Posted by: Thomas Richard | February 13, 2010

Lex orandi, lex credendi

Both Charles Peguy and Leon Bloy are cited as saying, in one form or another, that the one tragedy of life is not to have been a saint.  Listening to the teaching of the Lord in “the parable of the sower” (Mt 13:3-23), we can hear options and possibilities both for the tragedy of failure and the joy of success in finding and living our true vocation to holiness.

The Gospel has power!  His word has potency!  Yet the effect of the Word depends on the reception in the heart.  A human heart can be a busily trodden path, hard as cement.  A human heart can be a plot of rocky soil, having ready and quick receptivity, yet shallowness – no “depth of soil” because of the rocks.  When the Gospel begins to cost something, the Word within withers and fails.  The heart can be entangled with fruitless “thorns,” love of the world and delight in so-called riches, that choke the true and eternal treasure of the holy Word.  But finally, the heart can be open, pliant, receptive, obedient, persevering.  Such a heart is “good soil” to the saving Word, and is fruitful.  His word is sent out not to return void, but to return in beautiful fruitfulness a hundredfold, or sixtyfold, or thirty.

The Word is preached, and celebrated, and received in Holy Mass: in the Liturgy.  The Latin phrase that entitles this post is literally translated, “Law of prayer, law of belief.”  The USCCB website has a paper that discusses the phrase:

Lex orandi, lex credendi has become something of a tenet of liturgical theology, especially in the years since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Literally translated, it means “the law of prayer [is] the law of belief.” This axiom is an adaptation of words of Prosper of Aquitaine, a fifth-century Christian writer and a contemporary of St. Augustine. The original version of the phrase, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi (“that the law of praying establishes the law of believing”), highlighted the understanding that the Church’s teaching (lex credendi) is articulated and made manifest in the celebration of the liturgy and prayer (lex orandi). We understand this to mean that prayer and worship is the first articulation of the faith. The liturgy engages belief in a way that simply thinking about God or studying the faith does not naturally do.

In other words, in an act of worship, the faithful are in dialogue with God and are engaged in an active and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and every individual member of the liturgical assem- bly is connected to one another as members of the mystical Body of Christ in the Holy Spirit, as they look together with hope for the salvation promised in the Kingdom of Heaven. Theology, christology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, and eschatology are all expressed in word and deed, in sign and symbol, in liturgical acts.

I was very struck with the presumption of this paper.  Does the writer know this for a fact?  That

  • in an act of worship, the faithful are in dialogue with God and
  • are engaged in an active and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and
  • every individual member of the liturgical assembly is connected to one another as members of the mystical Body of Christ in the Holy Spirit, as
  • they look together with hope for the salvation promised in the Kingdom of Heaven.

One would hope that these are the realities present in worship!  And if lex orandi, lex credendi, then our worship reveals our faith.  Distracted, preoccupied and clock-watching worship reveals unstable and shallow faith.  If worship is vibrant – if “full, conscious and active participation” among the members is the rule – then the faith is dynamic and vital and growing.  As we pray, so we believe.  But how do we pray, and what do we in truth believe?

If interest in growing in understanding the faith is any indication, the Church is in big trouble.  The vast majority in every parish I have been associated with, has had relatively little interest in growing in understanding the faith.  With very few exceptions among the pastors of those parishes, they do not personally and consistently encourage adult faith formation, and the people mostly do not participate in it.  What is the Latin for, “as the priests, so also the people”?

Lex orandi, lex credendi, and lex credendi, lex orandi.  The two are not separable.  His grace in human lives manifests itself and flows from faith to worship to human lives of fruitfulness – thirtyfold, or sixty or a hundred.

A dear and holy priest once told me, “It a mess – but we have the Holy Spirit.  It’s going to be alright.”  Let us pray that we are open to His Spirit, and responsive to His urgings and direction!  He can use the little that we offer to bring forth great things.  Let us be sure that we do offer Him our all.



  1. Dear Thomas,

    What a good examination of conscience to begin Lent! Prayer is our relationship with God and how deep, how true, how faithful is my relationship with Him at Mass and in each moment of my life?

    You are right that “lex orandi” (law of praying) and “lex credendi” (law of believing) are inseparable; they mutually inform one another. We pray as we believe and we believe as we pray. How very important then that both be founded firmly on the Rock of Christ and His Church!

