Sacra Liturgia: Day 4, Hughlights 1

Friday was Day 4 of Sacra Liturgia 2016, as full as the previous days which had taken their toll on many of us. It has been a densely packed programme, and London has been mercifully dry but unmercifully muggy. These highhughlights are a little late in coming as Friday ended with a stirring pontifical Mass in the Ordinariate Use at Warwick Street, after which Mgr and Mrs Newton kindly hosted a drinks’ reception. Then it was a lovely supper for me with a wonderful crew, all younger than me, many of whom provided such sterling service in the conference liturgies. While Lucas is already a seminarian for the diocese of Worcester in Massachusetts, from the other young chaps I expect to see a vocation or two in the next few years.

The first talk of the day was from Professor Dr Helmut Hoping, a permanent deacon, from the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. His paper was entitled Liturgy and the Triune God: Rethinking Trinitarian Theology. He began by recalling the former status of liturgy as primary source of theological reflection, prima theologia, in which the priority is not so much speaking about God as to God. It is a doxological way of doing theology. In fact the doxology (or expression of formal praise to God, usually trinitarian, such as at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass) is the shared root of theology and liturgy.

Professor Helmut Hoping

Over recent centuries theology came to be pursued as something distinct and separate from liturgy. Today there is a renewed understanding of the need to recover liturgy as a primary source for theology. The mystery of God is studied in theology but is made present and worshipped in liturgy, especially in the Mass, which is the privileged place of encounter with the Blessed Trinity.

In the gospels Jesus is shown as a man of prayer. Only gradually did the disciples begin to comprehend his intimate relation with the one God, and not in any definitive way until after the Resurrection. The Letter to the Hebrews reveals that it is the transitus, or passing, of Christ from death to life, from the world to the Father, that initiates Christian liturgy. Christ is the High Priest, the Heavenly Liturgist.

As the liturgy developed in the early Church it manifested a stronger identification of Christ with God. Any prayers addressed to Christ in the liturgy are always directed to the glorification of the Father. Professor Hoping noted Jungmann’s contention that prayer was addressed only to the Father through Christ until the fourth century, and that the Arian crisis prompted the Church to address prayers to Christ himself. However, the professor thought Jungmann inaccurate here, as there is evidence that prayer was addressed to Christ directly earlier.

The Roman rite is, Hoping said, is clearly patrocentric, with the Father as the one properly addressed in the liturgical prayers, through Christ our Lord. Yet in some feasts Christ came to be addressed directly (such as the Holy Cross and Corpus Christi). The Holy Spirit also is occasionally, though less emphatically, addressed such as in the sequence for Pentecost. This is not a problem in the Roman rite as it clearly conceives that both are also God. So it is more correct to say that, fundamentally, the Roman rite is theocentric, and both the preference of the rite to address worship to the Father and the few occasions when the other divine persons are directly addressed can be reconciled when seen against this theocentric foundation of the Mass.

So the Roman Mass is thanksgiving and praise to the Father through the Son and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. The Mass is inherently and inescapably trinitarian. In an explicit sense the Holy Spirit stays more in the background, the enabler of the liturgy rather than a focus of it. He emerges into focus at the epiclesis over the gifts. Otherwise the Paschal Mystery of Christ holds sway, and Christ is addressed directly in the Kyrie, the midsection of the Gloria, the verses either side of the gospel proclamation and the Alleluia, and the Mysterium Fidei, at the Pax and at Communion.

There is a need to embody this liturgical orientation to Christ as the subject of the liturgy (with the Father as the object, if I might put it that way), to express it in our physical attitude. The East is the symbolic direction of both Christ’s comings – at the Incarnation and at the parousia or Second Coming. Such an alignment of the body in the liturgy is, said the professor, an alignment with the Spirit. In fact we can say that we offer the Eucharist in order to bring about the parousia! It is no great stretch to see how this confirms Cardinal Sarah’s call for a return to the traditional ad orientem position of the priest at Mass, with both priest and people together facing the Lord who comes from the East.

Professor Hoping made other observations on the Trinity and the liturgy. For example, with few exceptions, the Thou of the liturgy is the Father. In the liturgy the Christian identifies with Christ’s I, and Christ’s I-Thou relationship with the Father is also the Christian’s. The few occasions prayer is addressed to Christ as Thou, it is to the eschatological Christ who is with the Father now, and who in himself and through our communion and conformity to him has established us in communion with the Father, and who will come again at the Last to complete and perfect that communion. Christ is not addressed as the one present on the altar or in the congregation, the Christ among us. (So there can be no “celebration of community” at Mass!)

Next up was Rev Dr Michael Cullinan, of Maryvale, whose paper was entitled The Ethical Character of the Mysteries: Observations from a Moral Theologian. This was the second in a trilogy of theologically demanding, though diverse, papers. He began by noting the modern theological and liturgical environment, in which canon law and moral theology have been pushed to the side. Yet this is an impoverishment in his eyes. For there is a grave moral significance to what people see and hear in church, in the liturgy.

Rev Dr Michael Cullinan

Fr Cullinan’s paper was based on his reading of an Orthodox theologian, Christos Yannaras, and in particular his book, The Freedom of Morality. This was hard to comprehend in spoken summary but we shall have a go! Yannaras presents man as having been given personal substance by God, who creates man in His image and likeness. Man fell by rejecting the personal communion with God that came with this and refusing to be what he was created to be, God’s image and likeness. Rejecting God’s will leaves all men relying on their own will, and by this sin is perpetuated. The Incarnation of God in Christ is none other than God’s coming to transform men into a new body, Christ’s own, and this is especially effected in the Eucharist. This is the grace of God par excellence.

Once we come to grace, we come quickly to sacraments, and so to liturgy. The communion with the new body offered us in Christ is the last hope of all the world, yet our Sunday experience (this is being written from an Orthodox context, though it works for the Catholic as well) is of individuals gathered for individual prayer addressing individual needs, usually indifferent to, even ignoring, those next to them. There is here a social problem of, and a resulting need for, a recreated community/communion, yet for the vast majority this is only addressed in the brief space of the Sunday liturgy.

But the liturgy builds communion and sanctifies time beyond the Sunday liturgy. Our Christian living in time is intimately related to this. Such things was fasting and abstinence are lived outside the time of the liturgy but are directed towards it. Fr Cullinan saw a need to move beyond the individualism of Lenten penance. It should involve a submission to and identification with the community of the Church. Communal penance has the advantage of counteracting any excess in penance or fasting, or more to the point, any laxity.

In reference to this point, Fr Cyril Law of Macau later informed us that in the darker days of newly communist China the Church was priestless. So Catholics were without the Eucharistic liturgy. What they could maintain was fasting and abstinence, and through these they maintained a sense of Christian community and identity. Fasting became their liturgy, their act of public worship and the bond of communion. So when, after the Council, the rules of fasting and abstinence were relaxed, this was a great blow to the sense of identity and community among Chinese Catholics. This is a sobering reminder to us lax and lackadaisical westerners.

Fr Cullinan later made a fascinating point. The liturgy is art, and the Church’s art is liturgy. What Catholics see and hear at Mass is important to their moral lives. The modern depreciation of matter in art and architecture (such as in brutalist minimalism) has real moral effects. Some myths or cop-outs need to be dismissed. Art and architecture cannot be reduced to mere icing on the cake: delicious and sweet but hardly essential or nourishing. The laudable aim to use the materials at simply at hand (as opposed to importing expensive foreign materials) is not the same as the far-from-admirable practice of using merely the simplest materials that can possible be found. Noble simplicity is often counterfeited as ignoble simplicity. Doing the best we can can never be equated with doing the least we can. The priests in Dachau and Siberia, who cut no corners and made church plate and vestments within the walls of their prisons and out of whatever they could scrounge, are testaments to the true Catholic morality of worship that seeks the best materials that can be obtained and makes the best out of them. A sacramental religion cannot ignore the effect of what people see and hear in worship. An impoverished, distorted liturgy has a similar moral effect.

Perhaps we err here out of a caution that worries that material excellence might be seen somehow to promote a triumphalism of the Church or a neglect of the poor. In fact it is promoting, and reflecting, the glory and beauty of God. In the liturgy the beauty of created things is offered back to God as worship. Is what we offer in fact truly beautiful? This reticence about material things goes further. There is a modern reluctance, even disdain, to bless material things, or to exorcize them. This exposes an indifference to creation that does us no credit.

Fr Cullinan then looked at the use of scripture in the liturgy, in particular the Mass lectionary. Citing other commentators, he noted the lectionary’s tendency to cut and paste scripture in such a way that the full force and effect of revelation is denied the congregation. [An earlier post deals with just this topic of the lectionary.] He cited in particular the complete removal of St Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians about the proper disposition for receiving the Eucharist. It effectively ignores the moral/ethical dimension of our Eucharistic life. Moreover, for so many today the Sunday liturgy is their only access to moral teaching, and to an exposition of the Church of struggling Christians on earth and the Church in heaven of those who gloriously persevered. (Which, by the way, should lead us to reflect on the nature of the homily at Mass. By definition it is restricted to an exposition of the readings at Mass. But there is great loss in not having the flexibility as we once did to preach a series on the capital sins, the works of mercy, and the like. Mind you, the creative preacher can still manage something if he tries!)

The conclusion drawn from this was bracing. What happens in our churches is vital to the salvation of the faithful (and the not-so-faithful come to think of it). If in our churches we fail to teach the fullness of the faith, if we fail to give people an experience of the beauty of holiness and a foretaste of heaven, if we serve them gruel and not the bread of heaven (and a feast of fine things, to quote Isaiah), then our liturgies are morally deficient.

So, what is served in your church? We might all ask that question. Happily some will be able to answer positively, but not all.

Day 4, part 2 is here and part 3 is here!




7 thoughts on “Sacra Liturgia: Day 4, Hughlights 1

  1. continuing to love the linking of art to the liturgy—for it, the liturgy, the glorifying, the sharing, the proclaiming the mystical of transformation, is the true essence of art—that which is both beautiful and pleasing….


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