This section is much-quoted since the council. A reading of SC 5 & 6 is helpful in giving it a wider perspective than traditionalist critics are willing to offer it. You’ll remember that SC immediately began chapter 1 “General Principles …” with a section entitled, “The Nature of the Sacred Liturgy and Its Importance in the Church’s Life.”
Catholics see liturgy as Christ-centered. Everything about Christ–his preaching, his witness in time through the Scriptures, his Passion, death and resurrection and how that Paschal Mystery roots the sacraments–all of this underlines a basic approach to the Church’s liturgy.
People might naturally ask, “Where is Jesus today?” Here’s the answer:
To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross” (Council of Trent, Session XXII, Doctrine on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, c. 2.), but especially under the eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a (person) baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes (Cf. St. Augustine, Tractatus in Ioannem, VI, n. 7.). He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
This multivalent presence is misunderstood. Christ’s presence in the Church, in the priest, in the word, in the sacraments, in the people: these are not competing presences. They each manifest Christ in a different way, but as a whole, they offer a cohesive revelation to the believer. No sincere believer will isolate any of these to the exclusion of the others. Catholics believe that all of these offer a grace-filled encounter with the Lord. To get the fullest possible relationship with Jesus, one must consider all of these presences.
Here we have the explicit purpose of the sacred liturgy: the worship of God and the sanctification of the people:
Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and (people) are sanctified. The Church is His beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through Him offers worship to the Eternal Father.
This next paragraph offers a suggestion as to the importance of liturgy as a communal experience, namely that human beings experience sanctification through the perception of the senses. When we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, etc., our human senses become the conduit through which God communicates grace and holiness. It’s possible this was misinterpreted to lessen the importance of such things as Masses without congregations. And while we can say that the efficacy of prayer is vital, be it done by a priest alone in a chapel or by contemplative orders, or by friends or saints interceding for us with God, the truth is that the liturgy achieves its desired result by the direct, sensual participation of the faithful:
Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the (person) is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.
Nothing surpasses the importance of liturgy in achieving this two-fold goal of the worship of God and the sanctification of the faithful. The natural result is that we ourselves participate in the priesthood of Christ through these various presences in the liturgical celebration:
From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.