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Transformational Experiences - 12th July 2015
I was struck by these opening words of the editorial in a recent edition of The Far East: “One of the great transformative experiences of life is to experience good liturgy. Through the Church’s liturgy, Christ continues to become present, shaping our lives, our culture and our world.”
The editor, Fr Daniel Harding, goes on to say this about the Easter celebrations of the indigenous Quechua people of the Peruvian Andes Mountains: “Through entering into the great Easter events of Christ’s life, his passion, death and resurrection, liturgically actualised in the Peruvian Andes, one cannot but help be profoundly moved and transformed.”
The key words there are “through entering into”. While appropriate and well played music, lavish use of symbols, and good preaching all contribute to a good experience of worship for us, it is our own “entering into”, our participation in liturgy, that is central.
Participation in liturgy occurs at three different levels. While our participation may involve various degrees of intensity at each level, all are important. And of course these different levels operate simultaneously.
Our first level of liturgical participation is participation with other members of the assembly. This is both physical - in the sense of being aware of one another’s presence, saying the same words and performing actions together – and spiritual, the understanding that we are praying with one heart and mind, worshipping as members of the one body of Christ.
This leads to the second level: our participation with Christ. We realise that we are not praying alone or only with those around us in church. Christ assures us that whenever two or more are gathered in his name, he is there in their midst.
Christ is the celebrant at liturgy and we are all concelebrants. If we understand that the hopes and fears that we bring to the altar are taken and blessed by Christ, accepted as part of his own life, death and resurrection, then we know that our worship has inestimable value.
Our liturgy, however, is not ultimately about Christ but about God. Christ is the mediator between God and us. Christ takes our prayer with his to the Father. In the liturgy, we actually participate in the inner life of the Holy Trinity. God’s own Spirit enables us to offer our worship through the Son to the Father.
The liturgy is therefore the twofold work of God’s Spirit and the Church assembled. Not only does the Church’s prayer of praise and petition rise to God in the liturgy but the rich blessing of the Spirit also descends upon the Church and its assembled members. In its sacramental signs, the Church takes part in the passage of Christ from suffering and death to life and glory.
Authentic liturgy – participation with one another and with Christ and with the Holy Trinity – is the highest human experience possible. Liturgy is not an escape from the real world; nor is it merely a symbolic, ritual engagement with the real world. Liturgy is the deepest meaning of the real world, the most intense, transformational experience of the real world that is available to us.