The liturgy is nothing more nor less than the Body corporate of Christ Jesus, suffused with his Spirit and assembled in time and place, doing its best by doing the world as the world issues constantly from God’s creating and redeeming hand. What the liturgical assembly does is the world.
This is a frightful ministry carried on with trembling hands and a dry mouth, for the world stops being cute when told it is morbid.
In [Jesus], and according to his example and no other, the Christian assembly is obliged to do its best. It was in the doing of his own best that he laid down his life for the life of the world–not in cynical disgust or in limp passivity before the Human Problem, but for love of those who caused the Problem in the first place. His Church can do no less. — Fr. Aidan Kavanagh
“Doing the world God’s way,” this is liturgy. From lēitos, “public” and ergos, “working,” liturgy is God’s public invitation for is to join His working of creating and redeeming. Liturgy is doing the world with God-with-us. In fact, we could succinctly say that Liturgy is Christ, who is God doing the world His way, with us, by sending His Spirit into the world, synthesizing our labors with His.
The liturgy is Mass, the Sacraments, the Hours. And going to church to do such things is deadly serious business, as is being Baptized, which makes you a portable and wholly unpredictable liturgy.
Liturgy is where we priestly people transact between heaven and earth, effecting with power what we agree to under oath — “Amen!” — to execute by our lives every time we pray the Our Father:
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
This prayer Jesus have us is an extended covenant oath, and is especially daunting when we consider that earth, shackled by the Enemy of God, is not at all happy about heaven’s full-scale invasion. Of which we, the laity, stand as the front lines.
If we go to Mass on Sunday thinking, “What can I get out of this?” — we settle at best for mild inspiration, warm feelings, pleasant fellowship and light entertainment. Consumer liturgy.
But if we go to church thinking, “How can I drag as much of the dross-laden gold of this world into the blazing Furnace of the God-Man’s heart, drenching it in Spirit, so it can be refined, prepared as worthy material for the construction an everlasting Kingdom?” — imagine the difference in approach not only to the Mass itself, but to the whole week we spend assuring heaven’s conquest in dredging up the contents of creation for up-Offering — by “doing our best.” Divine liturgy.
And, per Kavanagh’s above quote, “best” refers always to Jesus’ exemplary sacrificial death in the face of the worst the world had to offer Him, i.e. hatred, brutality, death.
A naked and dying God, gurgling out words of pardon and love, is humanity at its best.
The Orthodox priest at my Dad’s Russian church back in 1989 celebrated a 2.5 hour Divine Liturgy on a sultry summer day when the AC in the church was not working properly. His hair and beard were dripping with sweat, and he smelled ripe. Afterward, my Dad and I commented to him, with admiration, on the hardships of that celebration. He said without hesitation,
Yes, yes, I’m completely exhausted. But this is meet and right! Divine Liturgy is divine labor that overthrows the Powers and Principalities, redeems the cosmos. It’s supposed to leave me worn down. The Son of God’s liturgy left Him filthy, smelly and sweaty! But us? Clean and new.
Ah! Toiling and laboring unto exhaustion through every future liturgy, let’s give the world our very best — with God, God’s way…