Thursday, April 21, 2011

Living the Liturgical Year-Arriving at the heart of faith

Writing on the cusp of the church's celebration of the "great three days," the Triduum, in which our liturgical celebrations take us from upper room to garden, to cross and tomb, and finally to resurrection and proclamation, it seems appropriate to offer these words concerning the whole of the Christian year. Mary Katherine Deeley helps locate our celebration of the liturgical year and of these days in a broader understanding of Christian spiritual disciplines. In her article "Living the Liturgy Year" [in Liturgy: Spiritual Disciplines 26.1 (January 2011): 20, 22] she writes,

"spiritual disciplines extend beyond the individual person to encompass the entire community of faith. At the same time, they also extend beyond the traditional articulation to include all habitual practices that draw us closer to God and to one another. For churches whose communal prayer finds its center in liturgy, one such discipline is the liturgical year...The discipline of living in recognition and awareness of the church year grants the community and all its members access to divine time as a means of marking the journey in this world. 

What advantage is there in this? Divine time is what brings us into communion with those who have gone before and those who will come after; divine time is the place in which the heart and spirit celebrates the coming of Jesus as though for the first time at Christmas and anticipates the coming of Christ at the end of all things as though it were happening now. To live the liturgical year as a community is to journey through this life in full awareness that God is present in all times and in all seasons. The readings of each season direct our hearts and minds toward a particular aspect of our relationship with God, each in its place until we have moved through the range of responses and find ourselves closer to God. The community that lives, prays, sings, and preaches in full awareness of the liturgical year will lead its members into a deeper relationship with God both as individuals and as a group."

What then of these three days, and of the weeks ahead? Where do they lead us? Deeley writes,

"In the triduum and beyond we become the living witnesses to the great paschal mystery that says so eloquently that death can become life and what is weak in us can be our strength. Christians encounter this reality throughout their lives when they move from dark times to the light of peace, or when they experience the many deaths that signify transformation. This is the mystery by which we make our way to God and it tells us that we have been changed undeniably and irrevocably by grace."

Mary Katherine Deely serves as the pastoral associate at the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University. She also served as guest editor of Liturgy: Spiritual Disciplines on behalf of The Liturgical Conference.

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