Liturgy is the communal gathering of the people of God to pray and to worship together, united as the Body of Christ with the sacrament of the Eucharist at its apex. Proper catechesis should instruct in a way that reveals the depth and meaning contained within liturgy in order to make it a more fruitful experience. Likewise, through the catechesis that comes within liturgy, the people are brought into deeper union with the Paschal Mystery, the source of sanctification. Liturgy and catechesis are interdependent on one another for the proper formation of the Catholic body.
The interdependence of catechesis and liturgy was first made evident by Jesus himself when he gave the apostles the Great Commission. When he sent the apostles forth to make disciples of all nations, he commanded them to both baptize and teach. (Matthew 28:19-20) The inclusion of sacramental baptism along with the act of teaching illustrates that Jesus intended for liturgy and catechesis to work together in the effort to make disciples of all nations. It is not enough to baptize and not teach, nor is it enough to teach about Jesus, but not bring people into the Church sacramentally. Similarly, on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), Jesus instructed the disciples on the content of scripture. Their walk culminated in a shared meal in which the Eucharistic breaking of the bread revealed who he was. Again, the relationship between the teaching and the practicing of the Faith is evident as his teaching organically progressed and led the disciples right to the climax of the sacramental meal.
The National Directory for Catechesis expands on the relationship between liturgy and catechesis, explaining that they share an origin in the Church and the proclamation of the Gospels, as well as calling their audience to conversion and initiation into the life of Christ. The NDC goes on to say that catechesis prepares people to participate fully and intentionally in liturgy by teaching the meanings behind its nature, rites and symbols, while the liturgy itself catechizes through the proclamation of Scripture, the homily, the prayers, and the declaration of Faith. With the proper approach, people will be deeply enriched by both, simultaneously, allowing them a more intentional and richer relationship with the Holy Trinity.
In liturgy, the earthly Church is joined with the heavenly Church. In heaven, the holy and sanctified souls worship Jesus unceasingly with actual spiritual perfection. On earth, worship takes place in a physical realm rather than a spiritual one and requires physical signs and symbols to signify the actual presence of Jesus. In the Eucharist, the physical bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. The heavenly becomes present through physical substance, the invisible becomes visible. God is able to do this through his Word. When the priest, acting in the place of Jesus says, “this is my body”, the bread is transformed into his body through the power of his word. Again, when an individual is receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation and the priest says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”, the individual indeed is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Sacraments, then, work; they do what they symbolize and signify.”
In understanding how heaven and earth meet in liturgy, it becomes clear that physical and tangible substances lead the people of God deeper into the Paschal Mystery. These physical and tangible things used in liturgy are called sacramental and help to engage the worshipper. “A liturgical ritual…is the ordering and use of signs and symbols, such as objects, words, actions, gestures, postures, ministers, assembly, singing and music, sacred times, art and architecture. Each of these is symbolic – which is to say sacramental – of Christ or some aspect of him.” The use of all of these elements in liturgy remind the worshipping community of Christ’s presence in order to engage them further through the use of their senses. For example, a candle reminds the people that Jesus is the light of the world, or a crucifix is a reminder of the complete self-giving love of the Lord for his people. Songs can enhance a disposition of rejoicing and praise. All of these sacramentals lead away from a hollow and boring worship experience and toward a richer and fuller participation in the Paschal Mystery.
In order to continue to foster and intensify a participation in Trinitarian life, catechesis must aim to prevent boredom and hollow ritualism. Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) explains the importance of the faithful coming to liturgy with the proper disposition in order for the liturgy to “produce its full effects” and so they do not receive grace in vain. Participants are not to just move mindlessly through the actions and robotically recite the words. The work of catechists is to instruct on the origin and meaning of the words, the gestures, and the sacramentals used in liturgy.
In his article “Beauty and the Liturgy: A Program for the New Evangelization”, Timothy P. O’Malley spends time recognizing how beauty leads to a more engaging and fruitful liturgical experience. He laments that modern churches are “too often designed as monuments to suburban banality”. The lack of aesthetic beauty “stifles the joy of the Gospel itself”. Art, music and architecture inspire people to contemplate God and his mysteries. When people come together to worship communally in liturgy, every individual is coming from a life of individual circumstances, routines, stresses, and responsibilities. In entering into a place of aesthetic beauty, they are more able to leave the outside world behind and place themselves in the presence of Christ. O’Malley’s conclusion is then, that beauty does not exist for beauty’s sake, but for the sake of discipleship and desire for perfection. All beauty in the liturgy should lead to that which is most beautiful, which is crucified Christ, as the perfect expression of perfect love, inspiring the worshiper to be more like Christ himself.
