"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

Friday, 8 May 2015


Who was Odo Casel?

Odo Casel's is hardly a household name, nor is it ever likely to be. He was, after all, a monk and spent the greater part of his monastic life as chaplain to a community of Benedictine nuns - not usually a high-road to celebrity. And yet from this obscure monk issued what Cardinal Ratzinger called "perhaps the most fruitful theological idea of our century" (ie the 20th), while for the eminent French Dominican liturgist, Pierre-Marie Gy, it was Casel who gave the strongest impulse of anyone to the sacramental theology of the 20th century, and in the view of the English Dominican, Aidan Nichols, Casel should be accounted "a giant among theologians of the Liturgy and a figure raised up by Providence to salvage from perils the worship of the Church…one of the great fathers, I would say the great father of the 20th century liturgical movement". The following article is a small attempt to salvage Dom Odo Casel from his (relative) obscurity. Three questions naturally present themselves: Who was he? What did he say? Is it true?

Johannes Casel was born at Koblenz, in the German Rhineland, on the 27 September 1886. His father was a train-driver. His religion - this was the Catholic Rhineland - was Catholic through and through. After a local primary and secondary education, he went up to Bonn in 1905 to read classics. Among the students there was a young Benedictine, Ildefons Herwegen, who persuaded Johannes to put aside his studies and enter his own Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach, St Mary of the Lake. This was originally an 11th century Benedictine monastery, suppressed in 1802 and restored by Benedictines of the Beuronese Congregation as recently as 1892.

A Benedictine vocation

In 1913 the same Ildefons Herwegen was to become abbot of Laach, to remain such until his death in 1946, and to make of the abbey one of the intellectual and liturgical centers of German Catholicism between the two world wars. Entering the monastery in the autumn of 1905, Casel himself went through the usual stages of monastic initiation, receiving the name Odo, making profession in 1907 and being ordained in 1911. A little less usually (but this is Germany!) he gained, first, a theological doctorate from the Benedictine Athenaeum of Sant' Anselmo in Rome (with a thesis on the eucharistic theology of Justin Martyr, an early sign of his passion for the Fathers of the Church) and then, returning to Bonn, a second philosophical doctorate (with a thesis that revealed his parallel interest in Classical Antiquity, and especially its Mystery Religions).

In 1921, Abbot Herwegen asked Casel to become the editor of the projected Jahrbuch fur Liturgiewissenschaft (Yearbook for Liturgical Science), which task he acquitted through 15 imposing volumes until wartime shortage of paper precluded further publication in 1941. The editorship was an immense labour in itself. The Jahrbuch is, in fact, one of the great monuments to the intellectual revival of German Catholicism between the two world wars, and it was principally in its pages that Casel - through articles and reviews - was able to articulate, defend and consolidate his own vision of Christian worship. Casel was himself a quiet man, happiest working in his cell or singing in the monastic choir. His output was to be prodigious: one bibliography counts 309 major and minor works.

The obscure life of a convent chaplain
Kloster Herstelle

And it is doubtful if this would have been possible had not Abbot Herwegen, again discerningly, sent Dom Odo in 1922 as chaplain to what was then a small convent of nuns devoted to Perpetual Adoration at Herstelle, Westphalia. There he had the leisure to study and write. There, too, he had the spiritual and intellectual stimulus of a receptive community of women, which by the time of his death was a flourishing Benedictine house of the Beuronese Congregation, living a full liturgical life, as still today.

Here Casel was to remain, praying, celebrating, preaching, editing, writing, never going to conferences, even those devoted to his own thought. And here, in an astonishingly appropriate way, he was to die. On Holy Saturday 1948, he suffered a stroke after singing the Lumen Christi. He died in the early hours of Easter Sunday, 28 March. He was 61. It is a custom among monasteries to exchange notices of brethren who have died, including usually brief biographical details. That devoted to the passing of Odo Casel was a lyrical classic of the genre:

"Having just greeted the light of Christ in a clear voice and while preparing to celebrate the paschal praeconium, our beloved Father in Christ, liturgist of the sacred mystery and mystagogue, Odo Casel, monk of Maria Laach, having accomplished his holocaust and passing over with the Lord during the holy night, entered upon the beatific vision, being himself consummated in perfection by the mysteries of Easter which he had given to initiates. Thanks be to God."

Turbulent times for the pen and the sword

Casel's claim on our attention lies in his thoughts and writings, and above all in his vision of the "Christian thing" and, more specifically, of Christian worship. But before we turn to this, a word must be said about the wider context of his life and thought. This - to repeat - was Germany, the Germany that had lost a world war, an emperor and an empire, was passing through the humiliations of the Weimar Republic and then was to be swept up into the ultimately destructive fantasy-world of National Socialism.

In one sense, Casel lived apart from all this. He was certainly not a political animal; he kept "the even tenor" of his scholarly, monastic ways. Yet he was profoundly aware of the contemporary problematic. He was also aware of so much that was deficient in contemporary Catholicism: the inadequacies of neo-scholasticism, the excessively juridical view of Church and liturgy, and the individualism of so much piety. And his own work may be regarded as parallel to many of the attempts of the time to find a way forward in the world and in the Church.

One thinks of phenomenology and its "turn to the object", of the dialectical theology of Karl Barth reaffirming divine transcendence, of the desire for community and communion with nature in the Youth Movement, and more particularly of the tenderly bourgeoning patristic and liturgical movements within Catholicism and the concomitantly growing sense of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ. In 1922, Romano Guardini wrote his famous words: "A religious process of incalculable importance has begun - the Church is coming to life in souls."

Casel - like his own monastery of Maria Laach - has a distinctive place within this spectrum, one founded on Scripture, the Fathers and the Liturgy, on a deep appreciation for the ancient world and man's natural religiosity, for the objective and traditional and transcendent. For him, as he outlined in the arresting first chapter of his Das Christliche Kultmysterium [The Mystery of Christian Worship, 1st ed. 1932], it was the "Mystery" that needed to come to life in souls. Now was the providential moment, after the collapse of rationalist individualism, for a "turning to the Mystery". We can now turn ourselves to explore what he meant by this.

What did he say?

Mystery theology or the "doctrine/teaching of the Mystery" (Mysterientheologie, Mysterienlehre) are the names given to Casel's thought in German circles. "My first insight into the doctrine of the Mystery came to me in the course of a conventual Mass", Casel himself wrote. In sources and style, it may be categorized as "neo-patristic", a Catholic cousin to much of the theologizing of Orthodox émigrés of the same period, not to mention some equally adventurous Catholic contemporaries engaged in a similar ressourcement. Casel was decidedly not in the Scholastic tradition.

Rather he was a Benedictine monk, steeped body, mind and soul, in the Roman-Benedictine liturgy. It was out of this that his vision came. The "kernel" or content of this "theology" or "doctrine" was "the new appreciation (or restoration of the traditional appreciation) of the liturgical celebration as the concrete reality in which Christ's saving action in death and resurrection becomes present to us" (B. Neunheuser). More simply, one might call it a liturgy-centered vision of Christianity. ‘Ganzheitschau’ was one of Casel's favorite words: a view of the whole. And this is certainly what he bequeathed. What follows attempts to outline his thought under seven headings

Mystery: the core idea of Christianity

What is Christianity? What is its essence? This is the first question. Dom Odo, who was ever a philologist, began by turning to the word mystery (mysterion in Greek, mysterium in Latin). Hidden here, he saw, was the heart of Christianity. For the 18th century, Christianity might appear to be no more than a system of beliefs and a code of conduct; for the 19th century (as for many at the beginning of the 21st!) it might appear above all as a spirituality, as a way of relating to the Beyond.

For St Paul, however, and for the whole New Testament as well as for the authentic tradition of the Church, Christianity is the revelation of the Mystery. And the Mystery, in the predominantly Pauline sense, "means, first of all, a deed of God's, the working-out of an eternal divine plan through an act which proceeds from His eternity, is realized in time and the world, and returns once more to Him, its goal in eternity."

This Mystery can be expressed by the one word "Christ", meaning by it the Savior's person, together with His mystical body, "the Church". It is - initially - the Incarnation; it is - centrally - the sacred Pasch, the death and resurrection of the Lord; it is - consequently - the entry of the Church, the community of the redeemed, in the wake of the sacrificed and glorified Christ and by the power of His Spirit, into the presence of the Father.

"For Paul, Peter and John, the heart of faith is not the teachings of Christ, not the deeds of his ministry, but the acts by which he saves us". And our salvation, our liberation from sin and union with God, is brought about by participation in the saving acts of Christ. This, then, is Christianity "in its full and original meaning", the "gospel of God". Not a world-view with a religious backdrop, not a theological system or a moral law, "but the mysterium in the Pauline sense, that is God's revelation to mankind through theandric acts, full of life and power" and our saving participation in these.

