Friday, January 20, 2006

From Fr. Kocik: Liturgical Renewal and Eschatology

[The following comes from Fr. Kocik...]

This article originally appeared in the October 2003 issue
of Homiletic & Pastoral Review, pp. 22-27.

O Sacrum Convivium, the hymn attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, extols the Sacred Banquet “in which Christ is received as food, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” How splendidly this hymn encapsulates the depth and breadth of Catholic Eucharistic theology. Past and future become present in the Eucharist, for the Lord who simultaneously feeds us and assumes us into himself is the Alpha and Omega who transcends time. While most Catholics have at least a hazy notion of the Eucharist as memorial and Presence, few perceive the Eucharist as anticipation and foretaste. At a time when voices are being raised in support of a liturgical “reform of the reform,” we cannot afford to neglect the eschatological or “future oriented” dimension of the sacred liturgy (especially the Eucharistic sacrifice).

Responding to the Protestant Reformers, the Council of Trent (1545-63) articulated the Church’s beliefs regarding (among other things) the ordained priesthood, the Mass, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Against the heretics who taught that the Eucharistic bread and wine merely symbolize the Lord’s Body and Blood, Trent affirmed that Jesus Christ is “truly, really, and substantially” present in the Sacrament. Opposing those who maintained that the Eucharistic service merely commemorates the events of the Upper Room and Calvary, Trent declared that in the Mass the very Sacrifice of the Cross is represented and renewed upon the Church’s altars, together with its saving grace, through the mediation of sacred signs. During the four centuries between Trent and the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the standard Catholic manuals of sacramental theology paid great attention to the Eucharist both as a sacrament and as a sacrifice. Theologians endeavored to explain how the risen and glorified Christ becomes present in the Eucharistic elements, and how the Sacrifice of the Mass relates to the Sacrifice of the Cross. Unfortunately, the Church’s defense of the Eucharistic doctrines of presence and sacrifice caused the eschatological aspect of the liturgy to be obscured or misunderstood in the popular imagination. Sacramental theology from Trent to Vatican II focused primarily on what is remembered and represented in the sacred liturgy, but not adequately on what is yet to come.

Stirred by the renewal of biblical and patristic scholarship, the twentieth-century Liturgical Movement helped bring about a revival of eschatological perception. The Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy teaches:

In the liturgy on earth, we are sharing by anticipation in the heavenly one, celebrated in the holy city, Jerusalem, the goal towards which we strive as pilgrims, where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand, he who is the minister of the saints and of the true tabernacle [Rev. 21:2; Col. 3:1; Heb. 8:2]. We are singing the hymn of God’s glory with all the troops of the heavenly army. In lovingly remembering the saints in our liturgy, we are hoping in some way to share in what they now enjoy, and to become their companions. We are waiting for our saviour, our lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, appears, and until we appear with him in glory.

This paragraph is a veritable treasury of liturgical eschatology. Even as we struggle with sin and await the return of the Lord in glory, we enjoy a foretaste of heaven. Jesus Christ, sacrificed and living eternally in the resurrection, transcends time in such a way that his Paschal Mystery and his very Presence reach all times. Therefore, the eschatological or heavenly liturgy can break through to the earthly. Past and future collapse into present sacramental action, and historically bound congregations find communion with the risen Lord and with the whole company of heaven.

The Book of Revelation with its vision of the cosmic liturgy, at the center of which stands the sacrificial Lamb, features the contents of Eucharistic worship: an altar, a sacrifice, the smoke of incense, the continual Sanctus, the prayers of the angels and saints. Scripture professor Scott Hahn argues persuasively for interpreting the Johannine Apocalypse in light of the earthly liturgy of the Mass. The Cherubic Hymn of the Byzantine liturgy reminds us that the action in the Apocalypse and the action at (and around) earthly altars are the same action, occurring on two planes: “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim, and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now set aside all earthly cares.”

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