God’s work and ours

We glorify God through the work Christ accomplishes in us and through us in the world about us

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

 We glorify God through the work Christ accomplishes in us and through us in the world about us Father…, I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. — John 17:4

When Christ cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He proclaimed the completion of the supreme work of our salvation. But, though Christ’s work is finished, ours is not. This is a point that Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen stressed—“[Jesus] has finished the sacrifice of Calvary, we must finish the Mass.”

Though the celebration of each Mass concludes within the church, Christ must continue His work in us and through us for the glory of God and the blessing of all His creation.

For the first Adam, of whom it was said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” God formed from his side a bride and “helper” (Genesis 2:18). For the New Adam, Jesus, God would also form for Him, from His pierced side upon the cross, a bride and helper—the Church.

Each of us, by virtue of our baptism, is a bride of Christ in the Church and called to continue His work in communion with Him. And the first and greatest way in which we are Christ’s helpers is in the liturgy.

Liturgy, in its literal translation, means a “public work” or “work for the people.” While some have emphasized it as the “people’s work,” this can and has led to misunderstandings and even errors about the true purpose and meaning of the Mass. Correctly understood, though, liturgy is the “work of God” in which the “people of God” participate.

By offering His life for us as a sacrifice of adoration, thanksgiving, atonement, and petition, which is eternally celebrated in the heavenly liturgy, Christ did for us what we could not possibly do for ourselves. As such, liturgy is not a work we do in addition to what Christ has done, but a fruitful continuation of His work in communion with Him.

Here, we must comment briefly on the broader meaning of liturgy, of which the eucharistic sacrifice is “the true center” and “the fount and apex of the whole Christ life.” For properly speaking, liturgy includes the other sacraments as well, through which Jesus communicates His grace for our sanctification.

Moreover, in the “Liturgy of the Hours,” the public prayer of the Church, it is Christ’s prayer to the Father that we join our heart and voice to, which serves “like an extension of the Eucharistic celebration” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1178). But it is the Eucharist that is “the supreme celebration of the liturgy.”

Since the sacrifice of the Mass, as the Second Vatican Council describes, “is an exercise of the priestly office of Christ,” our active participation requires the exercise of our baptismal priesthood. Because our baptism incorporates us into His body, the liturgy, which is the work of Christ our “great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14), is the work of the whole Christ—Head and Mystical Body. So nowhere better do we exercise our baptismal priesthood than in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

To be Jesus’ “co-worker,” though, means we must be His “co-offerer.” God’s command to the Israelites regarding their worship of Him is still a command we must heed—“[You] shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed, but each with his own gift” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). What is our “own gift” that we are to bring to every Mass but the total gift of our self—our heart and all our life with its joys and tears, its blessings and crosses. It is this poor gift of ours that Christ wants to join to His in a sacrifice pleasing and acceptable to the Father.

This is why Christ instituted the Eucharist on Holy Thursday and entrusted the Mass to His Church—so that His sacrifice on Calvary might truly become the sacrifice of the Church! How important, then, is the gift of our heart and life that we must bring and place upon the altar of every Mass!

In many of the prayers we hear during Mass, the importance of our offering as Christ’s mystical body is beautifully expressed (notice the “we” in which they are voiced):

Prayer over the offerings: Accept, O Lord, the offerings we have brought…, so that the oblation of your faithful may be transformed into the sacrifice of Him who willed in His compassion to wash away the sins of the world… (from the Sunday celebrating the Baptism of the Lord).

Eucharistic Prayer: Grant us, O Lord, we pray, that we may participate worthily in these mysteries, for whenever the memorial of this sacrifice is celebrated, the work of our redemption is accomplished (from the Votive Mass, Jesus Christ Eternal High Priest).

In order to better share in Christ’s work as His bride and helper, we must be docile to the indispensable work of the Holy Spirit in our heart and life. For the Holy Spirit is the heart’s teacher and artisan.

So “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). In doing so, we glorify the Father through the work Christ is accomplishing in us and through us in the world about us. This is what saints do, and more than ever, our world needs the work of Christ in His saints.

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