Three-fold nature of Mystery

More amply, he explained, "mystery" denotes three things at once. It has a theological, a Christological and a sacramental-liturgical meaning, and these three can hardly be separated. First of all, the Mystery is God Himself, the thrice-holy, dwelling in inaccessible light and simultaneously mysteriously revealing Himself to the pure and humble. We can see ancient man's sense of this primal Mystery in his temples and pyramids, in his wisdom and worship, in the natural longing for union with the divine. To Israel, of course, God revealed Himself more fully, but this proved to be by way of preparation. And so we come to the second sense of Mystery, the Pauline and Christological. "Christ is the mysterium in person. He reveals the invisible God in the flesh". And His deeds are "mysteries" too.

"The deeds of His self-abasement, and above all His sacrificial death on the cross, are mysteries, because in them God reveals Himself in a way that goes beyond all human standards of measurement. Above all, though, His resurrection and exaltation are mysteries, because in them divine glory was revealed in the man Jesus, and this in a form that is hidden from the world and only open to believers".

This last is a point Casel insists on: mystery is by definition hidden as well as revealed; only faith can "see" it and only gnosis, Spirit-given knowledge, penetrate it; it is beyond the grasp of the "world"; it is given to the Church.

"The Apostles proclaimed the mysterium Christi to the Church, and the Church in turn hands it on to all generations. But just as the plan of salvation does not involve simply teaching but, above all, the salvific deed of Christ, so the Church leads mankind to salvation not merely through the word but also through holy actions or deeds".

And so we arrive at the third sense of mysterium, closely connected with the first two. "We find the person of Christ, His saving deeds and the working of His grace in the mysteries of worship". Mystery in this sense denotes "a sacred ritual action, in which a past redemptive deed is made present in the form of a specific rite; the worshipping community, by accomplishing this sacred rite, participates in the redemptive act and thus obtains salvation".

The Mystery and the mysteries

Two patristic quotations enter here. The first is from a sermon of St Leo's on the Ascension (Sermon 74:2): "what was visible in our Redeemer has passed over into the mysteries"; the second from St Ambrose (Apology for the Prophet David 58): "I find You in Your mysteries". In both cases, Casel understands "mysteries" not simply as those of the faith publicly proclaimed (though that too, of course, can be a liturgical event) but as the sacramental celebrations of the Church.

It is in these above all that the mystery of God in Christ is present. Therefore the liturgy itself deserves the appellation mystery, the mystery of worship (Kultmysterium) as Casel calls it. It is a mystery because in it "the divine saving act is present under the veil of symbols". It is the mystery of Christ present in a sacramental form, as Christ is the mystery of God present in the form of "flesh".

The essence of liturgy

Here we approach the heart of Casel's vision, his understanding of liturgy, his sense of its essence, his view of its place in the scheme of things. Liturgy is not ritual or pageantry nor, as some of Casel's contemporaries believed, merely a collection of rubrics governing the public worship of the Church. Nor, he might have said today, is it something we construct to express our group-psychology or something in the service of the "feel-good factor". It is the place and presence and power of the mystery of Christ. It is "the carrying out and realization of the new covenant's mystery of Christ in the whole Church through all the centuries, for her sanctification and glorification".

"God who revealed himself in the humanity of Jesus, continues to act after His glorification. Indeed, it is above all after this glorification that He acts through Christ the High Priest", and He acts "through the ordinary way of the economy of salvation", that is, the sacraments of the Church, thereby endowing liturgy with the force of the Mystery. This "mystery of worship" is "nothing other than the God-man continuing to act on earth. Hence this mystery, like that of Christ Himself, bears a twofold character: that of the divine majesty which is at work, and that of the veil of material and earthly symbols which simultaneously hide and disclose… The presence of the Lord in the divine mysteries occupies an intermediate position - a middle stage - between the earthly, historical life of Christ and his glorious life in heaven", between the Ascension and the Parousia.

The Church, the spouse and helpmate of Christ

None of this touches us simply as separate individuals. It is all for the Church and with the Church. The Church is at once the beneficiary of Christ's sacramental presence, and His helpmate. The presence of Christ in the sacramental mysteries is a "bridal gift" for the Church, and the sacraments, in turn, are a means for her to express her love for her Husband. Liturgy is nuptial. In the liturgy, the Church becomes the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. She receives from Him, is conformed to her crucified, glorified, Spirit-filled Lord, and at the same time is enabled to collaborate with Him in the furtherance of man's salvation, con-celebrating the mystery of worship with Him.

Without the mystery of Christ's liturgical presence, especially in the Eucharist, "the Church would be a priest without a sacrifice, an altar without an offering, a wife separated from her husband, unconsecrated, unable to come to the Father". She would not be the Church, in other words. But at the same time, it is through the same mystery of worship that Christ is fully Christ, the One who saves and glorifies His people. No wonder, then, that Casel - who never reduced the life of the Church to liturgy - should call it, nonetheless, "the central and essentially necessary activity of the Christian religion".

The real presence of Christ

At this point, it becomes vital to look more deeply at what it is that gives liturgy its salvific authority and its place in the history of salvation. It is, said Casel, the presence in the liturgical celebration, in the sacramental form, of the saving deed of Christ. This might seem unexceptional, even platitudinous. It is nothing of the sort, and in the theological context of his times it was revolutionary. Here we touch on Casel's dearest and deepest insight. In liturgy, he believed, the saving deed of Christ was objectively re-presented as an efficacious reality, thus enabling believers to enter into salvific contact with it. For him, as the German theologian Theodore Filthaut explained over 50 years ago:

"The saving acts which belong to the historical past are objectively and really re-presented in the liturgical mysteries. It is not a question of a merely "intentional" re-actualization being produced by a celebration; the saving acts are truly posited anew in the present. And these saving acts - the incarnation, death and resurrection, to restrict ourselves to the most important - are the proper content and object of the sacraments; they form the interior reality of the mysteries of worship".

In the Mass, for example, it is not simply the Christ who once suffered and is now in glory (Christus passus) who is sacramentally present, but the actual passion of Christ (passio Christi). It was precisely with such "ontology", such "realism", Casel believed, that the Church had always celebrated the liturgy. Wholly inadequate, therefore, and spiritually impoverishing, was the then current theory of a merely "effective re-presentation". Christ's "mysteries", in this view, belong to the historical past. It is metaphysically impossible for them to be present in liturgical celebrations. What is brought us by the liturgy is their effects.

Here St Thomas' well known Collect for Corpus Christi comes to mind: "May we so venerate the mysteries of your Body and Blood, that we may constantly experience in us the fruit of your redemption". It is this - the fruit, the grace(s), and the saving effects of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice - that, in a variety of ways, the sacraments bring us. Casel, naturally, did not deny what was being positively asserted here. The sacraments do indeed bring us grace! What he denied was the negation, the refusal to allow the presence, not just of the graces, but also of the source of those graces. "By liturgical worship", wrote his disciple Dom Jean Hild, "and especially by the sacraments, Christ becomes present with his saving acts, and not simply by means of the graces that He once merited for us on Calvary", or in Aidan Nichol's words, "the sacramental sign…is the ritual face of the redemptive act of Christ in its plenary reality, and not simply a communication of grace", and therefore, as Sr Theresa F. Koernke has expressed it, "the Christian ... really encounters Christ in his saving activity in and through the liturgical activity of the Church".

The sacramental economy

In Casel's own words, the "main intention" of the Mystery-teaching was "to set out clearly once again the Church's mysteries, above all the Eucharist, but the other sacraments as well, each according to its measure and place, as the "sacrament of the redemption"; that is to say, to show them as the presence of the economy (oikonomia) in the Church; not to reduce the sacraments to mere "means of grace". As a witness to what he regarded as the deeper and more ancient view, Casel invoked the then Prayer over the Gifts of the 9th Sunday after Pentecost:

"Grant us, we beg You Lord, that we may frequent these mysteries in a worthy way, for every time we celebrate the commemoration of this sacrifice, the work of our redemption is accomplished (opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur)".

What this prayer calls "the work of our redemption", Casel called "the saving Act (or Deed)", and the wave of controversy that this view aroused only led him to repeat and refine his conviction, never to renounce it. At the base of it lay an argument not unlike that by which the Fathers had defended the divinity of the Son and the Spirit: if we are deified by these Persons, these Persons must be divine.

So wrote Casel, "this real representation of the saving deed cannot not be, because the saving acts of Christ are so necessary to the Christian that he cannot be a true Christian if he doesn't live them after Him and with Him. It is not the teaching of Christ which makes the Christian. It is not even the simple application of his grace. It is total identification with the person of Christ obtained by re-living His life".

