On the Purpose of the Liturgy

St. Nicholas Cabasilas ca. 1323-1391

The essential act in the celebration of the holy mysteries is the transformation of the elements in the Divine Body and Blood; its aim is the sanctification of the faithful, who through these mysteries receive the remission of their sins and the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven. As a preparation for, and contribution to, this act and this purpose we have prayers, psalms, and readings from the Holy Scripture; in short, all the sacred acts and forms which are said and done before and after the consecration of the elements. While it is true that God freely gives us all holy things and that we bring him nothing, but that they are absolute graces, he does nevertheless necessarily require that we should be fit to receive and or preserve them; and he would not permit those who were not so disposed to be thus sanctified. It is in this way that He admits us to Baptism and Confirmation; in this way He receives us at the divine banquet and allows us to participate at the solemn table. Christ, in His parable of the sower, has illustrated this way that God has of dealing with us. “A sower went forth,” he says, “to sow” (Mat. 13:3) — not to plough the earth, but to sow: thus showing that the work of preparation must be done by us. Therefore, since in order to obtain the effects of the divine mysteries we must approach them in a state of grace and properly prepared, it was necessary that these preparations should find a place in the order of the sacred rite: and, in fact, they are found there. There, indeed, we see what the prayers and psalms, as well as the sacred actions and forms which the liturgy contains, can achieve in us. They purify us and make us able fittingly to receive and to preserve holiness, and to remain possessed of it. (Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, Introduction and the Prothesis 1)