Resurrection, c. 1455, Dieric Bouts, Flemish, c.1420-1475
The Relationship Between Liturgy And Spirituality
The relationship between liturgy and spirituality has been at the center of attention of the liturgical renewal and is still the object of studies and research by liturgists. Both terms refer to indissociable realities of the life of the faithful and the ecclesial community. One cannot think in a consistent manner about a liturgy that does not express and nourish Christian spirituality. One cannot talk about a true Christian spirituality that does not find in the liturgy as celebrated and lived its source, its summit, its school.
At the level of language and meanings, the terminology that is used is fluid. The pairing can-be expressed by the terms “liturgy and spirituality” or “liturgy and spiritual life.” In both cases the liturgy is understood as the celebration of the Christian mystery; spirituality or spiritual life means the lived Christian experience in the richness of its manifold aspects. One can also talk about “liturgical spirituality” in the sense of a spiritual experience that in its doctrinal and vital principles and in its style is inspired, nourished, modeled, and expressed starting with the liturgy. These distinctions show that the terminology is fluid and that precision and clarity are necessary for correct theological formulation. In the same way, it is evident that the two realities are close, provided they are understood in the light of the theology of liturgical and spiritual worship in the New Testament.
The Rediscovered Harmony Between Liturgy And Spirituality
The importance of the theme and the desire to reach a fruitful theoretical and practical relationship has deep historical roots in the so-called dissociation between theology and holiness, between liturgy and popular piety, and consequently between liturgy and spirituality; or in the distinction, somewhat imprecise in fact, between objective and subjective piety, with the former understood as piety and spirituality rooted in the ecclesial and objective sources of Christian life – Word and sacrament — and the latter as based on more individual and subjective expressions such as personal prayer, contemplation, ascesis, mystical life. In reality, Christian spirituality cannot help but sink roots into the mystery of salvation and cannot prescind [vocab: To separate or divide in thought; consider individually. v.intr. To withdraw one's attention.] from personal response nor, consequently, from subjective involvement, beginning with theological life.
It is not a matter of restating here the long history of the relations between liturgy and spirituality, which in this century has engendered an abundant bibliography. This has involved particularly the beginnings and the period of liturgical renewal up to the threshold of Vatican II and beyond. Today the rediscovered harmony between these two realities, the topicality of the theme, and the desire to orient their relationship in a positive manner is highlighted, for example, by the presence of courses on liturgy and spirituality, and on liturgical spirituality, both in specialized institutes of liturgy and in institutes of spiritual theology.
Attempts at unitary schemes are found as well in diverse dictionaries of liturgy, where significant room is given to the term “liturgical spirituality,” and in dictionaries of spirituality, where the term “liturgy” is given prominence. The integration still remains problematical in the realm of treatises and in manuals both of liturgy and of spiritual theology, where a synthesis is hard to achieve when it is not a matter of a real absence of a theme, as if liturgy had nothing relevant to say to spirituality or spirituality to liturgy.’
And yet the relation between the two perspectives is logical and necessary. The liturgy draws the attention of spirituality because it is its source on the levels of theological science and life experience. Spirituality emphasizes the need for celebration and for assimilation of the mystery celebrated, guided, and animated by the theological virtues, performed with a contemplation that steers us toward holiness and Christian mysticism.
Moreover, the liturgy requires a spirituality, a celebration that can be called “mystagogical” in the full sense and that extends into daily living and our different vocations, with concerns for evangelical life, witness, and mission.
To illustrate the relation of the liturgy with some themes that spirituality has favored as its own:
- personal prayer,
- mystical life,
- involvement in the world,
- and popular religiosity.
The same holds for consistently illustrating the necessary spiritual dimension of some sectors of the liturgy:
- Eucharistic celebration,
- Liturgy of the Hours.
All this can converge in the exposition of the legitimacy, notion, and characteristics of liturgical spirituality.
Liturgy And Spirituality: Theological Illumination
These concepts and relationships need to be synthetically clarified from the theological point of view. The liturgy was defined by Paul VI at the very time of the approval of the liturgical constitution Sacrosanctum concilium as the “first school of our spiritual life”; moreover, it is “the first and most necessary source of the Christian spirit” (Sacrosanctum concilium 14). The term “school” expresses the didactic and pedagogical character of the liturgy in its content and in its celebration: the Word of God, prayers, liturgical texts, rites and gestures, its symbolic universe, the richness of the sacraments and of the liturgical year.
