WHAT IS LITURGY?
This book is a work of liturgical theology; that is, a work that strives to investigate the meaning of the liturgy we celebrate and to seek in the other teachings of the Church their connection to the liturgy. That liturgy is relevant to all aspects of Christian life and belief arises from the very nature of Christianity in which all the components and dimensions of our religion, in heaven and earth, across time and space, form a single, organic whole, bound together in Christ by the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. All aspects of Christian life and practice apart from sin are sacramental in that they reflect Christ who is actively present in them, and are also means by which we participate in Christ’s own divine life. The sacraments are not seven glorious exceptions to normal Christian reality: they show us with unique clarity the sacramental nature of all other aspects of Christian life – indeed, the sacramental dimension of creation itself - because a sacramental celebration is the Church at its most intensely visible, in which earth reflects heaven, and the activity of creatures reflects, reveals and brings into the orbit of our lives the activity of God.
The organic unity of the Church down the ages from the time of Christ to the present day is called Tradition (with a capital ‘T’). The organic unity of the Church at both local and universal levels is called koinonia or Communion. The combination of Tradition and Communion which are really simply dimensions of the same Church across time and place is called ‘Catholicity’. This many-faceted unity is brought about by the Holy Spirit who unites in one Christian Mystery all aspects of the Christian reality in heaven and earth; or rather, the Spirit unites all these different levels and dimensions of the Christian reality to the central reality which is the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, that has become our way to God. We shall see later that the Source of both Tradition and Communion, and hence of Catholicity, is Christ acting in the Church through the Spirit; and the classic expression of this process is the liturgy. Hence the liturgy must be humbly and lovingly received and celebrated with faith, as the main way by which we participate in the Spirit-filled Tradition and the Spirit-filled Communion, as members of the Catholic Church which is body of Christ.
As we said in the last chapter, Christ is present in the power of the Spirit at three levels: in heaven, together with the angels and saints, in the presence and full vision of the Father (Hb. 7, 23 – 8, 7), and this can be called the liturgy of heaven. Where heaven and the Church on earth unite in prayer is called the liturgy of the Church (Hb 10, 19ff; 12, 18ff) ; and in the heart of the soul of any Christian who is open to the Spirit who cries incessantly “Abba, Father” the liturgy of the heart takes place (Rev. 3, 20
. At each level, Christ is present in the power of the Spirit and human beings share in the life of the Blessed Trinity by being made one with Christ in his death, resurrection and ascension. Just as the liturgy of the Church is what it is because it is a participation in the liturgy of heaven, so the liturgy of the heart is the effect of the liturgy of the Church working deep within the interior of our souls. Hence, those who place liturgy in opposition to private prayer do not understand that they are dimensions of the same reality. Those who find no room for private prayer during the liturgy on the grounds that everything must be in common, and those who ignore the liturgy in order to concentrate on private prayer, do not understand that both liturgy and private prayer are the work of the same Holy Spirit acting at two distinct but not separate or separable levels.
Those who confuse liturgy and private prayer also misunderstand the liturgy. The liturgy is not the shared prayer of private individuals whose particular tastes must be catered for, but is the prayer of the Church as body of Christ, in which we are organically united, and through whom we are united to each other and to the Church of all times and places as a single organism. The Church is something more than the sum-total of the individuals who make up the Eucharistic community. Hence, while it is the responsibility of the Church authorities to make the liturgy understandable, nevertheless, once understood, it is our responsibility to adapt ourselves to the liturgy, rather than the other way round. For example, the Prayer of the Church after the Liturgy of the Word at Mass is the Church sharing with Christ in his intercession the Father, and the priorities and topics for prayer are chosen with this in mind, even before we pray for our own private needs.. For each person in the assembly to silently make his or her own petition to God is an excellent thing to do, but it cannot replace the bidding prayers which are the prayer of the Church.
. While the liturgy of heaven is eternal because it shares in the eternity of God, the liturgy of the Church takes place at certain times and is celebrated in a particular place. It is a Christian ambition that liturgy of the heart should reflect that of heaven, in that we strive to become so pure of heart that our prayer will be constant, because it reflects a love that embraces the whole universe, and, most especially, because it embraces the whole human race. Such is the prayer of the angels and saints in heaven. It is supreme goal of monastic life because, after much purification, it can be the prayer of Christians on earth.. Here we shall concentrate on the Liturgy of the Church and keep the liturgy of the heart until later. A proper liturgy of heaven will have to wait until we get there. Nevertheless, any theology of the liturgy of the Church must take into account the fact that the Incarnation has abolished the distance between heaven and earth. This is the significance of angels from heaven and shepherds who belong to this world, who praise God together at the stable in Bethlehem; and that is why Christians on earth join with angels in heaven in singing, “Holy, holy, holy” in the Mass Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote:
“Liturgy presupposes . . . that the heavens have been opened. .. the decisive factor, therefore, is the primacy of Christology” (133).
