Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Effective Liturgical Catechesis

What is Liturgical Catechesis

The Liturgy is the public worship of God using approved rituals. The Catholic Encyclopedia offers the following definition of Liturgy: "Liturgy (leitourgia) is a Greek composite word meaning originally a public duty, a service to the state undertaken by a citizen… So in Christian use liturgy meant the public official service of the Church, that corresponded to the official service of the Temple in the Old Law." As the Baltimore Catechism #925 states: "God commanded ceremonies to be used in the old law, and 2. Our Blessed Lord Himself made use of ceremonies in performing some of His miracles."

But the Liturgy is itself also a highly effective means of transmitting the Catholic Faith to everyone - children, catechumens, and lifelong Catholics. Everyone can learn the Faith from true and pious liturgical acts since at their core they express the timeless, unchangeable Catholic Faith. Two of the primary means we have to learn the Faith through the Liturgy are the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Divine Office.

The Mass in Liturgical Catechesis

The Mass is the center of our Catholic lives, including our prayer life. The Mass not only contains prayers but is the foundation of prayer. One can never attend Mass too often.

Quoting from John Senior's fantastic work The Restoration of Christian Culture, "Work is a physical necessity; if you don't work you don't eat. Prayer is a necessity of obligation; if you don't pray you will not enter the Kingdom. Prayer is a duty, an office; it is free, voluntary payment of the debt we owe to God for existence and grace. The Latin word for duty is officium, and the perfect prayer of the Church is its Divine Office; St. Benedict calls it the opus Dei, the work of God" (60).

John Senior continues, "I have cited the Latin for the meaning of many words not for the pretense of learning, but because their meaning is Latin. Latin is the language of the Roman Catholic Church; you can repudiate the tradition and overthrow the Church; but you cannot have the tradition and the Church without its language. And though the Second Vatican Council permitted the substitution of vernacular liturgies where pastoral reasons suggested their usefulness, it commanded that the Latin be preserved. The Catholic Faith is so intimately bound to the two thousand years of Latin prayers any attempt to live the Catholic life without them will result in its attrition and ultimate apostasy - which we have witnessed even in the few years of the vernacular experiment. We must return to the Faith of our fathers by way of prayer of our fathers" (60 - 61).

John Senior's works are beautifully said and express an absolute reality - the Church is timeless; she is outside of time. Only by restoring true Christian culture, as Senior explains throughout his book, will Christ again reign in our hearts, our homes, and our families. Christ must reign. And how can we bring about the reign of Christ without frequent prayer? Prayer is necessary. It is essential for the spiritual life. A life spent in good works of charity that has no prayer is a life built on bad soil. And no soul whose life is built in bad soil can inherit everlasting life.

Living a Catholic life means living for the Mass as the center of your life — your prayer life — your entire life.

The Mass is the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and for that reason, it is by definition efficacious. We are present at Calvary. Rather than merely remembering the life and death of Christ, we are present at it and partake of its eternal fruits which flow to us from the altar and during the Canon when the priest stands in the place of Christ and offers the Eternal Victim on the Altar to God. We can further receive grace by partaking of the Holy Eucharist if we are Catholics in the state of grace.

It was Pope St. Pius X who famously remarked:

The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice, dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the altar. Further, you must pray with the priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the altar. When acting in this way, you have prayed Holy Mass.

Above all, to participate in the Holy Mass is not to be the loudest person, to say the responses out loud, to move around a lot, etc. To truly participate in the Mass is to be the most contemplative and aware of the presence of God and the offering of our Lord on the Cross. For that reason sometimes those who participate the most fully in the Mass are those who say the very least.

The Divine Office in Liturgical Catechesis

This prayer is actually Liturgy, which means it forms part of the official, public prayers of the Church. Because it is liturgy, we must approach it with respect and reverence, and follow the proper postures and guidelines, just as if we were attending the Liturgy of the Holy Mass.

This prayer is called the Divine Office which is contained in a series of books called the Breviary. At certain points throughout the day, all of the Church prays the same liturgy to God, and we are all united in this wonderful prayer. The purpose of the Divine Office is to sanctify time and our day, making us constantly in prayer before the Father. 