Through the liturgy the Church carries out daily a rich spiritual pedagogy of contents and attitudes. The expression “source” indicates the mystagogical [relating to the sacred mysteries or seven sacraments] character, the initiation into the mystery, the communion with the mysteries of salvation made present in the liturgy. In this sense the liturgy is the source and summit of Christian spirituality as sacramental experience.
With regard to the concept of liturgy and its demands, presupposing adequate specific treatment, here a reference will suffice to the theological precision achieved by the description of the liturgy in Sacrosanctum concilium 7 with the needed thorough Trinitarian and anthropological grounding of the post-conciliar documents and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). This notion places the accent on the sanctifying and cultic dimension of the priesthood of Christ and on intimate union with the Church; it indicates clearly the need for an acceptance of the divine life and for an adequate response in liturgical participation and in the existential worship of life; it postulates a “spirituality,” a strong theological, personal, and communitarian dimension.
Spirituality accentuates the intrinsic necessity of full participation, which welcomes and celebrates the mystery in faith, hope, and love in an experience that is called to grow and mature because it is connatural with the liturgy and with the life that follows it, the dynamism of holiness, the configuration to Christ. The wide range of Catechism Of The Catholic Church in this regard is exemplary. It has continued broadly with the true meaning and the definition of the liturgy (cf. no. 1070) and has filled out the theology of Sacrosanctum concilium with a better formulation of the Trinitarian sense: it provides needed space to the figure and the action of the Father (nos. 1077-83); it mentions the presence and action of Christ which culminates in the paschal mystery (nos. 1084-90); and it develops a splendid theology of the action of the Holy Spirit (nos. 1091-109).
Christian spirituality, in its most genuine sense, must be understood as “life in Christ” and “life in the Holy Spirit.” It is existence rooted in the sacramental communion with the Lord, with his word, his life, his mysteries; thus it expresses what we call “holiness,” both in its fulfillment and in its search and partial realization in the universal call to all and in individual vocations (cf. Lumen Gentium 40-42). This is the strongest sense of the Christocentric vision of the life of the faithful according to Pauline and Johannine theology. It is life according to the Spirit, actuated and supported by the action of the Spirit of Christ, poured into us by means of the sacraments. Thus we come to the realization of God’s design: Christians become true children of the Father, guided by the Spirit, gathered by the Church, present in the world. The richness of the Gospel and of the Spirit’s action enables talk about a Christian spirituality and about various aspects of Christian life, which, in the measure that they are authentic and comprehensive syntheses of the Gospel’s fundamental wealth, are also designated by the term “spirituality.”
The liturgical celebration, in the perspective of salvation history, marks and shapes Christian spirituality with some original characteristics: the Trinitarian sense and the fullness (of the aspects of the economy of salvation expressed by the Word of God and by the sacraments with all the concrete demands of life and witness. It also indicates the dynamic and progressive sense of holiness, the path of perfection for people’s maturity and the growth of the reign of God. It emphasizes the paschal character of Christian holiness, namely the configuration to the mystery of Christ dead and risen, expressed initially in baptismal symbolism as a continual dying and rising. Moreover, it requires the full ecclesial nature of the spiritual life, an essential note of Christian holiness: communitarian spirituality, insertion into the ecclesial body, apostolic and missionary orientation, and full participation in the historical and cultural reality of the Church.
Nonetheless, the liturgy is set in the normal context of Christian life as a point of insertion into salvation history, a continual celebration of the mystery of Christ and the Spirit, a path that accompanies the everyday experience of the faithful from baptism until the final moment of the paschal passage from death to life.
The Spiritual Life And The Sacraments
The spiritual life is marked by the sacraments of Christian initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. Therefore, spirituality in its various expressions, in the supreme demands of contemplation, of virginity, of martyrdom, of charity, is essentially the spirituality of baptism and confirmation, a sharing in the mystery of Easter and Pentecost; a spirituality that the Eucharist confirms, nourishes, and ripens, bringing it to fulfillment, and that the other sacraments and rites (orders, matrimony, and virginal, monastic, and religious consecration) determine. Baptism characterizes Christian life: insofar as it is the source and initial cause, to live in the power of baptism; as the essential content of grace, to act according to its potential with the threefold office of priest, prophet, and king. As a model of Christian living it calls for a continual dynamism of dying and rising, renewed and enriched by the celebration of the Eucharist and prayer in the framework of the liturgical year, according to one’s personal vocation.
