Christians, especially Anglican Christians, know that the sacred has met the material of God’s creation most perfectly in the incarnation of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. As the Letter to the Philippians reminds us, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:6-7) Eucharistic Adoration is a gateway into our Lord’s sacrificial love that should be more familiar to all sectors of the Church. To adore our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood is an act of faith which cultivates a desire to be His body in the World. By engaging in devotions that school our hearts and minds in the paradox inherent in the Real Presence of the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood we encounter a mystery which evades the power of words. To bring human speech into the presence of mystery always falls short of our aspirations, sometimes leading to confusion and division in the Church and the world. The first great division in the life of the Church came when attempts were made to explain how Jesus is both God and man. Classical struggles to engage the mystery of the incarnation were never fully adequate to express the reality of God in the person of Jesus, born fully human of the Virgin Mary. (History of Eastern Christianity, Aziz S. Atiya, 1968, p. xii) Ultimately the means chosen by God to manifest the love drawing all of creation into communion with God’s-self, whether through the example of Incarnation or the sustenance of the Eucharistic presence, reveals itself more fully in contemplation and resists reduction into the confines of “human knowledge.”
The definition of Chalcedon has never been considered a solution to the Christological problem to the extent that it is meant to answer how the two natures, God and humanity, are united in the person of Jesus. Neither does the doctrine of the Real Presence, properly understood, attempt to define how our Lord is present in the bread and the wine. Both are mysteries that ultimately defy conceptualization. It is important to remember that the true function of dogma “is not to prescribe what must be believed, but to define the conditions which must be observed when faith seeks to understand itself.” ( A Dictionary of Christian Theology, Alan Richardson, ed. 1976, p. 58) Therefore, Eucharistic Adoration can enable us to hold in tension Christian doctrinal tradition with Jesus’ tradition of love: that is, reconcile our need for stability with God’s desire to transfigure creation; so that we can be a powerhouse of light and life to floundering souls – including at times our own. WWIII
In the midst of Advent, the beginning of the Christian Year, it is good to take a moment to consider the cycle which we follow year in and year out as defined by the lectionary and the Liturgical Calendar. The first thing to bear in mind is that the “Liturgical Year” is an important component of the Church’s liturgy. It reveals great versatility in the presentation of content. On the one hand it provides texts that reflect the purely historical. It does this in a manner that makes the events conveyed in scripture entirely current. At other times the actions called for by the worshiper pertain to the present entirely. The Liturgy and the dynamics of the calendar make us aware of our need to both petition for and proclaim God’s grace. Furthermore the liturgy, which is our communal spiritual work, is always infused with the vision of our future in Christ Jesus. So in various ways the Liturgical Year keeps our sights lifted high, to the parousia, to heaven and judgment, reminding us that for God the past, the present and the future are all one.
In each season liturgical themes leap directly from one area of reference to another, even within the same sentence. We may at times be left to wonder how we are to absorb and profitably employ the lively variation in perspective which the liturgy and the liturgical year give us. Ultimately we might ask what Mother Church when it commends this variety in the liturgy expects of us. Does she wish us to recall the story of salvation? Is she offering us grace in the present? Or is she perhaps seeking to prepare us for the life to come? The short answer of course is that the Church expects the liturgy to convey all three at the same time. In order for us to profit from the rich nature of each Liturgical Year we must first grasp the dramatic nature of Catholic Worship and the fact that each new year is in conversation with our experiences from previous years. It is also incumbent on us to strive to make the insights of our worship part of our daily life.
This means that while the Liturgical Year and the liturgies associated with it reveal a great versatility our worship as a community should never be faddish. And while it is important that the entire action pertain to the present it should never become enslaved to the moment. Rather it should be an experience of heart, mind and body which opens to us the mysteries of God and our own human hearts. It should expose the longings of men, women and children of all kinds and invite us into the world of Godly desire. A world which cries for Syria and Afghanistan, shows it solidarity for the poor and the oppressed, rejoices in the vision of inventors and poets, and is moved by the music of Mozart and Palestrina.