And it is precisely this "total identification", this communion with the life, death and resurrection of the Lord that the liturgy makes possible.


At this point many, like Mary at the Annunciation, were inclined to ask, "how can this be?" or more brutally, "this sounds lovely, but what does it mean?" There was a fear that Casel was maintaining a literal reproduction in the liturgy of historical events, such as the birth and epiphany, baptism and transfiguration, death and resurrection, which, however much they might be an enduring part of the glorified Christ, did belong, as events, to the irretrievable past. Casel and his disciples, however, insisted they were not proposing any such reproduction or repetition of past events. Nor, on the other hand, did they think adequate the view that in the liturgy the heavenly Christ merely distributes the graces of his past meritorious acts. Rather, there is in every one of the saving deeds of the Lord a substantial element transcending time and space and capable of commemoration and re-presentation in a sacramental way (in sacramento, in mysterio). It is a question of a presence in mystery (Mysterien-gegenwart).

What happened in the past under the veil of historical events happens now under the veil of sacramental signs. Celebrations are indeed time-and-space bound, but they bring into time and space something that essentially transcends them. Once again Casel would have asked, if this is not the case, how can we have that necessary contact with the deeds of Christ, how can we - the Church - contact the "mysteries of his flesh", "be brought by his passion and death to the glory of his resurrection"?

The unity in Liturgy

Granting all this - the what and the how - we are brought back to the practical question of where? Or, in other words, does all liturgy involve this sacramental presence of the saving deeds? Are there not distinctions to be drawn between the Eucharist and the other sacraments, between sacraments and sacramentals? Here too Casel, without cavalierly ignoring the necessary differentiations, saw things as a whole.

The mystery of worship is found in the Eucharist supremely, in the other six sacraments, and also in such sacramentals as Christian burial, monastic profession and the consecration of churches, the Divine Office, the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year, especially Easter, and liturgies of the word. All of these, in their different ways, bring us the presence of the Mystery and enable us to enter into it. Casel did some lastingly valuable soundings in several specific liturgical areas.

Here we can only summarize his teaching on the sacraments of initiation. As regards baptism, we have the clear statement of St Paul: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united to the likeness of his death, we shall be also to that of his resurrection" (Rom 6:3-5).

Baptism is the bridal bath in which the Church is washed and there, for the first time, "the Christian meets the mystery of worship". As he enters the water, he meets the dynamic presence of the Paschal Mystery in its sacramental "likeness" and is transformed by it. It is not enough to talk here of the forgiveness of sins and filial adoption; these effects arise from a prior assimilation to Christ.

In confirmation the Bride receives her anointing, and participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord is perfected. Just as the Lord became a life-giving Spirit through his Pasch, so believers are conformed, through the chrism, to the Spirit-filled Christ. "Peter, Paul and John regard the possession of the Spirit as the sign of the Christian".

The one baptized and confirmed, then, "is no longer a mere man, but is transformed into a deified man, newly generated by God into a child of God…Because he is a member of Christ, the High Priest, he is himself a Christ, that is an anointed man and a priest, who is allowed to offer God the Father a sacrifice which is uniquely acceptable and accepted through Christ".

The mystical meaning of ‘participation’

The sacrifice of Christ is made sacramentally present in the Mass, through the ministry of the ordained, and so it is possible for the "initiated" to offer this one true sacrifice and themselves with it. The Church "shares Christ's sacrifice, in a feminine, receptive way, though not less actively for that. She stands under the cross, offers her Bridegroom and herself with Him", and in Holy Communion becomes, ever more, what she receives, is ever more identified with the Lord. "These three mysteries, Casel says, are therefore the most important and the most necessary for the life of the Church and for each individual Christian".

Always it is a matter of participation in the mystery of Christ made sacramentally present for the life of the world. When contemporary liturgists speak, for example, of the Liturgy of the Hours as the Church's participation in the salvific praise and intercession of Christ, or of the liturgical year as a mystagogical induction into the one mystery of Christ annually unfolded, they are, wittingly or not, echoing Odo Casel.

The goal of liturgy

Finally, then, we are reminded again and again of the goal of liturgy. Through the liturgical "whole", through the celebration of its sacraments and sacramentals, the Church becomes what she is, the Body and Bride of Christ, and the individual Christian is conformed, by the Holy Spirit, to the crucified and risen One whom he meets in the liturgy. Out of this objective conformation flows a most demanding subjective imperative. "If the soul wishes to assimilate the content of worship, she must, by her subjective action, co-operate as closely as possible with the objective grace of the liturgy" (A. Gozier), conscious all the time that it is God's sanctifying action which is paramount. Dom Odo understood "participation" as a summons to holiness. In his homilies and conferences, he repeatedly presents the high ideal of a simultaneously crucified, risen and pneumatic life - something he saw the monk and nun called to in an ex professo way.

The Mystery naturally tends to mysticism. The mystery of Christian worship is the surest source and location of life lived in the mystery. By means of it, the mysteries of Christ's humanity become the mysteries of our own. By means of it, the Holy Spirit imparts to believers the true gnosis, an experiential knowledge of the mystery of Christ, taking them beyond the merely rational and into a life of God-like agape. The "end" of Casel's Mystery Theology points in the same direction as the end of the Rule of St Benedict by which he lived: to "the heights of wisdom [ie. gnosis] and virtue [ie. agape]".

How right was Casel?

And so to the final questions, how right was Casel? How have theologians and the Church responded to him? From as early as 1926, in fact, Casel's writings provoked controversy. In November 1947, a few months before his death, Pius XII's great liturgical encyclical Mediator Dei was published. Casel saw in it essentially a corroboration of his life's work. He was, at the deepest level, surely right. Others were quick to point out that one passage at least (n.176, on the Church's year) seemed to be an explicit critique of his and Maria Laach's approach. What did become clear was that clarifications were needed.

Casel was neither a philosopher nor a systematic thinker. His biblical and patristic exegesis was far from commanding universal assent, nor his appeal to the Mystery Religions. And yet the quotations with which this article began (Ratzinger, Gy, Nichols) are statements of sober fact, and the truth is that his central insights, after much sifting by theologians and liturgists throughout the 1950s and 1960s, have prevailed, even mightily - even when his authorship of them has been forgotten. Among theologians, for example, Edward Schillebeeckx in his classic Christ the Sacrament (1963) convincingly incorporated into sacramental theology Casel's understanding of the mysterious presence of the redemptive act (ch.2, s2), while the growing understanding of liturgy as the sacramental celebration of the Paschal Mystery has become the common teaching. Here I can only briefly point to the judgment of the Magisterium.

The legacy of Casel and Vatican II

In 1964, shortly after the promulgation of Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Louis Bouyer could write that "the heart of the teaching on the liturgy in the conciliar Constitution is also the heart of Dom Casel's teaching". This would hold particularly for articles 5 to 13, for the focus on the Paschal Mystery (art 5 and frequently elsewhere), the understanding of the apostolic mission in art.6, the teaching on the various modes of Christ's presence in the liturgy in art.7, the resounding affirmation in art.10 that the "liturgy is simultaneously the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed and the source from which all her power flows".

Most symbolic perhaps is the five-fold use by the Council of the Prayer over the Gifts mentioned above and its vital phrase, opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur. Significantly, too, this prayer now features twice in the post-conciliar Missal. Thus has the teaching authority of the Church, without descending to controversies, incorporated the inner truth of Casel's vision.

The legacy of Casel and the new Catechism

A further step, in this writer's view, has been taken by the theology of the liturgy opening Part II of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Even the titles suggest this: "The Celebration of the Christian Mystery", "The Sacramental Economy", "The Paschal Mystery in the Age of the Church", or a sentence such as:

"the gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the 'dispensation of the mystery' - the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, until he comes” (n.1076).

Or, most remarkably, the profound and beautiful reflections of n.1085: "In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present…His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is - all that he did and suffered for all men - participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything towards life". Such a vision is owed to no one so much as Odo Casel.

A vision for the future

As has been well said, Casel's essential bequest is an ontology of the liturgy. In many ways, his death in 1948 marked a turning-point in the history of the 20th century liturgical movement. Practical 'pastoral' concerns came to dominate: questions of language, of active participation, of the re-drafting of rites, and though Casel's prophetic (and patristic) vision of liturgy has found a place in theology and doctrine, its full potential as mystagogy, as guide to celebration, surely remains to be realized.

As the American Benedictine Aidan Kavanagh has well expressed it, "In true celebration of the Mystery there is nothing that is anthropocentric, rationalistic, subjective, or sentimental; rather, it finds expression in a rigorous theocentrism, objective contemplation, and a splendid transcendentalism".