Beauty is an agent of liturgical catechesis that, when encouraged in a catechetical setting, can enhance a liturgical experience. Therefore, attention to beauty in all of its many forms should be paid in catechetical situations outside of liturgy in order to increase the students’ awareness of it within the liturgy. Art and music can be brought into a catechetical setting and can be approached and discussed in a way that is not possible in in a liturgical setting. O’Malley says, “…the encounter with great art is itself an invitation toward personal and social transformation, toward an encounter with Jesus Christ. Relative to catechesis, this means that our pedagogy must employ the arts as a way of inviting Christians into a contemplative way of knowing.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.” (John 1:1) Jesus is the word of God communicated to humanity through humanity. Because of this fundamental truth, words play a tremendous role in liturgy. As mentioned earlier, merely saying the words in a rite pertaining to a sacrament makes the sacrament a reality – “…words sacramentalize the reality. Without the proper words, the reality intended by the Church is jeopardized.” However, in addition to the sacraments, the other words used in liturgy bring the worshipping community to an encounter with Christ who is the Word. The words used for greetings, responses and offerings of peace set the tone and atmosphere of the liturgy, bringing the community into a disposition of reverence. Marianne Cuthbertson takes the opportunity to explain that catechists must use the catechetical setting to “make our catechesis thoroughly scriptural, as we show how the language used in liturgy has its roots in the Holy Scripture.” She also invites catechists to use prayers from liturgies to open and close catechetical sessions.
Dr. James Pauley’s reflection, The Divine Encounter, describes how the more formation one receives regarding the liturgy outside of the liturgy, the deeper and more meaningful the liturgical experience will be. It is true for everyone that God’s presence is not necessarily felt at every moment, but with a proper understanding of God’s presence within the liturgy, one can still know what he does not feel. Knowing that Christ is present in the sacraments and the Word brings one deeper into the Paschal Mystery. Knowing the reverence implied in the different postures of the Mass helps one to know he is before a King. Hearing prayers of thanksgiving and praise and listening to holy music elevates one’s soul closer to heaven. Seeing physical, sacramental reminders of Jesus’ immense love for his people encourages a faith in his mercy and his promise of salvation for the faithful. The worshipper’s entire body, mind, and soul through all of his senses are fully participating in the Paschal Mystery.
As Sacrosanctum Concilium states, “liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” If this is true, it is of the upmost importance that catechesis supports this aim. Not utilizing the unique interdependence of liturgy and catechesis puts the Church at risk of losing her flock due to disinterest and disconnection. Instructing the community of faithful about the liturgy in a way that provides even a basic understanding of the mysteries contained within invites them to participate in a way that will, in turn, draw them in ever more deeply.
Carstens, Christopher and Douglas Martis. Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass. Chicago: Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2011.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2007.
Cuthbertson, Marianne. “Catechetical Methology: Liturgical Catechesis.” The Sower #31.1 (year) 14-16. Accessed November 12, 2016. https://catechetics.com/catechetical-methodology-liturgical -catechesis
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006.
National Directory for Catechesis. Washington D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005.
O’Malley, Timothy P. “Beauty and the Liturgy: A Program for the New Evangelization.” The Catechetical Review #1.4 (year) 6-8. Accessed November 8, 2016. https://catechetics.com/beauty-and-liturgy-program-new-evangelization
Paul VI. Sacrosantum Concilium. Vatican City: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, 1963.
Pauley, James. “Editor’s Reflections: The Divine Encounter.” The Catechetical Review #1.4 (year) 5. Accessed November 8, 2016. https://catechetics.com/editors-reflections-divine-encounter
 National Directory for Catechesis (Washington D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005), 110.
 Ibid, 110.
 Carstens, Christopher and Douglas Martis, Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass. (Chicago: Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2011), 40.
 Ibid., 47.
 Paul VI, Sacrosantum Concilium (Vatican City: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, 1963), paragraph 11.
 O’Malley, Timothy P., “Beauty and the Liturgy: A Program for the New Evangelization.” The Catechetical Review #1.4, 2015, Accessed November 8, 2016, https://catechetics.com/beauty-and-liturgy-program-new-evangelization.
 Carsten and Martins, Mystical Body, 64.
 Cuthbertson, Marianne, “Catechetical Methology: Liturgical Catechesis.” The Sower #31.1, Accessed November 12, 2016. https://catechetics.com/catechetical-methodology-liturgical -catechesis.
 Pauley, James, “Editor’s Reflections: The Divine Encounter.” The Catechetical Review #1.4, 2015, Accessed November 8, 2016, https://catechetics.com/editors-reflections-divine-encounter.
 Paul VI, Sacrosanctum Concilium, article 10.