Often, one of the most perplexing aspects of learning a new language is mastering its prepositions. These short words—of, to, in, from, etc.—can be challenging to master because of the great deal of meaning they carry, while their exact usage can vary from one language to another. Prepositions generally express the relationship between nouns. Thomas being in Chicago and Thomas being from Chicago both tell us something about a person and a place, but the two different prepositions carry a great deal of the significance of what is being said.

Our language about the trinitarian God, and our liturgical prayers by which we worship him, are imbued with these meaning-filled prepositions. The Lord Jesus is “true God from true God.” The Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.” Most of our prayers in the liturgy are addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.” In this installment of the work of the Trinity in the liturgy, we will focus on our prayer through the Son.

The word “through” relates our prayer to the Father by means of Christ. It is the prepositional form of the scriptural affirmation that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). For liturgist and Benedictine Father Anscar Chupungco, the phrase “through Christ our Lord,” “stands for the role that Christ played in salvation history and in its continuing realization in the liturgy.”1Just as the economy of salvation centered on the person and work of Christ, so the liturgy bears this same Christocentric character. “Indeed,” writes liturgist and Benedictine Father Cyprian Vagaggini, “in our liturgy the part played by Christ is thus so real, so vivid, so present and preponderant, that in the final analysis there is in the world but one liturgist, Christ, and but one liturgy, Christ’s liturgy.”2 The work of the Son in the liturgy is to introduce us into the eternal trinitarian dialogue through a participation in his Paschal Mystery as members of his Mystical Body. In the liturgy we encounter Christ who is present to us as our great High Priest. All of this should elicit our astonishment and wonder.

Join the Dialogue

The role of the Second Person of the Trinity in the liturgy finds its source already in the inner life of the Trinity. That God is a Trinity of Persons, and particularly that there is in God a divine Word or Logos, is the very condition for the possibility of liturgy. Since in God there is Word, there is in God dialogue, a dialogue into which we can be drawn. Before he was pope, Joseph Ratzinger taught that the fundamental reason that we can speak with God in prayer is that God is eternally speech: “Only because there is already speech, ‘Logos,’ in God can there be speech, ‘Logos,’ to God. Philosophically we could put it like this: the Logos in God is the onto-logical foundation of prayer…. Since there is a relationship within God himself, there can also be a participation in this relationship.”3 In God, there is dialogue, and human persons speak to God insofar as they are drawn into that trinitarian speech. Insofar as the liturgy is the dialogue of listening to God who speaks, and the response of faith, it is an echo of the dynamic that exists between the Father and his eternal Word. While we could not overcome the infinite gap between our speech and God’s own trinitarian dialogue, God has done just that when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As the future Pope Benedict said, “this is what the Incarnation of the Logos means: he who is speech, Word, Logos, in God and to God, participates in human speech. This has a reciprocal effect, involving man in God’s own internal speech. Or we could say that man is able to participate in the dialogue within God himself because God has first shared in human speech and has thus brought the two into communion with one another.”4 Christ has introduced into human language the dialogue he has had from all eternity with the Father, and the result is liturgy.

Most of our prayers in the liturgy are addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.”

Through the incarnation, Jesus becomes the visible, historical manifestation of God. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (John 14:9). The sacred humanity of Jesus visibly signifies and efficaciously contains the saving grace of God. In other words, Jesus can be considered the primordial sacrament. You and I, however, do not have the ability to encounter the sacred humanity of Christ in the same way Peter and John did. After the Ascension, when Christ’s visible presence is no longer with us, “the economy of the sacraments has superseded the economy of God’s revelation in Christ’s flesh.”5 The instrumentality of Christ’s sacred humanity has been broadened to include his Church’s ministers and simple elements like bread, wine, water, and oil as instruments of grace. Thus, we might say that our sacramental liturgy is an extension of the one sacrament who is Christ and draws its meaning and efficacy from him. The incarnation and the sacraments are two analogous moments of the one divine pedagogy.

Word in Deed

Christ shared in human speech and revealed the Father through a unity of words and deeds, but especially through his death and resurrection. “Mediator between God and men and High Priest who has gone before us into heaven, Jesus the Son of God quite clearly had one aim in view when He undertook the mission of mercy which was to endow mankind with the rich blessings of supernatural grace.”6 Christ’s work of giving perfect glory to the Father and redeeming mankind was achieved “principally by the paschal mystery of His blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and the glorious ascension….”7 “Paschal,” etymologically, refers to the original Old Testament Passover in which the angel of death, seeing the blood of the lamb on the Israelites’s doorposts, passed over their homes, saving them from death and slavery. Paul tells us that “Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Through his blood we are saved from eternal death and slavery to sin. Thus, we acclaim the Lamb of God in the liturgy: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.”

“Only because there is already speech, ‘Logos,’ in God can there be speech, ‘Logos,’ to God.”
–Joseph Ratzinger

These central events of the saving work of Christ occurred 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world. How, then, can we become vitally connected to them so as to share in their fruit? Though they are historically past, the events of the Paschal Mystery cannot simply remain in the past. Since they were accomplished by a divine Person, they in some way participate in the divine eternity.8 The liturgy is what associates us with the Paschal Mystery, so that Christ’s death and resurrection do not remain remote in time and space but are present here and now in each baptismal font and on each altar. The Paschal Mystery is therefore at the heart of the liturgy. “In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present.”9 Through the liturgy, Christ dead, risen, and glorified is “in continuous act of communicating to the world the divine life of which He is the perfect and solitary dispenser.”10 Christ fulfilled his earthly liturgy principally on the cross, but now continues his glorification of the Father and our sanctification in the heavenly liturgy, and he invites us to participate in the former and anticipate the latter through the liturgy of the Church.

Verified Organic

Our participation in Christ and his Paschal Mystery is not merely a moral reality, whereby we imitate the Lord in a more or less extrinsic manner. The unity between Christ and the Church is far more profound, such that the scriptures employ organic images from living things. Christ is the vine, and we are the branches (cf. John 15:5). Paul’s favorite image is a body of which Christ is the head (Romans 12:4ff.; 1 Corinthians 12:12ff.; Colossians 1:18). Unlike any other association of individuals, the Church has an intrinsic unifying principle, the Holy Spirit. “To this Spirit of Christ, also, as to an invisible principle is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the Body are joined one with the other and with their exalted Head; for He is entire in the Head, entire in the Body, and entire in each of the members.”11 The unity between Christ and the Church is so real that Thomas Aquinas is able to say that “the head and members are as one mystic person.”12 As such, we not only recall the Paschal Mystery, but partake of it in our own lives so that we can say with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

The unity between Christ and the Church is so real that Thomas Aquinas is able to say that “the head and members are as one mystic person.”

In the liturgy, therefore, Christ is the principal agent, but not the sole agent. Put another way, it is Christ who acts in the liturgy, but Christ the Head along with his Body. The Second Vatican Council affirmed that “Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified.”13 The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, Head and members together making up the totus Christus, the whole Christ. Thus, Sacrosanctum Concilium can describe the liturgy as “the whole public worship…performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.”14 Christology and Ecclesiology both necessarily find ample expression in a robust liturgical theology. As David Fagerberg says, “Christology is the doctrine of what was completed in the vine, and liturgical theology is the doctrine of the vine’s vitality extending into ever-new branches.”15 Nowhere is the identity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, and each of us as living members, so clearly manifest as in the celebration of the liturgy.16

Christ is the vine, and we are the branches (cf. John 15:5). As David Fagerberg says, “Christology is the doctrine of what was completed in the vine, and liturgical theology is the doctrine of the vine’s vitality extending into ever-new branches.” Nowhere is the identity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, and each of us as living members, so clearly manifest as in the celebration of the liturgy. Image Source: AB/Wikipedia

Realized Presence

Such a depth of union and shared action would be inconceivable if the Lord were absent from his Church. Indeed, Christ assured us, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). His presence, though different from its natural, historical manner, is nonetheless real. “To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations.”17 Sacrosanctum Concilium enumerates the ways Christ is present: in the sacrifice of the Mass, in the person of the minister, in the Eucharistic species, in the sacraments, in his word, and when the Church prays and sings. Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” We could likewise paraphrase the Holy Father and say that liturgy is not the result of fastidiously following rubrics or the creativity of a worship committee, but an encounter with the person of Christ present in his Church.

