Dear Friends in Christ,
The sacred liturgy, through which the seven Sacraments are celebrated and the Hours of praise are prayed, makes present to us the saving mysteries of the Lord Jesus. The liturgy must therefore be celebrated in such a way that the truth of the Gospel, the beauty of sacred music, the dignity of ritual form, the solemnity of divine worship, and the fellowship of the baptized assembled to pray are kept together in organic unity. This is the Fifth Principle of Evangelical Catholicism.
Protestants who become Catholics often remark that they miss the sense of fellowship they experienced in their former congregations – the feeling of belonging to a group of friends in a spiritual family rather than joining a crowd of random strangers coming together for a common purpose as at an athletic event or concert. This is part of what I mean in the Fifth Principle by “the fellowship of the baptized assembled to pray.”
One of the ways that sense of fellowship is fostered in Protestant congregations is that people in the pews speak to each other in conversational voices before worship begins. This is often called visiting, and it can help form a group of people into a spiritual family. But Catholics do not speak to each other in the pews before Mass because we are speaking to God: preparing in silent prayer to participate in the sacred liturgy by turning our hearts and minds to the Throne of Grace so that the truth of the Gospel, the beauty of sacred music, the dignity of ritual form, and the solemnity of divine worship can unite us body and soul as closely as possible to the Lord Jesus Christ. But such a Christ-centered way of praying in union with the whole Church around the world should not impede us from finding other ways to foster fellowship in our parishes, and that is why lingering after Mass to converse with each other, joining other Catholics in service to those in need, and participating in social and recreational events are so important. Look for ways to cultivate friendships with those you see around you in the pews so that the vertical and horizontal dimensions of parish life reinforce each other rather than compete with each other.
And if you want to understand more deeply why the Church asks us to pray as we do, I recommend two short texts. The first to read is Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council; it is only a few pages long, and the text is available online. Then read The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), a beautiful meditation on the nature and purpose of liturgical worship by the finest theological mind of our time. The psalmist sings that we are created “to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” and the sacred liturgy is meant always to lead us to the Lord Jesus. An essential part of the New Evangelization is the full and faithful celebration of the sacred liturgy, and that is what we strive for in all our prayer. Let us go together to the source and summit of the Church’s life and find there a glimpse of the New and Eternal Jerusalem.