He goes on to say:
The liturgy derives its greatness from what it is, not from what we make of it. Our participation is, of course, necessary, but as a means of inserting ourselves humbly into the spirit of the liturgy, and of serving Him Who is the true subject of the liturgy: Jesus Christ. The liturgy is not an expression of the consciousness of a community which moreover is diffuse and changing. It is revelation received in faith and prayer, and its measure is consequently the faith of the Church, in which revelation is received.”
The Holy Spirit activates the memory (anamnesis) of the Church, putting it in touch with its roots in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, both as a historical event and, by coming down on each celebration as a response to the invocation (epiclesis), as the eternal mystery in the liturgy of heaven. As each liturgical celebration of whatever kind, but most especially the Eucharist, is a participation in the liturgy of heaven, there is an organic unity between all celebrations of all times and places, brought about by the Holy Spirit who links all celebrations with eternity. We do not escape time by means of the liturgy: rather, time is filled with eternity and receives from this contact a new importance and meaning. In other words, time is redeemed.
The Liturgy has been formed by the synergy (harmony of operations or activities) between the Holy Spirit and the Church, so that the two activities become one. Although they remain distinct, they are not separate. The divine energizes the human in such a way that the Church can do what it could never begin to do without the active presence of the Spirit. Where there is such synergy in prayer, there you have liturgy. The Liturgy is sacramental by its very nature, because it is the Church’s participation in the prayer of Christ in heaven through the power of the Spirit. This organic relationship between heaven and earth and between all liturgical celebrations wherever they are celebrated, throughout Christian history until the end of time, is a bond that only sin can break, and then only superficially if those who are separated are truly living a life in Christ in spite of the separation. The model is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr
Corbon writes: .
It is through the combination of the power of the Holy Spirit and the virginity (of Mary), that is to say the total incapacity of Mary (who is completely open to the power of the Holy Spirit) that “the Son of God was made Son of the Virgin”….The virginal mystery of her (Mary’s) being prepared her to become capable of receiving the power of the love of the Holy Spirit. In the profoundest humility of the humble servant, her incapacity that was nevertheless consenting and open made it possible for God to do what is impossible for human beings to achieve. In the same way, the Church, of which we are all members, is essentially virgin by vocation. As St Clement of Alexandria wrote, “There is only one virgin mother, and I like to call her ‘Church’.” The fecundity of the Church’s mission depends on this condition. Only because it is virgin, like Mary, it is Spouse and Mother. Every time that the Church puts its trust in the powers of this world, in power, wealth and appearances, it prostitutes itself and becomes sterile. This gift of ecclesial virginity ceaselessly calls us to the fight, to conversion, to the fervour of the first Christians.
Jean Corbon OP : Liturgia y Oracion, Ediciones Cristiandad, 2004, pg 99,
The same truth is taught in the accounts of the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, but in this case it is the synergy between the Holy Spirit and humanity in the prayer of Jesus.. Jesus set the apostles a task to feed five thousand men beside women and children; and the only food they had was five loaves and two fishes, clearly an impossible task. Jesus does not turn stones into bread, as the devil tried to tempt him to do. He asked the apostles to give their limited resources to him, resources that were totally inadequate, humanly speaking. He prayed, blessed and broke; and what had been a resource too limited to achieve the task he had given them, now became more than adequate, with twelve baskets of food to spare.
You find the same truth in the Eucharist. We are approaching the presence of the Father and need a sacrifice to bring this about. On Christ’s instructions, we put at his disposal bread and wine, as totally incapable of achieving this object as the five loaves and two fishes were capable of feeding more than five thousand. Only Christ’s own sacrifice can fulfil this function; but, we have handed this bread and wine to Christ. At the prayer of Jesus, the Father sends the Holy Spirit to transform this bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and we have our sacrifice, because the blood of Christ pleads far better than did the blood of Abel. What was said by Gabriel to the Virgin is just as true in every Mass. To our query, “How can this be, because we only have bread and wine?” the reply comes, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and will hover over your altar as he did over the primeval chaos at creation; and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and the bread and wine will become the body and blood of Jesus; so you will be called ‘body of Christ’ because you will be flesh of Christ’s flesh and bones of his bones, and you shall be one with him in his offering to the Father, both as priest and as victim, one with him in the sanctuary of his Father in heaven. For this reason the celebration of the Mass on earth becomes, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a participation in the heavenly liturgy in which the angels and the saints share in the joy of the Father who receives his beloved Son who has entered his presence through death and resurrection, accompanied by all who have been saved by his cross from the beginning to the very end of time.”
