In an insightful review for Peter Kwasniewski’s new book, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church, Dom Alcuin Read explains that the liturgy is not a means to an end, e.g., for social action or community-building, but an end itself. (Pope Benedict, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, makes precisely the same point in the opening chapter of his modern classic The Spirit of the Liturgy.) Here’s an excerpt:

[O]ur first duty, in justice, is the worship of Almighty God. The first commandment of the Decalogue, the Rule of St Benedict, the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, amongst others, make this perfectly clear. So does the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God’s first call and just demand is that man accept him and worship him” (n. 2084).

Certainly, the Council teaches that the Sacred Liturgy is the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission (SC 10), and that the “liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church” (SC 9). Nevertheless, the Sacred Liturgy enjoys priority. It has a literally fundamental place in Christian life. As the Council states: “no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree” (SC 7). Indeed, the Council teaches that the “the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper” (SC 10).

Let us be clear: according to the Second Vatican Council (and two millennia of Catholic tradition leading up to it) apostolic works are not ends in themselves, but are a means to bring people to the optimal worship of Almighty God in His Church. The worship of God is the end of Christian life, and we realise this ecclesially, liturgically. Christian faith is not a form of social activism; it is an essentially cultic relationship with the person of Jesus Christ living and acting in His Church today in and through the Sacred Liturgy. To be a Christian is to be called to full participation in the Sacred Liturgy in this life and to rejoice in the heavenly liturgy in the next. To obscure or to forget this is to reduce Christianity to a mere proponent of humanitarian welfare—an NGO. Indeed, to deny the fundamental primacy of the Sacred Liturgy for all Christian life—to regard it as a mere means to an end—is, perhaps, to give life to what may well be called the anti-liturgical heresy of the early 21st century.

If you’re looking for a Christmas gift idea for your parish priest, you could do worse than give him Kwasniewski’s intriguing new book. Or send him Alcuin Reid’s review as a stocking stuffer.