It being the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year, I thought it'd be fitting to write about The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). I read this exactly 2 years ago, so a lot of the details have left me. I hope I'll re-read it at some point, but the important thing is that the big picture has always stayed with me and inspired my thoughts at every Mass and every late stargazing night.

Liturgy, in practical terms, comes from the Greek leitourgia meaning "to perform public duty." Basically, it's the outward manifestation of faith. It's expressed by the Church most radically through the Mass, the celebration focused entirely on Christ's Eucharistic sacrifice. All liturgy points to Christ:

"...Christian worship is the practical application and fulfillment of the words that Jesus proclaimed on the first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, in the Temple in Jerusalem: 'I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself' (Jn 12:32)." - Chapter II
The liturgy is the celebration of Christ's sacrifice and our salvation - the cross and resurrection makes our communion with God possible. The liturgy is about God and man touching each other. It's our taste of heaven (literally). It's a mystery and it's a romance.
"The Christian theology of worship--beginning with St. John the Baptist--sees in Christ the Lamb given by God. The Apocalypse presents this sacrificed Lamb, who lives as sacrificed, as the center of the heavenly liturgy, a liturgy that, through Christ's Sacrifice, is now present in the midst of the world and makes replacement liturgies superfluous (see Rev 5)."
Our life on earth is just a preliminary to eternity. Our true home is in heaven. I love this word picture at the beginning of the book:
"Children's play seems in many ways a kind of anticipation of life, a rehearsal for later life, without its burdens and gravity. On this analogy, the liturgy would be a reminder that we are all children, or should be children, in relation to that true life toward which we yearn to go. Liturgy would be a kind of anticipation, a rehearsal, a prelude for the life to come, for eternal life...Seen thus, liturgy would be the rediscovery within us of true childhood, of openness to a greatness still to come, which is still unfulfilled in adult life."
This book was so profound for me because it showed how God uses the physical world to communicate with us. In bowing, kneeling, extending our hands in prayer...we are literally revering God with our bodies. We are tangible people, so God communicates with us in tangible ways, through art and music, through spoken and written words, through time changes & seasons, through nature, through bread. He wants to unite Himself with us, and every part of the liturgy is an expression of that. It's LITERAL - it's so very, very real. But the best part about it is that heaven will be even more real, and its beauty will never be exhausted.

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