For all that, now, may sound a little dated in his writings, for all the imperfections, for a certain "impracticality" even, a "turning" or returning to Odo Casel can aid in the ever-necessary and certainly liturgically necessary "turn" to the Mystery. No doubt, he never will be a household name, but he was one of the humble glories of 20th century Catholicism and remains a prophet and mystagogue as the new millennium begins, novo milliennio ineunt.

my source: Dom Oldefons, An Introduction:
In a previous post I argued that Abbot Ildefons Herwegen’s introduction to Guardini’s famous book on the liturgy is an example of the pre-WWII Liturgical Movement reacting to liberal individualism. I argued that it–unlike the book that it introduces–goes too far in the opposite direction. I have now made a translation of Herwegen’s introduction:

Introduction to Romano Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy (1918)

In the Acts of the Apostles the praying Church stands at the threshold. She begs for the sending of the Holy Spirit; she strengthens herself in charismatic prayer for martyrdom; she watches praying at the prison of St. Peter; she surrounds the mysterious breaking of the bread with unceasing prayers, and thus forms her liturgy. At the dawn of of Christianity the Church appears as orans. In her the petition of the disciples is answered: Lord, teach us to pray. Like a little seed the Our Father grows into a mighty tree. The prayer of Christ has blossomed into the eternal prayer of the Church. Her liturgy is the breath of the praying Christ, the glorified high priest. This prayer of Christ – holy in its divinity, noble in its humanity— continues on earth a solis ortu usque ad occasum in the unceasing prayer of the Church.

The Church is the society of the true worshipers of God. Her prayer is never a mere cry for help forced by necessity. Even her petitions and lamentations are ennobled and restrained: trembling with loving adoration, illumined with faith in Christ’s victory, with selfless, childlike joy in the greatness and beatitude of the Father. The Church stands tranquil and confident in the midst of the turbulent world. What gives her the confidence to stand? Her prayer.

It is not assemblies, speeches, demonstrations, nor the favor of states and peoples, nor protective laws and subsidies that make the Church so strong. And while there can never be enough done in preaching, in the confessionals, in parish missions, in catechesis, and in works of mercy; yet all such things are merely the external achievements that flow from an internal power. It would be perverse indeed to be concerned principally for such achievements whilst neglecting the concern for the purity, intensity, and growth of the internal source. Wherever the Church truly, vitally prays there supernatural holiness springs up on all sides, there active peace, human understanding, and true love of neighbor blossom.

Our prayer decides the struggle of our life. He who prays well begins to comprehend the whole of life in its breadth and depth; he finds the balance between the infinite and the finite. To pray is to anchor our created wills in the will of God. The prayer of Christians finds already in the activity of prayer itself an infinite fulfillment through being united to the omnipotent will of God.

Prayer is the word of the searching human soul.

Here human ways end, and the human will is touched by the will of God, and is filled with awe and terror along with redeeming, quieting consolation and liberating strength.

Only in adoration do we find healing and salvation.

The prayer of the Church establishes a firm connection to the eternal. Eternal truth seizes us here, makes us real, makes us worthy for eternal being and life, worthy to see the eternal good and delight in it.

Participation in the adoring love of the Church, the bride of Christ, gives purity and strength.

We live in a time which has left rationalism behind, a time which is striving toward mysticism; today, more than in the recent past, people are inspired by the longing to approach God. Even the feverish obsession with work, which also marks our time, and which offers itself as a substitute for religion, is not able to strangle the mystical longings of the soul. This cry is too powerful, too universal: to God! But where is the path to Him?

The individual raised by the Renaissance and by liberalism has exhausted itself. It recognizes that it needs a connection to an entirely objective institution in order to mature into personality. It demands community [Gemeinschaft].

The age of socialism does have communities, but only such as form a collection of atoms, of individuals. But our desire is for organic, for vital community.

The Church is such an organic community in the highest sense. She unites persons more intimately than any other community; she gives them one spirit, indeed in a sense one body—corpus Christi mysticum. In this body every part is connected to every other and to the head by an intimate, life giving relation. The Church is the “communion of saints;” the saints struggling toward God amidst the trials and tribulations of this valley of tears, and those transfigured, sanctified members of Christ, who triumph in His glory.

An organic community that is is ordered to God must have public worship. The liturgy of the Church is public, but not only in the ancient sense of belonging; the liturgy does not only regard the whole, it also elevates the prayer of each individual. Thus the prayer of each individual soul becomes itself a liturgical. Christ relates to the Church in a way parallel to the way in which He relates to the soul. But the liturgy places the prayer of the individual on an objective foundation, it orders it to a greater, super-personal telos, transcending the narrowness of the individual and its random circumstances. The whole of creation praises the creator in liturgy, and the individual soul mirrors the whole universe.

The reforms of Pope Pius X concentrated our attention with on the liturgy with a new urgency. The Sacrifice, blessing, and prayer of the Church as expressed in her liturgy has won ever more importance in the devotional life of German Catholics in recent years. In theory and in practice, in research and in life, we are trying to learn and foster the authentic liturgy.

The liturgy has been called “the great catechism of the laity.” (J. Brögger) That is what it was in previous centuries. If it is to become such a catechism of the laity again then “we must put much more emphasis in formation within the family, the schools, and in sermons, on teaching the true values and sentiments of the Catholic liturgy, unfolding their educative power, and showing how well they harmonize with what is most noble in the German spirit.” (L. Baur)

Our series Ecclesia Orans is attempting to support such attempts by explaining liturgical terms, actions, and texts, and thus fostering deeper liturgical understanding among the clergy, the teachers, and the educated laity. A series will not follow a strict plan, but will be a loosely connected group of monographs that treat historical, dogmatic, ascetical-mystical, philosophical, pedagogical, and aesthetic questions on the liturgy with a rigorous scholarly foundation, but in a style accessible to the general reading public.

The prayer of the Church is an expression of what is objective and communal, and thus it has developed for itself an external form. Our task is to describe and explain this form; to trace its origins and development. But since the external form is the expression of the internal spirit, we will pay particular attention to the spirit of the liturgy. Thus the scope of our series is very wide. It will treat not only liturgical topics in the strict sense, but also everything which contributes to a better understanding of its spirit—as for example the prayer and ascetic discipline of the patristic Church, the theology of the Church Fathers, the and the influence of monasticism on the development of the liturgy.

We will be pleased if out series can contribute something to liturgical scholarship, but our goal is to open up the treasures of the liturgy and make them fruitful for the Christian life.

In this, the first little volume of our series, Guardini shows how the liturgy, properly understood contains a deep psychological wisdom—even from a natural point of view it fosters a healthy life of the soul. He examines the difficulties that modern man has with the liturgy, and shows how these difficulties arise both in a faulty understanding of the liturgy and in modernity’s unbalanced and exaggerated emphasis on certain aspects of life to the detriment of others. He shows how intimately that which the liturgy is and that which it gives are connected with true harmony in the soul. Without intending it the ancient rituals provide heal precisely the wounds that mark the modern psyche and untie precisely the knots in which contemporary man has tied himself. The liturgy lifts us out of the present moment, above the arbitrariness of individual circumstance. The liturgy trains us to be reverent worshipers of God, pure adorers of the Father.

In this work the author concentrates not so much on the scholarly explanation of the liturgy as on the personal conditions for fruitful participation in the liturgy. He tries to prepare the ground, to dispose the soul to receive what the liturgy offers.

Guardini’s essays are a fitting introduction to our series, since he is able to understand those who come to the liturgy from without, for the first time. He describes the collision of two spiritual worlds, and how their dissonance can be overcome. He unearths connections between the liturgy and the interior life that had become forgotten and buried. Thus he prepares the natural conditions for the liturgical experience. His work is thus admirably suited to lay the broad foundation upon which we mean to build.

The High Altar and Christ Pantocrator

            Odo Casel is considered as a preeminent theologian of the Liturgy, as the great father of the 20th century liturgical movement that led to the liturgical reform. Actually his liturgical theology of mysteries is considered as the most fruitful theological idea of the 20th century, and it had a great influence in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Second Vatican Council. His influence can be better seen in the controversy that arose during the redaction of the Constitution regarding how the presence of Christ takes place in the liturgical actions of the Church.[1]  


            The Liturgical Movement represents some of the most significant changes in the Roman Catholic Church in the last few centuries.
            The modern Liturgical Movement in Roman Catholicism is usually dated from the time of Pope Pius X who, upon becoming pope in 1903, insisted that "the faithful must be brought back to . . . active participation ... in the holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church."[2]
            Since that time most of the leaders of the Movement had been Benedictine. Two centers stood out as especially notable: the Benedictine Abbey of Mont César in Belgium where Dom Lambert Beauduin worked and the Benedictine Abbey of Maria-Laach in Germany under the leadership of Abbot Ildefons Herwegen.[3]
The goals of the Liturgical Movement may be summarized as follows.
-                      A change in the way the laity participated in the liturgy: from mute spectators to full, active, intelligent participants. However, this movement toward more active participation in the liturgy was seen as only one part of the movement to renew the life of the Church.
-                      A restoration of a biblical and patristic base to the Christian worship and the Christian way of living as a Church. The biblical and patristic movements produced new insights into the worship of the early Church and the close connection between liturgy and life.
-                      The liturgical pioneers found the connection between liturgy and life in Mystical Body theology. How can we claim to be the Body of Christ at worship in our churches if we are not the Body of Christ in action in the world?
-                      The liturgical pioneers wanted to increase our awareness of sin and the need for salvation, the need for faith— something sorely needed in our highly secularized world today. The scholastic approach to sin, salvation, and faith often lacked the richness found in biblical and patristic times.
-                      The liturgical pioneers sought to restore an awareness of the process of conversion as a necessary part of the Rite of Christian Initiation. Simply baptizing people was not enough to ensure active membership in the Church. There must be a gradual process of questioning and seeking that ends in a personal desire for initiation, a desire that is affirmed by the whole community.
-                      The liturgical pioneers fostered the recognition of the connection between initiation and ministry. Baptism involved a deputation for ministry. Ministry was not something limited to the clergy. All of us share in the responsibility for carrying on Christ's work in the world. In fact, that is precisely what we recommit ourselves to each time we gather for Eucharist.
-                      In short, the liturgical pioneers sought to renew the way we live as Church, the way we relate to God and one another. Their goal was to re-invigorate our faith and bring about a new Pentecost, a new reformation, a new birth of a sense of Church that goes beyond the doors of the building to embrace the world.[4]
            This movement criticized the Christian thought of the Middle Ages with its subjectivism and individualism that was so attractive to the nineteenth century. Instead, it focused its interest on the Christian thought of the first four centuries.
            There were exciting new theological developments. One of the most interesting of these has been the theology of mysteries of Dom Odo Casel, monk of Maria-Laach. [5]
                        Johannes (Odo)  Casel  was born in Liitzel-Koblenz (Rhineland), not far from Maria Laach abbey, established on September 27, 1886. He attended public schools in his hometown and studied humanities in Koblenz, Malmedy  and Andernach  where he earned a bachelor's degree.
            From there he went to Bonn to study classic  philosophy in 1905, but soon the contact with Herwegen, the quiet peace that was enjoyed at Maria Laach and, above all, the feeling and emotion of the liturgical life of the abbey made him join the Benedictine Order, where he made his profession on February 24, 1907 and received the name Odo. On September 17, 1911 he was ordained as priest. 
            He was sent to Rome to continue his studies at Collegio di Sant' Anselmo, where he earned a doctorate in Sacred Theology with a thesis about the Eucharistic doctrine of St. Justyn Martyr.
            After that he continued his studies in Classic Philology in Bonn. In 1918 he published his first monography titled: Das Gedächtnis des Herrn in der altchristlichen Liturgie, in the collection Ecclesia Orans. In 1919 he earned a doctoral degree with the thee dissertation De Philosuphorum graecorum silentio mystico published in Giessen.
            When he returned to Maria Laach, the monastery was liturgically at its zenith and Casel soon joined the movement of which soon he would become its more relevant figure.
            In 1921 he began the publications of the Jahrbuch fur Liturgiewissenschaft, which continued for twenty years until 1941. In this publication, year after year, he gradually exposed the result of his research in Christian Antiquities and the works of the Fathers that led him to develop his theory of Mysteries.
            In 1922 appeared his second major monography, titled Die Liturgie als Mysterienfeier in the collection Ecclesia Orans. In the same year, Casel was invited to become spiritual father to the Benedictine Convent of the Holy Cross in Hersteller where he lived for the rest of his life.
            Finally, in 1932 he published the work that would become the most famous, almost paradigmatic, of his theological theory: Das christliche Kultmysterium. This work is the amalgam of the ideas he developed during his life and it collected the most important works he published, that is the theology of mysteries.
            This theory became the central linking idea of German liturgical propaganda not only from the Abbey of Maria Laach, but also through the periodical  Liturgische Zeitschrift, whose director, John Piusk, fully accepted the theory of mysteries. He was convinced that only that way a full understanding and effectiveness of the liturgy could be reached.
            On November 20, 1947 Pope Pius XII published the encyclical Mediator Dei. Some of Casel's detractors considered it a mortal blow to the Caselian theory and therefore renewed their attacks  supported by the words of the Pontiff. However, Casel and his supporters, with an exaggerated optimism, considered the encyclical as a confirmation of the substance of his conception of the mystery of worship.
            Casel suddenly died of a stroke on March 21, 1948, immediately after the Easter Mass, after the celebration in which culminated the Mystery of the Cult to which had devoted his entire life. [6]


            Casel developed a particular interpretation of the essence of all liturgical actions, based on theology, the New Testament, the Fathers of the Church and the liturgy itself.[7]
            For Casel there are analogies between the Christian Mystery and the ancient pagan mysteries. For example, the mysteries of the Syrian Adonis, the Asiatic Attis, the Egyptian Issis and Osiris and the Persian Mithra were all formed in the same pattern: a kind of religious drama, a liturgical representation of a death and resurrection of a god, in which people associated themselves with the resurrection of their gods. Through the dramas and representations, they thought they were born again to a new and divine life and shared the triumph over death of their God.[8]
The Kyrios of a mystery is a God who has entered into human misery and struggle, has made his appearance on earth (epiphany) and fought here, suffered, even been defeated; the whole sorrow of mankind in pain is brought together in a mourning for the god who must die. But then in some way comes a return to life through which the God's companions, indeed the whole of nature revives and lives on. This was the way of pious faith and sacred teaching (ieros logoz), of society in the earliest mythical age. But the world, society is always in need of life; so the epiphany goes on and on in worship; the saving, healing act of God is performed over and over.[9]

            Although Casel agreed that these mysteries did not directly influence the first Christian rituals, he claims that they were a kind of providential preparation in human nature that would be brought about in Christ. He claims that these mysteries gave Christianity the pattern in which the divine grace would be brought about to human nature.[10] For Casel the mystery is  "a sacred ritual action in which a saving deed is made present through the rite; the congregation, by performing the rite, takes part in the saving act, and thereby wins salvation."[11] 
Abtei Marialaach

1. Mystery and Christianity,
            For Casel, the Christian mystery is the transitus, Christ's passage from death to life, through the Cross to the Resurrection: The Paschal Mystery. For him, "The content of the mystery of Christ is, therefore, the person of the god-man and his saving deed for the Church; the Church, in turn, enters the mystery through this deed."[12] The mystery is the cross, the Resurrection of Christ, His ascension into glory, and through whom, salvation is given to man. He has become the now the Pneuma, the life-giving Spirit, that radiates all the gifts he gained to all human kind.[13] Casel affirms:
 But the high-point of the whole saving drama is the death and crown of resurrection, when Christ entered the inmost heart of God in all his manhood, and found everlasting redemption. The pasch of the Lord, his death and exaltation is the mystery of redemption proper, the high-point of God's plan. The saved Church comes out from it; the new covenant is built on it, the eternal covenant of Christ's blood. Upon it rests all salvation.[14]

            This mystery of Christ is an action that took place in the past and can never be repeated, because it is perfect. However, the mystery of Christ is made actual by the Church in the mystery of worship. Christian worship is an action in which Christ, invisible but present in Spirit, performs his saving work through the Church. In Christian worship it is the Lord who acts in the mystery himself, not alone, as he did in the primeval mystery of the Cross, but now together with his Church.[15] Louis Bouyer comments that for Casel, "... the Mystery is permanently embodied in the liturgy,—more especially in the Mass, but also in all the sacraments and even in the sacramentals, in the Divine Office, in the feasts of the liturgical year, and in the whole Christian life, since this life is nothing less than the expansion of what is given in the sacramental order."[16]

