Sacra Liturgia: Day 4, Hughlights 2

Next up is the 14th session of the four-day conference, given by Professor David Fagerberg of the University of Notre Dame in the USA. His paper, entitled Doing the Word Liturgically: Stewardship and Creation and Care for the Poor, was the third in a trilogy of more theologically demanding papers, though it was delivered in quite a light style.

He began by setting the context in terms of a question, or rather two questions: Is there a connection between liturgy and social justice, especially care of the poor and stewardship of creation? Could anyone actually object to such a connection?

Professor Fagerberg reminded us of symbolic temple topography applied to the Christian context: the sanctuary [and so properly the tabernacle – just saying!] represents heaven, the nave is the Church, and the narthex is threshold into the world, a permeable membrane through which Christians are sent into the world and through which the world is invited to enter the Church and journey eastwards to the Holy of Holies in heaven. It is a powerful yet simple understanding of any proper church building, and really (it seems to me) serves as a basic template for ecclesiastical architecture. The baptistery at the west end makes so much sense.

Professor David Fagerberg

But I digress. The professor then took us further in exploring the mutuality of the relationship between Church and the created world. Cult, the worship conducted within the church, is the basis of culture, which is the high point of created matter. From the created world comes the stuff of sacrifice and worship, the bread and wine for Eucharist, the wax for light and the resins for incense, the pigments for sacred art and the metals for sacred plate. Liturgy is not some new world; it is the world renewed, and by it man is renewed and put in his proper cosmic location. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI, “the liturgy of faith always reaches beyond the cultic act into everyday life, which must itself become ‘liturgical’, a service for the transformation of the world.” A liturgically-formed people has a necessary concern for the created world. Liturgy should overflow the sanctuary, said the professor, to comfort the poor and honour creation. Thus he advocates a “mundane liturgical theology,” as it were.

Professor then proposed an hermeneutic of microcosm to be applied on three fronts. (1) Liturgical anthropology. Microcosm means literally “little world” and man is himself a little world. He is introduced into the world and invited into heaven. Cosmic divisions are embodied in the human person [and human inconstancy has affected the world; thus we speak of a fallen world as well as fallen man]. A created being and imperfect, man is destined to share uncreated life and perfection through deification [which is a fruit made possible by the Incarnation]. What is the perfection of a human being? To share in the life of God. [Thus human perfection is a divine gift, with which we have power only to cooperate, not to initiate]. Granted already a share in this destiny, the human person is made a royal priest, given stewardship over creation and the privilege of worship on behalf of creation. Man is the only creature who can know and love its creator. The royal and the priestly must not be separated, for it is man’s inherent duty to love and worship God and offer creation back to Him.

(2) Liturgical cosmology. To be beautiful a thing’s parts must have a certain order and placement, and a certain magnitude, neither too big nor too small. [We would call this symmetry and proportion I guess.] Creation and history are, in their totality, beyond our comprehension, not least in their beauty, for we cannot see their beginning or their end. We can see only details, as if seeing fabric through a microscope and all the fabric’s flaws, unable to take in the beauty of the entire garment. So man’s dominion over the world is as stewardship, and stewardship of that part in our view in our time and place. It is stewardship because it is the care and maintenance of what belongs to another. If we forget this we put ourselves on the Throne. When man named the animals he did so to the glory of God, and without divine glorification it is done for merely selfish ends.

From a cosmological perspective therefore, we were created to stand under God, next to our neighbour and over creation. The Fall broke these three relationships. The Fall is the human attempt to move higher than our proper place by our own initiative and for our own ends; it is the failure to offer worship to God and to usurp his Throne. The liturgy puts us again in our proper place, under God, along side our neighbour, and above creation, offering it back to God and ourselves with it.

(3) Liturgical ecology. Ecology is literally “the study of the house”, the house being creation. Liturgy is integral to ecology for, quoting Aidan Kavanagh, liturgy is doing the world as the world was made to be done. The world was created to anticipate the arrival of God, and so is oriented towards Him. Thus religion is giving God his due glory in and through creation. Liturgy is participation in [and constitutive of surely] the restored order of creation, and its restored beauty. Man as imago Dei, the image of God, is thereby the representative of God. As emperors put up statues throughout their empires to iconograph their dominion, so too God puts man in His empire, the cosmos, to iconograph Him. To deface the statue was to dishonour the emperor; likewise to hate and harm one’s neighbour is to hate God. Thus justice is to be seen as giving both God and neighbour their due honour. When men properly honour each other they can then properly honour God, and be icons of God’s dominion over creation.

So the sacred liturgy and stewardship of the profane are not incompatible. Priest and prophet are not meant to be opposed to each other. The prophet should not object to a man entering the temple; what he may object to is that man returning from the temple without bringing the temple with him, with its liturgical representation of the order and beauty of creation.

Sin is when we fail to exercise proper dominion but rather seek to domineer. The Fall is the loss of our liturgical career. The world comes to cause worldiness and the good can come to be experienced as evil. There is nothing wrong with the world, only with our relationship with it. For its sake we must leave it, stand outside and above it, and only then can we offer it back to God. We cannot “do the world right” until we are indifferent to it, until we are dispassionate towards it. This is our necessary liturgical and existential asceticism.

So it comes down to order and placement, symmetry and proportion. It is, to put it another way, about hierarchy. Christ has established a hierarchy, an order of power and responsibility. We have a royal power from Christ to care for his creation, and a priestly power to offer creation back to him in all its beauty. Through this power man is to iconograph God not idolise himself. Conversion is the return to this order, putting the Other not the self at the centre. That is love, and love is liturgy. Liturgy is thus our participation in the restored order and hierarchy of creation.

Professer Fagerberg ended by repeating his question: is there a connection between liturgy and social justice, especially concern for the poor and stewardship of creation?

It seems so—
• because cult is the basis of culture;
• because of the relationship between cult and cosmos;
• because the tip of the liturgical iceberg that we can see is connected to a divine economy below;
• because the liturgy needs the world as material for sacrifice and matter for sacrament;
• because after liturgy, we crave mission;
• because Christ heads a parade from the empty tomb, through the dislocated gates of Hades, to the heavenly Jerusalem, and this liturgical procession marches straight through the valley of the shadow of death;
• because liturgy makes the Church, and the Church’s reason for being is as a herald of salvation;
• because the Church-at-liturgy is not a new world, it is the world renewed;
• because liturgy is to world as form is to matter;
• because the coin of the realm in liturgy is grace, and grace perfects nature;
• because we must be able to see the supernatural end of our creation in order to do justice to nature now;
• because without the rational tongue of liturgists, mute matter could not symphonize with the angels;
• because of incarnation in a body and resurrection of a body;
• because liturgy puts man and woman in their true cosmic location.

You can see that this was a dense talk, and I have not set down the half of it in many respects only the highlights as they struck me. What is striking is that the proper order and hierarchy of the world is dependent on, it may be said, on the order and hierarchy of the liturgy. The liturgy locates us properly both with regard to God and with regard to creation. This bifocal location is crucial to the destiny of both humanity itself and creation. If we get creation wrong we get God wrong, and the liturgy redresses the error by establishing the true order of things, locating the individual properly over the beauty of creation, in communion with neighbour and looking upward to God. The liturgy is microcosm, a little world, the world as it should be.

That is enough for one post. The next and last highlights to come later this afternoon.

Day 4 Part 1 is here and part 3 is here.


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