March 28, 2007

The Trials and Tribulations of the Liturgy

[Click on the image to see it larger.]

Since Christ in his Eucharist gives us his Body and Blood that he sacrificed on Good Friday, I think of the tensions in our liturgical life— stretched between the hootenanny and the hallowed— as a constant reliving of the Paschal Mystery itself.

On the one hand the Passover Supper is a sacred event of ceremony, history and tradition; the Lord's Last Passover Supper gives the form, the substance and meaning of the next day's violence.

Then the Day of Sacrifice on Calvary is accompanied by the jeering howlers and the gambling soldiers. Horrendous liturgy! Only a few women, one apostle, and one criminal reverence the victim of blasphemy on his cross. Afterwards, the holy women do what they can to provide the proper dignities of burial, even returning early in the morning on the first day of the week to complete (and still failing to complete) the devout burial liturgy they never completed on Good Friday.

The glorious mystery of the Risen One breaks through all the lack of completion. The Church finds itself wanting rightly and sincerely to grasp the feet of the Glorious One, but he has a "further" glory to ascend to, and he sends the Church off with a "Noli me tangere"— but also a celebrative proclamation of Glory, "I have seen the Lord".

The Church then runs to the empty tomb, but it is empty of the Glory. The Glorious One appears again in a Liturgy of the Word on the road to Emmaus, and he initiates a Liturgy of the Food at table in Emmaus. Glory recognized immediately becomes Glory vanished.

Finally, in the evening of that first day of the week, Glory appears again— in the upper room— in the Birthchamber of the Eucharist— appears to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church— and gives his Liturgy of the Word, "Peace be with you. It is I. Do not be afraid." Then his Liturgy of the Body and Blood: "See, a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do. Do you have anything to eat?" What is his intention? "Receive the Holy Spirit!"

Just when we have a chance to grasp the Resurrection Glory in Person, he vanishes from the first Eucharistic Sanctuary of the Church.

Forty days later, the Ascended One has now left us to our liturgical efforts. The angels ask, "Why do you stand looking up to heaven?" Because we're waiting for Jesus to come again in the same way.

Liturgical glory is right and just. We need it. We owe it to God if we're going to put our money where our mouths are— as well as put money out for the mouths of the poor. "You shall love the Lord your God with your all...." The second greatest commandment is like to the first. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Rightly do we spend effort on our neighbors, but God commands that effort to take second place to our effort to spend our all, all, all on God. Liturgical glory is about fulfilling the God-specified first and greatest commandment.

As for howling jeers (some contemporary music) and the gambling "Mosh Pit of Peace" at Mass: a repetition of the need to say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

We reach for glory. We suffer the passion.

- - - -

The above is a touched-up version of a comment I posted yesterday on Amy Welborn's blog.
Click HERE for it.


Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

The conversation has continued at Amy's blog.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Judaism created the ritualistic Seder sometime AFTER the Romans destroyed the Temple of God in A.D. 70.

Ritualized or not, ritualized highly or hardly ... the Passover WAS and REMAINS a joyous celebration of freedom.

As Jesus gave it to us in the Gospel and the Church hands it to us in the Mass, the Eucharist was NOT a celebrations of the Jewish Passover.

Rather, DURING the Passover meal, Jesus took bread ... and said what he said. His words about eating his body were a strange echo of the Exodus directives about eating the flesh of the Passover lamb.

THEN the Gospel and the Mass tell us that AFTER, AFTER, AFTER (NOT during) the Passover meal, Jesus took wine and said, "This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant...." With those words he echoed not the Passover but the Sinai Covenant rite recorded in the Book of Exodus.

The Sinai Covenenant rite ... THAT historical event WAS formal and frightening and deadly. Go read about it in the Book of Exodus. The people were FRIGHTENED; they told Moses, "YOU go and deal with the theophanic terror". For breaking the covenant almost immediately, God had the Levites kill 3,000 of the people; and that was still not enough for God: he then sent a plague upon the people.

In "cutting the deal" of the New and Everlasting Covenant, Jesus adds a condition to it that no other covenant ever had in it: the forgiveness of those who sin against the covenant. However, Jesus did not take away the death penalty from the covenant. Instead he received the death penalty.

Furthermore, since he offers the Eucharist to us as a COVENANT, that NECESSARILY means that he is asking us to bind ourselves to him with a life-and-death obligation of loyalty, since that IS the nature of a covenant.

By its very nature the covenant of the Eucharist demands reverence, loyalty, and solemnity. It goes past the Jewish Passover and transcends even Sinai.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Augustine said...

Father Stephanos:

Thank you for such a beautiful analysis of the liturgical situation here in the US. I want you to know that I have felt anger, frustration and suspicion at the "happy clappy" masses to which I have been exposed.

While I have tried to stop the thoughts from entering my head when I see the (incredibly well described) "Mosh Pit for Peace," but I have never succeeded.

Now, thanks to this, perhaps I can remember that, instead of worrying about the garbage of the others, I can remember the gift of grace upon the Beloved Disciple and the Holy Women. Perhaps, I can learn to be like them, at the foot of the cross, and ignore the cacaphony the surrounds this most precious gift.

God Bless you!

4:15 AM  
Anonymous Bob Farrell said...

I agree with some of the commenters on Amy's blog, your use of the word "hootenanny" is destined to be a classic.

10:36 AM  
Blogger 4HisChurch said...

I would like to echo Augustine. I have posted about your post on my blog. God bless you, Father.

3:46 PM  

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