Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Sacramental Economy and the Liturgy as the Work of the Trinity (Part Two)

In my last posting on the liturgy, I examined God the Father’s role in the liturgy – particularly regarding the role of blessing, and our response of thanks, adoration, and humility. Today I will address God the Son’s role, breaking it down (as does the Catechism) into four parts:

  • Sacrifice and Sacrament
  • The Apostles and Bishops
  • Christ’s Presence in the Liturgy
  • Liturgy as Participation in Heavenly Worship

Sacrifice and Sacrament

As previously mentioned, the sacraments make present primarily the Paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. “In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present” (CCC 1084).

One argument many Protestants make against the Catholic view on liturgy, particularly the Mass, is that it appears that Jesus is being re-sacrificed over and over again. Since the Bible clearly says that Jesus was sacrificed “once are for all” there is no need for the Sacrifice of the Mass. They say Jews, like Catholics, offered many sacrifices but couldn’t get saved because their sacrifices do not do what Jesus’ “once and for all” sacrifice on the cross did.

The Catechism makes it very clear, however, that Jesus’ sacrifice is a one-time event: “… Jesus dies, is buried, rises from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father ‘once for all.’ His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history…” (CCC 1085). His sacrifice is also very unique in that it “participates in the divine eternity” and is applicable at all times and places. “…all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. …all that Christ is - all that he did and suffered for all men - participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life” (CCC 1085). If the cross could not transcend 1st century Israel, no one before or after could have any hope of salvation. The Last Supper shows us that the merits of the cross could be given before Christ’s death while the work of the Church thereafter shows how Christ intended the graces of the cross to be ordinarily be communicated.

And if you haven’t already guessed, the sacraments are the ordinary channels of God’s grace, which was merited through the Paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. And by the way, Catholics do not go to Mass to “get saved” – that is, to be justified before God. Only one who is justified may receive the great Sacrament of the Eucharist. By receiving the Eucharist, one is made holier, more conformed to Christ, and more closely bonded to God, the Church, and the Communion of Saints. There’s much more to Christianity (and salvation!) than getting yourself justified!

“The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature” (CCC 1084). We are human beings, not angels. Only angels can conceive of a Christianity of faith alone! When God works with man, he takes our souls and bodies into consideration! Therefore when we receive his grace, we ordinarily do so through a sign that has spoken words (called the "form" of the sacrament and uses physical stuff (like water or oil; this is called the "matter" of the sacrament). When a Catholic receives grace, he physically KNOWS he has!

The Apostles and Bishops

Just as Jesus was sent by the Father, the Apostles were sent by Jesus. These twelve men were empowered by the Holy Spirit to teach, sanctify, and govern the People of God on earth. The chief purpose of these men was to bring sanctification. Again, we need to be justified, but no one can enter heaven if he is not sanctified – we must be “holy as God is holy”! The apostles were not going to live forever, so they passed on Jesus’ own “power of sanctifying” to their successors, the bishops. The Church calls it “apostolic succession” because every bishop in the Church today is a direct successor to one of the apostles and exercises the same authority to teach, sanctify, and govern.

1087 Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying: they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. This "apostolic succession" structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders.

In other words, apostolic succession is dependant up the sacrament of Holy Orders. If somehow every bishop and priest were to die at once, there would be no more succession, no more popes, no more leadership, no more ordination.

Christ’s Presence in the Liturgy

Lately there has been an argument about where Christ is most present in the liturgy. Two points are important to know: Jesus is “especially present in the Eucharistic species” (CCC 1088), that being the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ! There is a real, physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Christ is also present in the one administering a particular sacrament. So present is Christ in this, we say that “Christ himself” (CCC 1088) is the one administering the sacrament. In a third sense, Jesus, who is the Word of God incarnate, is present in the reading of the written Word of God. Lastly, as the Bible says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.”

Liturgy as Participation in Heavenly Worship

In my Church history class, we’ve been doing a lot of study on the crusades and making pilgrimages to the Holy Land – particularly Jerusalem. In the Book of Revelation, we read about the heavenly Jerusalem coming down upon their earth – as literally heaven on earth! This happens in a foretaste through the Mass, which is the closest we get to heaven on earth! Making a pilgrimage (or a crusader quest!) to Jerusalem is really a very sacramental expression of our longing to return to God in heaven.

Think about that as you read CCC 1090: "In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory."

Okay more to come on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy!

No comments: