The Unsurpassable Greatness and Glory of the Sacred Liturgy (Part II)
Solemn Vespers of Easter, London Oratory (newliturgicalmovement.org)
In our first post, we established how it is through the Mass that the faithful come to share in the sacrifice of Christ and that the fruits of His redemption are individually applied to man. Further, we said that it is through Holy Communion that Christ takes what is ours in order to give us what is His, thus enabling us to share in His own divine life.
Yet, while it is true that the supreme sacrifice of our redemption was offered up once for all on the Cross and is perpetuated in time through the Mass, the graces of Holy Communion are not confined to the Mass alone. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, we read that the Church is “ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world… not only by celebrating the eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine office (SC, 83).” While the Sacred Liturgy is certainly concerned with man’s salvation through the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ on the Cross re-presented on our altars, it also provides us the means through which the “the entire community of mankind” is associated with Christ’s canticle of divine praise “sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven" so that we migh live for the praise of God's glory (SC, 83). And the means through which this is achieved is the Divine Office, which is inseparable from the Sacred Liturgy. In fact, Pope St Paul VI called the Liturgy of the Hours ”a kind of necessary complement by which the fullness of divine worship contained in the Eucharistic sacrifice would overflow to reach all the hours of daily life (Laudis Canticum).”
In his encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII makes the connection between the Mass, the sacraments, and the Divine Office, saying “the Church prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the sacred liturgy. She does this in the first place at the altar… She does it next by means of the sacraments… She does it, finally, by offering to God, all Good and Great, the daily tribute of her prayer of praise (MD, 3).” In other words, the Sacred Liturgy in its fullness is comprised of the sacrifice of the altar, the sacraments, and the divine office. Certainly, the efficacy of the sacraments and the Divine Office find their source in the sacrifice of the altar and the Most Blessed Sacrament. Yet, in an important sense, the sacrifice of the altar along with the sacraments (including reception of the Holy Eucharist) are incomplete without coming to fruition in and through the Divine Office.
While the sacraments of Baptism, Penance, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Holy Matrimony are “bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it (CCC, 1324),” the Divine Office flows from the holy Eucharist to “permeate and transfigure” the time of each day so that “the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God (see CCC, 1174).” The Divine Office then is not only a preparation for or an orientation toward the holy Eucharist (although it certainly serves as both), but is its extension into time and space. Because of this, it is through the Divine Office that “our day is sanctified, our activities transformed, our actions made holy (Pope St John Paul II, Address at St Patrick’s Cathedral, 1979).”
Finally, the General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours reminds us that,
“The Liturgy of the Hours, like the other liturgical services, is not a private function, but pertains to the whole body of the Church. It manifests the Church and has an effect upon it… If the faithful come together and unite their hearts and voices in the Liturgy of the Hours, they manifest the Church celebrating the mystery of Christ.” (GILH, 20, 22)
It is not without reason that the Divine Office is called “The public and communal prayer of the people of God” and “is rightly considered to be among the primary duties of the Church (GILH, 1).” It is important to emphasize this, because the Liturgy of the Hours is nothing short of an answer to the prayer of Jesus, “that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (Jn 17:21).” Being that it is “the very prayer which Christ himself, together with his Body, addresses to the Father (GILH, 15),” when the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed publicly and communally it manifests the Church’s unity, which is grounded in our participation in the relationship between the Father and the Son. In doing so, it has a revelatory effect. It shows forth the spousal union of Christ and His Church to the praise and glory of our Father in heaven.
To end, let us briefly return to where we started. For man to live in the favor of God, he had only to “live for the praise of His glory (Eph 1:12).” Having failed to bless the Lord, Adam sinned and thus stood in need of both a redeemer and a perfect laudator. Christ was made manifest, therefore, that he might redeem the children of Adam and restore them to grace, give us the gift of perfect praise, and present us holy and unblemished to His Father in heaven!
Where are these ends carried out perfectly but in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and through the continual offering of the sacrifice of praise contained in the Divine Office. Together, these form the inexpressible gift of God by which man has come to share in the life of Christ and simultaneously become what he was always created to be. Altogether, this is what makes man fully alive. And this is the unsurpassable greatness and glory of the Sacred Liturgy!