Pope Benedict says that the public prayer of the Church, known as the liturgy, is a wonderful school of prayer which raises the human heart to God like no other form of worship.
“It is in the liturgy that we ‘lift up our hearts,’ opening ourselves to the word of God as we gather with our brethren in a prayer which rises within us and which is directed to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit,” the Pope said at his Sept. 26 general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
“As the Second Vatican Council teaches, it is by means of the liturgy that Christ, our Redeemer and High Priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with and through his Church. This is the great marvel of the liturgy: God acts, while we are caught up in his action,” the Pope said.
He offered his reflections as part of an ongoing weekly exploration of the role of prayer in the story of salvation.
Pope Benedict explained to the estimated 10,000 pilgrims present that the “liturgy” comes from the Greek meaning “work done by the people and for the people.”
The people in question are the “new people of God, brought into being by Christ” through his passion, death and resurrection. This means it is a people “which does not exist by itself and which is not bound by blood, territory or country, but is brought into being through the paschal mystery,” the Pope noted.
It was almost a “chance occurrence,” he said, that the first document approved by the Second Vatican Council was the constitution on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.
“Among the many projects, the text on the sacred liturgy seemed to be the least controversial and, for this reason, is seen as an exercise in the methodology of conciliar work,” he recalled. As a young priest and academic, Pope Benedict attended the Second Vatican Council as the chief theological advisor, or “peritus,” to Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne, Germany.
“But without a doubt,” the Pope stated, “what at first glance seemed a chance occurrence proved to be the right choice, starting from the hierarchy of themes and most important tasks of the Church.”
“Where God’s gaze is not decisive,” he said, “everything else loses its direction.” The basic criterion for the liturgy, therefore, “is its orientation to God, so that we can share in his work.”
The requirement for a good liturgical celebration, he suggested, is both “prayer and conversation with God, first listening and then answering.”
In that sense, the liturgy is the opposite of how we normally communicate, where internal thoughts usually precede the formulation of external speech.
But in the liturgy “it is the inverse: The words come first,” Pope Benedict said. “God gave us the word, and the sacred liturgy gives us the words, and we must enter into their meaning, welcome them within us, be in harmony with them. Thus, we become children of God, similar to God.”
He explained that this means there should be a “correlation between what we say with our lips and what we carry in our hearts.” It is this relationship which is “essential, fundamental, to our dialogue with God in the liturgy.”
When we experience the liturgy with this attitude, the Pope said, “it is as if our heart is freed from the force of gravity, which drags it down, and from within rises upwards, towards truth and love, towards God.”
“Dear friends,” the Pope said as he drew is thoughts to a close, “we celebrate and live the liturgy well only if we remain in an attitude of prayer, united to the mystery of Christ and his dialogue as the Son with the Father.”