“Liturgy” as “Public Work” and “Opus Dei” – The Impact of Properly Understanding the Term

On Wednesday night, Fr. Nick Schneider (Director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Bismarck, ND) and I gave a short introduction to sacred music and Gregorian chant in my hometown.  Though the workshop was planned with short notice, about 50 people came, including 6 or 7 priests, from parishes all over town as well as many of the surrounding towns.   

Below is a recording of Fr. Schneider’s talk, which was really brilliant.  He began by talking about the etymology of the word “liturgy.” Many of you are well-acquainted with the tired definition given to it for so long as “work of the people,” a definition which was used to drive an agenda of self-expression, liberties in rubrics and interpretation of conciliar documents claimed out of “pastoral need” of the people at the liturgy, something that we assemble and present, etc.

Fr. Schneider discussed, instead, how the words which form liturgy are more accurately translated as “public work,” something God does for His people, the “opus Dei,” something which is received rather than created. The shift in perspective has immediate ramifications. To receive liturgy as gift rather than primarily based on one’s efforts is to open one’s heart in a truly proper disposition. “Let us therefore love God, because God first hath loved us.” (1 John 4: 19)

This point is so important! Just the other day on the forum, there was a discussion that grew exponentially about an “apologetics” of sacred music. One of the points raised was that it’s not enough to defend Gregorian chant as the music proper to the Roman liturgy when there is a fundamental misunderstanding among so many of what liturgy is.  Chant being proper is a sort of non-starter if we don’t understand to what it is proper.

Update (7/20) – Here’s a better quality recording of the talk:

Father goes on to discuss a number of other fundamental issues so important when we introduce others to truly sacred music. The talk is a great way to frame a discussion of what we ought do in the choir loft.

4 Replies to ““Liturgy” as “Public Work” and “Opus Dei” – The Impact of Properly Understanding the Term”

  1. The sound makes this almost unintelligible. How about a transcript? (Sometimes reverberation hinders communication.) I recall someone once saying or writing that the supreme act of Liturgy was/is the sacrificial offering of Christ on the cross–and that is the work of the God-man, or primarily God in union with the human.

  2. Liturgy being the work of God, His gift, His initiative, is such an an important foundation. I'm eternally grateful to my mentors for underlining that beautiful truth to me. God's great gift of His Son, generously and willingly offered to us the sacred liturgy, invites our best and most beautiful effort, rooted in filial love, in return.

    God gives us all He has, and in the sacred liturgy we participate in this act of self-giving, and seek to accept and extend this gift to God and our neighbor. We are even prompted to ask ourselves, "how can I make a return for all that God has given me?"

  3. From the Catechism:
    1069 The word "liturgy" originally meant a "public work" or a "service in the name of/on behalf of the people." In Christian tradition it means the participation of the People of God in "the work of God."

  4. At the Sacra Liturgia 2013 conference in Rome last month, Cardinal Ranjith gave a similar presentation. He has been secretary to the congregation on divine worship and is now Archbishop of Columbo, Sri Lanka. He addressed the issue of active participation. His point was that the Mass is the action of Christ. Our active participation is to enter into the action of Christ, to join with him in offering the sacrifice to the Father. All other aspects of participation should be judged on that basis.

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