Parish festivals make all of the parishioners ‘liturgists’
Every parish bazaar and every liturgical celebration are wondrous illustrations of what happens when many people work together generously for the common good
Sadly, I didn’t receive any questions for my August column. Perhaps would-be questioners were busy working on summer festivals in their parishes or going to others. If so, I dedicate to them the following reflection on liturgy that flows out of the many parish festivals and bazaars that marked the summer months throughout our diocese.
Every parish bazaar illustrates what the word “liturgy” represents in its ancient Greek sense. Our English word “liturgy” comes from two Greek words: “leiton” (“people”) and “ergon” (“work”). These two words were put together in ancient Greece to produce the word “leitourgia.”
The term “liturgy” described the kind of work that an individual did for the good of the community: works like building a theater so that the people could see plays, or a gymnasium for the original Olympic athletes, or a library; or outfitting a ship for the navy. “Liturgy” was work done by an individual for the good of the people. Liturgy was a public service performed for or in the name of the community. It was “people at work” for the common good.
But if such a public work was truly to be a public benefit, the participation of the people themselves was necessary. If no one came to use the theater or gym or library, then there was no real liturgy. For liturgy looks for the participation of everyone.
Jesus, ‘the great liturgist’
A parish bazaar makes all of the parishioners “liturgists” in the ancient Greek sense. Every parish bazaar or festival is a marvelous bringing-together of many individual efforts into something that benefits everyone. All of the parishioners together are better for the important contribution of service that each one makes.
Our Christian faith tells us that Jesus Christ is the supreme liturgist of all time, the supreme doer of liturgy.
His last and greatest act of service that he offered for the good of all was his dying on the cross for our salvation. What a powerful act of liturgy Jesus offered on Calvary!
But Jesus Christ is still the great liturgist. Jesus continues to share God’s saving power with us through his work in the sacraments, just as he cared for people during his earthly life. This is the continuing liturgy of Christ: work done by one person, for the benefit of many, looking for the participation of all. This is why, when the early Christians looked for a term to designate their worship, the word “liturgy” seemed just right. And it stuck.
Our baptism makes us members of the body of Christ, and so we become part of the worship that Christ offers to God the Father right now. Our Christian liturgy really is the worship of God that the entire body of Christ, Head and members, does together. Christ’s whole life and death was a response to his heavenly Father’s love for him and for this world.
Christ’s praise of his Father continues that response now. And we share in that response when we gather to worship. Our liturgy reveals us to be the body of Christ, worshiping with, through and in Christ and thus offering the most perfect worship in company with Christ.
Our worship brings together our many individual selves, our lives, so that together we can express our prayer of praise and petition to God in a way that benefits all of us. Together we do something that is larger and greater than any individual can do alone. Christian liturgy is an activity in which each person has a contribution to make for the good of all.
Isn’t this true of every parish bazaar as well? Every parish bazaar and every liturgical celebration are of the people, by the people and for the people. Each one is a wondrous illustration of what happens when many people work together generously for the common good.
In our liturgy, the work of Christ’s faithful people, praise is given to God, and God’s life is given to us. But the liturgy is God’s work first, for it is of God, by God and for God, in Jesus Christ.
We need the liturgy, but the liturgy needs us, too, each of us, for the active participation of each member of the assembly makes it a powerful experience of worship for all the members. The liturgy looks for us because God looks for us to be the body of Christ assembled for worship. All of this is well expressed in the Prayer over the
Offerings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
“Look with favor on our supplications, O Lord, and in your kindness accept these, your servants’ offerings, that what each has offered to the honor of your name may serve the salvation of all. Through Christ our Lord.”
Amen! So be it!