True theology and authentic spirituality in our Roman Catholic tradition are linked to the liturgical prayer of the Church. In fact, our liturgical prayer–the Holy Eucharist and Divine Office–expresses our theology and spirituality and our liturgical prayer nourishes Catholic theology and spirituality. Theology and spirituality that is not ultimately expressed in prayer and worship is devoid of meaning, and can easily become heresy or superstition.
For example, a Catholic who only prays the rosary and makes the Stations of the Cross and refuses to attend Mass or receive the sacraments of the Church because of unhappiness over the changes after Vatican II is not living a correct understanding of Catholic theology and spirituality. That person cannot be said to be in communion with the Catholic Church. He or she may have faith, hope and love, but lacks the unity of mind and heart with the wider Church.
Since the primary focus of this present article is the Opus Dei of the monastic tradition, I will concentrate on that aspect of our liturgy in discussing a theology of the Work of God, the Divine Office.
The kerygma, that is the proclamation of the the Gospel or good news of salvation, is clearly the teaching that Jesus Christ died for us sinners and rose from the dead for our salvation, that we might die to sin and be born anew in Christ and live in holiness. Any theology about Christian liturgical prayer has to keep this New Testament kerygma in mind, because the liturgy we celebrate is a means of participating in the good news of salvation, for whenever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, there he is–the Risen and Saving Lord–in the midst of that assembly. And in the process Christ bestows grace and mercy to those who are ready to receive it.
The worship of God we celebrate at the times of the Divine Office is one of the many ways we meet the living God each day. We should always thank God for the abundant opportunities we have to share in his life and should rejoice that we have the vocation to gather throughout the day “to render to the Divine Majesty a service at once both simple and noble, within the monastic confines,” namely the Divine Office, as Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life points out (Perfectae Caritatis, 9).
In our liturgical gatherings we do not seek to make a contact with the divinity like the pagans did, cringing and crouching so as not to arouse the wrath of an angry god (with a small “g” intentionally). Rather, we are lovingly invited to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” the one true God (with a capital “G”), whenever and wherever God makes himself known. One of these ways is the liturgical assembly we call the Opus Dei.
Other ways we Catholics meet God include the daily Mass and sacraments of the Church, our personal prayer, devotions such as the rosary or Way of the Cross, litanies, etc., as well as the meeting of God in the wonders of creation around us. Think of Saint Antony of the Desert, who said his surroundings were a clear revelation of God’s grandeur and love and described nature as an open book about God. Our brothers in community and those who come to our door are also bearers of God’s life for our souls, and hence Saint Benedict could say that all guests are to be received as Christ, who himself said, “I was hungry and you fed me, a stranger and you welcomed me,” etc. Saint John of the Cross said that ultimately we will be judged on our love. Saint Paul put it this way: “There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love”(1 Corinthians 13:13).
What I am trying to emphasize here is that the Divine Office is one of many ways to participate in the life of grace being offered us by God. That life began at our baptism and extends unto life everlasting.
Another fundamental idea of the New Testament proclamation is that everything in sacred history, every event, object, place of meeting and worship of God, finds its fulfillment and is summed up in the person of Christ, God made Man. The Temple and the altar of Jerusalem, with their rituals and sacrifices, are not substituted for a new set of rites and temples after Christ, but are fulfilled and made new in the one perfect sacrifice of Christ on the altar of the cross. “I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill, the law,” said our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17).
True worship of the Father in heaven is perfectly expressed in the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord. The Church in its liturgy–both the Mass and the Divine Office–calls to mind and makes present the saving events of Christ’s life, especially in the celebration of the Mass, which recounts fully the Paschal Mystery. In the Eucharist Jesus Christ offers himself to the Father for our salvation and we receive the body and blood of Christ as our spiritual food. This act of worship has continued throughout the centuries and will continue to the end of time.
