"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday 11 August 2009

The Holy Spirit and the Liturgy

Just before the Second Vatican Council was opened, Pope John XXIII said a prayer on Vatican Radio asking God to send his Spirit on the Church, bringing about a new Pentecost. With this in mind, one of the most significant moves in the liturgical renewal of the Church after Vatican II was the composition of new Eucharistic prayers with their double epiclesis.

In reality, the liturgy exists at three levels: there is the Liturgy of Heaven, the Liturgy of the Church and the Liturgy of the Heart; and it is the Holy Spirit who is the unifying factor within each as well as the Person who unites all three in Christ as a single reality which is the Church. In heaven, the Father gives himself completely to the Son, and the Son gives himself totally to the Father; and this mutual Love of the Father for the Son and Son for the Father is the Holy Spirit, the hypostasis of Love. By his Incarnation, the Son is united to creation; and the Holy Spirit unites the angels and saints to him as one single self-offering of praise and thanksgiving to the Father. They are so united to Christ that they continually receive the gift of divine life which the Son receives from the Father so that they too are sons and daughters of the Father This eternal activity is the eternal Liturgy of heaven.

The same Holy Spirit is sent down on the Christian community, making it Christ’s body, turning its sacred texts into Christ’s word, its offerings into Christ’s body and blood, its sacraments into actions of Christ, it members – as far as they allow him – into saints. Christ is present in the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit; and this synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church is what gives the liturgy its special character and authority. We are placed in the context in which the Spirit so unites us to Christ that his self-offering becomes ours, and we receive in Christ the divine life from the Father. Hence, we are brought together so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a perfect offering may be made to the glory of the Father’s name. This activity together with the other sacraments and with the divine office which sanctifies the Christian’s day is called the Liturgy of the Church.

The Holy Spirit does not just sanctify our external actions and social relationships: the love of God is poured into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rm 5, 5). St Paul does not live, but Christ lives in him (Gal. 2, 20) He prays, “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rm 15, 13). With Christ whom we receive in communion living in us by the power of the Spirit, “when we cry, “Abba, Father”, it is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if in fact we suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him” (Rm 8, 15-17; Gal. 4,6) This activity of the Holy Spirit within us, making us one with Christ at the very centre of our being can be called liturgy of the heart. To the extent that our lives are in synergy with the Holy Spirit, our whole life becomes a prayer of repentance, intercession, praise and thanksgiving. To the same extent, we participate authentically in the liturgy of the Church which is both a reflection of, and a participation in the liturgy of heaven. We are fully participating in the Mass because we are living it, not only externally by joining in the responses and actions of the liturgy, but in the depths of our heart. Therefore we do not oppose individualistic prayer with communal prayer: one cannot do without the other, and it is the Holy Spirit who unites them by making both the prayer of Christ...

The Eucharistic prayers show us two movements of the Spirit: the movement downwards, in which the Father sends the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ and us into his body, and the upward movement of us, united to Christ, offering all honour and glory to the Father within the inner sanctuary of heaven. In the first, Christ is revealed to us as the human face of God; and, in the second, he is shown to be the acceptable face of all humanity at the very heart of the Blessed Trinity.
We shall now look at the downward movement (epiclesis) in the Mass. In the next article we shall look at the upward movement (doxology) and how the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Mass affects the Church and the world.

Let us remember one important point before we proceed. We know that the apostles and disciples became the Church at Pentecost, and we know from St Paul that, “We who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (I Cor. 10, 16-17). As the Church is essentially the body of Christ, if there is a sense in which the Eucharist makes the Church, then the Mass is our Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit is extremely active throughout, and not just at the epiclesis. The problem for us, then, is how to celebrate in such a way as to help those taking part be on the same wave-length as the Holy Spirit.

The Third Eucharistic Prayer opens with the statement that all life and holiness comes from the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit. This is the context in which the priest asks the Father to make the bread and wine holy by the power of the Spirit, so that they may become Christ’s body and blood. Later, after the words of institution, which in the Latin Rite are the moment of consecration, the priest asks that those who are nourished by Christ’s body and blood may also be filled with his Holy Spirit so that we become one body, one spirit with him.

In the early Church, receiving the Holy Spirit was especially associated with the blood of Christ. According to Leviticus, “The life of the flesh is in the blood,” (Lev.17,11), so that people did believe that, as Christ’s human life was contained in his blood, at least symbolically-, so his divine Spirit would also be in the blood. When St Paul says that we all drink of the same Spirit, I have a strong suspicion that he is talking about the chalice. Here is a passage from a very early homily inspired by Hippolytus:

We are fed with the bread from heaven, our thirst is quenched with the cup of joy, the chalice afire with the Spirit, the blood wholly warmed from on high by the Spirit.

St Ephraem also associates receiving the Holy Spirit with communion:

Fire and the Spirit are in our baptism. In the bread and the cup also are fire and the Spirit.

If the Word was made flesh and lived, died and rose again in Palestine, the Holy Spirit gave his human, naturally restricted life a direct relationship with people of all times and places. Thus Christ could bear our sufferings and sins, and those of the whole race. The Holy Spirit bridges time and place, and unites heaven and earth, without destroying the distinctions and differences. Thus, when the Church remembers the Last Supper, it is as though we were there, and Christ’s words, “This is my body … this is my blood” consecrate our own bread and wine. When the Church remembers his death, our sacrifice becomes identical with his. When the Church remembers his resurrection, we are united to Christ in heaven, share in his new life, and are brought through the veil, which is Christ’s body, into the presence of his Father as his sons and daughters (Hb 10, 19-20). The Holy Spirit also bridges the gap between us as a Eucharistic assembly and all other Christians, so that we are united to the whole Church of every place and every generation, and each Mass is an act of the whole Church in heaven and on earth. Finally, the Holy Spirit gives to each of us our role in the Church (charisma) and inwardly transforms us, little by little, into the image of the Son (sanctity). All this happens because of the Holy Spirit who comes down on the Church in the Eucharist. Moreover, without the Catholic Mass, no charismatic prayer group would be able to function, and no Protestant one either.

The Mass is the source of all the Church’s activity and the goal to which everything tends: all because of the Holy Spirit. Because of the Holy Spirit, the liturgy transcends the difference between heaven and earth, public ceremony and private prayer in the intimacy of the heart, because he is present and active at all these levels, bringing them together and uniting them in a single reality which is Christ. Because Christ identifies his prayer with ours, and we identify our prayer with his, we participate by prayer in the life of the Blessed Trinity, and our lives have a divine as well as a human dimension: we are truly sons and daughters of God.

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