Source And Summit.
What the council affirms about the activities of the Church can be applied to Christian spirituality: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows” (Sacrosanctum concilium 10). The liturgy, and in a special way the celebration of the Eucharist, is the source and summit of all of the Church’s activity because it is a realization of holiness (source) and worship (summit). Indeed, “grace flows to us from the liturgy…and particularly from the Eucharist as from a wellspring. The sanctification of human beings and the glorification of God in Christ, toward which all other activities of the Church converge as toward their end, are achieved with the greatest efficacy” (Sacrosanctum concilium 10).
Indeed, every Christian life begins with baptism and confirmation, is nourished by the Eucharist, is restored by penance. The life of believers matures and grows in contact with Christ. All the other means for growing and expressing the spiritual life (ascesis, prayer, devotions, work, witness) have their source in the liturgy, especially in baptism and confirmation; by the sacramental character they establish believers in the everlasting dimensions of the royal priesthood and of spiritual worship. Outside of the liturgy special graces can be received, and an effective response should be made to the grace received; such acts make explicit the baptismal and Eucharistic grace or, in the case of a conversion, tend toward it. The faithful can have strong moments of spiritual experience outside of liturgical actions; in them their response to God reaches a true summit (in martyrdom, in contemplation; in a moment of intense prayer, of self-giving, of love for neighbor, etc.). This response proceeds from the grace of the sacraments and tends toward the cult of glorification rendered to the Father through Christ in the Spirit.
Together with the council itself we must affirm, “Spiritual life is not exhausted by participation in the liturgy alone” (Sacrosanctum concilium 10 12). Between the “source” and the “summit” there exists a broad margin of the spiritual worship of life. In this are included all of the other activities of the faithful, without which a concrete and committed spirituality would be inconceivable. Of all these activities the council mentions these in particular: the observance of the commandments, the works of charity, of piety, and of apostolate, the evangelization that precedes and follows every liturgical celebration (SC 9); the proximate and remote preparation for conscious, active, and fruitful participation in the liturgy, imbued with theological life (Sacrosanctum concilium 11); personal prayer and ascesis (Sacrosanctum concilium 12); pious exercises (Sacrosanctum concilium 13).
The liturgy is the source and summit of the spiritual life; yet it would lack something of its genuine dynamism if it were not lived with the exigencies of theological life and if it did not have a concrete influence in daily existence. The council explicitly states: “The liturgy moves the faithful, nourished by the paschal sacraments, to live in perfect union, and demands that they express in life what they have received through faith” (Sacrosanctum concilium 10). It is a demand of the dialogic dimension of salvation history to respond to God’s gift, to put it into effect in actual living. Nevertheless, the importance and centrality of the liturgy in spiritual life remains. From it every undertaking of ascesis and apostolate receives light and strength; every exercise of virtue and every work of charity tend toward it. “Indeed, apostolic work is ordered so that all who have become children of God through faith and baptism might gather in assembly, praise God in Church, take part in the sacrifice and at the table of the Lord” (ibid.).
Spiritual And Theological Dimension Of Liturgical Life
It is not enough to have a more enlightened theology and a more precise history. From the doctrinal statement that highlights the mutual interaction between liturgy and spirituality, the liturgical-pastoral exigency flows that should concretely favor the relationship of osmosis between liturgical celebration and Christian experience, always following the wise observation of an author who had already made an initial response to the problem: it is celebration that should pass into lived experience, and not vice versa.” Now, despite all the work of the liturgical renewal, while evaluating positively all the fruits coming from participation in the liturgy, we are still far from having achieved full interaction. It cannot be affirmed that on a general and popular level there exists in fact a spirituality consciously modeled on the liturgy. Perhaps because of this, in practice there is still a lack today of a strong experience of lived liturgical spirituality, and spiritual experiences abound that are too disconnected from the contents and the form of the liturgy.
Rather, one observes the need for a liturgical participation that involves the best spiritual energies. This is required by the very nature of the liturgy that, being an exercise of the priestly office c: Christ in sanctification and in worship, asks of the Church as Bride, intimately united with Christ in the liturgy, a ritual participation inspired by theological life, open to contemplation and to liturgical holiness. The liturgy postulates a spiritual participation, inward and outward, so that it might express and nourish a noble spirituality.
