Father Mauro Gagliardis Column on Liturgical Theology
By Nicola Bux*
ROME, 8 FEB. 2012 (ZENIT)
Without the mediation of the Son, we would not have known the Father, and we would not have received the Spirit that enables us to recognize the Son as Lord and to adore in him the Father. The Father willed to render us capable of all this, that is, to adopt us as His children, before the creation of the world (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 1077. The capacity to act as individuals or as members of a chosen and consecrated people is called “liturgy”: rightly described as work of the mystery of the three Persons. The Trinitarian action, therefore, is the prototype of the sacred or liturgical action. However, given the ecclesiastical and liturgical activism that has led to the adoption of terms like “actor” and “operator” even in sacred liturgy, to avoid ambiguities we must define the nature of this action. The sacred action of the liturgy is essentially a “blessing,” term noted by all, but not in its true meaning. This is defined in the following article of the Catechism, which it is appropriate to quote in its entirety: “Blessing is a divine and life-giving action, the source of which is the Father; his blessing is both word and gift (“bene-dictio” — “eu-logia”). When applied to man, the word ‘blessing’ means adoration, and surrender to his Creator in thanksgiving (CCC, 1078).
Hence, the liturgy is divine blessing, word and gift, and human adoration, namely thanksgiving (eucaristia) and offering. Is not the whole Mass contained in this definition? No one can fail to describe the sacred liturgy in this way, in other words, as sacrament. Adoration is nothing other than the liturgy itself. Any attempt to split the two goes against the Catholic faith and truth.
Is it not held today that man adores God with all his being? This means with his soul and body. That is why, in the Bible, all “God’s work is 'blessing'” (cf. CCC, 1079-1081): it is the cosmic dimension that innervates Sacred Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, and also the liturgy. If to bless means to adore, blessing and adoration are documented in Scripture by prostration and the physical bending of the knee and, metaphysically, of the heart. Only the devil does not kneel, because — say the desert Fathers — he does not have knees. Thus, before Jesus, Saint Paul sees the consonance between sacred history and the cosmos: every knee shall bend in heaven, on earth and under the earth. The concrete consequence is that the gesture of kneeling must become primary in the rite of the Mass, in the rendition, inspiration and flavor of sacred singing, in the sacred furnishings: a church without kneelers is not a Catholic church. Why should one prostrate oneself? Because the divine blessing is manifested in kind with “the presence of God in the Temple” (CCC, 1081): before His presence, the first and fundamental gesture is adoration. It must not be said that the Temple was abolished in as much as Jesus purified it, replacing it with his body in which his divinity dwells corporeally: thus the divine presence is now that of the Body of Christ and coincides to the utmost with His Most Blessed Sacrament. In his Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy, Joseph Ratzinger showed the harm the liturgical reform caused in severing the link between the Jewish Temple and the Christian Church: we see it today in the new Churches, precisely while there is an on-going dialogue with the Jews at the ecumenical level. If the body of Christ is constituted by the spiritual edifice of his members (cf. 1 Peter 2:5), it should be known that where the Church gathers for the Mysteries a “holy space” is born.
Now we understand what the Catechism states clearly: “In the Church’s liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated. The Father is acknowledged and adored as the source and the end of all the blessings of creation and salvation. In his Word who became incarnate, died and rose for us, He fills us with his blessings. Through his Word, he pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 1082). Hence the further definition issues of the twofold dimension of the liturgy of the Church: on one hand, it is blessing of the Father with adoration, praise and thanksgiving; on the other, it is the offering of oneself to the Father and of one’s gifts, as well as imploration of the Spirit so that it will redound on the whole world. Everything, however, passes through priestly mediation or the offering and ”through communion in the death and resurrection of Christ the Priest, and by the power of the Spirit” (CCC, 1083).
If the resurrection of Christ had not happened historically and if he had not originally “fulfilled” history imprinting on it its final direction, the sacraments would have no efficacy and the end for which they were administered would have failed: our resurrection at the end of life and of human history. A de-mythicizing exegetical approach is generally followed by a theology reduced to symbolism; but Catholic thought, speaks with the Apostle of the “power of his resurrection”: the apparitions of the Risen One are not only followed by the kerigma and the faith of the disciples, but by the emanation of the power of the resurrection in the sacraments. Thus, the truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ is decisive for the efficacy of the sacraments, for their real incidence on the transformation of the human being.
The paschal mystery, precisely because it saw the Son pass from death to life, also sees the children of God pass from death to life. That is why it is called paschal, because of this passing that occurred thanks to the sacrifice of the Son of God. See why the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the center of gravity of all the sacraments (cf. CCC, 1113), as Easter is of the Liturgical Year.
The divine plan of salvation is one: to bring men and things, those of Heaven and those of earth, under the lordship of Christ. The first work of the three Persons aims at leading the human being back to his original nature so that the image, disfigured by sin, is restored.
* * *
*Father Nicola Bux is Professor of Eastern Liturgy and Consultor of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the Causes of Saints, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, as well as for the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.