Pope Benedict XVI Speaking in the College of the Bernadines in Paris.
The Pope celebrating Mass "ad orientem".
Any theology of the liturgy of the Church must take into account the fact that the Incarnation has abolished the distance between heaven and earth. This is the significance of angels from heaven and shepherds who belong to this world, who praise God together at the stable in Bethlehem; and that is why Christians on earth join with angels in heaven in singing, “Holy, holy, holy” in the Mass Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote:
“Liturgy presupposes . . . that the heavens have been opened. .. the decisive factor, therefore, is the primacy of Christology” (133).
He goes on to say:
The liturgy derives its greatness from what it is, not from what we make of it. Our participation is, of course, necessary, but as a means of inserting ourselves humbly into the spirit of the liturgy, and of serving Him Who is the true subject of the liturgy: Jesus Christ. The liturgy is not an expression of the consciousness of a community which moreover is diffuse and changing. It is revelation received in faith and prayer, and its measure is consequently the faith of the Church, in which revelation is received.”
The Holy Spirit activates the memory (anamnesis) of the Church, putting it in touch with its roots in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, both as a historical event and, by coming down on each celebration as a response to the invocation (epiclesis), as the eternal mystery in the liturgy of heaven. As each liturgical celebration of whatever kind, but most especially the Eucharist, is a participation in the liturgy of heaven, there is an organic unity between all celebrations of all times and places, brought about by the Holy Spirit who links all celebrations with eternity. We do not escape time by means of the liturgy: rather, time is filled with eternity and receives from this contact a new importance and meaning. In other words, time is redeemed.
The Liturgy has been formed by the synergy (harmony of operations or activities) between the Holy Spirit and the Church, so that the two activities become one. Although they remain distinct, they are not separate. The divine energizes the human in such a way that the Church can do what it could never begin to do without the active presence of the Spirit. Where there is such synergy in prayer between the Holy Spirit and the Church, there you have liturgy.
The Liturgy is sacramental by its very nature, because it is the Church’s participation in the prayer of Christ in heaven through the power of the Spirit. This organic relationship between heaven and earth and between all liturgical celebrations wherever they are celebrated, throughout Christian history until the end of time, is a bond that only sin can break, and then only superficially if those who are separated are truly living a life in Christ in spite of the separation. The model is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr Corbon writes:
It is through the combination of the power of the Holy Spirit and the virginity (of Mary), that is to say the total incapacity of Mary (who is completely open to the power of the Holy Spirit) that “the Son of God was made Son of the Virgin”….The virginal mystery of her (Mary’s) being prepared her to become capable of receiving the power of the love of the Holy Spirit. In the profoundest humility of the humble servant, her incapacity that was nevertheless consenting and open made it possible for God to do what is impossible for human beings to achieve. In the same way, the Church, of which we are all members, is essentially virgin by vocation. As St Clement of Alexandria wrote, “There is only one virgin mother, and I like to call her ‘Church’.” The fecundity of the Church’s mission depends on this condition. Only because it is virgin, like Mary, it is Spouse and Mother. Every time that the Church puts its trust in the powers of this world, in power, wealth and appearances, it prostitutes itself and becomes sterile. This gift of ecclesial virginity ceaselessly calls us to the fight, to conversion, to the fervour of the first Christians.
Jean Corbon OP : Liturgia y Oracion, Ediciones Cristiandad, 2004, pg 99,
The same truth is taught in the accounts of the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, but in this case it is the synergy between the Holy Spirit and humanity in the prayer of Jesus.. Jesus set the apostles a task to feed five thousand men beside women and children; and the only food they had was five loaves and two fishes, clearly an impossible task. Jesus does not turn stones into bread, as the devil tried to tempt him to do. He asked the apostles to give their limited resources to him, resources that were totally inadequate, humanly speaking. He prayed, blessed and broke; and what had been a resource too limited to achieve the task he had given them, now became more than adequate, with twelve baskets of food to spare.
