The Church celebrates the liturgy using an abundance of signs, symbols, and rituals. We celebrate the Sacraments with scriptural readings, homilies, music, processions, blessings, bread, wine, oil, arms outstretched in prayer, gestures of peace, bowed heads, kneeling, standing, sitting, incense, holy water, flowers, candles, colors, ritual vestments, choirs, and musical instruments.
We do this in a holy environment in which architecture, sculpture, paintings, icons, and stained glass lend an ambience that speaks of the mystery of God and divine transcendence on the one hand, and the unity of God with the worshiping community on the other. Since the Son of God honored us by becoming incarnate—the true visible image of the invisible God—we use these signs and symbols to help us experience God’s invisible presence.
The Liturgy of the Word is part of all sacramental celebrations. The reading of Sacred Scripture is meant to awaken a response of faith in the listeners. When the word is proclaimed, Christ himself speaks. Having encountered Christ in the word, the people enter with a deeper appreciation into the heart of the celebration. The signs that accompany this reading emphasize its dignity: the use of a beautiful book, a procession with the Book of the Gospels including incense and candles, an effective reading of the Scripture, a homily that breaks open the word, silent reflection, and a prayerful response from the assembly. The combination of word and action helps make visible the invisible action of Christ and the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of the assembly to the grace of the particular sacramental celebration.
The Lord’s Day
Central to the Church’s liturgical life is Sunday, the day of Christ’s Resurrection. The observance begins with the evening of the preceding day. It is a day when all Catholics are obliged to take part in the Mass. “The Lord’s Supper is its center, for there the whole community of the faithful encounters the risen Lord who invites them to his banquet” (CCC, no. 1166). The Church encourages that Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” also be a day for rest and recreation. It is also a day when the faithful can devote themselves to works of mercy and to the apostolate. This is discussed again in the chapter on the Third Commandment.
The Liturgical Year
In the Liturgical Year, the Church celebrates the whole mystery of Christ from the Incarnation until the day of Pentecost and the expectation of Christ’s second coming. The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum—from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. The presence of the Risen Lord and his saving work permeates the entire Liturgical Year: Advent, the Christmas Season, Lent, the Easter Season, and Ordinary Time.
The Cycle of Saints
Besides the liturgical times just cited, the Church, with a special love, venerates Mary, the Mother of God, and also offers for the devotion of the faithful the memory of the martyrs and other saints. The veneration of Mary is evident in the number of feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is intimately linked to the saving work of her Son. Her feasts call us to admire and praise her as the outstanding fruit of Christ’s redeeming work. Mary is the pure image of the kind of discipleship we hope to attain. She prays for us, loves us, and always brings us to Jesus. The feasts and memorials of the martyrs and other saints are occasions to praise God for their identification with Christ’s Paschal Mystery. They are examples to us of love for God and others, of heroic courage in practicing faith, and of concern for the needs of others. We also rely on their intercession when we present our needs to God in prayer.
The Liturgy of the Hours
Closely tied to the Eucharist in the daily liturgical life of the Church is the Liturgy of the Hours, especially Morning and Evening Prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours, in which the whole Church pours out her praise to God, prolongs the Eucharistic celebration, and leads us back to it. Besides offering praise to God, the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours expresses the prayers and desires of the Christian faithful. This is evident especially in the Intercessions at Morning and Evening Prayer, the praying of the Our Father, and the concluding prayer.
This public prayer of the Church is intended for the whole People of God. In this prayer Christ continues his priestly work and consecrates time. All God’s people can participate in it according to their calling and circumstances. In this prayer, we harmonize our voices with praying hearts, and we come to a more profound understanding of the Psalms and other parts of Scripture that make up the largest part of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Even though the Liturgy of the Hours is celebrated in various ways in the Eastern and Latin Churches, the hymns, canticles, and readings from Church Fathers, other saints, and other Church writers offer us a rich meditation on God’s Word. This public prayer prepares us for private prayer.
You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
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