A Liturgical Vocabulary — Fr. Jean Corbon

November 8, 2011

Your Brain, Running More Smoothly, Using Liturgical Vocabulary

I have another vocabulary page  that I made an attempt to create but seemed to have failed at. This is a couple of pages from Fr. Corbon’s wonderful little book called The Wellspring of Worship  and features his writing on these terms. I was looking up online sources and featuring how the vocabs were used when I encountered them. Eventually I will phase in Fr. Corbon’s definitions here but in the meantime here is a great intro to reading on the liturgy.


IN THIS BOOK, in which we shall be contemplating the mystery of the liturgy from within, the reader will rarely find the learned terminology proper to formal theology or the human sciences. On the other hand, biblical revelation as actualized in the spiritual experience of the early Church could not but employ a new vocabulary to express the newness found in the liturgy. These new words cannot be translated without distortion into our modern languages, which are based more on objects than on the mystery and are more descriptive than symbolical. The old wineskins of a rational vocabulary cannot hold and contain the new realities suggested by such words as Christ, Holy Spirit, Gospel, Pentecost, Church, baptism, and Eucharist.

We must therefore acquaint ourselves with certain biblical and patristic words if we are to participate in the mystery that they reveal. The liturgical renewal has already made most of them familiar to us. I give here a list of the most important and frequently occurring ones, even though I explain them again in the text when they appear for the first time. Readers should not hesitate to let these words fill and permeate them, for, while the Gospel reveals the kingdom to us in parables, the liturgy gives us an experience of it in symbols.

Agape: “love”. The last and most beautiful name for God in the New Testament: “God is agape” (1 John 4:8, 16). Agape is love that springs from goodness, from pure grace, without any nonvolitional cause; it is life giving; it renders its object lovable and gives it a participation in the communion that is the Blessed Trinity. This is why agape is the mystery at the heart of the Church and why the Eucharist, which is the liturgical reality of the Church, is likewise called agape.

Anamnesis: “reminder, remembrance”. In the liturgical celebration the Church remembers all the saving events that God brought about in history and that had their climax and fulfillment in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. But the paschal event, which occurred only once in history, is contemporary with each moment of our lives, for now that Christ is risen, he has broken through the wall of mortal time. The liturgy is thus a “memorial” of an utterly new kind. We do the remembering, but the reality remembered is no longer in the past but is here: the Church’s memory becomes a presence. (May I interject here with “That is one helluva sentence: please reread, rewrite on a post-itTM note and place on your refrigerator.) From this we can gauge the unsurpassed realism of the event that is the liturgy.

Anaphora: “a carrying on high”. Every liturgical celebration is an anaphora because it shares in the present movement of the Lord’s Ascension. More precisely, the anaphora is the central movement of the Eucharist (the “Eucharistic prayer” of the Latin liturgy) and consists of the thanksgiving, the anamnesis, the epiclesis, and the intercessions.

Doxology: simultaneously “singing of the glory” of God and “profession of the faith” of the Church. “God’s glory is man fully alive”, but “the glory of man is God” (Saint Irenaeus of Lyons). The economy of human salvation becomes doxology in the liturgy.

Economy: see Ephesians 3:9. The economy is more than simply the “history of salvation”; it is the dispensation, or wise arrangement by stages, whereby the mystery that is Christ is brought to fulfillment. From Pentecost on, the economy has become liturgy because we are in the stage of response and of the synergy (see further on) of Spirit and Church.

Energy: this word, which says more than “action” or “operation”, has to do with life-giving power; in our context it is the life-giving power of the living God and more particularly that of the Holy Spirit. When the energy of man is brought into play by the Spirit and linked to the energy of God, there is a “synergy” (see below). The liturgy is essentially a synergy of the Spirit and the Church.

Epiclesis: “calling down upon”. It is an “invocation” addressed to the Father that he would send his Spirit on the Church’s offering so that this may be changed into the Body of Christ. The epiclesis is the central moment in every sacramental anaphora; it is that which gives the Christian liturgy its new and distinct efficacy. Ordained ministers are there primarily to serve the epiclesis, for they are servants of the Spirit, who acts with power. “Epiclesis” is a very important word throughout this book. The epiclesis is the vehicle of the mightiest synergy of God and men, both in the celebration and in the living out of the liturgy.

Kenosis: see Philemon 2:7. The noun is derived from the verb “he emptied himself” or “annihilated himself” that is used in this passage. The Son remains God when he becomes incarnate, but he divests himself of his glory to the point of being “unrecognizable” (see Isaiah 53:2-3). Kenosis is the properly divine way of loving: becoming man without reservation and without calling for recognition or compelling it. Kenosis refers first to the self-emptying of the Word in the Incarnation, but this is completed in the self-emptying of the Spirit in the Church, while it also reveals the self-emptying of the living God in creation. The mystery of the Covenant stands under the sign of kenosis, for the more far-reaching the covenant, the more complete the union. Our divinization comes through the meeting of the kenosis of God with the kenosis of man; the fundamental requirement of the Gospel can therefore be stated as follows: we shall be one with Christ to the extent that we “lose” ourselves for him.

Koinonia: a word often used in the writings of Saint Paul and Saint John. It means the “communion” of the Holy Spirit, who unites us to the Father through Christ. It is a participation in the divine life. The Church is essentially a koinonia. See also agape.

Mystagogy: “action of leading into the mystery” or “action by which the mystery leads us”.

Synergy: along with epiclesis, one of the key words of this book. Literally: “joint activity”, combined energies. This classical term of the Fathers attempts to express what is novel in the union of God and man in Christ and, more specifically, what is novel in the energy of the Holy Spirit that permeates the energy of men and conforms them to Christ. The full realism of the liturgy and of our divinization has its source in this synergy. See also energy, economy, epiclesis, and kenosis.

Time: the familiar word, but transfigured by biblical revelation and liturgical experience. The economy of salvation includes several “times”: the beginning of time; the course or unfolding of time (beginning with the promise); the fullness of time (see Galatians 4:4); the last times (or “eschatological” times), which are the time of the Church and the liturgy; and, finally, the consummation or fulfillment of time (the Second Coming of the Lord). The language of the Bible also distinguishes “decisive moments” (kairoi) within the time of the economy.

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  1. Great stuff.

    • And more under “Great Men of the Church” in categories. Fr. Corbon and Fr. Alexander Schmemann changed how I experienced the liturgy.

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