10th Anniversary of Summorum Pontificum
July 7, 2017
“Nemo dat quod non habet.” Nowhere is this more true than in regard to the Sacred Liturgy. The Church’s liturgy, of course, includes both the Divine Office and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. However, as the Church reiterated at the Second Vatican Council and in the Catechism of St. John Paul the Great, it is specifically the Eucharistic Sacrifice that is the source and summit of the Church’s life.
“No one gives what he does not have.” This saying is one way of summing up one of the most famous narratives in the four Gospel accounts: that of Jesus in the home of Martha and Mary. There is, of course, a tension in this story. Jesus is not teaching that only the contemplative dimension of the Christian life is good, and that the apostolic dimension is bad. Instead, Jesus is teaching us that there must be a right ordering of the Christian’s life. The apostolic must flow from the contemplative, and the apostolic life of the Christian can be no more fruitful than her contemplative life. To the degree that we want our apostolic works to be fruitful, to that extent we will devote time and energy to the Sacred Liturgy.
Of course, every baptized Christian, no matter her or his particular vocation, must be mindful of how to live out the tension illustrated in the story of Martha and Mary. Martha and Mary, we might say, were as different from each other as were Peter and Paul. Despite their differences, however, the Lord had to explain to Martha what Mary already understood and was already living out: only one thing is necessary, and that one thing is the better part.
That this one thing is the better part is illustrated even by the structure of the Catechism of St. John Paul the Great. Familiar as you undoubtedly are with the works of Dr. Peter Kreeft, you’ll recognize his summary of the pillars of the Christian Faith as being three-fold: Creed, Code and Cult; Words, Works and Worship. Yet the Catechism has four pillars. The last of Kreeft’s pillars—which he calls Cult or Worship—is given two pillars in the Catechism: the second and the fourth, the Sacred Liturgy, and personal prayer.
One reason that the Church’s official Catechism places such great emphasis on the Cult and Worship of Christians is that this “better part” has both a communal and a personal dimension. We might be tempted to think of the sacraments and other forms of the Sacred Liturgy as communal, while private prayer is personal. But that distinction is too simple, because participation in the Sacred Liturgy is intensely personal, and all individual prayer—if it is authentic—takes place within the Communion of Saints.
A more convincing reason why the Catechism has two pillars dedicated to Cult/Worship is very simple. The Church has always taught that the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Holy Mass, the culmination of the Sacred Liturgy, is the source and summit of the Christian life. Everything else, including Creed and Code, Words and Works, must serve this source and summit.
In that case, all Christians need—if they want to grow in the Christian life as the Church teaches—to give priority to Cult and Worship, above all in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Holy Mass, as the Catechism does, proportionate to their vocations. It does no good to evade this truth by stating: “I’m not a Benedictine.” The Church does not say that only for Benedictines is the Eucharistic Sacrifice the source and summit of the Christian life. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is the source and summit of the Christian life for each and every Christian. May we recognize Christ calling us to union with Him through His Eucharistic Sacrifice not only as the better part, but as the measure of the efficacy of all our labors, and the measure of our fidelity as His People.