Liturgy and sacraments: How we celebrate and
live out our faith
Editor’s note: Throughout the Year of Faith, Rev. Mr. Christopher Seibt will offer a series of columns based on the reflection series “Catholicism Today” that he gave during First Friday devotions at St. James Church in Syracuse while on pastoral year. This is the fourth column in the series.
By Rev. Mr. Christopher R. Seibt
Sun contributing writer
How do we celebrate and, more importantly, live the faith that we profess? Bishop Robert Cunningham reminded us in his recent column entitled “New Year Resolutions” that, “Living our faith requires our participation in the sacramental life of the Church.”
The beginning of the second part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, called “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery,” is all about the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church. “Liturgy” ultimately refers to the Church’s public prayer and worship. For instance, celebrations of the Word of God, the sacraments, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, etc. are all liturgies. Because liturgy is the action of both Christ and his Church (CCC, 1071), it is central to how we celebrate and live out our faith as Catholics. And so, it is important for us to take a look some of the general points that the Catechism provides us about the Church’s liturgy and sacraments for our reflection.
First, the Catechism tells us that liturgy is the work of the Holy Trinity (CCC, 1077-1112). In the liturgy, God the Father is adored, the saving work of Christ is made present in our midst and the Holy Spirit acts to transform us (CCC, 1110-1112). Through the work of the Holy Trinity in the liturgy two main things happen for us. First, we remember what God has done throughout salvation history. We recall that God created the world and redeemed it when it had gone astray by sending his Son, Jesus Christ. Second, we share in the blessings of salvation. We receive the grace from God that we need to live the lives of faith to which he invites us.
When we gather to celebrate liturgy, therefore, we participate in the Paschal Mystery of Christ — in his dying and rising — which won our salvation. To put it more simply, the events of Christ’s death and resurrection happened once in history, but they are still very much effective. It is the Church’s liturgy and sacraments that make the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection present to us so that we can encounter Christ anew and leave transformed in some way by our intimate encounter with him.
Second, with regard to the liturgy the Catechism tells us that, “The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments” (CCC, 1113). It goes on to describe the sacraments as “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC, 1131). That is to say, the sacraments are acts of Christ and acts of the Church. Christ acts in them. Those who celebrate them receive the grace they need to be holy — to give worship to God and to live for God in Christ Jesus. And the Church — the body of Christ — is built up and strengthened in its mission of witness and charity (CCC, 1114-1134).
Third, the Catechism tells us that the general details concerning the actual celebration of the Church’s liturgy and sacraments are important (CCC, 1136-1199). It tells us that all of the baptized celebrate the Church’s liturgy and sacraments, particularly when they are gathered together in a worshipping community. We each have a function, which centers around coming to the liturgy prepared to make our thoughts agree with what we say in our responses, as well as with what we hear in the Scriptures and various prayers that are said. This is at the heart of “full, active, and conscious participation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14), namely responding with one mind and heart to the action of the liturgy.
The Catechism teaches us that the Church’s liturgy and her sacraments are celebrated in a particular way to express externally what we as a Church believe internally. Signs, symbols, rituals, Scriptural readings, prayers, gestures, songs, vestments and a variety of other visible things are used in order to help us experience God’s invisible presence. The one element, however, that is an integral part of every liturgical and sacramental celebration is the Word of God — Sacred Scripture. When it is proclaimed Christ himself speaks and, as a result, we enter into the celebration with a deeper appreciation and an open heart to receive the grace that is being offered.
The Catechism states that liturgy and sacraments are celebrated on particular days. The central day to the Church’s liturgical life is Sunday. It is the day of Christ’s resurrection, the day when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, which is at the very center of our lives of faith as Catholics. The Church’s liturgy and sacraments also celebrate, throughout the year, the whole mystery of Christ — from the Incarnation to the day of Pentecost, and even to the expectation of his Second Coming. This we call the “liturgical year.” Throughout this year we also venerate, with a special love, Mary and all of the martyrs, angels and saints because where they have gone we hope to follow.
Finally, the Catechism reminds us the sacraments are usually celebrated in churches built for divine worship. These houses of prayer allow us, the true Church, to gather to celebrate the Eucharist and to worship God. They are dignified places of worship which, along with their beautiful vestments and vessels, reflect the importance and splendor of what is taking place in our midst.
For us Catholics, liturgy and sacraments are where it is at! They are the primary ways we celebrate and live out our faith because they lead us into a deeper relationship with the Triune God, in whom we profess “I believe” in our creed. They lead us into a deeper relationship with one another, the Church and with all those whom we are called to serve.
Next time we will take a closer look at each of the seven sacraments. But for now, may our reflection on the Church’s liturgy and her sacraments renew and strengthen our faith.
Rev. Mr. Christopher Seibt is a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Syracuse. He is originally from St. Daniel Parish in Syracuse. Currently, Deacon Seibt is a seminarian at Theological College in Washington D.C., studying at the Catholic University of America.