Article 95 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1163-1178 The Liturgy
This section of the Catechism begins with the question, “When is the Liturgy Celebrated?” In the 15 paragraphs that follow, we are given an overview of the liturgical seasons including the Lord’s Day, the liturgical year, the feasts of the saints in the liturgical year, and the Liturgy of the Hours.
“Once each week,” the Catechism tells us, “on the day which she has called the Lord’s Day,” the Church “keeps the memory of the Lord’s resurrection” in the forefront (ccc 1163). Many have often asked, why did the Lord’s Day replace the Sabbath? In short, the answer goes back to apostolic times “by a tradition handed down from the apostles … [it] took its origin from the very day of Christ’s Resurrection” (ccc 1166). In the first century, when the Church year originated, the early Christians substituted Sunday as the Sabbath, a day of worship and rest. The first day of the week then came to be regarded as the “Lord’s day” and was consecrated in a special way to the public worship of God by the celebration holy Mass and resting from servile work. Sunday was also regarded as sanctified by acts of the three Divine Persons. God the Father began the work of creation on the first day of the week, the Son rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, the first day of the week; and God the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on Pentecost Sunday, the first day of the week. Every Sunday, therefore, is regarded as a “little Easter” when we celebrate the memory of Our Lord’s Resurrection. Why? Because Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities,’ just as the Eucharist is the ‘Sacrament of sacraments’ (ccc 1169). As such, due to its universal festive nature, Sunday is never designated as a day of fast or abstinence (even during Lent), but a day of celebration.
Quoting from St. Jerome, a fourth century priest-theologian, the Catechism in paragraph 1166 reminds us: “The Lord’s day, the day of Resurrection, the day of Christians, is our day. It is called the Lord’s day because on it the Lord rose victorious to the Father. If pagans call it the ‘day of the sun,’ we willingly agree, for today the light of the world is raised, today is revealed the sun of justice with healing in his rays.”
Throughout the year, the Church “unfolds the whole mystery of Christ” (ccc 1163). All things through the mystery of the liturgy are intended for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.
The Church emphasizes two liturgical cycles: Proper of the Seasons, which observes the events in the life of Christ, and the Proper of the Saints, which honors Mary and the saints, especially the martyrs who by their sufferings have merited heaven and the friendship of Christ.
The Church re-presents and reenacts the sacred mysteries of Christ’s life here on earth annually through the liturgical year. In recalling these mysteries, and in giving homage to the saints, she offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass is always offered to the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, but it is frequently celebrated in the name of the saints whose past merits and present prayers are made more efficacious when they are offered to God united to the merits of his Divine Son. Another reason why the saints, especially the martyrs, should be commemorated in the Mass, is that their deaths resemble the death of Our Lord; their martyrdoms continue the martyrdom of Christ. Additionally, the Catechism tells us, “in celebrating this annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, Holy Church honors the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, with a special love” (ccc 1172). When the Church keeps the memorials of martyrs and other saints during the annual cycle, she proclaims the Paschal mystery in those “who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ” (ccc 1173).
T h e final theme in this section of the Catechism deals with the Liturgy of the Hours, often referred to as the Divine Offi ce or the Breviary. Prior to the 1960′s Second Vatican Council, the Liturgy of the Hours was correctly understood, just like in our own day, as “an extension of the Eucharistic celebration” (ccc 1178). For centuries, it was ordinarily prayed, throughout the world, by monks, priests and members of religious communities of sisters and brothers. In our own time, members of the laity also pray the Liturgy of the Hours, often in private. Some parishes even encourage the public recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours before or after Mass.
The Catechism reminds us that “the Liturgy of the Hours is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God” (ccc 1175). In this public prayer of the Church, “the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized” (ccc 1174). Whether prayed privately or in public, the beautiful recitation of psalms, prayers, scripture and song is meant as one unified offering from the People of God to our loving heavenly God.
Therefore, in answer to the question posed in the first paragraph of this article, “When is the Liturgy Celebrated?” It is celebrated every day, at any time of day, in a variety of ways.
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Persons with Disabilities