Thus between liturgy and spirituality there is a necessary dimension of continuity in life, a dynamism of interiorization and of growth, to be and to live in Christ, to be in total conformity with the paschal mystery. The key of this unity, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is the work of the Holy Spirit, whose action links celebration and life. The communion or synergy with the Spirit offers the possibility of a multiple dynamism of interiorization and continuity: “The desire and work of the Spirit in the heart of the Church is that we live by the life of the Risen Christ. When he finds the response of faith in us, aroused by him, true cooperation is achieved. Thanks to this, the liturgy becomes the common work of the Spirit and of the Church” (no. 1091).
Every liturgical celebration should be prepared and conducted in the dynamism of the Spirit: “The assembly should prepare itself for meeting the Lord, to be ‘people at the ready.’ This preparation of hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit and of the assembly, especially of its ministers. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart and adherence to the Father’s will. These dispositions are the condition for accepting other graces offered in the celebration itself and for the fruits of the new life that it is intended to produce thereafter” (no. 1098).
The royal road of a renewed interaction between celebration and Christian experience cannot fail to be an intensification of liturgical mystagogy in its three articulated demands:
- the mystagogy of initiation into the understanding and structuring of the spiritual life, beginning with the Word, the sacraments, the liturgical year;
- the mystagogy of participation in the celebration of the mystery and mysteries of Christ, with all of the best spiritual energies, on a path of persevering faithfulness;
- the mystagogy of assimilation, for perfect conformity to Christ in doing and in suffering, to the point of reliving in one’s own existence, the paschal mystery which is the fundamental baptismal and eucharistic archetype of Christian ascesis and mysticism, and this by following the rhythm of the daily, weekly, and yearly liturgy of the Church.”
Liturgical Spirituality:Notions And Characteristics
Some authors not only establish the relation between liturgy and spirituality but also center their discourse on the specific category of liturgical spirituality. The attempt is to grasp liturgy in a vital synthesis insofar as it demands a personal and communitarian mode of celebrating and living the celebrated mystery. Or else, following another perspective, it is Christian spirituality itself that is studied, ordered, and lived, according to the values, rhythms, and form of the Church’s liturgy. Nonetheless, it is good to avoid the risk of carrying on a generic discourse on liturgical spirituality, as if a Christian spirituality were possible that was not essentially liturgical, or as if liturgical spirituality were a form alongside other ecclesial spiritualities, forgetting that it is Christian and ecclesial spirituality par excellence. Indeed, it possesses characteristics that place it at the peak of all other Christian spiritualities. It is a spirituality valid for everyone, an expression of salvation in Christ; it contains all the aspects of spirituality and is objectively superior to every other one.
Some authors have sought to express in a brief definition the content of liturgical spirituality. One can be quoted as excelling in its completeness:
“Liturgical spirituality is the perfect practice (as far as possible) of Christian life by which a person, regenerated in baptism, full of the Holy Spirit received in confirmation, and participating in the celebration of the Eucharist, draws all of his or her life from these sacraments, for the purpose, within the framework of the recurrent celebrations of the liturgical year, of continual prayer – specifically, the liturgy of the hours — and of the activities of daily life, of growing in sanctification through conformity to Christ, crucified and risen, in hope of the final eschatological fulfillment, to the praise of his glory.”
Liturgical Spirituality Is Trinitarian, Theocentric And Pneumatological
Liturgical spirituality is Trinitarian and theocentric, because it acknowledges the primacy of God’s salvific action and gratuitous initiative, and everything in the end refers to God in an attitude where praise, thanksgiving, and gratuitousness prevail. It acknowledges the Father as source and end of every action and sets the paschal mystery in the center; it celebrates in the sacraments and especially in the Eucharist the active and real presence of Christ, who communicates his grace in its manifold richness and leads the faithful to a communion of life with him, dead and risen; in prayer and in praise it joins in his priesthood.
It is pneumatological spirituality, because in all of its aspects of sanctification and worship, in its components –Word, sacraments, signs –the Spirit of the Father and of Christ pervades the liturgy, in order to share the divine Presence with the Church and with individual believers, and fulfills in the Mystical Body the mystery of unity in one Spirit and the perfect configuration to Christ. Through Christ and in the Spirit the ultimate source and the definitive end of liturgical actions always remains the Father, whom Christ has revealed to us and whom the Spirit impels us to invoke: Abba, Father!
