I have loved Lego for as long as I can remember. This highly sophisticated interlocking brick system captured my imagination as a child, and even as an adult I appreciate the ingenuity that goes into designing a new set.
While there is always room for a certain degree of creativity whenever you have a set of Lego bricks, any Lego set comes with a set of full-color instructions and the bigger sets are divided into a series of bags that you open one at a time. By following the instructions and opening the bags in sequence, you are able to go from a bag of assorted pieces to things like a 1,200-piece Volkswagen Beetle or the 9,000-piece HMS Titanic.
Like the way the Lego company guides builders to follow the instructions, God has left us directions on the way in which we are to worship Him. Before heading into a more specific look at the individual sacraments, this section of YouCat addresses specific questions about the liturgy: who celebrates, where we celebrate, and when we celebrate the Christian mysteries.
The first question we look at is who celebrates the liturgy. While our liturgies are usually celebrated by a bishop, priest, or deacon (and we need our clergy for without them we would have no sacraments), it is ultimately Christ who is working through them. You may have heard it said that a priest celebrates the Mass in persona Christi Capitis, which means “in the person of Christ the head.” In other words, it’s not the priest’s personality, his gifts, or even his personal sanctity that makes our liturgies what they are: it is Christ working through him. We read in the YouCat that “In all earthly liturgies, Christ the Lord himself is the one who celebrates the cosmic liturgy, which encompasses angels and men, the living and the dead, the past, present, and future, heaven and earth” (YouCat 179).
The place where we celebrate the liturgy is also important:
“Certainly, one can pray anywhere – in the forest, on the beach, in bed… (but since) we also have a body, we need to see, hear, and feel one another; we need a specific place if we want to meet so as to be the body of Christ; we must kneel down if we want to worship God; we must (receive the body of Christ) when it is offered; we must set our bodies in motion when He calls to us.” -YouCat 189
Church buildings are places deliberately set apart for these celebrations, one that is rich with signs and symbols. In a Catholic Church you are likely to find bells, incense, stained glass, vestments, candles, and music- all of which help us perceive and understand what’s going on. Although we can’t always see Him clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12), the Liturgy is a moment where we encounter God, and He changes us by His Word and by the Eucharist.
Finally, the time in which we celebrate the Mass matters. We have a liturgical year that helps bring the story of our faith to life for us. We have two seasons of preparation (Advent & Lent) which lead to the high points of the Church year (Christmas & Easter). During Ordinary Time, we work our way through a significant chunk of the Bible over a three-year cycle. On the feasts of various saints, we hear the story of how different heroic individuals have brought these mysteries to life. The Church year winds down in November with readings about Christ’s return and the end of the world, culminating with the feast of Christ the King, which we’ve just celebrated. We don’t read these in a spirit of fear, as we are meant to remember that there is more to life than what we see in front of us, and we should be waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.
With all of that in mind, the Sunday Mass remains at the heart and center of all we do, since “…on Sunday we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, and every Sunday is a miniature Easter” (YouCat 187). And so, every Sunday we head into a Church to be renewed, strengthened, and sent out (Mass comes from a Latin word, Missa, which literally means ‘sent.’)
We don’t go to Church to celebrate Mass because God needs it; we go because we need it. And so, the things we do – instructed by the Church on who, where, and when we celebrate these mysteries – we are presented with an opportunity to encounter Christ in His Word and in the Eucharist. We need this because sometimes life can be hard, particularly when we’re trying to follow Christ. The more we listen and come to understand what we are doing – and offer ourselves in full, active, and conscious participation – we’ll be able to truly appreciate and grow into the men and women Christ has created us to be.
-This is part of a series on the Youth Catechism. Mike Landry is Catholic Youth Camps director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He is also chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools, serving 10 schools west of Edmonton. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain with their five children.