You find the same truth in the Eucharist. We are approaching the presence of the Father and need a sacrifice to bring this about. On Christ’s instructions, we put at his disposal bread and wine, as totally incapable of achieving this object as the five loaves and two fishes were capable of feeding more than five thousand. Only Christ’s own sacrifice can fulfil this function; but, we have handed this bread and wine to Christ. At the prayer of Jesus, the Father sends the Holy Spirit to transform this bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and we have our sacrifice, because the blood of Christ pleads far better than did the blood of Abel. What was said by Gabriel to the Virgin is just as true in every Mass. To our query, “How can this be, because we only have bread and wine?” the reply comes, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and will hover over your altar as he did over the primeval chaos at creation and over the womb of the Blessed Virgin; and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and the bread and wine will become the body and blood of Jesus; so you will be called ‘body of Christ’ because you will be flesh of Christ’s flesh and bones of his bones, and you shall be one with him in his offering to the Father, both as priest and as victim, one with him in the sanctuary of his Father in heaven. For this reason the celebration of the Mass on earth becomes, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a participation in the heavenly liturgy in which the angels and the saints share in the joy of the Father who receives his beloved Son who has entered his presence through death and resurrection, accompanied by all who have been saved by his cross from the beginning to the very end of time.”
If we don’t make available bread and wine, there is no Mass. If the Spirit does not transform the bread and wine, there is no Mass. Both are essential aspects of the Eucharist, human incapacity handed over to God so that it works in synergy with the Holy Spirit to accomplish what is impossible for human beings to bring about by themselves... The Mass is the result of the synergy between the free action of th Church in providing the bread and wine in obedience to what Jesus taught, and the free transforming action of the Spirit which makes the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ, this synergy meaning that it is a divine-human act, and thus an act of Christ himself. The same principle is at work in the Incarnation, in the multiplication of bread and fish, in the liturgy and especially in the Mass, and in the whole Christian life where mere mortals live as sons and daughters of God by participating in the infinite life of God...
Some who were involved in the reform of the liturgy after Second Vatican Council wanted to reduce the offertory to merely placing the bread and wine on the altar. This would have made the Latin Rite unique among Catholic liturgies, because all the other rites reserve some of their most beautiful prayers and hymns for the offertory, usually expressing awe at the manifestation of God that is about to take place.
When this necessary synergy between the Church and the Spirit and the absolute dependence of the Church on the Spirit are forgotten, superstition sets in. Priests can consecrate bakeries full of bread or crates of champagne out of sheer malice. They have a “power” to consecrate which has become separated from the Church’s liturgy, and even from the Church. Or the opposite can happen: the functions of the Church can shrink to what is possible for human beings to do without the Holy Spirit, as in many liberal interpretations of the Eucharist and other sacraments, which are interpreted in terms that people without faith can understand and accept.. An example of this kind of thinking is found in Jesus and the Eucharist by the late Tad W. Guzie S.J.who wrote:
I can sit around a table with my family (…) and celebrate a Christian eucharist. I can sit around the same table, with the same people, and pass a cup of wine in memory of my dead grandfather. Assuming that the cup had always been a family ritual at Sunday dinner, and assuming that my grandfather was the old-time patriarchal sort of grandfather who might have said, “Whenever you pass the cup in future meals you will do it in memory of me,” this action would be symbolically identical to the Eucharistic action.
Such an explanation of the Eucharist could be accepted by anyone, whether Christian or not. It is a Eucharist without the Christian Mystery, a sub-Christian explanation in which the Holy Spirit plays no part: it has very little to do with Catholic teaching.
This total dependence of the Church on the Holy Spirit is expressed in the epiclesis or “invocation” to the Father to send the Holy Spirit. This is what Fr Jean Corbon writes about the epiclesis:
An “epiclesis” is an appeal to the Father to send the Holy Spirit on what we are offering to him so that this Spirit may change the offering into the reality of the body of Christ. The word “epiclesis” expresses the emptiness that is set before God; it cannot express the fullness that is given to us. It expresses the groan of appeal, not the silent love that answers it.
The validity of all sacraments depends absolutely on God the Father’s positive answer to the Church’s petition for the Spirit, even when there is no explicit invocation. The fact that the Father’s positive response is guaranteed by his fidelity to his own promise does not in any way modify this absolute dependence of the Church on that response, and cannot be replaced by “priestly powers” that are totally independent of the liturgy and can even function quite independently of God’s will..
The synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church makes the liturgy a divine – human reality, an extension into our time of the prayer of Christ, and a participation by the Church in the liturgy of heaven where Christ is continually interceding for us. Thus, all liturgy is sacramental. On the one hand, it is passed down from one generation to the next and is a product of ordinary human history. On the other hand, it is always, by its very nature, a participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity. It is the stuff from which Tradition is made. The texts are sacred texts impregnated with the power of the Spirit, even when they are not quotations from Scripture.. The liturgy is the supreme expression of orthodoxy, which is, at one of the same time, true belief and true glory offered to God, truth reflected in authentic worship, being a participation in the worship of the Father offered by Christ himself. What Archbishop Zizioulas writes about Christian truth in general is also a constant characteristic of Christian liturgy:
Within history thus pictured, truth does not come to us solely by way of delegation (Christ – the Apostles – the bishops, in a linear development)’ It comes as a pentecostal event which takes linear history up into a charismatic present-moment.
.All this happens only because there is a continuous flow of God’s love from heaven to earth, the direct result of the Church sharing in Christ’s body which has been transfigured by the Holy Spirit at the resurrection and has become the source of the same Spirit for us, working through word and sacrament within the context of the liturgy.. The Book of Revelation puts it like this:
Then the angel showed me the river of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with ts twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will in it, and his servants will worship him: they will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 22, 1-5)
The Source of this flow of love is the Father; but he does everything through Christ the Word and in the Holy Spirit. As St Cyril of Alexandria wrote:
Our renewal is the work of the whole Trinity. Even though it appears that we attribute sometimes to each one of the persons something that happens to us or something else done in relation to creatures, nevertheless, we believe is done by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
Yves Congar adds in commentary:
This coming of the divinity to mankind makes possible the return of mankind in the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. But, both in the coming and in the return, they work according to the order and character of each hypostesis. (El Espiritu Santo, por Yves Congar, Editorial Herder, Barcelona 1983. pg198)
The Divine Liturgy takes place within the context of this two-way flow of life from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. The Christian Mystery embraces the life and death of Jesus made effective in the present through the memory of the Church (anamnesis) by the power of the Holy Spirit. It also embraces our journey, and that of the whole universe, into the presence of the Father through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ which is the basic epiclesis that sends the Spirit on the Church. This makes the Church Pentecostal by nature. Both God’s revelation through the anamnesis of the Church, and our ascension into the presence of the Father, made possible by the epiclesis which sends us the Holy Spirit in Christ’s name, are the work of the same Holy Spirit.
This is clear in the 3rd Eucharistic Prayer. Firstly, there is the descending action of the Blessed Trinity, the river flowing from the throne of God the Father and of the Lamb, giving abundant life to the tree of life on either side of its banks: It begins with a general statement about the nature of the river:
All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit.
Then it goes from the general to the particular. The Father is gathering together a people in every generation to make a perfect offering to him to the glory of his name. For this reason, we ask:
And, so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Later, the priest asks that the communion should achieve its object in favour of those who participate. We must remember that Christ is in heaven, and that, in the Eucharist, heaven and earth become one:
Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.
The downward flow of the river from the throne of God and of the Lamb enables us to be filled with the divine life and rise up into the presence of the Father through the veil, which is the flesh of Christ that we receive in Holy Communion. The Letter to the Hebrews puts the upward movement into the Father’s presence in this way:
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he has opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10 vv 19-22)
Again we read:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festive gathering, and to the assembly of the first born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (…) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for indeed our God is a consuming fire
All this is implied in the doxology. The Holy Spirit takes us up “through him, with him and in him”, through, with and in Christ in his total self-giving, through death, resurrection and ascension we go into the presence of the Father with Jesus to whom we are bound by the Spirit. Having been washed clean by baptism and renewed in mind, we confidently present ourselves because of the blood of Christ; and we acknowledge that all glory and honour belong to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
In this we are exercising our role as a priestly people, because, through this offering, all glory and honour honestly rendered to God by human beings, either knowingly or unknowingly, however inadequate and incapable of honouring God it may be by itself, however wrong their religion may be; even something good done by someone who denies God’s existence, is accepted by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit; because all things are possible with God. The universal outreach of the Eucharist, capable of giving value to the religious aspirations of the whole human race, meets the ‘baptism of desire’ of each non-Christian, transforming everything that can be transformed into Christ, who includes it in his sacrifice. Through the outreach of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist, Catholicism simply becomes another word for the relationship of the whole human race with God. In that sense extra ecclesia nulus salus is more a statement of the universal extent of God’s mercy through the Church, than a phrase which narrowly restricts salvation to Roman Catholics.
