Liturgy is just exhilarating! What could give you more of a spiritual rush than a thirty minute homily being read straight from the page, a cantor who sings with the voice of an angelic chicken, an altar server who must be awakened from her mid-Mass nap to bring the Missal to the altar, and a lector who proclaims the Word of God with monotone gusto and the speed of a snail?
Okay, yes, liturgy on the surface can be quite unexciting. We can often leave Mass unnourished, and critiquing everything that left us unsatisfied. Yet, everything that we critique, everything that leaves us unsatisfied, is what is essential to liturgy itself. Liturgy is a reflection of us, the faithful. So, perhaps, we are quite unexciting; however, I don’t believe this is the case. I think liturgy takes on a different type of excitement, an excitement that fulfills us in a way that nothing of this world can compare to.
There are many times when I’m having a bad day, and I hope and pray that a large McDonald’s chocolate shake will give me the nourishment and comfort that I need to continue on. As I sit in the drive-thru line, I’m excited about my chocolate shake to the point where I can even taste it! Ten minutes later, after consuming 22 fl oz. of ice cream goodness, I find myself sick and even more unnourished than before.
The excitement of the chocolate shake is an excitement of this world that will never last. It does not even come close to the nourishment and excitement that the Eucharist brings to those who believe. Everything we do flows from liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) says that “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows” (SC 10). Just as we bring bread and wine to the Altar to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, when we come forward to receive Christ, we bring our very selves to the Altar of God to be transformed and commissioned to Christ’s ministry on earth.
This has been the purpose of Eucharistic liturgy since the beginning of the Church. In the second century, Justin Martyr defended the Eucharistic practices of the Church by stating the following: “through the word of prayer that comes from God, the food over which the Eucharist has been spoken becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood” (Apologia I, 65-66). We are unable to do Christ’s ministry here on earth without the fruits of our liturgical worship. Every time we celebrate Mass, we are coming to the source, the origin, of all life and ministry. How exciting is that? If we truly understand that our Eucharistic celebration is where it all begins, then no boring homily, no awful cantor, no napping server, and no monotone lector can ever lesson the excitement that abounds beneath the surface of liturgy. No matter what liturgical experience we may have on the surface, the excitement of liturgy should pour forth into our lives, helping us to engage in the ministry that Jesus established for us on earth.
As I mentioned, liturgy is a reflection of us, the faithful. It is us doing the work of God, on behalf of God and for God’s people. Because we are only human, liturgy may not live up to the idea of excitement that we are used to. However, liturgy is home to a different excitement, a lasting excitement, an excitement that will always be present. It’s just a question of whether we’ve come to Mass open to this excitement. Have we come to Mass for a chocolate shake, or have we come to be sent forth to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord?
Stephen Schad is working towards his MA in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and is currently the Director of Liturgy and Music at Saint Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Community in Houston, TX.