15 November 2017

What is liturgy and why is it necessary?

The following was originally posted on Quora as an answer to the question at hand.

I literally just did a workshop on liturgy for my parish last weekend. Liturgy is a big passion of mine. The word liturgy comes from Greek and literally means “public service”. In other words, by doing the liturgy, we are rendering a service unto God and our community.

In general, liturgy refers to the structure and ritual elements of a church service, be it a Mass/Eucharist or daily prayer.

Liturgy and ritual or rites are often (mistakenly) used as synonyms. Actually, liturgy specifically means ritual with a purpose.

The purpose of liturgy is to lead people to God and one another. That’s it. Which sounds simple, but it is actually not. Liturgy should (in a Christian context) take disparate people, with different tastes and beliefs and ideas and backgrounds, and join them together as one mystical Body of Christ.

That is a tall order. And anyone trying to claim that one particular liturgy works for everyone — one size fits all — is horribly mistaken.

Liturgy also seldom “just works”. It requires constant education and catechism of the parish to help them understand the meaning and purpose of the liturgy. The parish ideally should also be active participants in the liturgy, not just passive spectators. By involving the parish directly in the liturgy, they are joined more effectively with one another and with the living God made truly present on the altar in the Mass.

But liturgy does not stop there. All of this is utterly pointless if the people who consume the transformed Body and Blood are not themselves transformed. If the parish members do not take heed of it and go forth into the world to make it a better place and care for God’s gift of creation, then the liturgy has singularly failed to fulfill its purpose.

The liturgy thus should help us to see and hear and feel and touch and taste Christ, not just in the Body and Blood, but in our fellow human beings. “God became man so that man might become like God.” That is the basic sentiment and mission of the liturgy.1 Everything else is just gravy.

1 See Wikipedia’s article on Divinization.