The Church is God’s temple on earth, and believers are the living stones that form that holy house. We have been called to follow our Father’s divine blueprint for our lives: building on the sturdy foundation of Christ the cornerstone, living in holy fellowship with one another, being an open door to the lost world, and rising up as a fragrant offering to God. As members of the Body of Christ, we celebrate the abundant and fulfilling life we have in Jesus. Our whole Christian life is one of worship, of being a people of praise and a strong and shining light to a world in darkness.
Many non-Catholics criticize the Roman Catholic Liturgy, our corporate worship, as ritualistic and formulaic. I admit that throughout my life, I have often been disappointed with the way in which some believers respond during worship, with a disinterested attitude and a desire to get through the service and get out the door. It is true that the Mass has a universal character, with prayers and rubrics that have not changed much in many years. But this does not mean that our worship somehow lacks a deeper meaning. In fact, as we understand the Spirit behind every gesture and word spoken in the Liturgy, we can break away from the sense of routine and come to a deeper and more overwhelming intimacy with God and one another.
The Body Worships as Living Sacrifices
Because we belong to the Body of Christ, we are one in Jesus, each person contributing to the cause of the Father as we bring our gifts to bear upon one another. In Christ, we are changed in our spirits and become agents of change within the Church and the world. As we live out our call, we honor the whole Body and allow the members to fulfill the purposes for which they were created. Worship is both a starting point for change and a continuing experience in the life of the Holy Spirit within each member of the Body. Consider this passage from Romans chapter 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2, RSV2-CE)
When we gather to worship, we are coming together to glorify God, to rest in His love for us, and to experience His life-changing power. As we celebrate our Catholic life as one people, we are joined in our sorrow and our joy, our purpose and our power. We bring all that we are and all we are becoming into the Mass, as we draw near to the throne of God. Worship is meant to be a transforming experience, an act of child-like surrender before the Father, a dance of healing and high praise. Through worship we express the truth of Romans 12:1-2, becoming living sacrifices, as we take on the mind of Christ. In our surrender to God in worship, we allow His Spirit to breathe on us and move us to will and to act for God’s good will and pleasure.
Every Act is Worship
Worship is not a spectator sport; it is an active work of love, and a humble surrendering to the One who is greater than we are. While Sunday worship is where we come together as a community to give glory to God, the Mass sends us forth to transform the world. Every single moment of our lives continues the worship experience. Consider what Paul tells us in the next section of Romans 12:
For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; 8he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8, RSV2-CE)
Within the Church there are gifts that are more visible: shepherding, teaching, and the like. Many believers make the mistake of thinking that these gifts are so important or necessary that they neglect their own “lesser gifts” in pursuit of a more noticeable position within the Body. In the Church, however, there are no small gifts. As the Spirit has given, so we are to serve; for we are acting as members of the Body, completing our salvation and the salvation of the world through the work we do.
The Body is One in Worshipful Living
The lesson we as members of the Universal Church need to learn is summed up in the next part of Romans 12:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21, RSV2-CE)
This is our beautiful blueprint for worshipful living. As we carry out our calling to serve in love and humility, we become caught up in the power that overcomes evil, heaping the burning coals of God’s righteous love on the heads of our enemies and overcoming evil with good. What a powerful blessing it would be if all members of the Body lived as faithful, prayerful, zealous servants, in total harmony with one another, taking the higher and nobler path, and placing the purposes of Christ and His Church above all else.
The Shepherd We Worship
The head of the Body is Jesus. All our life, all our direction, and all our joy come from Him. He is our Lord, our Master, our Brother, our Savior, and our God. As we worship, we can also remember Him as our Shepherd. Look at these words from the Book of Isaiah and John’s Gospel:
He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11, RSV2-CE)
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:14-18, RSV2-CE)
In the end, we must come to realize that we are all God’s sheep, under Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. Though we have our gifts great and small, it is by grace that we find meaning in the work we do. Our bleating prayers become soulful poetry that rises to the hills. Our restless wanderings in the wilderness bring us rest and refreshment as we let the Shepherd lead. Our enemies are put to shame and driven away, our thirst is satisfied, and we rejoice in the fact that the Shepherd calls us by name. In the end, we discover that to be led to pastures of joy by the One who knows us and loves us is truly what worship is all about.
Let us never lose sight of our place within the Church, the building rising up as a shining beacon of hope in a hopeless world. May our fellowship stem from hearts open to the heavenly call to worshipful living, and a love that informs the faith that is our foundation. May every moment of our journey to heaven reflect the blueprint that guides the way we continue to build the Church in the image of Christ our Head.