Priests, deacons, monks, and nuns are required to pray these hours throughout the day. However, everyone is invited to pray these. Holy Mother Church encourages all of her faithful to regularly pray the Hours, especially in common (Code of Canon Law, Canon 1174.2).

The Divine Office is immensely helpful to a life of grace, and it is a great grace to be able to enter into the prayer of the Church before God. The main hours to pray are Lauds, Vespers, and Compline are the major hours.  Prime, Terce, Sext, and None are the little hours. Matins, the first hour, is often prayed very early in the morning or night and usually immediately precedes Lauds.  As a layman, you don't need to pray the Office perfectly. But it would be very worthwhile for you to unite your prayers to the Church's official Liturgy.  

An article from America Press Volume 27 written 1922 remarks, that the Divine Office, especially Vespers and Compline, along with the Solemn High Mass are powerful not only for the Faithful but for missionary work among Protestants. And similarly, they are highly effective for liturgical catechesis:

"But the most amazing thing of all is to see the way the most valuable instruments that the clergy have are left unused. The evening service, which could be made so attractive, is now usually a hit-or-miss compilation of private devotions made to serve a public need. The rosary, so strange to Protestants in any case, is recited in so rapid a manner that hardly a word is understood by the Protestant who is present. Even Benediction is often given in a slap-dash manner. From all this the Protestant forms the opinion that the great thing about Catholic prayer is to have it over as soon as possible. Can we blame him so much?

"In the average parish High Mass is very seldom sung except at a funeral. Yet many a soul has been converted by a High Mass. Even where High Mass or the Missa Cantata is the Sunday custom, the Proper of the Mass is left unsung and so the real teaching part of the service is not known by the poeple, and never is put before the truth-seeker at all. Yet the Missal is a storehouse of missionary material. What a splendid thing it would be if in every parish church it were possible to take one's Protestant friends to Solemn Mass or Vespers! What could be better adapted to attract Protestants than Compline properly changed? Why is it that with all the wealth of the liturgy at her disposal the Church in this country makes no effort to use it? Even in our cathedrals the Divine Office is not performed, nor a daily High Mass sung. Is it any wonder if the Protestant comes to think that the Catholic is weary of the worship of God? Music, art, the dramatic instinct, all these things could be used to advantage in this country."

How Many Hours A Day Should I Pray?

You might be concerned and ask "how many hours of prayer must I perform daily?" Quoting again from Senior on the topic, "The strictly cloistered monk and nun lead that life in the highest degree, but each of us in his station must pay his due. There are three degrees of prayer: The first, of the consecrated religious, is total. They pray always, according to the counsel of Our Lord. Their whole life is the Divine Office, Mass, spiritual reading, mental prayer... They pray eight hours, sleep eight hours and divide the other eight between physical work and recreation... The third degree is for those in the married state (or single life) who offer a tithe of their time for prayer — about two and a half hours per day — with eight hours for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining five and a half for recreation with the family" (62-63).

Make an effort — an obligation — pray the Divine Office and other pious devotions for 2 and a half hours each day. And no prayer is greater than the Mass. If possible, attend Holy Mass daily. We quote one final time from Senior who said, "Whatever we do in the political and social order, the indispensable foundation is prayer, the heart of which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the perfect prayer of Christ Himself, Priest and Victim, recreating in an unbloodly manner the bloody, selfsame Sacrifice of Calvary. What is Christian Culture? It is essentially the Mass" (16-17).


Liturgical Catechesis Program

The Law of Prayer is the Law of Belief. If we pray a certain way, it shows in a powerful way what we believe. And conversely, irreverent Masses, hurried prayers, and parishes that never encourage the Divine Office or at least the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, fail in effective liturgical catechesis.

For parishes or individuals looking at better catechesis, please consider the wonderful programs of CatechismClass.com. The lessons are unwaveringly faithful to the Catholic Faith and highlight often the importance of liturgical catechesis and the Sacramental life. All adult-level lessons for instance incorporate the Divine Office. Pairing a truly exceptional program like those by CatechismClass.com with a Sacramental and liturgically-based prayer life can help establish a truly solid foundation of liturgical catechesis.

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