2. The Tree-Fold Notion of Mystery
            In all of Casel's works is present the question of the meaning of the notion of mystery. It is a divine action, a God's salvific action manifested in space and time, this means the epiphany of the salvific actions of God. The Mystery is the plan of redemption, hidden in God from all eternity and revealed and carried out in Christ for his Church. In the historical development of such a plan, Casel distinguished three fundamental stages and notions. For him Mystery means three things and one[17]:
a)                  Mystery is God.  "First of all it is God considered in himself, as the infinitely distant, holy, unapproachable, to whom no man may draw near and live."[18] It is the god besides whom man, in his limited condition, recognizes his mysteries, impurities and sins. It is God manifested in the Old Testament. In the mystery of revelation he is not fully manifested to the profane world, but he is hidden and manifests only to the chosen, to the believer  and just. The essence of God is superior to all creation; He is at the same time transcendent and immanent, and He supports his creation with his eternal presence and actions.[19]
b)                 Mystery is the person of Christ. For St. Paul the mystery is the revelation of God in Christ. God "who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see" (1Ti 6:16) has revealed himself in Christ. In other words, the Mystery is he who dies in a human way on the Cross, revealing the love of the Father . It is the mystery that John affirms: "No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him" (Joh 1:18)" Therefore, Christ is the Mystery of God manifested in a personal and earthly way to man. It is the union of the Word of God and the human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. This mystery involves all and each one of the theandric and savings actions of Jesus Christ: His incarnation, life, passion, death and Resurrection. Consequently, all of Christ's actions can be called mysteries. This mystery of salvation is transmitted through the Church to all generations, leading all humanity to salvation, not only through words, but also through sacred actions. Consequently, Christ lives in the Church by means of faith and the mystery celebrated and lived.[20] 
c)                  Through the Church, especially in the Sacraments, Christians meet the person of Christ, his saving actions, and the working of his grace. Casel affirms: "Since Christ is no longer visible among us, in St Leo the Great's words, 'What was visible in the Lord has passed over into the mysteries.' We meet his person, his saving deeds, the workings of his grace in the mysteries of his worship. St Ambrose writes: 'I find you in your mysteries.'"[21]

3. The Mystery and the Church
            For Casel, the mystery of Christ is carried on and made actual in the mystery of worship. It is through the Church's liturgy that Christ performs His saving work, invisible, but present in Spirit. Consequently, the Church  is not only the bride of Christ, she is also at the same time the beneficiary of Christ's sacramental presence and his helpmate:
  Bridegroom and bride, head and members act as one. If the man, the head is the leading actor, the stimulus to action, his bride, his members' work with him, use the power which is theirs. Christ is saviour, the one who accomplishes salvation; the Church for its part shares in the act of Christ, receiving the influence of every act he does, but receiving actively; healthy members share in the action of a body. Indeed, just this makes the body a live one: a living bride, a loving bride and spouse, sharing in the actions of Christ.[22]

            As we read above, Christ is present in the sacramental mysteries, these mysteries are the "bridal gift" for the Church, but they are also the means for her to express her love for her bridegroom. Casel claims that "Every act of worship performed by the Church directed towards God... under the new covenant, is joined essentially with the mystery, and is stamped by it with the mark of Christ; God receives nothing without this mark, under the new alliance. The mystery belongs to those unspeakable riches which God has given us in Christ."[23]
            For Casel, without the Lord's liturgical presence the Church would not be the Church. She would be like a priest without a sacrifice, like an altar without offering, like a wife separated from her husband, unconsecrated and unable to come to the Father. But then too, without the Church, it is through the Church that Christ is fully Christ. Without the Church Christ would be priest without people, no high priest, nor "prince of Salvation." Without the Church he would not be able to be the one who saves and glorifies his people.[24] Casel never reduced the life of the Church only to Liturgy. However he claims that "The all-important fact is that Christianity is a mystery religion in virtue of its own very nature and the liturgy of mysteries is the central and essential activity of this religion."[25]

4. The unity of the Liturgy

            For Casel the Mystery of Christ, the inner essence of the Mystery is permanently embodied in the Liturgy.[26] The salvific action of Christ, the Paschal Mystery is found in all the Liturgy of the Church. In all the Sacraments, the sacramentals, the divine Office, the feast of the liturgical year, and in the whole Christian life, since this life is the expansion of the sacramental order, the mystery is found. All the liturgical action of the Church are united by the same mystery, the Paschal Mystery.  Bouyer affirms that for Casel it is that "in and through the Liturgy, the all-saving act of Christ, giving life through his death, is truly and really present in its fullness as in its unity."[27]
            Casel saw all liturgical actions as a whole. All of these, in their different ways, bring the people to the presence of the mystery and enable them to enter into it. However, although the Mystery of worship is found all these liturgical actions, it is found supremely in the Eucharist.[28] 


            Odo Casel was an authentic precursor of the Second Vatican Council.
            After the conciliar constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1963, Louis Bouyer wrote that:
The heart of the teaching on the liturgy In the conciliar constitution is also the heart of Dom Casel's teaching. The Constitution's constant citation of the patristic, liturgical, and earlier conciliar texts on which Casel based his interpretation, and its interpretation of these texts on the same lines as Casel show a relation of filiation that will strike all future historians.[29]

            The language and basic theological positions of Odo Casel undoubtedly influenced the formulations and statements of Sacrosanctum Concilium.  For example, in the fundamental principles set forth in the Chapter 1 of the Constitution:
            For the liturgy, "through which the work of our redemption is accomplished," ...is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ...[30] 

Here we can notice the influence of Casel's language and theological ideas:
            Christ's mystery in God's revelation in the saving action of his incarnate Son and the redemption and healing of the Church. It continues after the glorified God-man has returned to his Father, until the full number of the Church's members is complete; the mystery of Christ is carried on and made actual in the mystery of worship. Here Christ performs his saving work, invisible, but present in Spirit and acting upon all men of good-will.[31]

1. The Paschal Mystery

      Before Second Vatican Council, the Church had always considered the Resurrection as a truth of faith; and the death of Christ on the Cross was the saving event celebrated in the liturgy.[32]
      One of the novelties of Casel's theology is his understanding of the mystery of Christ, that is His redemptive work celebrated in the Christian liturgy. It is not limited to his death on the Cross. As is stated above, the Christian mystery is Christ's passage from death to life, through the Cross to the Resurrection, that is the Paschal Mystery:
The content of the mystery of Christ is, therefore, the person of the god-man and his saving deed for the Church; the Church, in turn, enters the mystery through this deed. For Paul, Peter, and John, the heart of faith is not the teachings of Christ, not the deeds of his ministry, but the acts by which he saved us. 'We can see one who was made a little lower than the angels, I mean Jesus, crowned now with glory and honour for the pains of his death.. . .' Through his death and resurrection, through his blood the Lord has found 'everlasting redemption'.[33]

The liturgical-theological term "Paschal Mystery" had not been used before in any magisterial document of the Church. In Sacrosanctum Concilium this expression appears eight times. It is found in the central passages of the Constitution and the meaning of the term nucleates all the conciliar doctrine regarding the Christian liturgy. This means it is in the "Paschal Mystery" in which the Sacrosanctum Conciluim's  teachings regarding the worship and liturgical celebration is based.
            For example in chapter 1, when talking about the nature of the sacred liturgy, the document begins with a Christological approach, which includes Casel's notion of Paschal Mystery. The document states that Christ fulfilled his redemptive work through the Pascal Mystery:
            The wonderful works of God among the people of the Old Testament were but a prelude to the work of Christ the Lord in redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God. He achieved His task principally by the paschal mystery of His blessed passions resurrection from the dead, and the glorious ascension, whereby "dying, he destroyed our death and, rising, he restored our life". For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth "the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church"[34]

            The Paschal Mystery and its celebration constitutes the essence of Christian worship in its daily, weekly and yearly unfolding. The Second Vatican Council clearly teaches this.[35]

2. Understanding of the apostolic mission of the Church through the Liturgy
            For Odo Casel the Church is the spouse and helpmate of Christ; liturgy has a nuptial meaning. It is through the liturgy that the Church becomes at the same time the Body and the bride of Christ. She is conformed to her glorified bridegroom, and through the liturgy she collaborates with him in the furtherance of man's salvation. It is through the Mystery of worship that Christ continues His salvific work. Casel affirms:
            The pasch is a sacrifice with the consecration of the person that flows from it; it is the sacrifice of the God-man in death on the cross, and his resurrection to glory: it is the Church's sacrifice in communion with and by the power of the crucified God-man, and the wonderful joining to God, the divinization which is its effect.
            Both of these sacrifices flow together; they are fundamentally one; the Church, as the woman of the new paradise and the bride of Christ, acts and offers in his strength. Christ living in time made his sacrifice alone on the cross; Christ raised up by the Spirit makes the sacrifice together with his Church which he has purified with the blood from his own side, and thus won her for himself.[36]
            Because of the inmost oneness of being, and the realm of action following upon it, which grows up between bride and bridegroom, between head and body, it follows that the Church must take a share in Christ's sacrifice, in a feminine, receptive way, yet one which is no less active for that. She stands beneath the cross, sacrifices her bridegroom, and with him, herself. But she does so not merely in faith or in some mental act, but rather in a real and concrete fashion, in mystery; she fulfils the 'likening' of that sacrifice through which the Lord offered himself in the presence of earth and heaven, in utter openness, in the total giving of his body, to the Father. Here again we meet the essential meaning of the mystery of worship.[37]

