Pastoral Statement Issued by the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops (December 4, 1983)
5. One of the primary concerns of the Second Vatican Council was to affirm the incarnational and sacramental character of the Church. The Word of God who took flesh of the virgin of Nazareth continues to dwell in the world through the Church. Thus what is central to the life and work of the Church is to build up that union with God made visible in Jesus Chris, a relationship made possible by his life, death, and resurrection. The paschal mystery is at the heart of the life of the Church. It is this mystery that the Church proclaims and shares with her members who are formed into the People of God through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The experience of this mystery is made possible through personal prayer but above all in and through the celebration of the liturgy.
6. The liturgy is a principal means by which God acts upon the Church to make it holy. That sanctification takes place through the presence of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, a presence manifested through the word of Sacred Scripture, through the community itself gathered in prayer and song, and above all through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The sanctification of the Church results in the creation of a community capable of continuing the saving work of Jesus Christ in the world.
7. The liturgy is the chief means by which the Church, through Jesus Christ and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, responds to God’s saving presence in thanksgiving, praise, petition, and longing. In the liturgy the members of the worshipping community are united both inwardly and outwardly with Christ: inwardly by being conformed to Christ in his disposition of humble, self-giving service of the Father and his people; outwardly by expressing both in word and action that interior conformity with the attitude of Christ. In responding to God’s gift of his life offered in Christ, the Church recognizes the mystery of the Father’s love entrusted to “vessels of clay,” It is our challenge in faith to live the paradox of this human element which leaves the People of God in his world always an imperfect community, always inadequate in its acceptance of God’s love, thus always in need of reform and renewal. In this sense the Church is always a community of penitents.
9. The worship that is given to God does not consist simply in the externals of liturgical rites but rather includes the very lives of those who celebrate the liturgy—lives which should manifest what the liturgy expresses, which reveal the life and love of Christ to others, and which call them to share in the Spirit of God and in the work of building up God’s kingdom on earth. For as we noted in our reflections commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity in 1980:
the quality of worship depends in great measure on the spiritual life of all present. As lay women and men cultivate their own proper response to God’s call to holiness, this should come to expression in the communal worship of the Church (Called and Gifted: The American Catholic Laity, n. 3).
14. We do not worship God primarily to become better people; the very nature and excellence of God demand worship. But when we worship, by the grace of the redemption, we can be transformed into better people. And so the worship of the Church is a monument in which Christians are formed as moral persons. The liturgy helps to form Christian character, and, as a result, those who celebrate the liturgy are empowered to relate to one another in justice and peace and to involve themselves in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.