Christ has introduced into human language the dialogue he has had from all eternity with the Father, and the result is liturgy.

Christ’s presence in the liturgy can be further specified as the presence of Christ our High Priest. The letter to the Hebrews says that “every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (5:1). Christ is priest as the perfect mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5) from the moment of his incarnation and consummated through the unique sacrifice of the cross.18 He willed, however, that his priesthood which he established to give perfect worship to the Father and to sanctify his people, should last in the Church until the end of time. Thus, he gives to his Church certain participations in his own priesthood.19 The members of the Mystical Body are members of their Head, Christ the priest. The liturgy is, then, “under the veil of sensible signs, a continual epiphany of the priesthood of Christ now glorious beside the Father, an epiphany which He Himself realizes among us by associating the Church to His priesthood, which is always active.”20 Thus, Sacrosanctum Concilium includes in its definition that “the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ.”21 In the liturgy, the Church participates in the priestly action of Christ which commenced at the incarnation, reached its zenith on the cross, and continues eternally in the heavenly sanctuary.

Prepositional Cause

Probably only a professional liturgiologist or linguist could regard with awe the liturgy’s use of prepositions as we pray through our Lord Jesus Christ. The reality that this signifies, however, is another matter. “Through Christ” in the language and movements of the liturgy reflects God’s work of salvation in which Christ is sent from the Father in order to lead us back to the Father. That visible mission of the Son is a reflection in time that he proceeds eternally from the Father. The sacraments of the Church celebrated through Christ reflect the fact that the sacramental economy is the extension of God’s economy of salvation, and a foretaste of our sharing in the divine nature, the trinitarian dynamic of love.

Pope Francis has recently referred to the response one should have before the mystery of the liturgy, which is the Paschal Mystery made present and effective for us: “If there were lacking our astonishment at the fact that the paschal mystery is rendered present in the concreteness of sacramental signs, we would truly risk being impermeable to the ocean of grace that floods every celebration.”22 The goal of liturgical formation is to cultivate more deeply in ourselves and others this sense of awe. “The astonishment or wonder of which I speak is not some sort of being overcome in the face of an obscure reality or a mysterious rite. It is, on the contrary, marveling at the fact that the salvific plan of God has been revealed in the paschal deed of Jesus (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14), and the power of this paschal deed continues to reach us in the celebration of the ‘mysteries’ of the sacraments.”23 What is astonishing is the work of the Son in the liturgy, present to his Mystical Body as their great High Priest, causing them to recapitulate in their own lives his Paschal Mystery for their sanctification and the glory of God.

Michael Brummond

Mike Brummond holds a Doctorate in Sacred Liturgy from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary, IL. He is assistant professor of systematic studies at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in Hales Corners, WI.


  1. Anscar J. Chupungco, What, Then, is Liturgy? Musings and Memoir (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010), 105.
  2. Cyprian Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1976), 254.
  3. Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 25.
  4. Ratzinger, 25-26.
  5. Chupungco, 107.
  6. Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 1.
  7. Sacrosanctum Concilium (hereafter SC), 5.
  8. See Catechism of the Catholic Church (hereafter CCC), 1085.
  9. CCC 1085.
  10. Vagaggini, 252.
  11. Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 57.
  12. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III,q. 48, art. 2.
  13. SC, 7.
  14. SC, 7.
  15. David Fagerberg, Liturgical Dogmatics: How Catholic Beliefs Flow from Liturgical Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2021), 153.
  16. See SC, 2: “For the liturgy, ‘through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,’ most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.”
  17. SC, 7; cf. Mediator Dei, 20.
  18. See Mediator Dei, 17 and CCC 1544.
  19. See Lumen Gentium, 10.
  20. Vagaggini, 267.
  21. SC, 7.
  22. Pope Francis, Desiderio Desideravi, 24.
  23. Desiderio Desideravi, 25.