            This idea is found in Section 6 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. It states that  the work of Salvation brought about by the Paschal Mystery of Christ is now the mission of the Church. It is through the liturgical celebrations, especially the Sacraments, that the Church fulfills her mission.
            Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also He sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This He did that, by preaching the gospel to every creature, they might proclaim that the Son of God, by His death and resurrection, had freed us from the power of Satan and from death, and brought us into the kingdom of His Father. His purpose also was that they might accomplish the work of salvation which they had proclaimed, by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves. Thus by baptism men are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ... In like manner, as often as they eat the supper of the Lord they proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes... the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things "which were in all the scriptures concerning him" (Luke 24:27), celebrating the Eucharist in which "the victory and triumph of his death are again made present", and at the same time giving thanks "to God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15) in Christ Jesus, "in praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:12), through the power of the Holy Spirit.[38]

            Fr. Vagaggini explains how the person and the work of Christ are continued in the Church according to section 6:
- Christ was sent by the Father, and he sent his apostles..- He was anointed with the Holy Spirit to carry out his work, and He sent the Holy Spirit over his Apostles to do the same.- He fulfilled His office by preaching salvation, by His theandric acts, but especially by His Paschal mystery..- Similarly, He ordered his Apostles and gave the power to preach, exercise and apply the Salvation.- They preached the Salvation through the Sacraments and the Sacrifice, around which the whole Church was built and grew.- The Church was born, that is, the great Sacrament, whose center, from the very beginning was and has been always her liturgical life.- Consequently, all men, through the Liturgy of the Church, are inserted into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, receive divine life, and as adopted sons of God, are able to adore and glorify God.[39]
            The Sacrosanctum Concilium affirms that in the origin of the Church the paschal event is present, "For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church."[40]  Since that moment the Church became effectively associated by Christ, as a loving wife, to the historic realization of the salvific project of God. The Paschal Mystery of Christ is the constant object of the preaching of the Church and the sole content of her celebrations. To the extent that believers are introduced into this mystery through the faith and the Sacraments, the Church continues concentrating and actualizing her life, she continues forming and building herself.[41] The sacramental celebrations signify for the Church the most privileged moments for the communion with the mystery of Christ, from whom she has her origin. That is why that through the liturgy the Church fulfills her apostolic mission.[42]       

3. The various modes of Christ's presence in the liturgy

            When the bishops gathered for the Second Vatican Council, one of the main points immediately established in relation to the liturgy is that Christ is always present in the Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. In these celebrations, he is present in different ways; in the Eucharist, in the minister, in the Sacraments, in the Word of God, and in the assembled people:
            To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister... but especially under the Eucharistic species...He is present in the sacraments... He is present in His word... He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings... Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ... in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members... every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.[43]
            In the liturgical celebrations, the presence of Christ is so real that the actions of the Church are the actions of Christ himself in the Church and through the Church. Jesus Christ is present principally in the Sacraments, on which He pours out into them as instrument for effecting sanctification.[44]
            The last sentence of the paragraph speaks about the preeminence of the liturgy over any other action of the Church. Since the intimate nature of the liturgical acts is that they are preeminently the action of Christ himself, the liturgy has a special efficacy that surpasses any other action of the Church.[45]
            In a similar way, Odo Casel affirms that:
... the mystery of Christ is carried on and made actual in the mystery of worship. Here Christ performs his saving work, invisible, but present in Spirit and acting upon all men of good-will. It is the Lord himself who acts this mystery; not as he did the primeval mystery of the Cross, alone, but with his bride, which he won there, his Church; to her he has now given all his treasures; she is to hand them on to the children she has got of him...[46] The mystery of Christ which was completed in our Lord in all reality in time is, therefore, fulfilled; fulfilled on us first of all in representative, symbolic forms, not purely external ones, but rather images filled with the reality of the new life which is communicated to us through Christ. This special sharing in the life of Christ, both symbolic and real, is what the ancients called mystical; it is something mediate between a merely outward symbol and the purely real...[47] Thus it is possible that the Lord, though eternally glorified in heaven and visible to all, should be still hidden in the world, and go on revealing the whole strength of his glory. The Lord's manner of presence in the mystery therefore, holds a position between that in his life on earth before the resurrection, and his glorified life in heaven: the divine power is fully in action, yet faith must be there to see it; there is not yet simple vision.[48]
            For Odo Casel, the Mystery of Liturgy, the cultic mystery, the mystery of worship, das Kulmisterium, means the presence of the saving actions of Christ in the Christian liturgical rituals. The Salvation achieved once two thousand years ago can now be reached by all humanity through the Christian liturgy.
            For Casel, the function of the liturgy goes beyond than a merely functional of phenomenological activity. Liturgy is the Mystery of Christ in the entire worship of the Church; all the theandric actions of Jesus are present in each of all the rites of the Church. The essence of the sacred rites or liturgical actions is the redemptive work which Jesus Christ continues in his Church by means of her rites.[49]
            When Casel affirms that what is present in the liturgical celebrations is the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, he is not excluding, either the person of Christ, or the incorporation of the community of believers to the redemptive work through the worship celebration. Also, Casel affirms that what is present in the liturgical celebration is not exclusively the redemptive work of the Cross, but the totality of the life of Christ, understood and interpreted as the Paschal Mystery, this means the events from the Incarnation to the glorification of Christ to the right of the Father.[50]
            When Casel talks about the totality of the presence of the Paschal Mystery of Christ in the liturgy, he never understands it in the historical modality, but as a pneumatic event. The historical event cannot be repeated again, it is irreversible. What is made present in the liturgical rite, is the eternal substance of the salvific event; the accessory circumstances are not present. He does not refer to a historical presence as if it was a new historical event of the mystery of Christ, nor as a repetition of the event.
            For him, the presence of the Paschal Mystery of Christ takes place in a sacramental way, or "in mysterio," under the veils of rites and symbols. What occurred in another time under the historical accidents, takes place now under the veil of sacramental signs. The salvific act, which is out of time because it is a theandric act attributed to the Divine Word enters through the Sacrament in time and history, in such way that can be shared by the worship community.[51]  

4. The view of the liturgy as the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed and the source from which all her power flows.

            As we read above, the liturgy is the source of the greatest efficacious Grace. It is in the Liturgy where Jesus and the entire Pascal Mystery is present. It is and has been the center of the life of the Church since her beginning. It is the best means of sanctification of men in Christ, and of glorification of God. Consequently is to the liturgy that all the works of the Church are directed and have as the end. [52] That is why Sacrosanctum Concilium affirms that the entire liturgy, but specially the Eucharistic Mystery, is the final end of all the actions of the Church and it is also the source of power of such actions:

Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.[53]

              All the extra-liturgical activities of the Church are oriented  to the Eucharistic Mystery as to their end.[54] The Eucharistic Mystery is the center, source and soul of the whole liturgy. Liturgy cannot be conceived without the Eucharist, since the latter, in the historic order of Salvation, is its center and essence. Consequently, the liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed and the source from which all her power flows. Fr. Vagaggini affirms:
From the whole Liturgy, which is its source, from its center, which is the Eucharistic mystery, grace flows out to us and with the greatest efficacy is obtained that sanctification of men in Christ and that glorification of God to which as to their end all the other works of the Church are directed... Full participation in liturgical celebrations, participation that is as far as possible perfect both internally and externally, not only individually but also socially, is thus pointed out as the summit toward which everyone in the Church must strive, and the source from which all other things in their own manner flow. Thus the full liturgical life of the faithful is shown to be not that which should absorb everything else in the life of the Church and reduce all to itself -God forbid- but as that which directs, inspires and permeates with its own spirit everything else, without prejudice to the nature and function of each.[55]

            For Odo Casel, Christianity is a mystery. This means a work of God, the attainment of a salvific and eternal plan for man, and fulfilled in time and in the world, and returning to God as its end. This saving Mystery is realized by Christ the Savior together with his mystical body, the Church in all her actions.[56] He says:
When we place the words 'mystery' and 'liturgy' side by side, and take mystery as mystery of worship, they will mean the same thing considered from two different points of view. Mystery means the heart of the action, that is to say, the redeeming work of the risen Lord, through the sacred actions he has appointed: liturgy, corresponding to its original sense of 'people's work', 'service', means rather the action of the Church in conjunction with this saving action of Christ's. We saw above, that Christ and the Church work together inseparably in the mystery...[57]

