Friday, February 15, 2008

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

You’ll have to pardon my lack of posting lately – just been to darn busy! So here comes some information regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy. And if you’re wondering, I’ll be discussing paragraphs 1091-1109 in the Catechism.

It is important to recall that when we speak of the Holy Spirit in the Creed we call Him the “Lord and giver of life.” It is to Him that we attribute the rest of the beliefs of the Creed (the Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body, and eternal life). In other words, the Holy Spirit is absolutely important – and so often He is forgotten! Perhaps it’s not that He is forgotten; perhaps He is as humble as Christ. In John 14 and 16, Jesus tells us that the Spirit will not speak His own words but only what He has heard, helping us to recall all that Christ taught. How humble of God!

But how can an immaterial Spirit teach us anything? By dwelling in us. This is the Ghost we all need to be haunted by! What’s more important is that by dwelling in us, He gives us divine life. Just as without continuous breathing our bodies die, so too without the breath of the Spirit we die spiritually. Speaking of teaching and life giving, the Catechism states: “In the liturgy the Holy Spirit is teacher of the faith of the People of God and artisan of ‘God's masterpieces,’ the sacraments of the New Covenant. The desire and work of the Spirit in the heart of the Church is that we may live from the life of the risen Christ” (CCC 1091).

A good image of the Holy Spirit, as used in the Acts of the Apostles to describe the Spirit descending upon Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost, is a flame. Fire transforms what it touches. When we enter into God’s grace and the Holy Spirit dwells within us there should be a transformation! “By his transforming power, he makes the mystery of Christ present here and now” (CCC 1092).

The Holy Spirit prepares for the reception of Christ

The Holy Spirit is not simply active today in the Church (though He is active in a wholly unique way in the Church), He was active from the beginning to bring about life in Creation and to help prepare for the newness of life which would come with Christ. He was especially active in the lives of the Jewish people from whom the Messiah would come. Today the Holy Spirit “fulfills what was prefigured in the Old Covenant” (CCC 1093) – this includes elements of our liturgical celebrations: “the Church's liturgy has retained certain elements of the worship of the Old Covenant as integral and irreplaceable, adopting them as her own” (CCC 1093).

I’m sure it doesn’t seem strange to you that we read from the Old Testament, pray the Psalms, and recall Jewish feasts and terminology in our liturgies simply because we’ve grown up with it. This use, however, was at one point argued over by the first Christians – and Christians ever since. In fact, by supporting Gnosticism the Da Vinci Code takes a very anti-Jewish stance. The first two major heresies took extreme positions in relating Christianity to Judaism. The Judiazer heresy (which is still around today in such groups as the “Messianic Jews” and “Jews for Jesus”) taught that Christians must both acknowledge Christ and still follow the Mosaic Law with it’s ritual/sacrificial acts. This belief was condemned by the Apostles themselves in Acts 15 at the Council of Jerusalem.

The other heresy was docetic Gnosticism which believed that there were two gods, one good and the other evil. The evil god created the physical world while the good god created angelic (spiritual) beings. Somehow the evil god imprisoned some of these beings in evil bodies and these beings, through procreation, have helped him in imprisoning more spirits. For the Gnostic, Jesus is the good god (who appeared to be human but was really just a spirit) who gives us the secret knowledge (gnosis) to be free of our evil bodies. Gnostics attributed the Old Testament and the Jewish religion to the evil god and the New Testament to the good god, Jesus Christ.

Gnosticism, by the way, is a very common heresy. It popped up again during St. Augustine’s era in a heresy called Manichaeism (St. Augustine himself joined this sect before his conversion to the Catholic Church!). In the middle ages the Albigensian heresy hated the body so much that they promoted suicide, abortion, and homosexual acts to keep new life from being produced! In other words, Gnosticism is a threat to the human race! Today “scholars” promote a Gnostic agenda and authors like Dan Brown write novels about it. TV commercials that tell us how ugly and horrible our bodies are don’t help either!

Christianity rejected both the Judaizer and Gnostic heresies to promote a “harmony of the two Testaments” (CCC 1094). The Church recognizes the work of God in Judaism, particularly in the Holy Spirit preparing the way for the coming of Christ. When we understand this, we see that in the Old Testament there are many things that prefigure Christ and the Church. St. Paul saw this when writing his epistles. For example, just as in Adam all came to death through sin, in Christ all will come to life through entering into His life. Hence, St. Paul called Jesus the new Adam. In Biblical theology we call this typology. What’s more, when one gets a good grasp of typology the Old Testament comes alive with a deeper spiritual meaning (by the way, this spiritual meaning is called the allegorical sense of scripture).

The Catechism gives us some more examples: “…the flood and Noah's ark prefigured salvation by Baptism, as did the cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea. Water from the rock was the figure of the spiritual gifts of Christ, and manna in the desert prefigured the Eucharist, ‘the true bread from heaven’” (CCC 1094).

Right now we’re in Lent. Big news I know. But just think about the readings from the first week of Lent. In the Gospel we find Jesus in the desert for forty days and in the end tempted by the Devil. Remind you of anything? How about the forty years the Jewish people spent in the desert. Oh yeah, Jesus’ response to the Devil’s three temptations? Those were the exact responses of Moses to the Jewish people in their faithlessness. Thus in Christ we see both a new Moses and a new People of God. Maybe you’ve never heard this before – well according to the Catechism the Church is supposed to teach you that: “For this reason the Church, especially during Advent and Lent and above all at the Easter Vigil, re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history… But this also demands that catechesis help the faithful to open themselves to this spiritual understanding of the economy of salvation as the Church's liturgy reveals it and enables us to live it” (CCC 1095).

Moreover, the Church asks us to take more time in study of Judaism to help us understand our own Catholic liturgy. “A better knowledge of the Jewish people's faith and religious life as professed and lived even now can help our better understanding of certain aspects of Christian liturgy” (CCC 1096). This is particularly true of the Passover and the Eucharist. One of my papers in college was written regarding exegesis on the Last Supper in relationship to the rites used in the Jewish Passover meal. The results: very Jewish and very Catholic. Maybe I’ll post it sometime…

It’s important to remember that we have life in Christ. He shared in our human nature so that we can share in His divine nature. We call the Church the body of Christ because it IS the body of Christ! We’re cells in His body which must fully conform to Him Who is the head of the body – Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul which gives life to this supernatural body and His grace is the blood which pumps through the body. This body brings unity among the human race transcending “racial, cultural, social - indeed, all human affinities” (CCC 1097). In other words, the Church is means of our salvation and means of world peace!

Hopefully right now you’re saying “Wow! I should really be thinking more about all this – especially when I’m at Mass!” Indeed the Catechism teaches that the gathering of those at Mass must “prepare itself to encounter its Lord… The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father's will.” If we want to get something out of Mass we must put something in. As a matter of fact, there is enough grace in one reception of the Eucharist to make us all saints! So why am I not a saint? Because I do not wholly want to be. I keep myself back! Indeed, the proper dispositions for Mass and the Sacraments are the “precondition both for the reception of other graces conferred in the celebration itself and the fruits of new life which the celebration is intended to produce afterward” (CCC 1098).

I hope all this is helping you realize just how important the Holy Spirit is – and I’m nowhere near finished! Unfortunately this is all for one night… More to come soon!

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