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This is the second installment in a series on the liturgy by Emily Edmondson. If you missed the first part, click here to read it.

My prayer was very selfish, but at the time I was content with it. It wasn’t really any sort of liturgical instruction that made me realize that I was completely missing the point. Rather, it was the Rosary. Praying the mysteries of the Rosary forced me to meditate on certain themes on a given day (I’m not quite sure why I was willing to do this with the Rosary but not the liturgical cycle), regardless of whether I was feeling sorrowful, joyful, luminous or glorious. So I went through the Sorrowful mysteries on Tuesdays, suffered I suppose you could say. And in the midst of the anxious dread of another week of classes, I prayed the Glorious mysteries on a Sunday and forced myself to hope.

I don’t know what I was expecting in renewing my devotion to the Rosary, but it was certainly not an acute awareness of the joys, pains, successes and failures of others.  Yet this is what I experienced. It was like being plunged unexpectedly into ice cold water, coming up grasping for breath, and trying to process too many sensory things at once. Whereas the troubles of my community often times did not trouble me, I now felt a need to speak kindly and act charitably to those who struggled, as if my commiseration could be put to fruitful use. Whereas I once passed off the excitement of others with a simple “Congratulations,” I now felt as if other’s joys added to my own.  The same experience occurred liturgically as well, for the liturgy asks of me to be acutely aware of the joys and pains in the life of Christ and of Christ’s body – the Saints.

It is a strange experience that to participate in the liturgical year has the effect of a re-orientation to communal needs.  Am I oftentimes still happy during Lent? Well, yes, but refocusing my mental faculties on the asperity of the Lenten liturgy as opposed to say, the merriment of Christmas, has the effect of making me much more empathetic. It is almost as if the liturgy is heeding me to reflect: “You’re content now, yes, but what of so many others who are struggling in various ways – mentally, emotionally, financially, socially?” Liturgy is very much a communal matter. Living communally as Christians need not be restricted to religious life: we are communal at Mass, participating in the liturgy, in that we are the mystical body of Christ. If participating in the liturgy does not raise awareness of the needs of others then I’m not sure how fully I’m participating.

This communal aspect of the liturgy, of the living with and for others, is of course, a very hard thing to do. I find it much simpler to say my prayers at the prescribed time and pass it off as a fulfillment of my duty to worship our mysterious God. But the origins of the word liturgy – from the greek liturgos – means the work of the people. Our worship is our work, but our worship is not confined to the Mass. After all, at the end of our liturgy of the Eucharist, after receiving Christ, we are told to go in peace so that we might love and serve the Lord, as if somehow what we’ve just experienced in the liturgy and in the reception of the Eucharist might prepare us to be communally aware, attentive to the needs of others, and ready to serve.

Yet this practicality, this service, that’s the hard part.

Click here for the next installment.