Liturgy and Sacraments
Andrei Rublev, The Holy Trinity (between 1408 and 1427)
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Christian worship begins and ends in the Holy Trinity. From all eternity, the Father begets the Son and breathes forth the Holy Spirit; the Son and the Spirit eternally offer back all that they have and all that they are in adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to the Father who is their source and origin. The Trinitarian life is thus not static but dynamic, pulsating, and vibrant. The mutual relations of the three co-equal and co-eternal divine Persons are the very definition of love. Hence, Saint John writes that "God is love" (1 John 4:8).
Through the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of God the Son (the Second Person of the Trinity) and the Descent of the Holy Spirit (the Third Person), humanity is taken up up into this circle of divine love. In baptism we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit as members of Christ's Body, the Church. This human participation in the divine life is the foundation of all Christian worship and prayer. As Christians we make our prayers to God the Father "through Jesus Christ our Lord ... in the unity of the Holy Spirit."
The word liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgos, and means something like "public work." Christian liturgy is the worship that the Church regularly offers in its official capacity through its authorized ministers celebrating the Sacraments and offering the Prayers.
The two principal forms of the Church's Liturgy are the Holy Eucharist, celebrated at a minimum every Sunday and major Holy Day, and the Divine Office with its prescribed daily prayers for Morning, Evening, and the other hours. Other liturgies are appointed for special Holy Days of the Church Year (such as Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and the Sacred Triduum), as well as for the celebration of the Seven Sacraments.
The word Sacrament means "sign." The classical definition of a Christian Sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the early Church recognized Seven Sacraments in which Christ is infallibly present and active: Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick (or Unction), Reconciliation (or Penance), Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders.
By these Sacraments Christ gives us the grace necessary to grow in holiness and become more fully the people that God has created us to be, and he builds up his Church in faith, hope, and love, for witness and mission.
The outward and visible sign in each Sacrament comprises what are sometimes called its "form" and "matter." The form is what is said; the matter is what is done. For example, in Baptism the matter is pouring water over the candidate (or immersing the candidate in water); the form is the statement "I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
The Sacraments are efficacious - that is, they effect the grace that they signify. Their power depends neither on the moral worthiness of the minister, nor on the subjective faith of the recipients, but on Christ himself who acts through them. So, when we are baptized, we are really and truly made members of Christ's Body, the Church; when the priest says the Eucharistic Prayer, the bread and wine really and truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. And so forth.
Holy Baptism is the gateway to all the other Sacraments. The Holy Eucharist is the mainstay of the Christian life, providing us with the food and drink of eternal life. Confirmation strengthens the gifts of the Holy Spirit received at Baptism. Anointing of the Sick and Penance are the Sacraments of healing and restoration to wholeness. Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders are the Sacraments of vocation, by which we enter particular states of life devoted to serving others and building up the Church.
In addition to Liturgy and Sacraments, numerous optional Devotions enrich the Church's life and help its members grow in faith and holiness. Such devotions include Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Stations of the Cross, and the Holy Rosary. Click here to learn about these devotions in the life of St. Uriel's.