Monday, January 16, 2006

The Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem

The Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem are one of the newer clerical societies serving the classical Roman liturgy, but one which looks to have quite a rich and promising vision, and which seeks to celebrate the sacred liturgy of the Church with great excellence. From their website:

"The Divine Liturgy in its traditional Latin, in the august Eucharistic Sacrifice, Divine Office and other rites and ceremonies of the Church, constitute the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her powers flow.

"For this reason the worthy celebration of the Church’s worship of the Most Holy Trinity is at the heart of the spirituality and work of the CRNJ. The effectiveness of personal sanctification and apostolic works will stem from each member’s faithful participation in the offering of the Church’s liturgy particularly in their own daily celebration of the Sacrifice of Redemption."

What particularly impresses me is that there seems to be a mixing here of the spirituality of classical Roman liturgy and Latin West with some aspects of the liturgical richness and thinking of the Christian East. I believe this comes out in the writings of their prior as well as in this photograph of the CRNJ's recently completed chapel from this past Christmas (note the icon and lampada beside the beautiful altar):

If you go to their website (click on the link above), you will find there an interesting piece by their prior, Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer, called The Nature of the Liturgy.

Here's an excerpt:

Liturgy presupposes man within the Christian understanding of creation. He has a purpose and he has a context. In this regard man, created by God, is intrinsically ordered towards Him. Because he is rational unlike the other animals in creation, he alone can bless God for all that he has received from Him. Man in the very ground of his being has been created to adore God. It is an act that is due in him since in nature omnis agens agit propter finem – all things tend toward that end to which the creative act of God has ordered them. According to Fr. Alexander Schmemann man alone,

"…is to respond to God’s blessing with his blessing. …in the Bible to bless God is not a 'religious' or 'cultic' act, but the very way of life. …All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. 'Homo sapiens', 'homo faber'…yes, but first of all, 'homo adorans'. The first and basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands at the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God…”

As such man has a specific role in the cosmos and in the earthly city of his human existence. He is to adore God in his very being (homo adorans) and in his actions (homo faber); when he does so he is reflecting wisdom or imitating the divine (homo sapiens). His adoration is one that refracts the light which is Christ throughout the whole universe. This is brought about formally and publicly by means of the Church’s central act of life: public liturgical service to God.

This understanding of man and his relation to the cosmos is something that has become alien to Christians in the modern era with its post-Enlightenment emphasis on rationality. The roots of Christian worship are found in the ancient world where sensitivity towards the spiritual was far more operative than it is today. For this reason the underpinnings of the cultic act were more fundamentally integrated into the fabric of daily human experience. People were more aware of the spiritual in regard to the material and the relationship of mystery to the whole.

The Benedictine liturgical scholar Dom Odo Casel observes in his classic work, The Mystery of Christian Worship,

"Ancient thought, considered as a whole, had a great reverence for all being: the individual felt himself to be a member of the great cosmos, and willingly submitted to its order. The self-seeker [what modern man so often views himself as being] was taken for a rebel: his deed…brought down the anger of the gods. Behind the visible world the deep insight of ancient man saw a higher kingdom of spirit and godhead, of which the things we see are symbol, reflected reality, and at the same time mediators and bearers of spiritual things. Ancient thinking was at once concrete, because concerned with objects, and spiritual, because these [men] did not remain confined to material objects. To men like these it did not seem difficult to believe that God could communicate his life through symbols, or that their own religious acts could leap up into the circle of God’s life; it was no different whether they conceived these things as more cosmic or more spiritual; in either case it was a symbolic action which rose to the height of the god’s mode of living. The symbolic, strength-giving rites of the mysteries were real for the ancients; when the Church of Christ entered the world she did not end but rather fulfilled their way of thinking."

The erosion of this manner of perceiving matter and spirit is in great part the result of the triumph of empirical “science” that determines as “real” only what is directly measurable. The sacramental dimension of Christianity has become incomprehensible to modern rationalists. Given the universal context of rationalism, the notion of symbolic worship as a real integration of matter and spirit has become equally incomprehensible. Christians have certainly fallen under a rationalist influence and so some fundamental underpinnings operative in worship have been obscured, if not lost altogether. Yet the integration of matter and spirit is precisely what sacramental – liturgical – worship is all about.

(To read the rest of the article, please click the link above.)

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