            For Casel, the redemptive work of Christ is made present in all the liturgical actions, but the Eucharistic liturgy has a major place. Due to the centrality of the Eucharist in the sacramental organism, testified for all the theological tradition and the organic reference of all the Sacraments to the Eucharist, Casel always placed the Eucharist in the preeminent place.
            For him, the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist is higher in grade compared to the other Sacraments and liturgical actions. He established a criterion of analogy to determine the grade or way of presence of the Salvific act in the liturgical actions of the Church. In the other Sacraments and liturgical actions the presence of the Passion is not associated to the substantial presence of the Body and Blood as it is in the Eucharist. In the liturgical actions it is present only as virtus participata a Christo. However, this presence is also an objective reality that cannot be conceived without the presence of the salvific act of Christ.[58] The sense of the preeminence of the Eucharist over all other liturgical actions and activities of the Church can be noticed in the Casel's following statements:  
The mass is a memorial of Christ's death; his body, sacrificed and his blood poured out are shown to us. But that this body and blood should become food and drink for life is fruit and symbol of the resurrection to everlasting life. Through these mysteries the Church takes her share in the passion of Christ, the passion by which 'he died to sin', and through this dying she takes her share in his life which 'he lives for God'. Through the cross she is filled with the pneuma, made holy, brought to glory, deified..[59]
The mass is always the high-point of liturgy, because it contains the mystery of redemption in its source, the passion and resurrection of Jesus. But from the source a mighty stream of mysteries flows into the Church's ground, and on its banks the Spirit's Word forms ever new pictures in the liturgy, to clothe and express the rites.[60]


            One of the problems that Pope Paul VI faced during the redaction of Sacrosanctum Concilium was the question of the presence of Christ in the liturgical actions of the Church. For Pope Paul VI, Christ is not present in the same way in each of the actions of the Church. In the Constitution, it can be seen a certain hierarchy or levels of such presence, having preeminence the Eucharistic liturgy. When Pope Paul VI assures that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is "real" he does mean in an exclusive way, as if in the other ways of Christ's presence were not "real." All and each of the ways of presence mentioned by the pope in the constitution are "real." However, the realism of the presence correspond to the Eucharist per excellence. It was in this matter in which the Doctrine of Mysteries of Odo Casel was vital, since it gives a balanced, logical and theologically acceptable conception of the presence of Christ in the Christian Mysteries.  


Casel, Odo. The Mystery of Christian Worship. New York: Crossroad Publications, 1999.

Casel,Odo. El Misterio del Culto Cristiano. San Sebastian: Ediciones Dinor, 1953.

Bouyer, Louis. Liturgical Piety, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1955.   

Ferrone, Rita. Liturgy : Sacrosanctum Concilium. New York: Paulist Press, 2007.

Flores Arcas, Juan Javier. Introducción a la Teología Litúrgica. Barcelona: Centre de Pastoral Litúrgica, 2003.

Bernal, José Manuel. "La presencia de Cristo en la Liturgia." In Costituzione Liturgica «Sacrosanctum Concilium» Studi, ed. Congregazione per il Culto Divino, 123-156. Roma: C.L.V.-Edizioni liturgiche, 1986.

Oñatiba, Ignacio. "La Eclesiología en la Sacrosanctum Concilium." In Costituzione Liturgica «Sacrosanctum Concilium» Studi, ed. Congregazione per il Culto Divino, 171-182. Roma: C.L.V.-Edizioni liturgiche, 1986.

Vagaggini, Cipriano, "General Norms for the Reform and Fostering of the Liturgy," in The Commentary on the Constitution and on the Instruction on the Sacred Liturgy by a Committee of Liturgical Experts, ed.  Congregatio Sacrorum Rituum, 62-78. New York: Benziger Bros., 1965.

Martimort, Aime Georges, ed. The Church at Prayer: Introduction to the Liturgy/New Edition. "From the Council of Trent to Vatican Council II", by P. Jounel, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1987.

Vogel, Dwight W., ed.  Primary Sources of Liturgical Theology: A Reader. "Mystery and Liturgy," by Odo Casel. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000.

Nichols, Aidan, ed.  Beyond the Blue Glass: Catholic Essays on Faith and Culture. Vol 1, Odo Casel Revisited, by Aidan Nichols. London: Saint Austin Press, 2002.

White, James F. 1964. "What is the liturgical movement." Perkins School of Theology journal 17, no. 2-3: 20-25. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2011).

Tuzik, Robert L. 1994. "The Liturgical Movement and the Future Church." Liturgical Ministry 3, 100-106. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2011).

White, James F. 1964. "What is the liturgical movement." Perkins School of Theology journal 17, no. 2-3: 20-25. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2011).

Neunheuser, Burkhard. 1960. "Mystery presence." Worship 34, no. 3: 120-127. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 22, 2011).

Paul VI, Mysterii Paschalis, (February 14, 1969), Http://Www.Vatican.Va/Holy_Father/Paul_Vi/Motu_Proprio/Documents/Hf_P-Vi_Motu-Proprio_19690214_Mysterii-Paschalis_En.Html (Accessed September 15, 2011)

Second Vatican Council. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. (December 4, 1963), http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html (accessed September 15, 2011).

[1] José Manuel Bernal, "La presencia de Cristo en la Liturgia," in Costituzione Liturgica «Sacrosanctum Concilium» Studi, ed. Congregazione per il Culto Divino (Roma: C.L.V.-Edizioni liturgiche, 1986), 130-131.
[2] Acta Sanctae Sedis 36:28 (1904)
[3]White, James F. 1964. "What is the liturgical movement?" Perkins School of Theology journal 17, no. 2-3: 20-25. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2011).
[4] Tuzik, Robert L. 1994. "The Liturgical Movement and the Future Church." Liturgical Ministry 3, 100-106. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2011).
[5] White, James F. 1964. "What is the liturgical movement." Perkins School of Theology journal 17, no. 2-3: 20-25. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2011).
[6] Odo Casel, El Misterio del Culto Cristiano (San Sebastian: Ediciones Dinor, 1953), 9-14.
[7] Neunheuser, Burkhard. 1960. "Mystery presence." Worship 34, no. 3: 120-127. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 22, 2011).
[8] Louis Bouyer, Liturgical Piety (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1955), 87.
[9] Odo Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship (New York: Crossroad Publications, 1999), 53.
[10] Bouyer, 87.
[11] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 54.
[12] Ibid, 12.
[13] Bouyer, 88.
[14] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 58.
[15] Dwight W. Vogel, ed.  Primary Sources of Liturgical Theology:  A Reader. (Collegeville, MN : Liturgical Press, 2000), Mystery and Liturgy, by Odo Casel, 29-35.
[16] Bouyer, 88.
[17] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 5.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 7.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid, 14.
[23] Ibid, 30.
[24] Ibid, 21-22
[25] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 92, notes from the editor.
[26] Ibid, 30.
[27] Bouyer, 88.
[28] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 22 .
[29] Aime Georges Martimort, ed. The Church at Prayer: Introduction to the Liturgy/New Edition (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press:1987), From the Council of Trent to Vatican Council II,  by P. Jounel, 63-84.
[30] Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, (December 4, 1963) art. 2, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html (accessed September 15, 2011)
[31] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 38.
[32] Rita Ferrone, Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), 24.
[33] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 12.
[34] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 5.
[35] Paul VI, "Mysterii Paschalis," (February 14, 1969), Http://Www.Vatican.Va/Holy_Father/Paul_Vi/Motu_Proprio/Documents/Hf_P-Vi_Motu-Proprio_19690214_Mysterii-Paschalis_En.Html (Accessed September 15, 2011)
[36] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 13.
[37] Ibid, 21.
[38] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 6.
[39] Vagaggini, Cipriano, "General Norms for the Reform and Fostering of the Liturgy," in The Commentary on the Constitution and on the Instruction on the Sacred Liturgy by a Committee of Liturgical Experts, ed.  Congregatio Sacrorum Rituum (New York: Benziger Bros., 1965), 66.
[40] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 5.
[41] Ibid, 6.
[42] Ignacio Oñatiba, "La Eclesiología en la Sacrosanctum Concilium," in Costituzione Liturgica «Sacrosanctum Concilium» Studi, ed. Congregazione per il Culto Divino (Roma: C.L.V.-Edizioni liturgiche, 1986), 175.
[43] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 7.
[44] Vagaggini, 67.
[45] Ibid, 69.
[46] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 38.
[47] Ibid, 16.
[48] Ibid, 84.
[49] Nichols, Aidan, ed.  Beyond the Blue Glass: Catholic Essays on Faith and Culture (London: Saint Austin Press, 2002), vol 1, Odo Casel Revisited, by Aidan Nichols,  151-168.
[50] Bernal, 141.
[51] Ibid, 142.
[52] Vagaggini, 72.
[53] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 10.
[54] Juan Javier Flores Arcas, Introducción a la Teología Litúrgica (Barcelona: Centre de Pastoral Litúrgica, 2003), 230.
[55] Vagaggini, 74-75.
[56] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 9.
[57] Ibid, 40.
[58] Bernal, 144.
[59] Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, 29.
[60] Ibid, 69.

Posted 6th August 2013 by Fr. Manuel-Alfredo Razo-Canales, S.T.L.

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