Liturgy of the heart

The Mass is the source for living the liturgy as the saints we are all called to be

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. –Romans 12:1

A school teacher in the early 1900s asked her class of young children what they wanted to be when they grew up. The answers were as one might expect of the young who are unafraid to dream big. But when it came the turn of a small and frail-looking boy, cruelly nicknamed “Hercules,” he answered, “I want to be a saint,” much to the laughter and ridicule of his classmates.

We suspect that Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in telling this story, was providing a little autobiographical detail of his own life given his small stature. However, the point he was making is that the greatest desire of our heart, no matter our vocation and work in life, should be that of becoming a saint. And we do so by living our Mass.

Have you ever thought of your life as a lifelong Mass?

It began on the day of your baptism with the same entrance hymn the angels sang at the birth of Christ, which must continue to resound in our heart’s sanctuary — “Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will” (Luke 2:14). On that day, you became a temple of God and began a new life in Christ, sharing in His mission as priest, prophet, and king. Of the temple built of stone, God said to Solomon, “I have chosen this place for my house of sacrifice.” Of the temple of the baptized, St. Peter said, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built in a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Truly, then, are the words of Jesus addressed to each of us, “In your house I shall celebrate the Passover” (Matthew 26:18).

If we are “baptized into one body” and are “temples of God” (1 Corinthians 12:13; 3:16) and share in Christ’s “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), then the Mass is not just something we participate in once a week, but something that must be lived every moment. If the Mass is to be lived in our heart throughout our week, then we must live the offertory and continue to invoke the Holy Spirit in all that we do so that the creative and renewing action of the Holy Spirit can bring Christ into the world about us. This is the “liturgy of the heart” that Father Jean Corbon writes of so beautifully in his book, The Wellspring of Worship, which I most highly recommend.

Christ Jesus is both priest and victim — the One who offers and is offered in every Mass. But He does not want to do so by Himself. Very simply, “Christ died for our sins to make of us an offering to God” (from the Liturgy of the Hours). We, too, then must offer and be offered through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ as a sacrifice most pleasing and acceptable to God. Jesus wants to join our poor offering of body and soul to His perfect offering — a sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, atonement, and petition to the Father. Consider this particular offertory prayer of the Mass:

O Lord, we bring to your altar these offerings of our service; be pleased to receive them, we pray, and transform them into the sacrament of our redemption through Christ Our Lord (4th Sunday of Ordinary Time).

The ancient command of God to the Israelites regarding their pilgrimages to the Temple must still be heeded if we are to truly participate in Mass — “No one shall appear before the Lord empty-handed” (Exodus 23:15). So we must come to every Mass with the offering of all we are — all our joys, disappointments, and sufferings; our vocations and labors; our prayers and desires.

In the liturgy of our heart there must also be an “epiclesis” — literally a “calling down” of the Holy Spirit. In the Mass, it is that central moment of invocation when the ordained priest asks the Father to send His Spirit upon the offering on the altar “that they may become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer IV). But in the Mass we live, we must continue to invoke the Holy Spirit in all we do for “it is in the epiclesis of the heart,” Father Corbon tells us, “that all Christian holiness is determined.” How resolved we must be, then, to make a total offering of our self in every Mass, for “the Spirit will transform only what we offer to Him.” As God warned the Israelites not to let the fire upon the temple altar go out, so, too, we must desire to keep the fire of the Holy Spirit burning continuously upon our heart’s altar (cf. Leviticus 6:5). Take to heart St. Paul’s warning — “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

St. John Chrysostom tells of a beautiful way that the faithful can invoke the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of their heart as well as upon all the altars that are around us that we are called to offer ourselves upon:

Just as the priest stands at the altar and calls down the Holy Spirit, you also may call down the divine Spirit, not indeed by words, but by works. For nothing so maintains and inflames the fire of the Spirit as does the oil of mercy when it is plenteously poured out. … Therefore, when you behold a poor person, believe that you see an altar of sacrifice.

The Mass is both a sacrifice and a sacrament. And in the Mass we live, we continue this sacrifice that we have partaken of by dying to our self for love of God and neighbor so that what we give to others might always be the gift of Christ. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “He who does not give God gives too little. We always give too little when we give just material things.” We who have received Christ in holy Communion must go out into the world, and from the “pyx” of our heart, like that which contains the consecrated hosts, give Christ to others in all that we do. And from such do saints become.

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