    No wonder the Mass is called “the Source and Summit” of our worship. We listen and we learn how to love as He loves. He feeds us both in His Word and His Sacrament. Jesus speaks to us; He comes to us to be our life.

    In His Love, He also commands us to go and make disciples. Our prayer and our faith can lead us to love Him and one another so much that His Charity compels us to go and share His good news with others.

    I marvel at His Infinite Patience, especially with us Catholics who have been given so much and seem to do little to learn more and share the Truth, the Way, the Life — Who is Jesus, with others. We seem to be so busy about “other” than Our Father’s Business, while the world needs us to be like Christ.

    May God forgive our past infidelities and enable us to give ourselves as Jesus gave all. May He bless our ears to hear and open our hearts to do the Truth of His Love.

    Thanks, Thomas.

  2. Thomas, I shall ponder your words as I begin Lent, and pray that my mind will free itself from distractions-or more truthfully, that I will ignore any distractions- during the mass. The passage you cited from the USCCB reminds me what my participation in the mass should be. Thank you.

  3. Thomas,
    I just recently started to notice my own distractions in church and try harder to allow God to sooth me and keep me focused. Your quote is perfect for my day “that the one tragedy of life is not to have been a saint.” I have been thinking about the call we all have to be living saints. And the importance of making your heart good soil in this life. If the bible says,

    Matthew 7:13,14
    “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”

    When ever I bring this scripture up to people I am always told that Gods mercy is greater then we as humans can imagine. Then I truly think about how the world is: our country claims in census to be approximately 80% Christian. 1 out of 5 people in the world are members of the Universal Church (stick with me I have a point).

    Galatians 5: 19
    Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness,
    idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions,
    occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    Pornography is a claimed to be between 2.3 and 3.9 billion according to I have been to weddings in churches where men have not less than 48 hrs ago had a stripper at the bachelor party. I walked in one of these weddings and things that were said in church were eyeopening. Unfortunately I lost a person who I thought was a friend. When I spoke to him about it it wasn’t a big deal. I saw men, who for a fact participated in the works of the flesh, with no regrets, go and receive the Eucharist. And the women who also had no problem with the men doing what they did took as well.
    I have had discussions with those going through the RCIA with me who did not believe in the real presence and one was okay with abortions. And you’re right for calling out the priests. It seems as if some just want to push people through the program more than giving them a solid foundation. I have spoken to many who get their cards read, and consult “psychic” people. These are Sunday Christians who participate in these things and when I ask them about it they come up with excuses. Most of them start with “Well, what I believe is.” They consult outside of the Church what the Church came to provide. Sins of the flesh are ramped in our country and speaking to the “Stanch” Catholics I know, some of them who directed me toward the church, and there every Sunday going Catholic friends speak about very UN-Catholic beliefs.

    But understand this: there will be terrifying times in the last days.
    People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious,
    callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good,
    traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
    as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power. Reject them.

    Sorry if this is off topic. But am I really making it a bigger deal then it is?

    Thanks Thomas.
    Peace be with you.

  4. Hello Timothy,

    Big deal? The universal call to holiness is a very big deal, as the Church affirms. She is only passing on the word of our Lord: “You are therefore to be perfect, as your Father in heaven in perfect.”

    I’m very slow to believe all I hear from men who like to boast of things they ought to be ashamed of. We cannot believe every boast that foolish men trumpet about themselves – we cannot see into any heart but our own, and then only in the light of His grace. We do not know what another brother understands, or has been given. If God has entrusted any light or truth to you or to me, it is for the good of others as well as for our own salvation. As Christ came to give, so those in Christ are to give – to pass on what has been given to those who have not yet received.

    You are blessed to have received a sensitive conscience – one that is deeply disturbed by the confusion and darkness so common around us. Sin is common, but it is not normal. Sin ought to trouble every Christian, because sin is so far less than what Christ deserves from us. He has done so much for us, and His grace is abundant, and potent. His love is infinite, and His mercy deep. He will forgive, if only we repent and go to Him in sorrow, and receive from Him life again.

    Sin ought to trouble us all and grieve our hearts – but be careful that it not harden that heart, or tempt it to bitterness or impatience or wrath. Be careful that your heart remain one with His, longsuffering and willing to go yet one more mile for the good of the brother.

    Blessings and grace to you.


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