In the Opus Dei too we meet the risen Christ in God’s word proclaimed and heard there and by the action of the Holy Spirit praying within us. Throughout the liturgical year we constantly commemorate the life-giving events of our Lord, and thereby are deepened in our knowledge and love of God. Christ’s sacrifice of himself, “a perfect offering,” as the Mass calls it, helps us to die to self and live in Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life.
The liturgy we celebrate each day–both the Opus Dei and the Holy Eucharist–has the same end as the Gospel, namely, to present the message of salvation to a waiting world. We do this especially through anamnesis, that is, recalling, remembering, “doing this in remembrance,” as Jesus put it at the Last Supper. We are not simply recounting the historical past as might a guide at an American Civil War museum or battle site, but we celebrate a reality that is present for our lives now, in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and with us forever.
We celebrate in the Church’s liturgy the fact that Christ walked on earth, died on a cross, and rose from the tomb for our redemption. We likewise celebrate that we have died to sin and have risen to a new life in Christ in the hope of a final consummation in heaven. We have “put on Christ” as Saint Paul says (Galatians 3:21), by our baptism, and Christ lives in us (see Galatians 20:20), prays in us and leads us to our heavenly homeland.
The liturgy is one of the ways in which the Church as a whole responds to God’s mighty deed for us, by our rendering thanks, adoration, petition and praise–the four principal types of prayer, all of them contained within the structure of the Church’s Opus Dei. It is all summed up best, perhaps, in our often-repeated doxology, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,” which accompanies all of our canonical hours in the course of the day. This is a fitting reply to God’s action in our lives and world–to render praise, doxa, for God’s eternal action of salvation in Jesus Christ.
With this in mind, the liturgy we celebrate in the Divine Office is so much more than an individual expression of faith and devotion. The liturgy–Mass and Office–is principally an action of God, in Christ, the Head of the Body, the Church. The liturgy is the work of Christ and of his people, intimately united in the bonds of love and peace. Christ is the “principle celebrant” of every liturgy, be it the Eucharist or the Opus Dei.
If this were not the case, Christian prayer and praise would be devoid of meaning. In the midst of our liturgy, though, Christ is actively and eternally present and at work, by the action of the Holy Spirit. The Body of Christ, the Church, is being built up day by day, as a new temple, pleasing and acceptable to God.
The liturgy helps us recount the mighty deeds of God in Christ Jesus, but also to experience those saving deeds by God’s bestowing grace on those who celebrate the liturgy of the Church in the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Divine Office. The liturgy is meant to be an encounter with God, not of the past, but of the present, who has ever been at work in human lives.
All of this should have effect on our spirituality, because the liturgy is the expression and implementation of the Church’s spirituality. We know there are many valid spiritualities or spiritual traditions in our Catholic Church, such as Benedictine, Carmelite, Dominican, Jesuit, Salesian, to name a few. But each of them is valid, for lack of a better word, only when they are rooted in the public worship of God in the one Church, centered in Jesus Christ. So if I were to adopt or invent a spirituality that would leave out the resurrection of Christ, for example, it would not be a valid Catholic spirituality.
The goal of every spiritual life, of all healthy spiritualities in the Church, is for individuals and communities to be clothed in Christ, or as Saint Paul puts it, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The life in Christ is built up, nourished and renewed in the liturgy of the Church. In the Church’s rites and chants, Christ is present and praying with and in us, by the action of the Holy Spirit.
Since the mystery of Christ is the center of all Christian life, it is also this mystery which the Church renews in her members when they–when we–celebrate in our public worship, that is primarily, in the Opus Dei and the Eucharist. The principal aim of all liturgy is to reproduce in our lives what the Church proclaims in her public and common worship, that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. This is another word for Christian holiness.
“Spiritual life” is a term used to indicate one’s relationship with God. Liturgy is the common expression of the relationship of the entire mystical body with God. In such “liturgical spirituality,” as the Catholic tradition often calls it, the public worship of the Church and the spiritual life of the individual become one. Indeed they become a genuine reflection of the root definition of liturgy, “the work of the people.”