Article 90 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1084-1090 CHRIST’S WORK IN THE LITURGY
A minor toothache triggered a recent visit to the dentist’s office and I waited with great anticipation as I counted the days before my appointment. On the day of the visit, I counted the hours before I left for my appointment and, then, as I sat in the waiting room I thought, “Now that I am here, I can barely wait until my turn comes so that my toothache will finally go away.” My thoughts jumped to those in purgatory — (God’s waiting room) – How long they wait for their turn so the pain of being away from God passes!
Then I looked up as the young receptionist said the words, “Father, you’re next.” Suddenly I became apprehensive, jittery, and jumpy about going into the room where the dentist holding his drill and pliers would push the instruments of torture into my mouth. (I kept recalling the movie “Little Shop of Horrors.”) In reality, there was no reason to be nervous. In fact, the white-gowned explorer of oral caverns became a source and means of merit when my aching tooth was finally attended to. Although I felt as uncomfortable as a luckless worm being drawn and quartered by a hungry robin on the first day of spring, in the midst of this minor misery, my mind began to race: “Here I am…suffering with a toothache, or at least imagining that I am suffering… and getting nothing out of it…Why not put this pain and aggravation to some good use?…Come on, be a man. Grin and bear it.” Suddenly the thought flashed in my mind: “Why not offer this up for some poor soul? This pain, this inconvenience…offer it up for someone who needs that extra push, that extra assistance.”
Such is the way we ought to use everything under heaven — for the greater honor and glory of God. Nothing is wasted. All can be used, even the inconveniences that come our way. A toothache, however, is not the only
source of merit for those in the waiting room of heaven or those here on earth who “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” There are literally thousands of different kinds of pain, small and great, that can be offered for both the deceased and/ or the living. Thanks be to God!
Then there is the grace that Christ communicates through the sacraments he gave us. The Catechism tells us: “seated at the right hand of the Father and pouring out the Holy Spirit on his Body which is the Church, Christ now acts through the sacraments he instituted to communicate his grace” (ccc 1084.). A little later we are told: “just as Christ was sent by the Father so also he sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit” (ccc 1086).
The power of the Holy Spirit is the same today as it always was. The Holy Spirit never grows old or becomes less than what he was or will be for all eternity, because the Holy Spirit is God! In fact, we are told, the power of the same Holy Spirit was entrusted not only to the apostles, but “to their successors” as well (ccc 1087). This “apostolic succession” structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders to Bishops and Priests (ccc 1087).
The Catechism teaches that “Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations.” He is present “in the Sacrifice of the Mass” in the person of the priest and “especially in the Eucharistic species.” In fact, “when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings” (ccc 1088). “Christ, indeed, always associates the Church with himself in this great work in which God is perfectly glorified and we are sanctified. The Church is his beloved Bride who calls to her Lord and through him offers worship to the eternal Father” (ccc 1089).
When we participate in the holy Mass, the Catechism tells us, it is in this “earthly liturgy” that “we share in a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy … where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God” (ccc 1090). How fortunate we are that even now we are in holy communion with Christ as members of his mystical body, the Church. He is present to us in many different but important ways. He even gave us the capability of making his presence known through the ordinary types of human frailty that affect us all. Offering our difficulties in union with the redemptive suffering of Christ gives our difficulties “redemptive” value when we join them to Christ’s redemption for the benefit of others. Thus we become “another Christ” to our friends and neighbors in whom we are also summoned to encounter another Christ. Meanwhile, “with all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord … [as] we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory” (ccc 1090). The next time you have a toothache and need to visit your dentist, or find yourself in another equally challenging situation, consider how you might use it for the greater good, offering it for the spiritual benefit of your friends and neighbors, both living and deceased.
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Diocesan Office of the Pontifical Missions, the Office for Persons with Disabilities, and Censor Librorum