The Liturgy — Work Of The Holy Trinity
The word liturgy comes from the Greek words for “people” and “work.” As is the case with many religious
or theological words we use today, liturgy originally had a secular or political meaning; it referred to a
public work, such as a building project. Liturgy was also a work undertaken by the state to benefit its
people, such as the establishment and maintenance of an educational system. These originally secular
meanings of the word liturgy shed light on our use of the word today. In fact, understanding our Catholic
liturgy as a “public work done to benefit people” is not only appropriate, but it can help us understand what
we mean by liturgy and why we do liturgy—in an entirely new light. Let us consider what we mean when
we say liturgy is “the work of the people.”
Liturgy Is Work
Ordinarily, we don’t think of liturgy as work and, unfortunately, too many times for too many people, liturgy
is anything but work. Liturgy is sitting in church or listening to a homily; liturgy is receiving a sacrament or
being blessed by a priest. But liturgy as work?
My old American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines work as “physical or mental effort or
activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something.” A second definition states that
work is “employment, a job.” These are secular definitions, but they suggest something important about the
“holy work,” the “holy employment” that our liturgy is—and that our liturgy demands of us. Liturgy is work; it
is something we do. Liturgy is an activity, an exercise that requires effort, not mere observation. Why do
we celebrate liturgy? What is the work of liturgy? We celebrate liturgy because we believe certain things
about God, our Church, and ourselves—and we celebrate liturgy because we want to make those beliefs
known. To speak of the Church celebrating liturgy is to speak of the Church putting into practice what she
professes to believe. The work of liturgy is our participating in the work of God. As the Catechism of the
Catholic Church (CCC) says, “Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work
of our redemption in, with, and through his Church” (1069).
Our liturgy is work because it is our employment, our job or, to use religious vocabulary, the liturgy is our
vocation, our calling. Secularly, we seek employment in order to live. We hold a job not just to clean the
streets or keep budgets in order or supply groceries to those around us. Rather, we work to get our lives in
order, to bring in more money than we are obliged to give away, and to put food on our table. We work, in
other words, so that we can support ourselves and live the best life we can. Similarly, the work of liturgy is
not just to “get things done”; to gather a congregation, to sing hymns, to collect money, to encourage
fellowship. These things, of course, are part of the work of liturgy. But the primary reason we do the work
of liturgy is to get our lives in order, to receive all that God has to offer so that we will have more than
enough to give to others, and to nourish ourselves through the love and grace of God that the liturgy
makes manifest to us. We do the work of liturgy because we are the Church, and the liturgy is the primary
means by which our Church supports, defines, and guides herself spiritually and pastorally. Recall the
words of SC [Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963]: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the
Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows” (10).
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© 2012 by Saint Mary’s Press.
Living in Christ Series Document #: TX002063
The liturgy is the Church’s employment, her job. The liturgy is the Church’s vocation and calling. We
celebrate liturgy because we are Church. We celebrate liturgy so that we will be Church.
This does not mean that the only activity the Church is involved in is liturgical celebrations and sacred
rituals. Rather, it means that the Church is supported, strengthened, and guided in all her works through
her work of liturgy. In fact, it is the liturgy that gives purpose to all the works of the Church, the two most
important of which are the praise of God and our growing in holiness. What is often said of the Eucharist
can be applied to the liturgy and to all the sacraments: “The Church makes the liturgy and the sacraments,
and the liturgy and the sacraments do make the Church.”
Liturgy Is the Work of All the Faithful
The Second Vatican Council clearly distinguished the ministerial, or ordained, priesthood from the
priesthood of all the faithful (see Lumen Gentium [LG], 10). It insisted, however, that all Catholics, by virtue
of their Baptism, shared in some way in the priesthood of Christ. Fundamental to the liturgical renewal
initiated by the Council is the notion that the liturgy of the Church is the work of the whole Church. SC
describes the liturgy as “an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ” (7). Liturgy is not the property or
the domain of the clergy, and so the Council insists that:
All the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations
which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen
race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Pet. 2:9,4–5), have a right and
obligation by reason of their baptism.
The liturgy can be seen as the work of the people because each congregation shares in Christ’s own
prayer to his Father (see CCC, 1073). Additionally, the liturgy is the work of the people of God as they
exercise their share in the priestly office of Christ. The liturgy is the most important work—the most
important employment—a Catholic can do. As SC reminds us,
Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body, which is the
Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy
by the same title and to the same degree.
Let us return once more to the notion that liturgy is the work of the people.
Liturgy Is, Indeed, Work
Liturgy is work; to truly do the work of the liturgy is work! Liturgy is not something that takes place only
within the church building. Liturgy is the building of the Church and, as the above citation makes clear,
liturgy is the premier action of the Church. A liturgical celebration may have a clearly defined beginning
and end. But, because of its importance in and to the life of the Church, there is much that must come
before that celebration, just as there is much that must take place because of it. The CCC reminds us that
liturgy “must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion . . . [so that it] can then produce its
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© 2012 by Saint Mary’s Press.
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fruits in the lives of the faithful: new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service
to her unity” (1072).
Liturgy is work because it demands preparation, commitment, and action. To understand the true nature
and purpose of liturgy, we need to realize that our lives must be different outside of church because of
what we do when we are in church. The Gospels are clear: religion—growing in holiness—is not simply
about one's relationship with God. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus offers two:
“Love God with everything you have and are; love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:37–39).
Christians do not have the choice of specializing in one love or the other. They must be practitioners of
both, for it is concerning both that they will be judged. To be baptized a Christian—that is, to be
incorporated into Christ and into his Church—is to set aside forever the notion that the way to salvation is
found only in our worship of God. The parable of the last judgment in Matthew’s Gospel (see 25:31–46)
paints a haunting picture of the absolute necessity of recognizing God in our neighbor. Those who are
condemned are those who would have given food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty if only they had
known that they were rendering praise to the Lord by tending to those in need.
What is liturgy? Liturgy is the work of the people of God. Liturgy is the people of God putting what they
believe into practice. Liturgy is work because it demands “full and active participation”: preparation,
commitment, and action.
1. Where does the word Liturgy come from, and what does it mean?
2. How did the “state” use liturgy to benefit its people?
3. How does celebrating the liturgy support, strengthen and guide the Church?
4. What did the Second Vatican Council say about participation in liturgical
5. Rewrite the final paragraph, which begins with “What is Liturgy”, in your own
words. Also, explain what this means to you.