Archive for the ‘Spiritual Liturgy’ Category


Stillness, Silence and Hearing Before Mass – Fr. Romano Guardini

February 17, 2014
Thus far we have discussed stillness negatively: no speech, no sound. But it is much more than the absence of these, a mere gap, as it were, between words and sounds: stillness itself is something positive. Of course we must be able to appreciate it as such.

Thus far we have discussed stillness negatively: no speech, no sound. But it is much more than the absence of these, a mere gap, as it were, between words and sounds: stillness itself is something positive. Of course we must be able to appreciate it as such.

Sursum corda! Lift up your hearts!”

Lifting up our hearts to God is the goal of the Christian life. The heart in the biblical and liturgical tradition represents the whole person — mind, body, and spirit. “The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live.” It is our “hidden center” and “place of encounter” with God (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 2563).

When we are invited to “lift up our hearts” at Mass, we are asked at that moment to lift up our whole self to the Father. Even though the entire life of a Christian should be a constant raising of the mind and the heart to the one and eternal God, the Mass is a more intense, more intentional “lifting up.”

The invitation to lift up our hearts at the most important part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is an invitation by Jesus through the voice of the priest to give our hearts to the Father, as He gave His life for us. We prepare to make our hearts and lives a total self-gift to the Father as Jesus made Himself a total gift to the Father “for us” on the Cross.

By participating in the Liturgy, we receive the Word of God as did the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. On the day of the Resurrection, they heard the Scriptures explained to them by that mysterious Stranger. Their eyes were not opened until “he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30). Only then did they recognize Him. This is the same movement that takes place in the Mass through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (see CCC 1346-1347).

Through instruction in the Word of God and nourishment in the Eucharist, the Second Vatican Council desired that the faithful be led to “give thanks to God” through “offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 48). This is the ultimate aim of the Liturgy — to lift up our hearts so that they will be united to Christ’s self-offering to the Father. On the Cross, Jesus lifted up His heart to the Father. In the Mass, we lift up our hearts to participate in Christ’s sacrifice made present to us in an unbloody manner.
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver


When Holy Mass is properly celebrated there are moments in which the voices of both priest and faithful become silent. The priest continues to officiate as the rubrics indicate, speaking very softly or refraining from vocal prayer; the congregation follows in watchful, prayerful participation. What do these intervals of quiet signify? What must we do with them? What does stillness really imply?

It implies above all that speech end and silence prevail, that no other sounds — of movements, of turning pages, of coughing and throat-clearing — be audible. There is no need to exaggerate. Men live, and living things move; a forced outward conformity is no better than restlessness. Nevertheless, stillness is still, and it comes only if seriously desired. If we value it, it brings us joy; if not, discomfort.

People are often heard to say: “But I can’t help coughing” or “I can’t kneel quietly”; yet once stirred by a concert or lecture they forget all about coughing and fidgeting. That stillness proper to the most beautiful things in existence dominates, a quiet area of attentiveness in which the beautiful and truly important reign. We must earnestly de- sire stillness and be willing to give something for it; then it will be ours. Once we have experienced it, we will be astounded that we were able to live without it.

Moreover, stillness must not be superficial, as it is when there is neither speaking nor squirming; our thoughts, our feelings, our hearts must also find repose. Then genuine stillness permeates us, spreading ever deeper through the seemingly plumbless world within.

Once we try to achieve such profound stillness, we realize that it cannot be accomplished all at once. The mere desire for it is not enough; we must practice it. The minutes before Holy Mass are best; but in order to have them for genuine preparation we must arrive early. They are not a time for gazing or for daydreaming or for un- necessary thumbing of pages, but for inwardly collecting and calming ourselves. It would be still better to begin on our way to church.

After all, we are going to a sacred celebration. Why not let the way there be an exercise in composure, a kind of overture to what is to come? I would even suggest that preparation for holy stillness re- ally begins the day before. Liturgically, Saturday evening already belongs to the Sunday. If — for instance, after suitable reading — we were to collect ourselves for a brief period of composure, its effects the next day would be evident.

Thus far we have discussed stillness negatively: no speech, no sound. But it is much more than the absence of these, a mere gap, as it were, between words and sounds: stillness itself is something positive. Of course we must be able to appreciate it as such. There is sometimes a pause in the midst of a lecture or a service or some public function. Almost invariably someone promptly coughs or clears his throat. He is experiencing stillness as a breach in the unwinding road of speech and sound, which he attempts to fill with something, anything. For him the stillness was only a lacuna, a void that gave him a sense of disorder and discomfort. Actually, it is something rich and brimming.

Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert or oppressive about it.

Attentiveness — that is the clue to the stillness in question, the stillness before God. What then is a church? It is, to be sure, a building having walls, pillars, space. But these express only part of the word church, its shell. When we say that Holy Mass is celebrated “in church,” we are including something more: the congregation. Congregation, not merely people. Churchgoers arriving, sitting, or kneeling in pews are not necessarily a congregation; they can be simply a roomful of more or less pious individuals. Congregation is formed only when those individuals are present not only corporally but also spiritually, when they have contacted one another in prayer and step together into the spiritual “space” around them; strictly speaking, when they have first widened and heightened that space by prayer.

Then true congregation comes into being, which, along with the building that is its architectural expression, forms the vital church in which the sacred act is accomplished. All this takes place only in stillness; out of stillness grows the real sanctuary. It is important to understand this. Church buildings may be lost or destroyed; then everything depends on whether the faithful are capable of forming congregations that erect indestructible “churches” wherever they happen to find themselves, no matter how poor or dreary their quarters. We must learn and practice the art of constructing spiritual cathedrals.

We cannot take stillness too seriously. Not for nothing do these reflections on the Liturgy open with it. If someone were to ask me what the liturgical life begins with, I should answer: with learning stillness. Without it, everything remains superficial, vain. Our understanding of stillness is nothing strange or aesthetic. Were we to approach stillness on the level of aesthetics — of mere withdrawal into the ego — we should spoil everything. What we are striving for is something very grave, very important, and unfortunately sorely neglected: the prerequisite of the liturgical holy act.

Silence and the Word
We have discussed stillness in the presence of God. Only in such stillness, it was contended, can the congregation fundamental to the sacred ritual come into being. Only in stillness can the room in which Holy Mass is celebrated be exalted into a church. Hence the beginning of divine service is the creation of stillness. Stillness is intimately related to speech and the word.

The word is a thing of mystery, so volatile that it vanishes almost on the lip, yet so powerful that it decides fates and determines the meaning of existence. A frail structure shaped by fleeting sound, it yet contains the eternal: truth. Words come from within, rising as sounds fashioned by the organs of a man’s body, as expressions of his heart and spirit. He utters them, yet he does not create them, for they already existed independently of him. One word is related to another; together they form the great unity of language, that empire of truth-forms in which a man lives.

The living word arranges itself onion-like in various layers. The outermost is that of simple communication: news or a command. These can be conveyed artificially, as they often are, by the printed word or by some sound-apparatus that reproduces human speech. The syllables thus produced draw their significance from genuine language, and they answer specific needs well enough. But this superficial, often mechanical, level of words is not yet true speech, which exists only in proportion to the amount of inner conviction carried over from the speaker to that which is spoken. The more clearly his meaning is embodied in intelligible sounds, and the more fully his heart is able to express itself, the more truly does his speech become living word.

The inmost spirit lives by truth, by its recognition of what is and what has value. Man expresses this truth in words. The more fully he recognizes it, the better his speech and the richer his words. But truth can be recognized only from silence. The constant talker will never, or at least rarely, grasp truth. Of course even he must experience some truths; otherwise he could not exist. He does notice certain facts, observe certain relations, draw conclusions and make plans.

But he does not yet possess genuine truth, which comes into being only when the essence of an object, the significance of a relation, and what is valid and eternal in this world reveal themselves. This requires the spaciousness, freedom, and pure receptiveness of that inner “clean-swept room” which silence alone can create. The constant talker knows no such room within himself; hence he cannot know truth. Truth, and consequently the reality of speech, depends upon the speaker’s ability to speak and to be silent in turn.

But what of fervor, which lives on emotion and emotion’s evaluation of the costliness and significance of things? Doesn’t fervor flow more abundantly into speech the more immediate the experience behind it? And doesn’t that immediacy remain greatest the less one stops to think? That is true, at least for the moment. But it is also true that the person who talks constantly grows empty, and his emptiness is not only momentary. Feelings that are always promptly poured out in words are soon exhausted. The heart incapable of storing anything, of withdrawing into itself, cannot thrive. Like a field that must constantly produce, it is soon impoverished.

Only the word that emerges from silence is substantial and powerful. To be effective it must first find its way into open speech, although this is not necessary for some truths: those inexpressible depths of comprehension of one’s self, of others, and of God. For these the experienced but unspoken suffices. For all others, however, theinterior word must become exterior. Just as there exists a perverted variety of speech — talk — there exists also a perverted silence — dumbness.

Dumbness is just as bad as garrulity. It occurs when silence, sealed in the dungeon of a heart that has no outlet, becomes cramped and oppressive. The word breaks open the stronghold. It carries light into the darkness and frees what has been held captive. Speech enables a man to account for himself and the world and to overcome both. It indicates his place among others and in history. It liberates.

Silence and speech belong together. The one presupposes the other. Together they form a unit in which the vital man exists, and the discovery of that unit’s namelessness is strangely beautiful. We do know this: man’s essence is enclosed in the sphere of silence/speech just as the whole earthly life is enclosed in that of light/darkness, day/night.

Consequently, even for the sake of speech we must practice silence. To a large extent the Liturgy consists of words that we address to and receive from God. They must not degenerate into mere talk, which is the fate of all words, even the profoundest and holiest, when they are spoken improperly. In the words of the Liturgy, the truth of God and of redeemed man is meant to blaze. In them the heart of Christ — in whom the Father’s love lives — and the hearts of His followers must find their full expression.

Through the liturgical word our inwardness passes over into the realm of sacred openness which the congregation and its mystery create before God. Even God’s holy mystery — which was entrusted by Christ to His followers when He said, “As often as you shall do these things, in memory of me shall you do them” — is renewed through the medium of human words. All this, then, must find room in the words of the Liturgy. They must be broad and calm and full of inner knowledge, which they are only when they spring from silence. The importance of silence for the sacred celebration cannot be overstressed — silence which prepares for it as well as that silence which establishes itself again and again during the ceremony. Silence opens the inner fount from which the word rises.

Silence and Hearing
Silence and speech are interdependent. Together they form a nameless unit that supports our spiritual life. There is, however, another element essential here: hearing.

Let us imagine for a moment a Dialogue Mass. Epistle and Gospel — indeed, a substantial part of the Mass is read aloud in English. What do those believers who love the Liturgy and wish to participate in it as fully as possible do? They take their missals in hand and read along with the reader. They mean well; they are eager not to miss a word; yet how odd the whole situation is! There stands the reader. Solemnly he reads the sacred words, and the believers he is addressing read with him! Can this be a genuine form of the spiritual act? Obviously not. Some­thing has been destroyed.

Solemn reading requires listening, not simultaneous reading. Otherwise why read aloud at all? Our bookish upbringing is to blame for this unnaturalness. Most deplorably, it encourages people to read when they should listen. As a result, the fairy tale has died and poetry has lost its power; for its resonant, wise, fervent, and festive language is meant to be heard, not read. In Holy Mass, moreover, it is a question not only of beautiful and solemn words, but of the Divine Word.

This question is vital. In silent reading that frail and powerful reality called word is incomplete. It remains unfinished, entangled in print, corporal; vital parts are still lacking. The hurrying eye brings fleeting images to the imagination; the intelligence gains but a hazy “comprehension,” and the result is of small worth. What has been lost belongs to the essence of the liturgical event. No longer does the sacred word unfold in its full spiritual-corporal reality and soar through space to the listener, to be heard and received into his life. Would it be a loss if men ceased to convey their most fervent thoughts in living speech and instead communicated with each other only in writing? Definitely. All the bodily vitality of the ringing word would vanish.

In the realm of faith also the loss would be shattering. After all, Christ Himself spoke of hearing. He never said: “He who has eyes to read, let him read” (cf. Matthew 11:15). This is no attempt to devalue the written word, which in its place is good and necessary, but it must not crowd out what is better, more necessary, and beautiful: hearing, from which, as St. Paul tells us, springs faith (Romans 10:17).

Faith can, of course, be kindled from the written text, but the Gospel — the glad tidings — gains its full power only when it is heard. The whole word is not the printed, but the spoken, in which alone truth stands free. Only words formed by the human voice have the delicacy and power that is necessary to stir the depths of emotion, the seat of the spirit, the full sensitiveness of the conscience.

Like the sacraments, God’s word is spiritual-corporal; like them, it is meant to nourish the spirit in flesh-and-blood man, to work in him as power. The saving God who came to us was the eternal Word. But that Word did not come in a blaze of spiritual illumination or as something suddenly appearing in a book. He “was made flesh” (John 1:14), flesh that could be seen, heard, grasped with hands, as St. John so graphically insists in the opening lines of his first letter. The same mystery continues in the living word of liturgical proclamation, and it is all important that the connection remain vital.

The word of God is meant to be heard, and hearing requires silence.

To be sure that the point is clear, let us put it this way: how may proper hearing be prevented? I could say something to a man sitting out of earshot, for example. Then I would have to speak louder in order to establish the physical connection. Or I could speak loudly enough, but if his attention is elsewhere, my remarks will go unheeded. Then I must appeal to him to listen. Perhaps he does listen, notes what I say, follows the line of thought, tries his best, yet fails to understand. Something in him remains closed. He hears my reasons, follows them intellectually and psychologically; he would understand at once if they applied to someone else.

In regard to himself, he fails to see the connection because his pride will not admit the truth; perhaps a secret voice warns him that, were he to admit it, he would have to change things in his life that he is unwilling to change. The more examples we consider, the more clearly we realize that hearing, too, exists on many levels, and we begin to suspect its importance when the Speaker is God. Not for nothing did our Lord say: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8).

To have ears to hear requires grace, for God’s word can be heard only by him whose ears God has opened. He does this when He pleases, and the prayer for truth is directed at that divine pleasure. But it also requires something that we ourselves desire and are capable of: being inwardly present; listening from the vital core of our being; unfolding ourselves to that which comes from beyond, to the sacred word. All this is possible only when we are inwardly still.

In stillness alone can we really hear. When we come into church from the outside our ears are filled with the racket of the city, the words of those who have accompanied us, the laboring and quarreling of our own thoughts, the disquiet of our hearts’ wishes and worries, hurts and joys. How are we possibly to hear what God is saying? That we listen at all is something; not everyone does.

It is even better when we pay attention and make a real effort to understand what is being said. But all this is not yet that attentive stillness in which God’s word can take root. This must be established before the service begins, if possible in the silence on the way to church, still better in a brief period of composure the evening before.


Melito of Sardis

May 29, 2012


Melito of Sardis (died c. 180) was the bishop of Sardis near Smyrna in western Anatolia, and a great authority in Early Christianity: Jerome, speaking of the Old Testament canon established by Melito, quotes Tertullian to the effect that he was esteemed a prophet by many of the faithful. His feast is celebrated on April 1.

Last week I joined a Communio Study Group in Boston. Communio, in case you’ve been missing out on it, is a leading journal of Catholic intellectual writing that “strives to provide long-term resources for reflection, renewal, and mission in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council as interpreted by the Pontificate of John Paul II.” Along with First Things it forms my Catholic magazine/journal readings.

Each month a member of the Communio group chooses an article from the journal and leads a discussion concerning it. It sounded like fun and turned out to be the same. It will help me get the journals off my shelves and into my head.

In May we discussed an article by an Orthodox priest, by Fr. John Behr that was about the eschatological dimensions of the liturgy. It’s a topic that falls into my interest in liturgical theology which is one of my categories in

 I took a course not long ago titled “Spiritual Liturgy” which turned out to be an eye-opener as I was constantly challenged to track my reactions to the Eucharist. Reading the following reminded me of a level of awareness that I constantly need to promote within myself.

If you live in the Boston area and would like to join us, give me a holler through the comment mechanism and I will help set it up for you.


 Melito of Sardis

Now, everything that we have been talking about — the encounter with the risen Christ, the coming eschatological Lord in the opening of scripture and the breaking of bread — is exemplified in an early Christian text, On Pascha, by Melito of Sardis — only published in 1940. Since then there has been a debate about what kind of text it is.

It was first classified as a “Good Friday Homily,” although it does not really fit into a homelitic genre. It is now recognized as a kind of Haggadahan exposition of the Passover reading from Exodus, which would accompany the Jewish table rite known as the Seder, which developed in diaspora Judaism, when the Passover sacrifice was no longer possible at the temple. This makes it, in fact, the earliest liturgical text that we have, and, for that matter, the earliest representative of a Haggadah that we have.

One must recall that the reading of the Exodus scripture was never understood as the recalling of a (merely) past event, but as a way of inscribing oneself in the same unchanging reality of God. As when Joshua urged the Israelites gathered at Shechem to devote themselves to the Covenant which God had made with their fathers, they speak of this as having happened to themselves (Josh 24).

Melito begins immediately following on from the reading of the scripture of the Exodus, and takes it to be speaking of Christ (i.e., directly, without the intermediary of a gospel text)

1   The Scripture of the Exodus of the Hebrews has been read,
and the words of the mystery have been declared,
how the sheep was sacrificed
and how the people was saved,
and how Pharaoh was flogged by the mystery.

2   Therefore, well-beloved, understand, how the mystery of the Pascha
is both new and old
eternal and provisional,
perishable and imperishable
mortal and immortal.

3   It is old with respect to the law
new with respect to the word.
Provisional with respect to the type
yet everlasting through grace.
It is perishable because of the slaughter of the sheep,
imperishable because of the life of the Lord.
It is mortal because of the burial in the ground,
immortal because of the resurrection from the dead.

4.   For the law is old
but the Word is new.
The type is provisional,
but the grace everlasting.
The sheep is perishable,
but the Lord,
not broken as a lamb but raised up as God,
is imperishable.
For though led to the slaughter like a sheep,
he was no sheep.
Though speechless as a lamb,
neither yet was he a lamb.
For there was once a type, but now the reality has appeared.

5.  For instead of the lamb there was a son,
and instead of the sheep a man;
in the man was Christ encompassing all things.

6.  So the slaughter of the sheep
and the sacrificial procession of the blood,
and the writing of the law encompass Christ,
on whose account everything in the previous law took place,
though better in the new dispensation.

7.  For the law was a word,
and the old was new, going out from Sion and Jerusalem,
and the commandment was grace,
and the type was a reality,
and the lamb was a son,
and the sheep was a man,
and the man was God.

8.  For he was born as a son,
and led as a lamb,
and slaughtered as a sheep,
and buried as a man,
and rose from the dead as God,
being God by his nature and a man.

9.  He is all things.
He is law, in that he judges.
He is word, in that he teaches.
He is grace, in that he saves.
He is father, in that he begets.

He is son, in that he is begotten.
He is sheep, in that he suffers.
He is human, in that he is buried.
He is God, in that he is raised up.

10.  This is Jesus the Christ,
to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

This is a wonderful preface in praise of Christ, understanding him in terms of the scriptural account of the Exodus.

Melito then begins again by saying that he will re-narrate the account:

11.  This is the mystery of the Pascha,
just as it is written in the law, which was read a little while ago. I shall narrate the scriptural story,
how he gave command to Moses in Egypt,
when wanting to flog Pharaoh
and to free Israel from flogging
through the hand of Moses.

It continues with a fuller exposition of the scriptural story, seeing in all its details the reality of Christ. It is, for instance, because of Christ’s blood that the angel turns away from the dwellings with lamb’s blood smeared across the lintels: it is not that the angel does not like the smell of lamb’s blood, but rather that he sees in the blood of the lamb the reality of the blood of Christ.

This is then followed by a more universal depiction of salvation history, beginning with humanity in Eden and the continuation of the way in which humanity continued in sin, but also the way in which Christ was also present, already working, in types, our salvation.

59   If you wish to see the mystery of the Lord
Look at Abel, who is likewise slain,
at Isaac, who is likewise tied up,
at Joseph, who is likewise traded,
at Moses, who is likewise exposed,
at David, who is likewise hunted down,
At the prophets who likewise suffer for the sake of Christ.

And then the first half of the oration comes to an end:

65.. Many other things were proclaimed by many prophets
concerning the mystery of the Pascha, who is Christ,
to whom be the glory forever.

The second half of the oration begins with the words:

66.. This is the one who comes from heaven onto the earth for
the suffering one,
and wraps himself in the suffering one through a virgin womb,
and comes as a a man.
He accepted the suffering of the suffering one,
through suffering in a body which could suffer,
and set free the flesh from suffering.

Recent scholars have seen in these words, “This is the one who comes (aphikoinenos) from heaven,” an allusion to the aphikomen, the piece of bread broken off from the main loaf at the Passover Seder of Judaism, hidden, and brought in towards the end. This aphikomen — “coining one” — is taken as a messianic symbol. Melito clearly identifies the Paschal Lamb with Jesus.

Now the oration continues with a cry against Israel for not having recognized him, but having instead crucified him. This seems to us to be anti-Semitic (the Jewish community in Sardis would have just finished their Passover meal when the Christians gathered to celebrate their Pascha). But the invective against Israel is always in the second person: Melito is saying to his community: you did not recognize him — you stand convicted. It is only as convicted that they are then able finally to recognize him as their Savior. And so, the oration concludes with Melito speaking in the person of Christ:

100.. The Lord clothed himself with humanity,
and with suffering on behalf of the suffering one,
and bound on behalf of the one constrained,
and judged on behalf of the one convicted,
and buried on behalf of the one entombed,
rose from the dead and cried out aloud:

101.. “Who takes issue with me? Let him stand before me.
I set free the condemned.
I gave life to the dead.
I raise up the entombed.
Who will contradict me?”

102.. “It is I,” says the Christ,
“I am he who destroys death,
and triumphs over the enemy,
and crushes Hades,
and binds the strong man,
and bears humanity off to the heavenly heights.” “It is I,” says the Christ.

103.. “So come all families of people,
adulterated with sin,
and receive forgiveness of sins.
For I am your freedom.
I am the Passover of salvation,
I am the lamb slaughtered for you,
I am your ransom,
I am your life,
I am your light,
I am your salvation,
I am your resurrection,
I am your King.
I shall raise you up by my right hand,
I will lead you to the heights of heaven,
There shall I show you the everlasting Father.”

104.. He it is who made the heaven and the earth, and formed humanity in the beginning,
who was proclaimed through the law and the prophets,
who took flesh from a virgin,
who was hung on a tree,
who was buried in earth,
who was raised from the dead,
and ascended to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has the power to save all things,
through whom the Father acted from the beginning and forever.

105.. This is the alpha and omega, this is the beginning and the end,
the ineffable beginning and the incomprehensible end.
This is the Christ,
this is the King,
this is Jesus,
this is the commander,
this is the Lord,
this is he who rose from the dead,
this is he who sits at the right hand of the Father,
he bears the Father and is borne by him.
To him be the glory and the might for ever. Amen.

This is a wonderful text, exemplary of what happens in liturgy, and especially the eschatological dimensions of liturgy. We began by standing to celebrate the Passion, the Exodus of Christ, understood in the light of the books of Old Testament being opened in the light of Christ. This then moves seamlessly into the celebration of the Paschal Lamb, the coming one — identified with the aphikomen — the part of the loaf hidden at the beginning of the meal and brought out towards the end. And then, in and through all of this, Christ, the coming one, is now present, speaking in the person of Melito himself. This is realized eschatology in action, even now when it is read as a text almost two thousand years later.


What Does The Eucharist Symbolize?– Fr. Alexander Schmemann

December 15, 2011


The Fountain of Life From the Godescalc Evangelistary, folio 3v 781-3, Paris, Bibliothéque Nationale From the "Godescalc Evangelistary", commissioned by the Carolingian king Charlemagne and his wife Hildegard and produced in his court scriptorium at Aachen.

Now we can raise the basic question: What does the Eucharist symbolize? What symbolism unites into a single whole the entire ordo and all of its rites? Or, to put it differently, what spiritual reality is manifested and given to us in this “sacrament of all sacraments”? And this leads us back to what we began this chapter with — the identification and confession of the Eucharist as the sacrament of the kingdom.


The divine liturgy begins with the solemn doxology: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” The Savior likewise began his ministry with the proclamation of the kingdom, the ringing announcement that it has come: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying: ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel'” (Mark 1: 14-15). And it is with desire for the kingdom that the first and foremost of all Christian prayers begins: “Thy kingdom come…”

Thus, the kingdom of God is the content of the Christian faith — the goal, the meaning and the content of the Christian life. According to the unanimous witness of all scripture and tradition, it is the knowledge of God, love for him, unity with him and life in him. The kingdom of God is unity with God, the source of all life, indeed life itself. It is life eternal: “And this is eternal life, that they know thee” (John 17:3). It is for this true and eternal life in the fullness of love, unity and knowledge that man was created. But man lost this in the fall, and by man’s sin, evil, suffering and death triumphed in the world. The “prince of this world” began his reign; the world rejected its God and King. Yet God did not reject the world: as we pray in the anaphora of St John Chrysostom, and when we had fallen away [Thou] didst not cease to do all things until Thou hadst brought us up to heaven, and hadst endowed us with Thy kingdom which is to come.”

The prophets of the Old Testament hungered for this kingdom, prayed for it, foretold it. It was the very goal and fulfillment of the entire sacred history of the Old Testament, a history holy not with human sanctity (for it was utterly filled with falls, betrayals and sins) but with the holiness of its being God’s preparation for the coming of his kingdom.

And now, “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). The only-begotten Son of God became the Son of man, in order to proclaim and to give to man forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and new life. By his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead he has come into his kingdom: God “made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, ,mod above every name that is named. . . and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things” (Ephesians 1:20-22). Christ reigns, and everyone who believes in him and is horn again of water and the Spirit belongs to his kingdom and has him within himself. “Christ is the Lord” — this is the most ancient Christian confession of faith, and for three centuries the world, in the form of the Roman empire, persecuted those who spoke these words for their refusal to recognize anyone on earth as lord except time one Lord and one King.

The kingdom of Christ is accepted by faith and is hidden “within us.” The King himself came in the form of a servant and reigned only through the cross. There are no external signs of this kingdom on earth. It is the kingdom of “the world to come,” and thus only in the glory of his second coming will all people recognize the true king of the world. But for those who have believed in it and accepted it, the kingdom is already here and now, more obvious than any of the “realities” surrounding us. “The Lord has come, the Lord is coming, the Lord will come again.” This triune meaning of the Aramaic expression maranatha! contains the whole of Christianity’s victorious faith, against which all persecutions have proven impotent.

At first glance all of this might sound like some sort of pious platitudes. But reread what has just been said and compare it with the faith and “experience” of the vast majority of contemporary Christians, and you cannot but be convinced that there is a deep abyss between what we have said and the modern “experience.” One can say without any exaggeration that the kingdom of God — the central concept in evangelical preaching — has ceased to be the central content and inner motivation of the Christian faith. Unlike the early Christians, those of later ages came, little by little, to lose the perception of the kingdom of God as being “at hand.” They came to understand it only as the kingdom to come — at the end and after the end, referring only to the “personal” death of individual believers. This world” and “the kingdom,” which in the gospels are set side by side and in tension and struggle with one another, have come to be thought of in terms of a chronological sequence: now — only the world; then — only the kingdom.

For the first Christians the all-encompassing joy, the truly startling novelty of their faith lay in the fact that the kingdom was at hand. It had appeared, and although it remained hidden and unseen for “this world,” it was already present, its light had already shone, it was already at work in the world. Then, as the kingdom was “removed” to the end of the world, to the mysterious and unfathomable reaches of time, Christians gradually lost their awareness of it as something hoped for, as the desired and joyous fulfillment of all hopes, of all desires, of life itself, of all that the early Church implied in the words “Thy kingdom come.”

It is characteristic that our scholarly tomes of dogmatic theology (which cannot, of course, pass over the early doctrine in silence) speak of the kingdom in quite sparing, dull and even boring terms. Here, eschatology — the doctrine of the “final destiny of the world and man” — is virtually reduced to the doctrine of “God as the Judge and Avenger.” As to piety, i.e., the personal experience of individual believers, the interest is narrowed to the question of one’s personal fate “after death.” At the same time, ‘this world,” about which St Paul wrote that its form is “passing away,” and which for the early Christians was transparent to the kingdom, reacquired its own value and existence independent of the kingdom of God.


This gradual narrowing, if not radical metamorphosis of Christian eschatology, its peculiar break with the theme and experience of the kingdom, has had tremendous significance in the development of liturgical consciousness in the Church. Re-liming to what we said above about the symbolism of Christian worship, we can now affirm that the Church’s worship was born and, in its external structure, “took shape” primarily as a symbol of the kingdom, of the Church’s ascent to it and, in this ascent, of her fulfillment as the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The whole newness, the uniqueness of the Christian leitourgia was to its eschatological nature as the presence here and now of the future parousia, as the epiphany of that which is to come, as communion with the “world to come.” As I wrote in my Introduction to Liturgical Theology, it is precisely out of this eschatological experience that the “Lord’s day” was born as a symbol, i.e., the manifestation, now, of the kingdom. It is this experience that determined the Christian “reception” of the Jewish feasts of Passover and Pentecost, as feasts precisely of a “pass-over” from the present “aeon” to the one which is to come, and thus — symbols of the kingdom of God.

But, of course, the symbol of the kingdom par excellence, the one that fulfills all other symbols — the Lord’s day, baptism, Pascha, etc. — as well as all of Christian life “hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), is the Eucharist, the sacrament of the coming of the risen Lord, of our meeting and communion with him “at his table in his kingdom.” Secretly, unseen by the world, “the doors being shut,” the Church — that “little flock” to whom it was the Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom (Luke 12:32) — fulfills in the Eucharist her ascension and entrance into the light and joy and triumph of the kingdom. And we can say without any exaggeration that it was from this totally unique and incomparable experience, from this fully realized symbol, that the whole of the Christian lex orandi was born and developed.

It should now be clear why it was that with the weakening and the eclipse of the original eschatology the liturgical symbolism of the kingdom became overgrown little by little with the wild grass of secondary explanations and allegorical commentaries, i.e., with the “illustrative symbolism” that — as I have tried to show above — in fact means the collapse of the symbol. The more time went on, the more the symbolism of the kingdom, so fundamental for the Church, was forgotten. Inasmuch, however, as the liturgy, the lex orandi of the Church, with all its forms and its entire ordo, already existed and was perceived as an untouchable part of tradition, it naturally came to demand a new explanation — in the same “key” in which Christian consciousness was beginning to apprehend the place and ministry of the Church in “this world.”

This was the beginning of an ever-deeper infiltration of “illustrative symbolism” into the explanation of worship. And, paradoxical as it may seem, in this process the otherworldly, heavenly reality of the Eucharist came to be “included” in “this world,” in its causality, its time, the categories of its thought and experience, while the symbolism of the kingdom of God, so inherent to and inseparable from creation — the true key for the Church and her life — was reduced to the category of this unnecessary illustrative symbolism.


This process, to be sure, was long and complicated and not some kind of instant “metamorphosis.” And we must decidedly affirm that, whatever its external triumph, “illustrative” symbolism has never completely succeeded in supplanting the original, eschatological symbolism of the liturgy, which is rooted in the faith itself. No matter how much development took place, for instance, in Byzantine worship in the direction of what, in my Introduction to Liturgical Theology, I termed “external solemnity,” no matter how overgrown it became with decorative and allegorical details, with the pomp borrowed from the imperial cult and with terminology adopted from mysteriological “sacredness,” worship as a whole, as well as its deep intuition in the minds of the faithful, continued to be determined by the symbolism of the kingdom of God.

And there is no better witness to this than the fundamental Orthodox experience of the temple and of iconography, an experience that crystallized precisely during the Byzantine period and in which the “holy of holies” of Orthodoxy is expressed better than in the redundant rhetoric of the “symbolic” liturgical interpretations.

“Standing in the temple we stand in heaven.” I have spoken of the origins of the Christian temple in the experience of the “assembly as the Church.” We can now add that insofar as this assembly is undoubtedly conceived of as heavenly, the temple is that “heaven on earth” that realizes the “assembly as the Church.” It is the symbol that unites these two realities, these two dimensions of the Church — “heaven” and “earth,” one manifested in the other, one made a reality in the other.

And this experience of the temple, I repeat, has survived almost unchanged and unweakened throughout the entire history of the Church, despite the numerous declines and breakdowns in the authentic traditions of church architecture and iconography. This experience constitutes that “whole” that unites and coordinates all the elements of the temple: space, form, shape, icons, all that can be termed the rhythm and order of the temple.

As to the icon, it is in its very essence a symbol of the kingdom, the “epiphany” of the new and transfigured creation, of heaven and earth full of God’s glory, and it is for this reason that the canons forbid the introduction into iconography of any allegorical or illustrative “symbolism.”

For the icon dues not “illustrate” — it manifests, and does so only to the degree that it is itself a participant in what it manifests, inasmuch as it is both presence and communion. It is enough to have stood, be it only once, in the “temple of all temples,” Hagia Sophia in Constantinople — even in its present devastated and kenotic state — to know with one’s whole being that the temple and the icon were born and nurtured in the living experience of heaven, in communion with the “peace and joy of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

This experience was frequently darkened. Historians of Christian art often speak of the decline of church architecture and the icon. And it is important to note that this decline usually came about it by the whole — of the temple, of the icon — being weakened and lost beneath the thickening growth of details. Thus, the temple almost disappears under a thick layer of self-contained decorations, and in the icon, Byzantine as well as Russian, the original wholeness is replaced by an ever-growing attention to cleverly drawn details. Is this not the same movement — from the “whole” to the “particular,” from the experience of the whole to a discursive “explanation,” and, in short, from symbol to “symbolism”? And yet, as long as the “Christian world,” be it imperfectly and sometimes nominally, “refers” itself to the kingdom of God, the “homeland of the heart’s desire,” this centrifugal movement cannot fully overpower the centripetal force.

One might say that, at first and for a long period of time, the “illustrative” symbolism — be it in worship, in the icon or in the temple — developed inside the initial and ontological symbolism of the kingdom. The deeper and truly tragic rupture between the two of them, the initial replacement of the one by the other, began with the break from the patristic tradition and the coming of the long (and in many ways continuing) “western captivity” of the Orthodox mind. It is not accidental that the luxuriant and unchecked flowering of “illustrative” symbolism corresponded in time with the triumph of western juridicism and rationalism in Orthodox theology, of pietism and sentimentality in iconography, of embellished “pretty” baroque in church architecture, of “lyricism” and emotionalism in church music. All of these manifest one and the same “pseudomorphosis” of the Orthodox consciousness.

Yet even this deep and truly tragic decline cannot be considered final. In its depths, the Church’s consciousness ultimately remains untouched by all this. Thus, everyday experience shows us that “illustrative symbolism” is foreign to the living, authentic faith and life of the Church, just as “scholastic” theology remains foreign, in the last analysis, to such faith. “Illustrative symbolism” is at home in that superficial, “showy” and routine religiosity in which a widespread but shallow curiosity toward anything “holy” is lightly taken as religious feeling and “interest in the Church.” But where there is a living, authentic and, in the best sense of the word, simple faith, it becomes unnecessary, for genuine faith lives not by curiosity but by thirst.

Just as he did a thousand years ago, so today the “simple” believer goes to Church in order primarily to “touch other worlds” (Dostoevsky). “And almost free, the soul breathes heaven unhindered” (Vladislav Khodasevich). In a sense, he is not “interested” in worship, in the way in which “experts” and connoisseurs of all liturgical details are interested in it. And he is not interested because “standing in the temple” he receives all that for which he thirsts and seeks: the light, the joy, and the comfort of the kingdom of God, the radiance that, in the words of the agnostic Chekhov, beams from the faces of the “old people who have just returned from the church.”

What use could such a believer have for complex and refined explanations of what this or that rite “represents,” of what the opening and closing of the royal doors is supposed to mean? He cannot keep up with all these “symbol-isms,” and they are unnecessary for his faith. All he knows is that he has left his everyday life and has come to a place where everything is different and yet so essential, so desirable, so vital that it illumines and gives meaning to his entire life.

Likewise he knows, even if he cannot express it in words, that this other reality makes life itself worth living, for everything proceeds to it, everything is referred to it, everything is to be judged by it — by the kingdom of God it manifests. And, finally, he knows that even if individual words or rites are unclear to him, the Kingdom Of God has been given to him in the Church: in that common action, common standing before God, in the “assembly,” in the “ascent,” in unity and love.


Thus we return to where we began, indeed to where The Eucharist itself begins: to the blessing of the Kingdom Of God. What does it mean to bless the Kingdom? It means that we acknowledge and confess it to be our highest and ultimate value, the object of our desire, our love and our hope. It means that we proclaim it to be the goal of the sacrament — of pilgrimage, ascension, entrance — that now begins. It means that we must focus our attention, our mind, heart and soul, i.e., our whole life, upon that which is truly the “one thing needful.” Finally, it means that now, already in “this world,” we confirm the possibility of communion with the kingdom, of entrance into its radiance, truth and joy.

Each time that Christians “assemble as the Church” they witness before the whole world that Christ is King and Lord, that his kingdom has already been revealed and given to man and that a new and immortal life has begun. This is why the liturgy begins with this solemn confession and doxology of the King who comes now but abides forever and shall reign unto ages of ages.

“It is time to begin the service to the Lord,” the deacon announces to the celebrant. This is not simply a reminder that it is now “opportune” or “convenient” for the performance of the sacrament. It is an affirmation and confession that the new time, the time of the kingdom of God and its fulfillment in the Church, now enters into the fallen time of “this world” in order that we, the Church, might be lifted up to heaven, and the Church transfigured into “that which she is” — the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

“Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” Amen, answer the people. This word is usually translated as “so be it,” but its meaning is really stronger than this. It signifies not only agreement, but also active acceptance. “Yes, this is so, and let it be so.” With this word the ecclesial assembly concludes and, as it were, seals each prayer uttered by the celebrant, thereby expressing its own organic, responsible and conscious participation in each and every sacred action of the Church. “To that which you are — say Amen,” writes St Augustine, “and thus seal it with your answer. For you hear ‘the body of Christ’ and answer ‘Amen.’ Be a member of the body of Christ, which is realized by your Amen… Fulfill that which you are.


Addressing God in Faith – Langdon Gilkey

November 9, 2011

The absence for countless persons of a vivid sense of the presence of the divine in our Churches.

From Liturgical Experience Of Faith, Edited byHerman Schmidt and David Power.

How Is The Holy Present In Our Worship?
THERE ARE MANY WAYS in which what we call “the contemporary crisis of faith” manifests itself. Most fundamental of all, it seems to me, is the elusiveness for all of us in our time of the holy, the absence for countless persons of a vivid sense of the presence of the divine to me, is the elusiveness for all of us in our time of the holy, the absence for countless persons of a vivid sense of the presence of the divine — an absence felt not only in our daily life in the world but (even more devastating) an absence brought from the world into our holy places and experienced when Christians gather together in worship.

This absence of deity in our common worship contributes to and even founds our other religious and theological problems. Were the presence of God real for us at least there, contemporary problems of belief or of God-language would be minimal, matters only of translation into current worldly modes of validation and of common “ordinary” forms of discourse. That on the contrary questions of the possibility of belief and of the meaningfulness of language about God are deep and significant issues even for the worshipping community — as they surely are — indicates, therefore, that at the heart of that community’s life, in its common worship, there is experienced a compelling absence; for affirmation in faith of the reality of God and discourse about him alike depend upon an experience of his living presence.

Thus the reality of common worship is the centre on which depend both Christian religious existence and Christian theology. We cannot evoke that reality by theological reflection — for, as with proofs of God, the dependency runs the other way — but, in such reflection we know, we move not towards the periphery of our ultimate concerns in theology but closer to their source and ground.

If there be, as I believe there are, problems in Christian worship peculiar to our age as well as those common to all periods, these former problems stem from the cultural or historical world that permeates us and that we bring with us into church. More of modernity than loud-speakers, an absence felt not only in our daily life in the world but (even more devastating) an absence brought from the world into our holy places and experienced when Christians gather together in worship. This absence of deity in our common worship contributes to and even founds our other religious and theological problems.

Were the presence of God real for us at least there, contemporary problems of belief or of God-language would be minimal, matters only of translation into current worldly modes of validation and of common “ordinary” forms of discourse. That on the contrary questions of the possibility of belief and of the meaningfulness of language about God are deep and significant issues even for the worshipping community — as they surely are — indicates, therefore, that at the heart of that community’s life, in its common worship, there is experienced a compelling absence; for affirmation in faith of the reality of God and discourse about him alike depend upon an experience of his living presence.

Thus the reality of common worship is the centre on which depend both Christian religious existence and Christian theology. We cannot evoke that reality by theological reflection — for, as with proofs of God, the dependency runs the other way — but, in such reflection we know, we move not towards the periphery of our ultimate concerns in theology but closer to their source and ground.

If there be, as I believe there are, problems in Christian worship peculiar to our age as well as those common to all periods, these former problems stem from the cultural or historical world that permeates us and that we bring with us into church. More of modernity than loud-speakers, experiences they enjoy are for them at best their own subjective reactions and not the workings of the Holy Spirit. [The contemporary phenomena of Pentecostal experiences ("speaking with tongues") seems to belie these remarks about modernity. For groups devoted to a firm sense of these sorts of workings of the Spirit flourish in many of our churches, Protestant and Catholic alike.

Perhaps such groups show the dissolution of modernity as "secular" in the sense here described, as quite possibly the counter-culture also does. My guess is that they do not. Rather it seems to me that such groups are only partly dominated spiritually by modernity (as are fundamentalist Protestants), and that the eagerness with which they embrace "the Spirit" in these forms shows how divested of ultimacy and sacrality the rest of their world is. The usual response of their pastor or priest (of incomprehension, grudging admiration and helplessness) is the best sign (or consequence) of what I mean by "secularity" and so modernity. His objection is not that these "speakers" are not orthodox Catholic in their piety, but that, as a modern man, he simply cannot credit, or understand, or participate in, these experiences -- though he can hardly deny their power.]

The holy has appeared in the history of Christian worship in a variety of forms as sacrament, as Word, as spiritual possession. In each case the holy has not appeared alone or directly, but through the medium of something earthly — elements, speech and feelings. Now, even though the cultural reasons for its contemporary absence from these traditional media of the holy may not be consciously known or reflectively pondered (for example, a historical view of all words, even sacred ones, or a psychological view of all inner experiences), still the absence of the transcendent in and through these media is universally felt and therefore our worship is a problem.

For worship is not a self-generated activity; it is rather a response to the presence of the holy objectively experienced in our midst. It is not something that can be created or even evoked by us; as in revelation, it is there within its medium to be responded to (and that response is worship), or it is not there at all; hence if it is not there objectively for us, there can be no worship as response to its presence. Consequently, as every liturgist, traditional or experimental, knows, it is impossible to “create a sense of worship” by changing bodily movements, words, lights or music; nor by merely refashioning our forms of worship can we “make worship real”. It may well be important for the possibility of our human response that such changes in liturgy be made. But the prior and more fundamental problem of the presence of the holy is another matter, for neither the repetition of traditional usages nor the adoption of new ones will in itself bring that presence about. [This problem is in this sense similar to that of God-language. It is important that old, anachronistic forms of theological discourse be abandoned simply because they have become meaningless and so irrelevant to us; but the introduction of new forms does not in itself guarantee the ability to speak meaningfully about God. It is, so to speak, a necessary but not a sufficient condition, the deeper issue again being a sense of the holy or sacred as the prior condition for the meaningfulness of any form of theology.]

All we can do is to free our forms and to increase their relevance so that they can communicate the holy to us. It is God’s presence that evokes worship, not our doing of worship that brings forth God.

If this be so, reflection on the problem of worship, in so far as it can at all be of help, is driven in the first instance not so much to consider more appropriate forms of worship as to reconsider and reappropriate the modes of presence of the holy in our tradition, to ponder at its deepest level how God comes to us in our community and our faith, to explore the most fundamental question of theology: how is God related to man, and how does man’s awareness of that divine presence arise and flourish? Thus the history of worship, the history of piety and the history of theology are distinct but not separate histories; each history in its own way reflects the varying modes of the divine presence. Whenever worship has been vital and strong, its forms, as well as those of piety and theology, have been shaped by some vivid mode of the divine presence — as, for example,

Reformation worship reflected the same manifestation of the holy through the word that was also the centre of both Reformation religious life and its theology. Consideration of worship at the most fundamental level, then, is consideration of the presence of God to men; it involves, therefore, every basic theological doctrine concerning the activity of God on us, in us and on our world. By pondering the mystery of the presence of God in all our being and living, we may be able to open our minds and ourselves to more special and concentrated forms of awareness of that presence — for worship is the community together celebrating and responding to that presence. In the following, therefore, we shall (in a very preliminary and inexpert way) try to think out the character of Christian worship at this fundamental level in the light of our theological understanding of the presence of God in human experience.

How Is The Holy Experienced In Christian Existence?
This question can be put more objectively as how does God relate himself to man in Christian faith? This dual question may well form the most fundamental question in theology; it surely does when we try to think out the theological foundations for worship. We shall here consider this question both formally and materially, with regard to the forms of our experience of the holy, and with regard to its matter, or more specifically, to the levels of our life in which this experience manifests itself. Such an examination may re-relate the modes of Christian worship to our real experiences of sacrality and thus, in reminding us of the continual presence of the holy in our existence, open us to its concentrated presence in communal worship.

We do not experience God directly in this life. [As is evident, these statements imply that to me the mystical mode is a special vocation or gift within the Christian community and not normative for it. For most of us God comes to us, if at all, through finite media and not directly, that is in life and history and not beyond them. This appearance of the divine in and through the creaturely and the historical seems to me normative for the Christian tradition and so for its main forms of worship. Here I seem to be in some disagreement with my friend Louis Dupre, cf. his interesting book The Other Dimension (Garden City, 1972), esp. Chapter 12. Incidentally, this Thomist principle, in the modern context at least, in which thought is intrinsically confined to experience, means that theology can only speak of God in his relation to us, and not as he is in himself.]

We are immersed in the creaturely and historical world God has created, and if we are aware of his presence at all, it is in and through his activity in that world, in and through what we call nature, history and its events, and our fellow men and ourselves. Thus is the presence of God always in a manner “hidden” — hidden within a finite medium which at once maintains its own creaturely integrity, powers, possibilities and weaknesses, and yet manifesting within itself the presence and activity of the divine.

This fundamental pattern of divine presence within the creaturely is most universally expressed in the notion of creation: each entity is and continues to be in its integrity and autonomy because of the divine activity in it of creation and preservation. It is further expressed in the doctrine of providence: the patterns of historical change brought about by creaturely action manifest as well the activity and so the purposes of God. But this “sacramental” or “theonomous” principle reaches its strongest and clearest expression in the incarnation: the presence of God for Christian faith is paradigmatically seen in the fully human person of Jesus.

In each case the sacred or divine is present in and through the finite; in turn the finite in becoming itself is a vehicle or medium for that inward grace. For the creature to understand itself and its destiny truly as finite, and so to achieve its own true or “natural” integrity and autonomy, is so to understand itself, namely as upheld, directed, called and healed by the divine power. In this sense one can say that nature in its true being is not separated from grace.

On the contrary, each creature in its essential or natural being is a symbol of the presence of the holy, and it becomes its authentic self when the pattern of its life inwardly and outwardly reflects that created status and role. [For this reason, as the history of religions illustrates, any creature can become a vehicle for some revelation of the holy, and in turn revelation of some sort may be said to be universal in scope. Obviously much of the differences between religions stems from the vast differences in the media which are taken as essential clues to the divine that is present in all creatures.]

But this divine presence, and so the role or status of the creature as “symbol”, is hidden — hidden within the integrity of finitude itself and veiled by our alienation from the sacred source and ground of our life. In us all it must be reawakened and reappropriated by special manifestations of the sacred; as a race and as individuals we must be “twice-born” because we are separated by our common sin from our own essential natures and so from an awareness of and a life within that continuing divine presence.

It is in these particular manifestations of the sacred that the different religious traditions find their religious or theological (as opposed to their historical or cultural) roots and differentia. Here arises, then, a second sense of the word symbol, namely those special and unique media through which a particular revelation of the ultimate and the sacred, universally present but universally obscured as well, is now manifested in a particular form to a historical community, and so through which that group becomes aware of its own status as symbol (in the first sense), as existing in and through the power of the divine. In our Christian tradition, the significant “symbols” in this second sense are the history of the community of Israel and the person of Jesus.

Finally, in each tradition — and surely especially in our own  — this presence of the divine in and through special events and persons is communicated over time to the community founded upon that special presence. This communication over time is in turn achieved through “symbols” in a third sense of that word. Again finite entities have become media which point to, recall and reintroduce by representation the originating presence of the holy in the “symbols” creative of that tradition.

Such tertiary symbols are infinitely various in religion; in our tradition they are most importantly composed of communal acts and elements (sacraments) on the one hand, and spoken and reflected words on the other (kerygma, didache and the theological “symbols” which further reflection draws from them such as creation, providence, incarnation, atonement, etc.). Both (sacrament and word) are essential if our theological understanding of the divine presence is correct.

Ultimacy is present in our living and being human, in the totality of our existence, not just to our minds and consciences. This ontological presence of the holy can be brought to awareness and re-communicated to us only through media which are as we are, and which analogically also communicate our being to us: water, bread and wine. On the other hand, the presence of the holy is hidden in the finite, that is, in ourselves and in these special media. Its presence must be evoked for us by a word that penetrates through the creaturely vehicle to the transcendent that appears within it and so a word that brings that transcendent dimension to our personal awareness, whether it be the transcendent at work in an historical event, in a sacramental element, or in our own existence. [This is only one of the bases for the presence of Word as well as sacrament in Christian existence; others will appear subsequently in our discussion] Sacrament and word, ontological presence and kerygma, are essentially and yet dialectically interrelated in communicating the divine presence; this dialectical interrelation of the ontological and the personal or reflective levels will deepen as we proceed.

In turn our awareness of and response to the presence of the sacred — which is the heart of the problem of worship as response to the holy — combines these three senses of the word symbol. All Christian worship points to and finds its centre in the events or “symbols” originative of that tradition, to the Word in prophecy and the Word made flesh.

Correspondingly the role of the tertiary symbols is to accomplish that pointing and centering, the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist with all of their manifold symbolic power re-presenting to us and in us these originating events, and the kerygma or proclamation opening up to us the transcendent meaning of those events and so calling us to decision and commitment in relation to them. The classical forms of Christian worship, Catholic and Protestant, have emphasized — and often over-emphasized to the exclusion of the other — one or the other of these two forms of tertiary symbol. Certainly a more inclusive reinterpretation of both media is essential to the renewal of each of these two forms of Christian communion.

I suspect, however, that the present weakness of both classical forms of Christian worship lies not so much in this overemphasis as in their common indifference to the first meaning of “symbol” as we delineated it, namely that the divine works in and on us as creatures too, and that awareness of this our role as “symbols” — in our being, our meanings, our decisions and our hopes — lies at the heart of any experience of the holy that is to be relevant to and effective in us.

Put in terms of the history of ecclesiology, this may be called a plea for a renewed “spiritualist” principle in worship in which the relation in awareness of worshipper to God is primary; or in terms of contemporary philosophy, a plea for an “existential” relation on our part to sacrament and word alike. In terms of our previous theological discussion here and elsewhere, our argument is that unless the symbols of our tradition in word and sacrament are brought into relation to the ultimacy that permeates our ordinary life — unless traditional symbols reawaken in us our role as symbols of the divine activity — there is no experience of the holy.

Sacramental and kerygmatic symbols remain meaningless and ineffective unless they communicate the holy to us, and that means unless they bring to our awareness the presence of the holy throughout the total character of our own existence. Thus in a secular age when ordinary life is separated in its self-understanding from its own transcendent ground, sacramental symbols unrelated to the transcendent dimension of our own existence in life become magical or merely traditional, and kerygmatic symbols change into empty theologisms or anachronistic signs of our moral and intellectual autonomy. The worship that responds to the Christian presentation of the holy in word and sacrament must be so related to lived experience that these traditional symbols communicate to us an awareness of our own essential relation to the holy.

In order to be alive, religious symbols must provide shape and thematization to the patterns of ordinary life; correspondingly, natural, “secular” life must receive its fundamental forms from these symbols if it is to achieve its own essential goodness. God is already there in our existence as its ultimate ground and its ultimate goal. The role of sacrament and word alike is not so much to create or insert that presence into nature but to bring that prior relation forth in awareness and to give it the shape, power and form of Jesus Christ. The clue to renewed worship, as of a renewed Christian existence and theology, in so far as by reflection we can take hold of these matters, is to reappropriate through the forms of Christian symbolism the presence of the holy in the totality of ordinary existence.

Let’s make that the topic for our next post.


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.


Liturgy and Spirituality by Fr. Gabriel Braso O.S.B.

November 7, 2011


Crucifixion, Michelangelo, The British Museum

What We Mean By Spirituality
The word “spirituality” has attained widespread use. Spirituality is treated of in specialized books and dictionaries. There have come to be “centers of spirituality” which celebrate congresses and “weeks” of spirituality. Speakers and writers treat of the spirituality of the laity, of married couples, of the working class. We may even find one or another article published on the spirituality of communism or of lamaist Buddhism.

As a consequence, the meaning of the term keeps becoming more ambiguous. For some it is equivalent to the life of Christian perfection, while others use it to designate the entirety of the activities of the human spirit. Some express by it a natural tendency to mysticism; for others it is synonymous with spiritual life. Others again indicate by the term “spirituality” the part of theology which some call ascetical and mystical. The followers of the existentialist philosophy or of the new theology use it to describe that indefinable “spiritual climate” in which our interior activity takes place.

For us, spirituality is the particular way of conceiving and of realizing the ideal of the Christian life.

Let us station ourselves, therefore, within the practice of the Christian life, which, though it is essentially one, can take on different modalities and show many aspects. In each individual, these modalities and aspects may vary according to his own state of life and his condition and according to the circumstances in which his life goes forward; but they have their origin principally in the different ways of considering and appreciating the Christian life itself.

Any concrete program of life, if it is to be called Christian, must tend to a single ideal: union With God through Jesus Christ our Lord .For the term of perfection of the Christian’s whole vital activity is one: God, the object of our beatitude. And the road which leads us to Him is also one: incorporation in Jesus Christ and the participation and imitation of His mystery in our life.

But the practical realization of this ideal must take the personal and subjective element into account. Every Christian, with grace acting upon him, must apply his own internal activity to the attainment of the supernatural ideal, ordering that activity toward the object of his perfection. Otherwise we could not speak of real life. Each one must have in view the object which will bestow that perfection, must let it make its mark on him, and must himself tread the path that leads to it.

And in this consists the diversity of kinds of sanctity. Herein is the reason for the various ways of conceiving and realizing the ideal of the Christian life.

The most profound differences in spirituality are of an intellectual order. Everyone will seek to realize the concept of Christian life which he forms for himself. And since the first principle and the last end of the Christian life is God, the orientation of any spirituality will depend primarily on the idea of God which each person has formed for himself.

For God in His essential simplicity can be considered by our limited intellect from an infinite number of facets or aspects. Any one of them may stand out from the rest, shining with a more intense light and appearing especially attractive to the soul. This is a consequence of our imperfect way of knowing God. Only by analogy and by application of concepts drawn from creatures can we understand anything of the divine nature and the divine life. Thus we distinguish in God His essence and His attributes, and we consider each one of His perfections as distinct from the others, subordinating some to others, and establishing special relations between each one of them and ourselves. This is the principal source of the different shadings in theology and of the various attitudes of the soul with respect to God. Thus we can speak of a Pauline theology and a theology of St. John.

[Footnote: Let the doctrine of grace as seen and explained by the two Apostles serve as an exam ple.. St. Paul considers grace as the healing of a sick nature. He sees in it primarily the gratuitous justification in the sinner and the definitive restoration of the order which had been changed by sin: and this is brought about by the inclusion of all in Christ. He likes to emphasize the role of faith in the work of salvation, and he describes the splendors of the grace that is in us. From his theology of the mystical Body he derives the idea of our communion with Jesus Christ, Son of God (1 Corinthians 1:9).This Christ, glorious after His Resurrection, is the Head from whom flows the vital and unifying principle of all; the members (Ephesians 1:22 f.; 4:15 f.; Colossians 1:18).

St. John, on the other hand, sees grace rather is an elevation of created nature. He considers the ,grace of the Christian election as a sweet tranquil possession of the soul by the glory of the divinity. He confounds, knowingly. in a single perspective of eternal life, the two phases, grace and glory. The principle of this life is Christ in His eternal pre-existence and in His Incarnation: the life which was already in existence"with the Father" (upud Patrem) has been made manifest and has been given to us; thus the faithful are united to Christ, united to the Father, united among themselves in the unity of the Life (1 John  1:1-3).

It is evident that the fact of emphasizing one of these viewpoints, even though they support each other and complete each other, can determine in practice two different lines of spirituality.]

The differences, sometimes profound, between the great theological systems have their ultimate root in the particular point of view from which they prefer to consider God. One, more metaphysical, insists on the ontological concepts of the divine existence; the other. more inclined to psychology, underlines the principles of relationship between God and man.

According to some, of a rather intellectualist bent, God will formally satisfy our happiness by the vision of His own essence; while others, more on the affective side, locate our beatitude above all in the appeasement and the enjoyment of our will through union with God, supreme object of our love. This diversity of points of view is bound to have an influence on the particular manner of seeking God and of establishing personal relations with Him.

Something similar can be said of every one of the conclusions of speculative theology. Let us merely cite as an example the famous question of the infallibility of efficacious grace. What different directions the spiritual life takes, according to whether the Thomist doctrine or the Molinist thesis is accepted!

Aside from the method of posing and resolving the various theological questions, there are many other causes, psychological and moral in nature which determine the differences in spirituality in as much as they influence effectively the choice of means for going to God.

We can point out first of all the intellectual ability and the Whole temperament of each individual. Let us compare, for example, the spiritualities of saints as different in temperament as St. Jerome and St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi and Sr. Ignatius Loyola, St. Bruno and St. Francis de Sales.

The degree of culture also has a great deal of influence on the means that will be chosen for the Christian life. So do the kind of life, the person’s own status or condition, his experiences, the preference for some one concrete means of sanctification, the circumstances of time and place. the particular vocation which inclines one toward a certain proximate, immediate end (education of youth, practice of the works of mercy, bringing the gospel to unbelievers, apostolate to the working classes, contemplative life, etc.) ; and we might also add the environment, and, in a particular way, the formation received.

All these elements contribute to the great variety of types of sanctity found in the Church and constituent in so many spiritualities.

In a broad sense we might say that every soul has its own spirituality. But, speaking more properly, since we are treating of methods of sanctity, and a method always supposes a common way of seeing and resolving certain problems, there will be as many spiritualities as there are practical solutions of the evangelical ideal, which have had a more or less collective character in the Church.

Prescinding from [vocab: to isolate, remove, or separate, as for special consideration] very personal and accidental shades of difference, it is obvious that there are certain categories of persons who, by reason of finding themselves in similar conditions of life, must find themselves in agreement also as they carry out the Christian ideal, setting out in the same direction and availing themselves of the same means. Such will be the persons who follow the same state of life, and hence have identical duties and live under similar conditions. Thus the method of tending toward the ideal of perfection must be very different for seculars and for ecclesiastics, for persons united in matrimony and for those who have made a vow of chastity. Every state of life, every social category, even some professions, will determine objectively the bases for establishing the proper spirituality of the persons who belong to it.

Sometimes the coincidence of finding the same solutions to the problem of spiritual perfection proceeds from a cause still more extrinsic: the fact of living under the same circumstances of time and of place may give a particular spiritual orientation to the individuals of that epoch. Then we have a current of spirituality. In the course of the centuries various currents of spirituality have been forming in the Church, originating almost always in great historical events or in the various circumstances that have characterized an epoch and have notably influenced the development of its spiritual life.

Thus, for example, there were the Crusades, which brought about contact of the West with the Holy Land; the spread of the mendicant orders; the Council of Trent and the reaction against the paganizing humanism of the Renaissance. These were facts which had resounding consequences in the moral life of the Christian people, sufficient to modify its mentality and its religious practices profoundly and to give them a characteristic shape.

It may also happen that a certain way of orienting and organizing the religious life becomes crystallized within the Church and builds up an organic structure, establishing norms and principles of spiritual orientation, creating a school of spirituality and at the same time acquiring extension and continuity. Then we have a system of spirituality. These organic and organized spiritualities are the ones in which we are most interested here. As a general rule, although the fact in itself is not necessary, these systems have been diffused and perpetuated through the religious orders in which they have become incarnate and which themselves sometimes owe their origin and their existence in the Church to these systems.

The founders of the various religious orders or congregations, men of God spurred on by zeal for God’s glory and burning with love for their brethren, have translated their Christian ideal into reality in a concrete manner which corresponded to the necessities of their times and to the characteristics of their temperament and their formation, and which almost always originated in a reaction against the moral evils of their own age.

The disciples who gathered around these exceptional men inherited the teaching and the spirituality of the master, and they were very careful to preserve so great a spiritual legacy intact for transmission to posterity. Thus the spirit of the great saints has been perpetuated in the Church under the form of a spirituality which subsists and diffuses itself through the respective religious orders. The forms taken by this spirituality may be more or less faithful to its original purity; but, whether more faithful or less faithful, they favor its continuity, even though the individual or collective circumstances which gave rise to that spirituality are often substantially changed.

It can be said as a general rule that the forms of spirituality which have come down to us in this way have a unilateral, incomplete character: while they emphasize, perhaps too much, one of the aspects of the Christian life, and attribute too much importance to certain moral means of attaining perfection, they sometimes forget or detract from the value of others; so much the more if they are formed by way of reaction, which is always apt to become extremist. Since it is bound to be partial and particular in character, any spirituality is best adapted to those whose qualities and circumstances are most similar to those of the founder.

Considered in themselves, none of the spiritualities is necessary, and much less is any of the systems of spirituality necessary, for attaining Christian perfection. To succeed in becoming perfect, it is enough to observe the gospel according to the interpretation of the Church, which determines and adapts it sufficiently to the personal abilities and conditions of each individual. This is the essential thing, and suffices in itself. A system of spirituality has only the function of a tutor, supplementing the universal magisterium of the Church, to facilitate our understanding of the gospel ideal and lead us by the hand, as it were, to its effective realization. No tutor can arrogate to himself a monopoly over the Church’s spiritual teaching.

We must distinguish in every spirituality, therefore, between that which is evangelical doctrine and that which is simply a means or a pedagogical device of that system. The former is essential and indispensable for arriving at a true Christian life; the other can be taken or left alone without compromising the attainment of this ideal.

Actually if we analyze the constituent elements of the different spiritualities, we shall find that they all have a common foundation, consisting of the basic principles of Christian doctrine and the practical rules of the gospel morality. It is this common and essential basis that gives them a title to legitimacy in the pale of the Church. The rest of their constituent elements are proper to each one, making it a specific, particular spirituality.

As to doctrinal orientation, every system of spirituality, if it is to fit the essential concept of Christian life, must be first of all Theocentric, by reason of the ultimate end to which it is ordained. Next, it must be Christocentric, since in the actual economy of redemption Jesus Christ is the necessary Mediator: according to the plan pre-established and ordained by God, no one can reach the Father except through Jesus Christ. Further, by the will of Jesus Christ, His work is continued and applied to individuals within the Church by means of the sacraments; hence every authentic spirituality will have to be ecclesiastical and sacramental. All these characteristics of a doctrinal nature, which correspond objectively to the essence of the religion established by Jesus Christ, are essential and must therefore be found in every spirituality, since it is precisely these notes which constitute the concept of Christian life.

As to the concrete, individual practice of the Christian life, every spirituality will have to make use of certain elements which are the indispensable moral means for attaining the ideal of Christian perfection. These means — often subjective in as much as they suppose an individual activity aimed at perfecting the individual himself — are derived in part from the generic concept of moral perfection, in part from the gospel teaching, and in part from the present condition of human nature.

First of all, every form of Christian perfection must be based on the commandments; they also are essential, and they are summed up in the precept of charity: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole strength, with your whole mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Our individual powers will make their contribution through the practice of the virtues, and will be directed thereto in harmony with the spirit of the evangelical counsels, and also with their practice when the concern is with religious perfection. All these moral elements should inspire in the soul a twofold attitude of penance and prayer: penance to free us from the obstacles placed in the way of our sanctification, and prayer to unite us positively to God.

Besides these doctrinal and moral elements, common to all forms of Christian perfection, the individual spiritualities contain other characteristic elements. These are the accidental elements, that is, the concrete forms under which all these moral means of perfection can be put into practice and these doctrinal points can be exemplified. Such would be, for example, one or another exercise of mortification or of devotion, the practice of certain works of mercy, the use of specified methods of prayer, some concrete ways of expressing love for Christ or devotion for the Church.

In each spirituality this complexus of elements is combined in a different way. It is easy to see the variety of accidental forms which distinguish the various spiritualities; for each one has its methods, its practices, its favorite exercises. But even the doctrinal points themselves and the moral means, common to all spiritualities, are considered in each one of them under a special light, from a particular viewpoint, which brings out more prominently certain theological truths and certain aspects of perfection.

In order to specify the characteristics of a spirituality, therefore, we must evaluate and combine the various elements — common doctrinal and moral elements, and accidental elements — according to their value and their practical importance in that particular method of perfection. The resulting picture will be the characteristic physiognomy of that spirituality.

The differences among the various spiritualities do not depend on the elements employed, since these are the same in any system approved by the Church, but rather on the relative value attached to these elements and the ,way in which they are used to reach the ideal of Christian perfection.

The spirit of proselytism which is often noted in religious orders and congregations consists precisely in bringing about the spread of the religious concepts and the means of perfection which constitute their spirituality. Convinced of the goodness and efficacy of their spiritual orientation and of the means of sanctification which are proper to them, they strive to inculcate them in others. This is an impulse of zeal and of charity: to procure the spiritual good of others, according to the natural principle that “the good is diffusive of itself.” On the other hand, there corresponds to the spread of its spirituality a growth of that order and of its spiritual influence in the Church, and this is a legitimate instinct of self-preservation and self-extension.

For the practical acceptance of a spirituality creates bonds of affinity with the order or congregation that embodies it, which affinity may develop into a real spiritual brotherhood. Such is the origin of many confraternities and congregations and especially of the third orders.

This moral kinship attains its maximum degree among the members of the same order, and finds its reason for being, precisely, in the practice of one and the same spirituality, which makes them children of the same father and confers on them the same spiritual temperament. Juridically, a religious belongs to his order from the moment he validly pronounces his vows. But this is not enough. In point of fact, he will be vitally incorporated into it only when he has accepted and assimilated the spirit proper to that order, its own particular spirituality. A religious who belonged canonically to an order and inwardly adhered to another spirituality would come to be like a guest and a stranger among his brethren.

Like every organized form of life, the systems of spirituality, with their efforts at conquest and their tendency to spread, invigorate and develop in the Church the most select nuclei of Christian life. But they also carry with them a danger: that of degenerating into a spirit based on subjective or particularist points of view and the more prominent are the accidental elements in it.

If this pitfall is avoided, the organic systems of spirituality put the perfection of the Christian life within reach of all the faithful, according to each one’s possibilities. They facilitate the acquisition of a spiritual personality in the Church, so that the Church increases its variety and its beauty. And they realize more concretely the various aspects of the holiness of Jesus Christ.


Reading Selections from Liturgy and Spirituality by Jesus Castellano Cervera, O.C.D

November 4, 2011

Resurrection, c. 1455, Dieric Bouts, Flemish, c.1420-1475

The Relationship Between Liturgy And Spirituality
The relationship between liturgy and spirituality has been at the center of attention of the liturgical renewal and is still the object of studies and research by liturgists. Both terms refer to indissociable realities of the life of the faithful and the ecclesial community. One cannot think in a consistent manner about a liturgy that does not express and nourish Christian spirituality. One cannot talk about a true Christian spirituality that does not find in the liturgy as celebrated and lived its source, its summit, its school.

At the level of language and meanings, the terminology that is used is fluid. The pairing can-be expressed by the terms “liturgy and spirituality” or “liturgy and spiritual life.” In both cases the liturgy is understood as the celebration of the Christian mystery; spirituality or spiritual life means the lived Christian experience in the richness of its manifold aspects. One can also talk about “liturgical spirituality” in the sense of a spiritual experience that in its doctrinal and vital principles and in its style is inspired, nourished, modeled, and expressed starting with the liturgy. These distinctions show that the terminology is fluid and that precision and clarity are necessary for correct theological formulation. In the same way, it is evident that the two realities are close, provided they are understood in the light of the theology of liturgical and spiritual worship in the New Testament.

The Rediscovered Harmony Between Liturgy And Spirituality
The importance of the theme and the desire to reach a fruitful theoretical and practical relationship has deep historical roots in the so-called dissociation between theology and holiness, between liturgy and popular piety, and consequently between liturgy and spirituality; or in the distinction, somewhat imprecise in fact, between objective and subjective piety, with the former understood as piety and spirituality rooted in the ecclesial and objective sources of Christian life – Word and sacrament — and the latter as based on more individual and subjective expressions such as personal prayer, contemplation, ascesis, mystical life. In reality, Christian spirituality cannot help but sink roots into the mystery of salvation and cannot prescind [vocab: To separate or divide in thought; consider individually. v.intr. To withdraw one's attention.] from personal response nor, consequently, from subjective involvement, beginning with theological life.

It is not a matter of restating here the long history of the relations between liturgy and spirituality, which in this century has engendered an abundant bibliography. This has involved particularly the beginnings and the period of liturgical renewal up to the threshold of Vatican II and beyond. Today the rediscovered harmony between these two realities, the topicality of the theme, and the desire to orient their relationship in a positive manner is highlighted, for example, by the presence of courses on liturgy and spirituality, and on liturgical spirituality, both in specialized institutes of liturgy and in institutes of spiritual theology.

Attempts at unitary schemes are found as well in diverse dictionaries of liturgy, where significant room is given to the term “liturgical spirituality,” and in dictionaries of spirituality, where the term “liturgy” is given prominence. The integration still remains problematical in the realm of treatises and in manuals both of liturgy and of spiritual theology, where a synthesis is hard to achieve when it is not a matter of a real absence of a theme, as if liturgy had nothing relevant to say to spirituality or spirituality to liturgy.’

And yet the relation between the two perspectives is logical and necessary. The liturgy draws the attention of spirituality because it is its source on the levels of theological science and life experience. Spirituality emphasizes the need for celebration and for assimilation of the mystery celebrated, guided, and animated by the theological virtues, performed with a contemplation that steers us toward holiness and Christian mysticism.

Moreover, the liturgy requires a spirituality, a celebration that can be called “mystagogical” in the full sense and that extends into daily living and our different vocations, with concerns for evangelical life, witness, and mission.

A Convergence
To illustrate the relation of the liturgy with some themes that spirituality has favored as its own:

      1. personal prayer,
      2. contemplation,
      3. mystical life,
      4. ascesis,
      5. involvement in the world,
      6. apostolate,
      7. mission,
      8. piety,
      9. and popular religiosity.

The same holds for consistently illustrating the necessary spiritual dimension of some sectors of the liturgy:

      1. sacraments,
      2. Eucharistic celebration,
      3. Liturgy of the Hours.

All this can converge in the exposition of the legitimacy, notion, and characteristics of liturgical spirituality.

Liturgy And Spirituality: Theological Illumination
These concepts and relationships need to be synthetically clarified from the theological point of view. The liturgy was defined by Paul VI at the very time of the approval of the liturgical constitution Sacrosanctum concilium as the “first school of our spiritual life”; moreover, it is “the first and most necessary source of the Christian spirit” (Sacrosanctum concilium 14). The term “school” expresses the didactic and pedagogical character of the liturgy in its content and in its celebration: the Word of God, prayers, liturgical texts, rites and gestures, its symbolic universe, the richness of the sacraments and of the liturgical year.

Through the liturgy the Church carries out daily a rich spiritual pedagogy of contents and attitudes. The expression “source” indicates the mystagogical [relating to the sacred mysteries or seven sacraments] character, the initiation into the mystery, the communion with the mysteries of salvation made present in the liturgy. In this sense the liturgy is the source and summit of Christian spirituality as sacramental experience.

With regard to the concept of liturgy and its demands, presupposing adequate specific treatment, here a reference will suffice to the theological precision achieved by the description of the liturgy in Sacrosanctum concilium 7 with the needed thorough Trinitarian and anthropological grounding of the post-conciliar documents and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). This notion places the accent on the sanctifying and cultic dimension of the priesthood of Christ and on intimate union with the Church; it indicates clearly the need for an acceptance of the divine life and for an adequate response in liturgical participation and in the existential worship of life; it postulates a “spirituality,” a strong theological, personal, and communitarian dimension.

Spirituality accentuates the intrinsic necessity of full participation, which welcomes and celebrates the mystery in faith, hope, and love in an experience that is called to grow and mature because it is connatural with the liturgy and with the life that follows it, the dynamism of holiness, the configuration to Christ. The wide range of Catechism Of The Catholic Church  in this regard is exemplary. It has continued broadly with the true meaning and the definition of the liturgy (cf. no. 1070) and has filled out the theology of Sacrosanctum concilium with a better formulation of the Trinitarian sense: it provides needed space to the figure and the action of the Father (nos. 1077-83); it mentions the presence and action of Christ which culminates in the paschal mystery (nos. 1084-90); and it develops a splendid theology of the action of the Holy Spirit (nos. 1091-109).

Christian spirituality, in its most genuine sense, must be understood as “life in Christ” and “life in the Holy Spirit.” It is existence rooted in the sacramental communion with the Lord, with his word, his life, his mysteries; thus it expresses what we call “holiness,” both in its fulfillment and in its search and partial realization in the universal call to all and in individual vocations (cf. Lumen Gentium 40-42). This is the strongest sense of the Christocentric vision of the life of the faithful according to Pauline and Johannine theology. It is life according to the Spirit, actuated and supported by the action of the Spirit of Christ, poured into us by means of the sacraments. Thus we come to the realization of God’s design: Christians become true children of the Father, guided by the Spirit, gathered by the Church, present in the world. The richness of the Gospel and of the Spirit’s action enables talk about a Christian spirituality and about various aspects of Christian life, which, in the measure that they are authentic and comprehensive syntheses of the Gospel’s fundamental wealth, are also designated by the term “spirituality.”

The liturgical celebration, in the perspective of salvation history, marks and shapes Christian spirituality with some original characteristics: the Trinitarian sense and the fullness (of the aspects of the economy of salvation expressed by the Word of God and by the sacraments with all the concrete demands of life and witness. It also indicates the dynamic and progressive sense of holiness, the path of perfection for people’s maturity and the growth of the reign of God. It emphasizes the paschal character of Christian holiness, namely the configuration to the mystery of Christ dead and risen, expressed initially in baptismal symbolism as a continual dying and rising. Moreover, it requires the full ecclesial nature of the spiritual life, an essential note of Christian holiness: communitarian spirituality, insertion into the ecclesial body, apostolic and missionary orientation, and full participation in the historical and cultural reality of the Church.

Nonetheless, the liturgy is set in the normal context of Christian life as a point of insertion into salvation history, a continual celebration of the mystery of Christ and the Spirit, a path that accompanies the everyday experience of the faithful from baptism until the final moment of the paschal passage from death to life.

The Spiritual Life And The Sacraments
The spiritual life is marked by the sacraments of Christian initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. Therefore, spirituality in its various expressions, in the supreme demands of contemplation, of virginity, of martyrdom, of charity, is essentially the spirituality of baptism and confirmation, a sharing in the mystery of Easter and Pentecost; a spirituality that the Eucharist confirms, nourishes, and ripens, bringing it to fulfillment, and that the other sacraments and rites (orders, matrimony, and virginal, monastic, and religious consecration) determine. Baptism characterizes Christian life:
insofar as it is the source and initial cause, to live in the power of baptism; as the essential content of grace, to act according to its potential with the threefold office of priest, prophet, and king. As a model of Christian living it calls for a continual dynamism of dying and rising, renewed and enriched by the celebration of the Eucharist and prayer in the framework of the liturgical year, according to one’s personal vocation.

Source And Summit.
What the council affirms about the activities of the Church can be applied to Christian spirituality: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows” (Sacrosanctum concilium 10). The liturgy, and in a special way the celebration of the Eucharist, is the source and summit of all of the Church’s activity because it is a realization of holiness (source) and worship (summit). Indeed, “grace flows to us from the liturgy…and particularly from the Eucharist as from a wellspring. The sanctification of human beings and the glorification of God in Christ, toward which all other activities of the Church converge as toward their end, are achieved with the greatest efficacy” (Sacrosanctum concilium 10).

Indeed, every Christian life begins with baptism and confirmation, is nourished by the Eucharist, is restored by penance. The life of believers matures and grows in contact with Christ. All the other means for growing and expressing the spiritual life (ascesis, prayer, devotions, work, witness) have their source in the liturgy, especially in baptism and confirmation; by the sacramental character they establish believers in the everlasting dimensions of the royal priesthood and of spiritual worship. Outside of the liturgy special graces can be received, and an effective response should be made to the grace received; such acts make explicit the baptismal and Eucharistic grace or, in the case of a conversion, tend toward it. The faithful can have strong moments of spiritual experience outside of liturgical actions; in them their response to God reaches a true summit (in martyrdom, in contemplation; in a moment of intense prayer, of self-giving, of love for neighbor, etc.). This response proceeds from the grace of the sacraments and tends toward the cult of glorification rendered to the Father through Christ in the Spirit.

Extraliturgical Activities.
Together with the council itself we must affirm, “Spiritual life is not exhausted by participation in the liturgy alone” (Sacrosanctum concilium 10 12). Between the “source” and the “summit” there exists a broad margin of the spiritual worship of life. In this are included all of the other activities of the faithful, without which a concrete and committed spirituality would be inconceivable. Of all these activities the council mentions these in particular: the observance of the commandments, the works of charity, of piety, and of apostolate, the evangelization that precedes and follows every liturgical celebration (SC 9); the proximate and remote preparation for conscious, active, and fruitful participation in the liturgy, imbued with theological life (Sacrosanctum concilium 11); personal prayer and ascesis (Sacrosanctum concilium 12); pious exercises (Sacrosanctum concilium 13).

The liturgy is the source and summit of the spiritual life; yet it would lack something of its genuine dynamism if it were not lived with the exigencies of theological life and if it did not have a concrete influence in daily existence. The council explicitly states: “The liturgy moves the faithful, nourished by the paschal sacraments, to live in perfect union, and demands that they express in life what they have received through faith” (Sacrosanctum concilium 10). It is a demand of the dialogic dimension of salvation history to respond to God’s gift, to put it into effect in actual living. Nevertheless, the importance and centrality of the liturgy in spiritual life remains. From it every undertaking of ascesis and apostolate receives light and strength; every exercise of virtue and every work of charity tend toward it. “Indeed, apostolic work is ordered so that all who have become children of God through faith and baptism might gather in assembly, praise God in Church, take part in the sacrifice and at the table of the Lord” (ibid.).

Spiritual And Theological Dimension Of Liturgical Life
It is not enough to have a more enlightened theology and a more precise history. From the doctrinal statement that highlights the mutual interaction between liturgy and spirituality, the liturgical-pastoral exigency flows that should concretely favor the relationship of osmosis between liturgical celebration and Christian experience, always following the wise observation of an author who had already made an initial response to the problem: it is celebration that should pass into lived experience, and not vice versa.” Now, despite all the work of the liturgical renewal, while evaluating positively all the fruits coming from participation in the liturgy, we are still far from having achieved full interaction. It cannot be affirmed that on a general and popular level there exists in fact a spirituality consciously modeled on the liturgy. Perhaps because of this, in practice there is still a lack today of a strong experience of lived liturgical spirituality, and spiritual experiences abound that are too disconnected from the contents and the form of the liturgy.

Rather, one observes the need for a liturgical participation that involves the best spiritual energies. This is required by the very nature of the liturgy that, being an exercise of the priestly office c: Christ in sanctification and in worship, asks of the Church as Bride, intimately united with Christ in the liturgy, a ritual participation inspired by theological life, open to contemplation and to liturgical holiness. The liturgy postulates a spiritual participation, inward and outward, so that it might express and nourish a noble spirituality.

Thus between liturgy and spirituality there is a necessary dimension of continuity in life, a dynamism of interiorization and of growth, to be and to live in Christ, to be in total conformity with the paschal mystery. The key of this unity, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is the work of the Holy Spirit, whose action links celebration and life. The communion or synergy with the Spirit offers the possibility of a multiple dynamism of interiorization and continuity: “The desire and work of the Spirit in the heart of the Church is that we live by the life of the Risen Christ. When he finds the response of faith in us, aroused by him, true cooperation is achieved. Thanks to this, the liturgy becomes the common work of the Spirit and of the Church” (no. 1091).

Every liturgical celebration should be prepared and conducted in the dynamism of the Spirit: “The assembly should prepare itself for meeting the Lord, to be ‘people at the ready.’ This preparation of hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit and of the assembly, especially of its ministers. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart and adherence to the Father’s will. These dispositions are the condition for accepting other graces offered in the celebration itself and for the fruits of the new life that it is intended to produce thereafter” (no. 1098).

The royal road of a renewed interaction between celebration and Christian experience cannot fail to be an intensification of liturgical mystagogy in its three articulated demands:

    1. the mystagogy of initiation into the understanding and structuring of the spiritual life, beginning with the Word, the sacraments, the liturgical year;
    2. the mystagogy of participation in the celebration of the mystery and mysteries of Christ, with all of the best spiritual energies, on a path of persevering faithfulness;
    3. the mystagogy of assimilation, for perfect conformity to Christ in doing and in suffering, to the point of reliving in one’s own existence, the paschal mystery which is the fundamental baptismal and eucharistic archetype of Christian ascesis and mysticism, and this by following the rhythm of the daily, weekly, and yearly liturgy of the Church.”

Liturgical Spirituality:Notions And Characteristics
Some authors not only establish the relation between liturgy and spirituality but also center their discourse on the specific category of liturgical spirituality. The attempt is to grasp liturgy in a vital synthesis insofar as it demands a personal and communitarian mode of celebrating and living the celebrated mystery. Or else, following another perspective, it is Christian spirituality itself that is studied, ordered, and lived, according to the values, rhythms, and form of the Church’s liturgy. Nonetheless, it is good to avoid the risk of carrying on a generic discourse on liturgical spirituality, as if a Christian spirituality were possible that was not essentially liturgical, or as if liturgical spirituality were a form alongside other ecclesial spiritualities, forgetting that it is Christian and ecclesial spirituality par excellence. Indeed, it possesses characteristics that place it at the peak of all other Christian spiritualities. It is a spirituality valid for everyone, an expression of salvation in Christ; it contains all the aspects of spirituality and is objectively superior to every other one.

Some authors have sought to express in a brief definition the content of liturgical spirituality. One can be quoted as excelling in its completeness:

“Liturgical spirituality is the perfect practice (as far as possible) of Christian life by which a person, regenerated in baptism, full of the Holy Spirit received in confirmation, and participating in the celebration of the Eucharist, draws all of his or her life from these sacraments, for the purpose, within the framework of the recurrent celebrations of the liturgical year, of continual prayer  — specifically, the liturgy of the hours — and of the activities of daily life, of growing in sanctification through conformity to Christ, crucified and risen, in hope of the final eschatological fulfillment, to the praise of his glory.”

Liturgical Spirituality Is Trinitarian, Theocentric And Pneumatological
Liturgical spirituality is Trinitarian and theocentric, because it acknowledges the primacy of God’s salvific action and gratuitous initiative, and everything in the end refers to God in an attitude where praise, thanksgiving, and gratuitousness prevail.
It acknowledges the Father as source and end of every action and sets the paschal mystery in the center; it celebrates in the sacraments and especially in the Eucharist the active and real presence of Christ, who communicates his grace in its manifold richness and leads the faithful to a communion of life with him, dead and risen; in prayer and in praise it joins in his priesthood.

It is pneumatological spirituality, because in all of its aspects of sanctification and worship, in its components –Word, sacraments, signs –the Spirit of the Father and of Christ pervades the liturgy, in order to share the divine Presence with the Church and with individual believers, and fulfills in the Mystical Body the mystery of unity in one Spirit and the perfect configuration to Christ. Through Christ and in the Spirit the ultimate source and the definitive end of liturgical actions always remains the Father, whom Christ has revealed to us and whom the Spirit impels us to invoke: Abba, Father!

Liturgical Spirituality Is Ecclesial And Communitarian
It is ecclesial and communitarian; it emphasizes the communitarian aspect of the salvific plan, the union and solidarity of all in sin and salvation, the unity of the people of God present in all legitimate local assemblies throughout the earth, the necessary communion of Saints, and communion in holy things. From the spiritual viewpoint it reaffirms the need for mutual charity in Christ and the interdependence of everyone in the common growth toward holiness. Liturgical spirituality is also ecclesial, inasmuch as its expressions of worship and sanctification are regulated and established by legitimate ecclesial authorities, who watch over, with respect for the traditions and culture of distinct local churches, the purity and orthodoxy of the formulas and the forms of worship, and sanctification in the unity of the same apostolic faith.

Liturgical Spirituality Is Biblical Mystery-Based And Cyclical
With regard to its constitutive elements, it is above all biblical. The Word of God occupies an eminent place in the liturgy as an essential component of liturgical acts, inspiring the meaning of all sacraments and prayers; indeed, the liturgy is the realization of salvation history today, proclaimed by the Word, and realized in the sacraments.

It is mystery-based, insofar as the liturgical spiritual experience passes through the liturgical mysteries and signs; faith and catechesis help in perceiving the significance of liturgical symbols. In their variety they confer an inexhaustible richness of meaning to the mystery of Christ in sanctification and worship. Through them the whole person is taken up into participation in the divine life, and the cosmos itself becomes a means and expression of communion of humanity with God. It remains open to cultural adaptation and to a spirituality that is the legitimate expression of the variety of cultures.

Spirituality, inspired by the liturgy insofar as it is marked by the temporal rhythm of the Church’s celebrations, is cyclical, without remaining imprisoned in a circle but, rather in a growing line somewhat “spiral,” oriented toward definitive fulfillment. In different liturgical cycles (daily, weekly, yearly) with their own specific commemorative celebrations the faithful immerse their own existence into the mystery of Christ. Daily prayer with the sanctification and offering of time, with its culminating point in’the Eucharist, sets fleeting human time with its efforts and labor into God’s salvific time and into eternity; every week the Lord’s day renews, in feast and rest, the mystery of creation and of the new creation in the expectation of the Lord’s definitive coming. In the yearly cycle, the faithful are placed into contact with the salvific reality of the mysteries of Christ’s life and of his glorious death, to which they must conform their own lives.

Liturgical Spirituality Is Personal
Liturgical spirituality is also personal, while still communitarian. The community, indeed the liturgical assembly, is made up of living persons in whom the plan of salvation is accomplished in each person with particular gifts and missions. Liturgical spirituality is as rich as it is personal, as it is personally lived and assimilated into each one’s concrete circumstances in the Christian community with each one’s own gifts of nature and grace (character, mentality, talents, charism, involvement in the world). Thus liturgy realizes the mystery of unity in the Spirit and in the variety of the Spirit’s charisms.

By its dynamism, it is missionary: it strives to manifest the received grace to the world; after having involved the world in its intercession, the Church, which in the liturgy manifests itself as a convened community (exxX11aia), tends to become an enicpavria, a manifestation of the mystery of Christ to the world by word and deed. The enicpavria tends toward Staxovia, toward service of brethren in charity, toward missionary proclamation, toward dialogue.

Liturgical Spirituality Is Eschatological And Marian
Liturgical spirituality is eschatological: it tends toward its full realization in glory. Sanctification and worship tend toward their perfect final expression in the heavenly Jerusalem. Every liturgical celebration, although a foretaste of the ultimate realities, remains marked by hope and expectation; every encounter with Christ in the Church refers, in hope, to the definitive encounter with him and the full realization of God’s reign. The liturgy arouses and celebrates the “blessed hope”; the liturgical texts often return to this expectation, which is the partially realized promise; every celebration is a maranatha ["Our Lord, come!"] of the Church and of the cosmos, reaching in hope toward final consummation.

Finally, liturgical spirituality, in the light of Marialis cult us, is also essentially Marian. The Church, in its “Marian profile,” while celebrating the mysteries makes use of the same attitudes by which the virgin Mary associated herself with the-mystery of Christ: as virgin in listening and prayer, offering as virgin and virgin mother, model and teacher of spiritual life for all Christians, when she teaches them to make of their own lives a worship pleasing to God.


The Theological Value of Liturgical Prayer – Kevin W. Irwin

November 1, 2011

The integral vision of Christian life is experienced in the liturgy.

That modern and contemporary magisterial and canonical statements have continually referred to liturgy as the “official prayer of the church” affords a key insight that summarizes important aspects of the theological and spiritual value of liturgy. More recently, however, liturgists and sacramental theologians have sought to go beyond such formulations (sometimes because of their legalistic tone) to articulate why liturgy has such a privileged place in the Church’s life. To our way of thinking, liturgy has such a privileged role in the prayer, the theology and the living of the Christian life because of all forms of prayer it is the most anthropologically and theologically “apt.” By its nature, liturgy has an anthropological and theological “fittingness.” Liturgy is the most suitable means for human beings to pray because it respects and reflects their nature as enfleshed beings. Most particularly liturgy respects and reflects the way human beings interact and communicate.

Anthropologically, the liturgy is apt in that it uses the common means of human communication — words, gestures, symbols, etc. — as the most appropriate way for human beings to engage in prayer. This anthropological foundation of liturgy grounds its dialogical character in the sense that (as we have argued above) word, symbol, and euchology are all intrinsically dialogical realities [dialogic = of, pertaining to, or characterized by dialogue. The expression dialogical logic refers to a research tradition that can be traced back to Greek antiquity, when logic was conceived as the systematic study of dialogues in which two parties exchange arguments over a central claim. In its modern form, dialogical logic uses concepts of game theory to design dialogue games that provide a semantics for a wide range of logical systems. The modern approach, originally developed in the context of constructive mathematics and logic, has proved to be fruitful for the study, comparison and combination of various logical systems, such as paraconsistent, free, modal, and substructural logics.] requiring responses for the act of liturgy to be itself — a reality participated in by the whole liturgical community by means of the (stylized) responses intrinsic to the act of liturgy, specifically words, gestures, and symbolic interaction. It also requires a response reflected in the rest of life in terms of how the liturgy shapes the Christian’s worldview and how it shapes the conduct of one’s life.

Liturgy is anthropologically fitting in the sense that the combination of using words, symbols, gestures, and silence in a whole ritual action articulates the way human beings communicate. It is their combination and intrinsic interrelatedness that makes the liturgy central as a unique ritual means of human communication which articulates how humans engage in the act of communicating with God and how God communicates with humans through means proper to humanity. Liturgy is most fitting anthropologically in the sense that it respects and uses the normal means of human communication to commune with God. (The use of “commune” here indicates a depth of interpersonal relationship not reflected in the term “communicate.” The latter can mean passing on information; the former implies a commitment to the other. In liturgy it is a commitment to God ratified in ritual prayer.)

In addition, these essential elements of the liturgy are enacted in communal celebrations that respect and reflect the participants’ personal and communal histories and the means humans use to “tell time.” This is to assert that the rhythm of the seasons of a person’s life — birth, childhood, adulthood, vocation in life, death — provide the anthropological grounding for the key ritual moments of baptism, chrismation, Eucharist (and penance) in sacramental initiation (whether at infancy or in adulthood, since “new life” is signified and expressed at both), the expression of vocational commitment most Christians make in marriage, profession, or ordination and rites of passage in anointing of the sick and funeral rites.

In addition, the genius of the liturgical year is that liturgical celebrations are predicated on the seasons (e.g., fall and winter for eschatology, spring for new life, as argued above, admitting at the same time the limitations of this example because of their reflecting the northern hemisphere) Similarly, the delineation of time based on the sun to situate day and night is used liturgically to articulate that each day is a new beginning in grace (especially in morning prayer) and each evening ushers in sentiments of thanks for the day and hope for eternal life in God (especially in evening prayer). The delineation of seven days for a week, resting not on cosmic phenomena but on Judaism’s seven-day computation, places emphasis on Sunday as pivotal for ending one week and beginning another, hence the particular theological value of Sunday Eucharist as the explicit ratification of initiation through the Sunday Eucharistic celebration. The liturgy takes anthropology seriously in the way humans tell time and use this measuring of time to articulate how the grace, mercy and peace from God are both celebrated in time and are beyond time. They are experienced here and now and their fulfillment is yearned for in the kingdom of heaven, liturgy’s fulfillment.

Liturgy is theologically “apt” in the sense that it incorporates and articulates a range of fundamental theological elements of Christianity. Taken together these theological elements can be regarded as “most fitting” in the sense that they reflect and respect the range of theological factors that should be incorporated in Christian prayer.

  1. This is to suggest, in the first place, that since every act of liturgy is a Word Event wherein the Word of God is proclaimed and responded to, so every act of liturgy is necessarily regarded as an experience of divine revelation and of dialogue with God through the dynamic of revelation and response.

    Every act of liturgical prayer is thus theologically fitting because it rests on the fundamental characteristic of biblical religion in terms of continuing the dialogue initiated by God with the chosen people in the Scriptures, sustained with those initiated into the liturgical assembly in the present and which dialogue always looks to its fulfillment in the kingdom. Thus liturgy can be regarded as theologically appropriate in the way it gives voice to divine revelation and enables the Word of God to achieve its purpose as always inviting and involving God’s people into an ever deepening relationship with him. Parallel with this notion of the Word as theologically apt is the recollection of the fact that the blessing prayers that constitute a major portion of the liturgical complement to the Scriptures (especially in sacramental liturgy) also derive from words as a chief means of human communication.

  2. Secondly, liturgy is theologically apt in that every act of liturgy is a Church event in that it enacts the community of believers into ever deepening communion with God and one another. Any privatized notions of personal prayer cede here to the theological reality that liturgy constitutes the Church at prayer. This statement implies first and foremost that God initiates, sustains, and accomplishes every act of liturgy by enabling the Church community to be drawn into these central saving mysteries again and again. Divine initiative in salvation is concretely expressed and experienced in what God does among us still through the liturgy. The fundamental reality of God having called and as still calling a people — not individuals only — into a deep and abiding experience of divine love and salvation is ratified and signified in liturgical prayer. The biblical God of relatedness and relationship is active in liturgy to continue to call and shape a people in the divine image and likeness. God’s act of calling a people to himself is evidenced and accomplished in liturgical prayer in a unique way. Communal self-transcendence is thus a logical consequence of liturgical engagement. Liturgy is first and foremost about constituting the Church as the body of Christ on earth in the mystery of the Trinity. It is in relation to this foundation that it is a privileged means of personal sanctification.
  3. Thirdly, liturgy is also theologically fitting in the Trinitarian sense that to experience the act of liturgy is to experience the three personed God, the Trinity, ever at work for our salvation. Despite the legitimate critique often made today that Western liturgy ought to be more pneumatologically rich and specific in its euchology and in terms of the theology of liturgy derived from the lex orandi, it is the Trinity that initiates, sustains, and completes every act of liturgy. Edward Kilmartin’s assertions are helpful in this connection:  

Christ’s personal presence in the community has a medium which affords a more intensive kind of presence. This medium is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the quasi-formal cause of our filial adoption: union with the Father, and so the basis of our intimate union with Christ and with one another in Christ. Through the presence of the Spirit of Christ in the believers the actual presence of Christ in the liturgy of the church is made possible. Christ and the believers are rendered mutually present to one another through the Spirit and so communicate with one another through the word of preaching and sacraments and offer acceptable worship to God.

In our delineation of theological aptness of the liturgy, it is more appropriate to refer to the Trinity as a unity into which the Church is continually drawn, rather than separating (and thus seeming to have to choose between) liturgy’s Christological and pneumatological dimensions. The Church is encountered by and repeatedly encounters the Trinity in liturgy. It is the Trinity who shapes the Church again and again through the liturgy. It is into the very life of the Trinity that the Church is drawn through liturgy. This Trinitarian focus for liturgical prayer resists any “functionalism” in terms of describing how God is operative in liturgy. It assures the liturgical community that Father, Son, and Spirit initiate and sustain every act of liturgy. It is the Trinity’s very life that we share now through the liturgy, which we hope to share finally and fully in the kingdom of heaven.

4.  Fourthly, liturgy is also theologically apt in the sense that the soteriology expressed in its euchology is theologically balanced and focused. This is to assert that the fullness and integrity of the paschal mystery as experienced in liturgy is almost always described in ways that balance suffering, passion, death, resurrection and exaltation. (It consciously avoids any kind of “passion piety” only or prayer that isolates one aspect of the logical and theological integrity of the whole paschal mystery.) The most concrete example of this is the anamnesis prayer and memorial acclamations. This kind of balanced theological formulation is derived from the Scriptures and is always ecclesiologically focused in that it describes how the Church experiences Christ’s paschal mystery in liturgy.

Liturgical euchology serves this ecclesiological perspective by invariably referring to how what is experienced in the liturgy is from God and for our salvation. The classic couplet of Easter Preface

“dying you destroyed our death rising you restored our life”

indicates this balance in characteristically laconic Roman liturgical language. Euchological liturgical texts normatively use plural forms such as we ask this through Christ our Lord.” They also characteristically use the subjunctive, indicating how what we do liturgically is really to invite God to dwell among us again and to accomplish in us the salvation we pray for (e.g., quaesumus).

It is particularly in soteriology (but not exclusively) that the anthropological and theological aptness of the liturgy meet in the sense that the ordinary and familiar human means of interaction which Jesus used to inaugurate the kingdom are still used in liturgy — Word, gesture, symbol. They are also anthropologically apt in the ways that specific combinations of texts, gestures, and symbols draw out particular aspects of the paschal mystery in ways that reflect particular needs. Hence the anthropological fittingness that water is used for baptismal bathing and washing, which water has been blessed with prayers reflecting water’s life-giving and sanctifying properties.”

Similarly, the Eucharist is most fittingly symbolized in bread and wine (themselves the product of the cycle of dying and rising in nature) and experienced in an act of ritual dining accompanied by the proclamation of the Church’s central prayer of blessing, the Eucharistic prayer. Similar fittingness extends to the imposition of hands and the sign of peace for forgiveness and reconciliation and salving the body with blessed oil for the anointing of the sick, etc.

To our way of thinking, it is in the liturgy uniquely that a balanced soteriology meets the human’s need for God and for communion with others in God in the Church. These realities are most appropriately reflected in liturgy’s symbolic engagement and euchology. Soteriology is also the locus for merging theological and anthropological aspects of liturgy in the sense that both in the incarnation and in liturgy, the flesh is the instrument of salvation. This is to say that the Word was embodied in flesh for our salvation; the liturgy presumes the use of our bodies in ritual words and actions to deepen this salvation in and among us.

To speak of the theological fittingness of liturgy is to speak about the ways that the liturgical euchology articulates images, likenesses, metaphors, and names for God, the combination and juxtaposition of which discloses how the believing community experiences God in ever new ways but in ways that are paradigmatically described in the Scriptures and experienced through their liturgical proclamation. The way the liturgy articulates prayer to God through Christ in the Holy Spirit and shapes how we experience this same triune God can be regarded as particularly reliable in the sense that one of the criteria involved in evaluating aspects of the lex orandi has traditionally been and is its theological (and thus, in our understanding, its spiritual) orthodoxy. Liturgical euchology is orthodox in the sense that it accurately reflects Christian belief, and it is spiritually appropriate in the sense that it articulates (at least some of) the ways God acts in and among the Church (and enacts the Church) through the liturgy.

At one and the same time theologically orthodox liturgical euchology both names God and our need for God. One example of the usefulness of this kind of orthodox prayer is that it continues to underscore how God acts in liturgy “for us” and “for our salvation” (in the words of the Creed). For example, in liturgy we pray less for justice in the world than we do for the Just One to come among us to renew the kingdom he inaugurated and established, which kingdom is renewed in and through the Church as it is renewed through the liturgy. This experience of God’s justice through liturgy is what leads the Church to participate in the doing of just deeds in the contemporary world. This response is due, at least partly, to this liturgical participation.

From a slightly different perspective one needs to ask “what does the liturgy do” that makes it so important both in terms of the act of liturgical prayer and in terms of its implications for spirituality? A most appropriate response that comes from both the experience of liturgy itself and also from the tradition of systematic reflection on sacraments would assert that liturgy is an explicit enactment and experience of God that causes grace through the use of symbols themselves — significando causant. Liturgical euchology continually reiterates this notion when it asks that God accomplish something for the liturgical community here and now on the basis of his having accomplished all salvation once and for all. The intrinsic relationship of engagement in ritual actions, of articulating the nature of the ritual action through liturgical euchology and of drawing out notions of what sacraments cause requires an integrated approach to appreciating liturgy and sacraments lest one factor be deemed more important than another. The liturgy does precisely this and by doing this it unleashes God’s redemptive power here and now in new and different ways. It is precisely through the genres proper to the liturgy — blessing prayers, symbolic elements, and ritual gestures — that God acts among us and causes “the work of our redemption” to occur still and to be accomplished.

To our way of thinking the very notion of liturgical causality is anthropologically and theologically “apt” because on the one hand it avoids the danger of describing what the liturgy is and does in physicalist or realist categories, and on the other it preserves the importance of the traditional category of causality in liturgical theology. Our contemporary experience of liturgy relies and draws on the once-for-all (ephapax) unique act of salvation through Christ’s paschal mystery. The liturgy uses and capitalizes on conventional notions of time here in the sense that what occurred once in time for our salvation occurs still through the liturgy. Ephapax salvation is continually experienced here and now. Classical liturgical terminology for this is hodie and haec dies. At Christmas we acclaim hodie Christus natus est. [Today is Christ born] At Easter we acclaim haec dies quam fecit Dominus. [This is the day that the Lord made]These expressions offer the most useful theological foundation for the liturgy in that they link Christ’s past deeds of salvation with our present experience of them.

Hence the present liturgy is not harkening back to “once upon a time.” Rather it is our present experience of what has occurred in Christ, of what occurs still in Christ and of what will be fulfilled in the kingdom. The liturgy is thus both the same act of Christ’s saving power and always a new act of salvation. What we do in liturgy is to “make anamnesis, memorial of this dynamic saving power in our lives, to make it penetrate ever more into the depths of our being.” It is also at the very same time “the future present” (to use Marianne Micks’ term) through which we experience even now what is yet to come — the final revelation at the end of time when Christ will bring time to an end — which revelation is Christ himself as the eschatos. The focus is thus our present experience of salvation, which experience is articulated by euchological terminology often emphasizing this present experience of grace.

Thus, what liturgy “does” is enact the saving mysteries of Christ in the context of a believing and praying Church in an event whose elements are the most apt, anthropologically and theologically, which elements taken together comprise a ritual of prayer that has direct effects on and consequences for the Church for whom, with whom and among whom the liturgical action takes place. By the very “doing” of liturgy, the Church actualizes itself as the privileged locus where Christ’s paschal mystery is operative for humanity here and now. Through liturgy, the Church enacts a paradigm against which other forms of devotion ought to be evaluated both anthropologically and theologically.
From Context and Text: Method in Liturgical Theology



The Eucharist: The Sanctus, The Epiclesis and The Words of Institution and Consecration – Edward Sri

October 19, 2011

The Sanctus: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord”

“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

This prayer helps us to see with the eyes of the angels what is really happening in the Eucharistic liturgy. Right away, the opening words “Holy, holy, holy Lord…” take us spiritually up to heaven. They come from Isaiah 6:3, a passage in which the prophet receives a vision of the heavenly King in the divine throne room with his majesty magnificently displayed and his angelic court adoring him.

Isaiah reports that he saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple” (Is 6:1). Above the Lord, Isaiah saw the six-winged angelic seraphim, a word which means “burning ones.” This unique title suggests that these angels are so close to God that they reflect his radiance. Yet even these angelic beings stand in utter awe before the divine presence. They covered their faces, daring not to behold the full glory of God (Isaiah 6:2), and called to one another in an ecstatic hymn of praise:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of his glory.”
(Isaiah 6:3)

The three-fold repetition of the word “holy” here is the strongest form of the superlative in Hebrew. The seraphim, therefore, acclaim the Lord as the all-holy One, the one God above all other gods. And by singing “the whole earth is full of his glory,” they praise God for his splendor, which is displayed throughout creation (see Psalms 8:1; 19:1-6; 24:1-3).

This angelic hymn of praise has dramatic effects. When they sing, the foundations of the Temple shake and the room is filled with smoke. Isaiah understandably feels afraid. Recognizing his unworthiness to stand in the holy presence of God, he says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips… for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

Singing with the Angels
In the New Testament, St. John had a similar experience. He was caught up in the Spirit on the Lord’s day (Revelations 1:10) and had an ecstatic vision of the heavenly liturgy. John sees Jesus, the Son of Man, in radiant glory, and like Isaiah he responds in fear: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelations 1:17). Again, like Isaiah, John sees the six-winged angelic creatures before the throne of God who sing a similar hymn of praise: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelations 4:8). Reminiscent of Isaiah’s account of the seraphim praising God for his glory revealed in the cosmos, John reports how “the twenty-four elders” fall down before God’s throne praising him for his creation as they sing:

“Worthy art though, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for thou didst create all things,
and by thy will they existed and were created.” (Revelations 4:11)

With this background in mind, we can understand more clearly what it means for us to say at Mass: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts…” We are joining our voices with the angels and saints in heaven in their jubilant hymn of praise. And how fitting it is to do so at this very moment in the Mass! In the Eucharistic liturgy, we become like Isaiah and St. John, caught up to the heavenly liturgy. [See CCC 1139]

We are mystically entering the heavenly throne room — the same one that Isaiah saw in his earth-shaking vision that filled the Temple with smoke as the angels sang. Both the prophet and the apostle felt unworthy to behold this awesome sign, and even the seraphim felt the need to cover their faces as they flew before the glory of God. Like them, we are preparing to encounter the King of Kings, the all-holy divine Lord, who will become present on the altar. No wonder we fall to our knees in reverence after singing this hymn.

In the second half of this prayer known as the Sanctus (Latin for “holy”), we repeat words which the crowds used to greet Jesus as He processed into Jerusalem: “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Both expressions were originally in Psalm 118, a pilgrimage hymn recited on the way to the Temple for major feasts. Hosanna is a transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “Save us,” which became an expression of praise in liturgical worship. The blessing upon “he who comes in the name of the Lord” was normally invoked on the pilgrims coming to the Temple. On the day we know as Palm Sunday, the crowds used these words to welcome Jesus as the one coming in the Lord’s name — in other words, the one representing God and acting on his behalf.

It is fitting that we repeat these words at this moment in the Liturgy. Just as the crowds in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into the holy city with these words from Psalm 118, so do we welcome Jesus into our churches, for he is about to become present in the Eucharist on our altars.

The Epiclesis
We saw earlier that in the ancient Jewish table prayers, the blessing over the cup included a supplication that God send the Messiah to Israel and restore the Davidic Kingdom. Quite naturally, the early Christians included in the Eucharistic prayer a similar supplication. In a prayer known as the epiclesis (meaning “invocation upon”), the priest prays that the Father send the Holy Spirit so that the gifts of bread and wine be changed into the body and blood of Our Lord.

Like the ancient Jews who pleaded with God to send the Messiah, the priest at Mass petitions that the Messiah-King be made present once again, this time under the appearances of bread and wine: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer II); or “Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the body and blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer III).

There is a second epiclesis after the words of institution that relates to the other petition made in the ancient Jewish prayers, that of the House of David being restored. Just as many Jews expected the Messiah to unite God’s people in a restored Davidic kingdom, so we confidently hope that the Messiah who comes to us in the Eucharist will unite us more deeply together in his Church. Hence, the priest calls on the Holy Spirit, praying that the Eucharist may draw all those who receive into a greater communion: “Grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer III; emphasis added). Similarly, in other Eucharistic Prayers, the priest petitions that after receiving the one Body of Christ in the Eucharist, “we may be gathered into one” (Eucharistic Prayer III) or “gathered into one body” (Eucharistic Prayer IV).

The Words of Institution and Consecration

“Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body,
Which will be given up for you…
Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
For this is the chalice of my blood,
The blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many
For the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”

For some Catholics, these words might be too familiar. Some of us have heard these words hundreds of times since our childhood repeated at every Mass. We might be tempted to take them for granted or consider them routine.

But what if we had never heard these words before? What if we were Peter, James, or one of the other apostles present at the Last Supper? What would these words have meant to us?

In order to understand the full meaning of these sacred words, it is important to hear them against the background of the Passover. The gospels that recount the institution narrative tell us that the Last Supper took place in the context of the Passover meal — the annual feast that celebrated the foundational night in Israel’s history when God liberated them from Egypt (Matthew 26:19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13). On that first Passover, God instructed the people to sacrifice an unblemished lamb, eat of the lamb, and mark their doorposts with the blood of the lamb. The families who participated in this ritual were spared when the firstborn sons in Egypt were struck down in the tenth plague. Year after year, subsequent Israelites re-told the story of that first Passover and re-enacted it, eating a sacrificial lamb once again.

Most significantly, the Israelites celebrated the annual Passover (see Ex 12:14) as a liturgical “memorial” (anamnesis in Greek). For the ancient Jews, this involved much more than remembering a past event. A memorial such as Passover was very different from modern holidays such as the Fourth of July, on which Americans simply call to mind the founding of their country. In a biblical “memorial,” the past was not merely recalled; it was re-lived. The past event was mystically made present to those celebrating the feast. This is why Jews in Jesus’ day believed that when they celebrated this feast, the first Passover was made present to them as a “memorial.” In fact, when later Jewish rabbis wrote about the Passover, they said that when a Jew celebrates the feast, it was as if he himself were walking out of Egypt with his great ancestors from the Exodus generation. [Pesahim, 10.5] The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a similar point:

In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them.
[CCC 1363]

In this way, the first Passover event was extended in time so that each new generation could participate spiritually in this foundational event of their liberation from servitude. The annual Passover feast thus forged solidarity throughout the generations. All Israelites participated in the Passover. All were saved from slavery in Egypt. All were united in the one covenant family of God.



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