Living Liturgy: Deepen, nurture, celebrate

August 9, 2011

Catholics are at times accused of not being well-rooted in Scripture. It may be true that many or even most Catholics do not quote Scripture by chapter and verse. However, the reality is that Catholics are very rooted in Scripture because of the Liturgy. In addition to the proclamations of Scripture, the Mass contains many Scriptural allusions. We pray as we believe – and so it is only natural that in praying (as well as in living), our belief will find its way onto our lips. Just so, the words of Scripture are part of the Church’s prayer in the Liturgy. 

As the bishops translated the third edition of the Roman Missal, they sought to make sure these Scriptural allusions would stand out more clearly. The “Ecce Agnus Dei” is such an example. The diagram shows the current and new translation. The priest will say, “Behold the Lamb of God…” as the host and chalice are shown to the people. This phrase is an allusion to John 1:29, in which we read that as he was baptizing Jesus, John the Baptist recognized Jesus and exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” 

“Lamb of God” is a title referencing the paschal lamb of Exodus 12 and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who is described as a lamb led to slaughter for the sins of others. The priest continues, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” which is an allusion to Revelation 19:9: “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” 

The wedding feast of the Lamb is an image used for the heavenly banquet. What a beautiful combination. Recognizing the Lamb and with our sins removed, we are properly clothed to be invited into the heavenly banquet. The Eucharistic Liturgy is a foretaste of this banquet.

The response of the faithful may initially sound odd as it is not something we would typically say, but it, too, is an important Scriptural allusion to Luke 7:6-7 and Matthew 8:6-8. Recall the scene in Luke: A centurion has a dying servant and sends word to Jesus, asking Him to save the servant’s life. Jesus started for the house but the centurion changed his mind, recognizing himself to be unworthy. So he sent a friend to stop Jesus from coming, saying: 

“Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed.”

The servant was healed and the passage goes on to say that Jesus was amazed at the great faith of the centurion, which was greater than all He had found even in Israel! The centurion knew that – even from a distance – whatever Jesus commanded would come about.

Knowing the Scriptural roots helps us to see the profound faith that is expressed in the Liturgy as our Lord is presented to us in the Eucharistic elements before Communion. In the Liturgical text, rather than asking for healing of a servant, we ask that the Lord would heal our soul. We are expressing our sinfulness and unworthiness but at the same time our trust in the Lord. This is an act of humility, which is not putting ourselves down. Rather, humility is recognizing and acting according to the proper order – living in right relationship. 

Humility calls us not to pump ourselves up but to recognize that all is gift and our work and effort should be in response to the gifts God has given. Our response in the Liturgy is an expression of humility as we recognize that we have missed the mark. This is sin. However, we can only know we have missed the mark when the target is seen or known. God is the goal to which every aspect of our lives is to be aimed or directed. Seeing our Lord in the Eucharist, as well as the other ways He meets us, allows us to know and say with confidence that the Lord is able to heal our soul of the damage caused by our sins. Our souls healed, we are able to approach the altar of the Lamb. It is for this reason that when a person is in a state of serious sin, they are to be reconciled through the Sacrament of Penance before receiving Communion. †

David Wood is Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Worship. To review previous articles in the series and other materials: