; the Sacrament of Penance in which we pass from the death induced by sin to new life; and the other Sacraments which sanctify us”.
Quoting again from the Catechism of the Catholic Church the Pope affirmed that “a sacramental celebration is a meeting of God’s children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit; this meeting takes the form of a dialogue, through actions and words’. Thus”, he explained, “the first requirement for a good liturgical celebration is that it be prayer and dialogue with God, first listening then responding. … Sacred liturgy offers us the words, it is up to us to enter into their meaning, absorb them, harmonise ourselves with them. … One fundamental and primordial element of dialogue with God in the liturgy is concordance between what we say with our mouths and what we carry in our hearts”, he said.
The Pope then referred to a particular moment in which the liturgy calls upon us and helps us to find such concordance: the celebrant’s invitation before the Eucharistic prayer: “sursum corda”, meaning “let us lift up our hearts”; lift them up, that is, “out of the mire of our concerns and desires, our worries and our distraction. Our hearts, the most intimate part of us, must open meekly to the Word of God and join the prayer of the Church, in order to be oriented towards God by the very words we hear and pronounce”.
“We celebrate and experience the liturgy well”, the Pope concluded, “only if we maintain an attitude of prayer, uniting ourselves to the mystery of Christ and to His dialogue of a Son with His Father. God Himself teaches us to pray. … He has given us the right words with which to address Him, words we find in the Psalter, in the great prayers of sacred liturgy and in the Eucharistic celebration itself. Let us pray to the Lord that we may become increasingly aware of the fact that the liturgy is the action of God and of man; a prayer that arises from the Holy Spirit and from us; entirely addressed to the Father in union with the Son of God made man”.