Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

MsgrLiptak_TNQ. In a discussion with a church musician, I was told that the word "liturgy" comes from the Greek, meaning "the work of the people." Hence, she argued, the laity’s views should prevail in areas of disagreement, since the concept of the liturgy must reflect what the word really means; namely, "the work of the laity." How would you respond?

A. Notice the "switch" – a confusion, actually – of two different Greek words here. "Liturgy" does derive from the Greek leitourgia (λеіτοųpγia). It is also true that this Greek noun means "work of the people." But liturgy doesn’t mean, simply, "work of the laity." The Greek word for "laity" is laikos (λαίқοѕ). To put this briefly: one Greek word is being confused with another; hence a distortion of reality.

This confusion could easily be traced back to some "liturgical workshops" or "liturgy handbooks," which can serve the laity well in understanding how liturgy is done properly; e.g., music, the role of lector. Unfortunately, some "presenters" or "facilitators" at these events, or liturgical writers, though skilled in the art of liturgy, lack a classical historical and/or theological background. And because they themselves lack a background in Greek as well as Latin, they must rely on other commentators or commentaries (often reflecting a further lack of classical/historical/theological perspectives).

The English word "laity" derives not from the Greek leitourgia, but rather the Greek noun laikos (λαίкοѕ), used in the early Church to describe Christians who were not members of the clergy. (A cleric was termed a kleros (κληροs). For example, Saint Clement of Rome (d. 99 or 101) uses laikos to distinguish the faithful from clerics (e.g., priests). In Latin, the Greek laikos (λαίκοs) reads laicus.

Hence, the basic premises used by the church musician cited above disappear.

However, this entire question is strange, in that authentic liturgy precludes tensions between the ordained and lay persons.

Liturgy, or the Church’s public prayer, is not meant to entertain or please human beings; on the contrary, it is designed to give honor and glory to God. "Our worship of God in the Mass," Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver explained in a recent talk (31 July), "is meant to be an act of adoration, submission and thanksgiving. It’s also meant to be living acceptance of our vocation as disciples. That’s why every Eucharistic liturgy ends on a missionary note – we are sent out, commissioned to share the treasure we have discovered with everyone we meet."

Many recent confusions or errors about liturgy could be readily avoided simply if those who write about, teach or engage in liturgical issues were to read carefully Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s classic, The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius, 2000).

Basing his arguments on the Scriptures as read within the Church, Cardinal Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – explains that man himself cannot "make" worship. "If God," he writes, "declines to reveal himself, man is clutching empty space."

Real liturgy is always a response to God’s inviting us and God’s revealing how we can worship him. "It cannot," the Cardinal stresses, "spring from imagination, our own creativity …" Rather, it always remains "just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation." Here the Cardinal, referring to the theophany on Mt. Sinai, points out that the dance recorded around the golden calf "is an image" of "self-seeking worship," and "a kind of banal self-gratification." The incident is in effect "a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship."