Thursday, October 20, 2011

Worship as a Revelation

About two-and-a-half years ago, I bought a book entitled Worship as a Revelation: The Past, Present and Future of Catholic Liturgy. In my haste to buy the book, I assumed it was a history, as I was, at the time, majoring in history at Quincy University.

Once I started reading the book, I felt way over my head. The book is not a history, so much as it is a philosophical treatise on God's revelation to man through the Church's liturgy. This evening, as I was preparing to say Night Prayer and go to bed, I felt impelled to pick up the book and read a few pages. I read two chapters, "Liturgy as Revelation" and "Liturgy as Communion." The first chapter is the point of this blog post.

If there is one thing that the laity (and liturgiologists, such as myself) need to understand it is that the whole point of liturgy is two-fold: 1) God initiates the essential action in the liturgy; 2) man responds to God in the liturgy. To put it another way, God calls us to the liturgy to reveal Himself to us and we respond with faith, hope, and love (charity). Liturgy, therefore, is comprised of two actions, God revealing Himself to man, and man responding to God's revelation.

How does God reveal Himself in the liturgy, though? Is it not the laity and the priest that make the liturgy and perform it? Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that the Church on earth carries out the ceremony of the liturgy as it is handed-down to us by the Church who safeguards it, but it is God acting through the assembly, His Mystical Body on earth, that these ceremonies are able to be carried out.

Dr. Hemming, the author of Worship as a Revelation, notes that the liturgy is handed-down to us by the Church who safeguards the liturgy because that is how Christ handed-down to us how to worship. Therefore, the rubrics of the liturgy are there to be observed, not broken, because if the liturgical ceremony is altered, the Church cannot receive the fullness of God's revelation to man through His Church.

The liturgy is where the Church, the assembled members of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth, respond to God's call in their lives to encounter God in His revelation; this revelation is the liturgy. Praying the liturgy is not so much learning how to talk to God, but how to listen to Him. In the liturgy, then, we learn to listen for God calling to us so we may respond more fully to His revelation to us.

P.S. Here is the link to the book on Amazon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Sacrifice and Yours

For too long now many Catholics have assumed that it is the priest that is performing the actions of the Mass solely by himself and mutually exclusive of the laity. While others have assumed that the laity is the one acting while the priest is just "there." Both of these are wrong, and the Church's liturgical theology makes this quite apparent.

After the Offertory Prayers ("Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this . . . .") the prayer of the priest to the people is "Pray, my brothers and sisters, that this our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the almighty Father." In the Third Edition of the Roman Missal in English, which is being put into effect the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011, the priest will now say, "Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father." What is "my sacrifice and yours"?

In the Mass, the people AND the priest offer sacrifice back to God in heaven. Although this have been overlooked in the past 50 years of the Church, this theology is coming back into the Church's liturgy. But you may be asking, "How can the laity offer a sacrifice to God? We are not priests." Yes and no. The laity are priests by virtue of their baptisms. In 1 Peter 2:9, Saint Peter writes, "But you are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises' of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."  This idea that the people of God are a chosen priesthood is repeated through the Bible (Cf: Ex 19:6Is 61:6Rev 1:620:6).

The laity are priests and therefore can offer a sacrifice of praise back to God the Father in heaven. Jesus, as the High Priest of the New Covenant, left us an example when He did the will of His Father, to redeem of all creation and bring it back in union with God the Father in heaven. The laity offer their daily sacrifices, whether that be of praise, struggles, joys, sorrows, whatever. The laity offer themselves and their prayers, works, joys, and sufferings in union with the priest's sacrifice in the Mass.

While the laity may be priests, they are members of the Priesthood of the Baptized. The Priesthood of the  Baptized still participates in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Part of Christ's one priesthood is the ministerial priesthood. The ordained priesthood still has the duty to perform the actual sacrifice of the Mass, but it cannot be done without the help of the Priesthood of the Baptized. If you try to separate the two, you are separating Christ's essence as a priest. Christ came to call all sinners to righteousness, not some and others not.

Next time you attend Mass, listen to the words of the prayers. Many time pronouns such as "we," "us," and "ours" will be used. Reflect on this as you offer back to God the many sacrifices in your life. Offer back to God the Father the sacrifice of yourself.

The words of Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge,
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived.

Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may thrill.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.

O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit,
a humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

In your goodness, show favor to Zion:
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
holocausts offered on your altar.

Monday, October 3, 2011

How Can Man See Christ in the Eucharist?

How Can Man See Christ in the Eucharist? This may seem like a "loaded" question. The short answer is "faith." The long answer, though, requires some explanation.

The Sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Marriage, Penance, Anointing of the Sick) were instituted by Christ in a way that man is able to have an encounter with the Divine through signs and symbols which are perceptible and understandable to man. What does this mean?

In Baptism, water is no longer just water; it is a symbol of death and new life, a new life in Christ. Water's sacramental purpose is to take something that may seem ordinary for man and transform it into something that is truly mysterious. In this case, water makes one die to oneself and be born into Christ and His Church. In the Eucharist, the "source and summit of the Christian life," bread and wine are no longer merely bread and wine; they become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

But how do we see Christ in the bread and the wine. After all, it looks like simple bread and wine on the altar, it feels like bread and wine, and it tastes like bread and wine. What gives, you ask? Well, part of approaching the Sacraments is that we, as Catholics, need to understand is that we need to see with eyes of faith. If we put our faith glasses on, we will no longer see JUST bread and wine, but bread and wine that is truly the Body and Blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine.

How do we acquire faith? That's simple: Surrendering your will to God and believing in Him. (Okay, easier said than done.) But the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, is where we can be filled with grace to have faith. By partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ from the altar, we allow Jesus to become one with us, one with us in our daily struggles and He will give us the strength to proceed throughout the day. We don't just eat bread and wine to remember Jesus' Sacrifice on the Cross; we eat the Flesh and Blood of our Lord and Savior so we can be one with Him and Him us.

Though the bread and wine look like they are bread and wine, they symbolize, or make present a reality, that is the Flesh and Blood of Jesus. Saint Thomas Aquinas explains the change as Transubstantiation: The accidents of the bread and wine, their external appearance, remains, but their substance is transformed into Christ's Body and Blood with the Words of Institution ("This is my body," "This is the chalice of my blood"). Though this is a very rationalistic and Aristotelian way of explaining Transubstantiation, Platonism holds a cosmic way of looking at this most beautiful change; it is simply a mystery of God.

Next time you are at Mass, look at the bread and wine on the altar, not as twenty-first century students of science and doubt, but look at the bread and wine and see Jesus Christ's Body and Blood with the sacramental eyes looking through faith glasses.