Holiness of the Richest Kind
In the document Lumen Gentium, we read of the universal call to holiness – “that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity (LG, 40).” The council fathers insisted that no matter what state in life, all members of the Church must strive for holiness, seeking above all to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ through obedience to the will of the Father and cooperation with His gifts of grace.
This call to holiness is of a supernatural order and cannot be attained by our own effort or strength of will. While it is true that there are moral virtues that can be acquired by human effort, even these must be “purified and elevated by grace” (CCC, 1810). For us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ – indeed, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect – we must turn to God “who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens” and has chosen us in Him to be “holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:3, 4).
Where can we find this spiritual blessing along with the grace to become holy and blameless in the sight of the Lord? The answer is the Sacred Liturgy of the Catholic Church – the source of all grace and the summit of our perfection. As the Catechism puts it, “In the Church’s liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated” (CCC, 1082).
Indeed, the Sacred Liturgy is how Christ comes “into complete possession of the souls of men” (MD, 77) so that we can obey the Father’s will and cooperate with His gifts of grace. This is why Sacrosanctum Concilium has stated, “every liturgical action… is a sacred action surpassing all others” and that “no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree. (SC, 7).”
When we speak of the Sacred Liturgy, most will immediately think of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is good, but incomplete. In truth, it is both the Mass and the Divine Office that form the whole of the Sacred Liturgy. As Pope Pius XII stated in the encyclical Mediator Dei, “the worship that the Church renders to God, and which is based especially on the Eucharistic sacrifice and the use of the sacraments… embraces by means of the divine office, the hours of the day, the weeks and the whole cycle of the year, and reaches all the aspects and phases of human life.” The Catechism reiterates this point, saying “The mystery of Christ… which we celebrate in the Eucharist especially at the Sunday assembly, permeates and transfigures the time of each day, through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours (CCC, 1174).”
In other words, as an inseparable part of the Sacred Liturgy of the Catholic Church, the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours extends the Eucharistic sacrifice to all of life. It prolongs the prayer and praise of Christ in such a way that everything it touches becomes a holy offering unto the Lord. In doing so, it is unequaled in its power and effectiveness in bringing about our sanctification. Perhaps this is why the General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours tells us that those praying the prayer of the Church “have access to holiness of the richest kind (GILH, 14).”
In the end, the universal call to holiness issued in Lumen Gentium is not abstract or theoretical in the least bit. It is not just a nice way of saying that everyone can become a saint. The holiness to which we are all called is the inestimable gift of God that is given to us in and through the Sacred Liturgy. Because the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is nothing less than the re-presentation of the sacrificial offering of Christ upon the altar of the Cross, it is the font from which every spiritual blessing flows. But it is through the Liturgy of the Hours that these heavenly blessings reach us in the various aspects and phases of human life and make of us a perpetual offering of praise to God. There is no surer way to become holy and blameless in the sight of the Lord.