Soon the Gloria in Excelcis returns to the celebration of the Holy Mass – the angelic hymn proper to the celebration of the incarnation of Christ, the Child of Bethlehem, born of the Virgin Mary, God’s true Son, begotten from eternity. It will be natural with the return of the Gloria to envision the night when the angels first sang this hymn of praise. To picture innumerable angels in the night sky suddenly aglow with resplendent light makes sense as we sing, “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” These words are so resounding and evocative that the Church has chosen this hymn to be a near constant in our celebration of the Mystery of Christ with us in the Mass. Like the Shepherds before us we will be called to hasten in obedience to the heavenly tidings to worship the heavenly babe of Bethlehem! Have we prepared our hearts in the same spirit of worship which ruled the hearts of those lowly shepherds on that first Christmas long ago? Will we come to the Mystery of Christmas impetuous in our eagerness to worship Him who is coming into our very midst as we celebrate the Holy Eucharist? Will our eagerness abound in ejaculations of devotion to the Father who sent and sends His Divine
Son: “We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee for they great glory. O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.” Eagerness and joy can and does break all bounds!
Equally natural on this night of joyous celebration is to think of the Divine Son, to think of Him as He came on earth to redeem us, to think of Him as proclaimed to be the lamb of God by blessed John Baptist who prepared the way for His earthly ministry, to think of Him as the Lamb of God, both priest and victim, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross and its re-presentation in the Mass, to think of Him as the eternal Lamb of God as envision in the Book of Revelation, presenting to God the Father in heaven the perfect sacrifice of His glorified humanity on our behalf. Through glorious hymn, the Church teaches Her children to be honest, teaches us to seek mercy, pardon and peace which come only through Jesus Christ. Into our mouths She puts the words: “O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world receive our prayer. Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.” All are solemn words, pleading words, hopeful words!
The Gloria closes with a burst of joy: “For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of the God the Father.” Thus the second person of the Trinity is not honored alone, but rather in union with the other Persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Holy Spirit, because the Godhead is a unity. The joy of the Church is that the initiative of God evokes initiatives from us in concert with the will of God. The Gloria itself is a hymn begun by the angels (messengers of God’s will) in the sky and finished by the Church on earth. Just as blessed John Baptist attempted to prepare and make straight the way of the Lord, so too have we been re-created by water and the Holy Spirit, for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through our attempts to convey the hope that is within us.
Advent and Christmas being seasons of hope, let us dedicate “ourselves, our souls and our bodies” to making way for others to know Christ, to using all the devices of love and mercy at our disposal to bring others to Christ and to making the gift which is ours in this Parish available to others. I look forward to seeing each and every one of you in Church on Christmas. Let us join together with renewed vigor and sing of our joy in the Lord, making known the depth of the love which is ours in Jesus Christ and giving concrete expression to the strength we find in this place. WWIII
HAVE A BLESSED CHRISTMAS AND A HOLY HOLIDAY
We live in a world full of noise. It assaults us wherever we go. It is so much a part of daily life inAmericathat when we are exposed to silence most of us become nervous in less than one minutes time. From its earliest days Christianity has believed that in silence we are given the opportunity to meet the sacred. Among other things silence reminds us that no words can adequately express the mystery of God or fully express the mind of God. In fact everything we try to say falls short of the reality that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Quiet has a special place in God’s design. It can be the place where we sense God’s presence at the deepest levels of the heart. At designated times in the Mass quiet is encouraged – look closely at the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer. We
are called by the rubrics to fall silent before we offer prayers, to reflect on Scripture and to thank God for the Eucharist. The most important time of silence however is kept before the start ofMass.It is not only commendable but it is fitting that silence be observed throughout the church. Silence can be the means by which we transition from the corporeal realities of this life and move into the world of Eucharistic celebration – a place where our time and concerns meet the time and vision of God. Through the Eucharist God not only makes us present to “Jesus once and for all sacrifice on the cross” but the Holy Spirit brings us into the very presence of eternity itself. Silence is the space in the Eucharist which encourages us to receive anew the benefits of our Lord’s “blessed passion, precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension.” Only when we take some time to dwell in silence is space cleared in our lives and hearts to render hearty thanks for the innumerable gifts and benefits which are ours from the creator. Silence keeps us aware that worship is not entertainment but that which we owe God. It prepares us to take our rightful place in the Liturgy, as engaged concelebrants with the gathered children of God. The songs we will sing, the prayers we will offer, the scriptures we will hear, along with the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving we will make, initiated by silence moves us from an attitude of memory to that of Re-Member-ing. Furthermore, the presence of Jesus Christ, who comes to us in the sacrament of His Body and Blood to nourish us at each and every Mass, can make our silences pregnant with expectation. Ultimately, God’s holiness renders us speechless and in quiet we can sense the presence of God more deeply than in sound. In silence that expectation learns to desire the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom. Through quiet contemplation we become familiar with the grammar of a Kingdom which will be accomplished only when we open ourselves fully to the service of our neighbor. WWIII