Liturgical Spirituality Is Ecclesial And Communitarian
It is ecclesial and communitarian; it emphasizes the communitarian aspect of the salvific plan, the union and solidarity of all in sin and salvation, the unity of the people of God present in all legitimate local assemblies throughout the earth, the necessary communion of Saints, and communion in holy things. From the spiritual viewpoint it reaffirms the need for mutual charity in Christ and the interdependence of everyone in the common growth toward holiness. Liturgical spirituality is also ecclesial, inasmuch as its expressions of worship and sanctification are regulated and established by legitimate ecclesial authorities, who watch over, with respect for the traditions and culture of distinct local churches, the purity and orthodoxy of the formulas and the forms of worship, and sanctification in the unity of the same apostolic faith.
Liturgical Spirituality Is Biblical Mystery-Based And Cyclical
With regard to its constitutive elements, it is above all biblical. The Word of God occupies an eminent place in the liturgy as an essential component of liturgical acts, inspiring the meaning of all sacraments and prayers; indeed, the liturgy is the realization of salvation history today, proclaimed by the Word, and realized in the sacraments.
It is mystery-based, insofar as the liturgical spiritual experience passes through the liturgical mysteries and signs; faith and catechesis help in perceiving the significance of liturgical symbols. In their variety they confer an inexhaustible richness of meaning to the mystery of Christ in sanctification and worship. Through them the whole person is taken up into participation in the divine life, and the cosmos itself becomes a means and expression of communion of humanity with God. It remains open to cultural adaptation and to a spirituality that is the legitimate expression of the variety of cultures.
Spirituality, inspired by the liturgy insofar as it is marked by the temporal rhythm of the Church’s celebrations, is cyclical, without remaining imprisoned in a circle but, rather in a growing line somewhat “spiral,” oriented toward definitive fulfillment. In different liturgical cycles (daily, weekly, yearly) with their own specific commemorative celebrations the faithful immerse their own existence into the mystery of Christ. Daily prayer with the sanctification and offering of time, with its culminating point in’the Eucharist, sets fleeting human time with its efforts and labor into God’s salvific time and into eternity; every week the Lord’s day renews, in feast and rest, the mystery of creation and of the new creation in the expectation of the Lord’s definitive coming. In the yearly cycle, the faithful are placed into contact with the salvific reality of the mysteries of Christ’s life and of his glorious death, to which they must conform their own lives.
Liturgical Spirituality Is Personal
Liturgical spirituality is also personal, while still communitarian. The community, indeed the liturgical assembly, is made up of living persons in whom the plan of salvation is accomplished in each person with particular gifts and missions. Liturgical spirituality is as rich as it is personal, as it is personally lived and assimilated into each one’s concrete circumstances in the Christian community with each one’s own gifts of nature and grace (character, mentality, talents, charism, involvement in the world). Thus liturgy realizes the mystery of unity in the Spirit and in the variety of the Spirit’s charisms.
By its dynamism, it is missionary: it strives to manifest the received grace to the world; after having involved the world in its intercession, the Church, which in the liturgy manifests itself as a convened community (exxX11aia), tends to become an enicpavria, a manifestation of the mystery of Christ to the world by word and deed. The enicpavria tends toward Staxovia, toward service of brethren in charity, toward missionary proclamation, toward dialogue.
Liturgical Spirituality Is Eschatological And Marian
Liturgical spirituality is eschatological: it tends toward its full realization in glory. Sanctification and worship tend toward their perfect final expression in the heavenly Jerusalem. Every liturgical celebration, although a foretaste of the ultimate realities, remains marked by hope and expectation; every encounter with Christ in the Church refers, in hope, to the definitive encounter with him and the full realization of God’s reign. The liturgy arouses and celebrates the “blessed hope”; the liturgical texts often return to this expectation, which is the partially realized promise; every celebration is a maranatha ["Our Lord, come!"] of the Church and of the cosmos, reaching in hope toward final consummation.
Finally, liturgical spirituality, in the light of Marialis cult us, is also essentially Marian. The Church, in its “Marian profile,” while celebrating the mysteries makes use of the same attitudes by which the virgin Mary associated herself with the-mystery of Christ: as virgin in listening and prayer, offering as virgin and virgin mother, model and teacher of spiritual life for all Christians, when she teaches them to make of their own lives a worship pleasing to God.