If this is so, true orthodoxy, the expression of objectively true faith in true worship must be seen as a service that the Catholic Church as a Eucharistic communion renders for the benefit of the whole of humankind. In order to be universally relevant Christianity must be prepared to be different
Through communion with the risen and ascended Christ, heaven and the Church on earth become one single reality. As in Bethlehem, human beings on earth and angels unite in singing God’s praises. Our hearts are purified so that we can understand with greater clarity the mysteries of God. As we have seen, John Zizioulas puts it this way: “It comes as a pentecostal event which takes linear history up into a charismatic present-moment”..
Hence the Church, like Jesus during his life on earth, lives at two levels through the power of the Holy Spirit. It lives in ordinary “horizontal” history: since the time of Christ, Christian authority and truth have been handed down by delegation within the context of Tradition, the practice and the understanding which comes from living the Gospel, which is handed down from generation to generation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. However, as we have seen, It has an eternal relationship with the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, because we share in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension through the Spirit. We live in historic time like everyone else, and we also share in a time which has become eternal. If this is true, then like Jesus when he was on earth, the Church is also in contact with heaven and with all times and places. Alexey S. Khomiakov, in his small classic on the Church, wrote:
The Church is one, notwithstanding her division, as it appears to a man who is still alive on earth. It is only in relation to man that it is possible to recognize a division of the Church into visible and invisible; her unity, in reality, is true and absolute. Those who are alive on earth, those who have finished their earthly course, … those who, like the angels, were not created for a life on earth, those in future generations who have not yet begun their earthly course, are all united together in one Church, in one and the same grace of God, for the creation of God which has not yet been manifested is manifested to Him; and God hears the prayers and knows the faith of those whom he has not yet called out of non-existence into existence. (The Church is One by Alexey Stepanovich (c. 1850) Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius, 1968.)
From this we may deduce that, while we celebrate the liturgy in a particular time and place, the local Church cannot be turned in on itself, because the minds of those taking part are directed beyond the local community to God in heaven and to the Church throughout the world and even throughout time.
All this leads us to conclude that the most charismatic texts possible in any liturgical celebration are not those that are most attractive to the participants as a a collection of individuals, but those which express God’s revelation addressed to the Church in Christ and the Church’s response, also in Christ, to that revelation. These texts are what they are because of the synergy between the Spirit and the Church. Although they are called the official texts, they are much more than that. They are Spirit-filled texts, and when we truly pray them we are praying in Spirit and in Truth.
Because of the synergy between the Church and the Spirit, the expressions of the Church’s understanding of its own faith in the texts of the liturgy are the highest expression of that faith as taught by the ordinary magisterium. They are so high that, traditionally, the extraordinary magisterium, whether pope or council, has felt no need to turn truths found in the liturgy into solemnly defined dogmas unless their interpretation had become a source of division in the Church; nor was it believed that to define them gives more honour to God than that which he receives by their celebration in the liturgy. This idea that a dogma is the highest expression of Catholic Truth arose only when the sacraments and the nature of the Church were explained in isolation from the liturgy and appreciation of liturgy had consequently weakened. The Church was seen as a perfect society, held together more by jurisdiction than by the Spirit working through its sacramental structure. The awareness of the effects of the sacraments was limited to its effects on the individual person; and the best thing they could say about the liturgy was that it is the “official” worship of the Church because, it was said, the society held together by papal jurisdiction is the body of Christ.. Obviously, if the value of the liturgy lies in its official status, then dogmas which have been solemnly proclaimed by a general council or a pope have a higher official status than liturgy which is only the product of the Church’s ordinary day-to-day life, even if it has been underwritten by papal or patriarchal authority. If, on the other hand, the ordinary sacramental life of the Church is nothing less than the river that flows from the throne of the Father and of the Lamb, and papal and conciliar definitions are a means of protecting that river from pollution, then the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church is more important than its official life, however important that official life may be.
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