If we don’t make available bread and wine, there is no Mass. If the Spirit does not transform the bread and wine, there is no Mass. Both are essential aspects of the Eucharist, human incapacity handed over to God so that it works in synergy with the Holy Spirit to accomplish what is impossible for human beings to bring about by themselves... The Mass is the result of the synergy between the free action of th Church in providing the bread and wine in obedience to what Jesus taught, and the free transforming action of the Spirit which makes the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ, this synergy meaning that it is a divine-human act, and thus an act of Christ himself. The same principle is at work in the Incarnation, in the multiplication of bread and fish, in the liturgy and especially in the Mass, and in the whole Christian life where mere mortals live as sons and daughters of God by participating in the infinite life of God...
Some who were involved in the reform of the liturgy after Second Vatican Council wanted to reduce the offertory to merely placing the bread and wine on the altar. This would have made the Latin Rite unique among Catholic liturgies, because all the other rites reserve some of their most beautiful prayers and hymns for the offertory, usually expressing awe at the manifestation of God that is about to take place.. We shall be looking at this in more detail later.
When this necessary synergy between the Church and the Spirit and the absolute dependence of the Church on the Spirit are forgotten, superstition sets in. Priests can consecrate bakeries full of bread or crates of champagne out of sheer malice. They have a “power” to consecrate which has become separated from the Church’s liturgy, and even from the Church. Or the opposite can happen: the functions of the Church can shrink to what is possible for human beings to do without the Holy Spirit, as in many liberal Protestant interpretations of the Eucharist and other sacraments, which are interpreted in terms that people without faith can understand and accept.. An example of this kind of thinking is found in Jesus and the Eucharist by the late Tad W. Guzie S.J.who wrote:
I can sit around a table with my family (…) and celebrate a Christian eucharist. I can sit around the same table, with the same people, and pass a cup of wine in memory of my dead grandfather. Assuming that the cup had always been a family ritual at Sunday dinner, and assuming that my grandfather was the old-time patriarchal sort of grandfather who might have said, “Whenever you pass the cup in future meals you will do it in memory of me,” this action would be symbolically identical to the Eucharistic action.
Such an explanation of the Eucharist could be accepted by anyone, whether Christian or not. It is a Eucharist without the Christian Mystery, a sub-Christian explanation in which the Holy Spirit plays no part: it has very little to do with Catholic teaching.
This total dependence of the Church on the Holy Spirit is expressed in the epiclesis or “invocation” to the Father to send the Holy Spirit. This is what Fr Jean Corbon writes about the epiclesis:
An “epiclesis” is an appeal to the Father to send the Holy Spirit on what we are offering to him so that this Spirit may change the offering into the reality of the body of Christ. The word “epiclesis” expresses the emptiness that is set before God; it cannot express the fullness that is given to us. It expresses the groan of appeal, not the silent love that answers it.
The validity of all sacraments depends absolutely on God the Father’s positive answer to the Church’s petition for the Spirit, even when there is no explicit invocation. The fact that the Father’s positive response is guaranteed by his fidelity to his own promise does not in any way modify this absolute dependence of the Church on that response, and cannot be replaced by “priestly powers” that are totally independent of the liturgy and can even function quite independently of God’s will..
The synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church makes the liturgy a divine – human reality, an extension into our time of the prayer of Christ, and a participation by the Church in the liturgy of heaven where Christ is continually interceding for us. Thus, all liturgy is sacramental. On the one hand, it is passed down from one generation to the next and is a product of ordinary human history. On the other hand, it is always, by its very nature, a participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity. It is the stuff from which Tradition is made. The texts are sacred texts impregnated with the power of the Spirit, even when they are not quotations from Scripture.. The liturgy is the supreme expression of orthodoxy, which is, at one of the same time, true belief and true glory offered to God, truth reflected in authentic worship, being a participation in the worship of the Father offered by Christ himself. What Archbishop Zizioulas writes about Christian truth in general is also a constant characteristic of Christian liturgy:
Within history thus pictured, truth does not come to us solely by way of delegation (Christ – the Apostles – the bishops, in a linear development)’ It comes as a pentecostal event which takes linear history up into a charismatic present-moment.
.All this happens only because there is a continuous flow of God’s love from heaven to earth, the direct result of the Church sharing in Christ’s body which has been transfigured by the Holy Spirit at the resurrection and has become the source of the same Spirit for us, working through word and sacrament within the context of the liturgy.. The Book of Revelation puts it like this:
Then the angel showed me the river of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with ts twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will in it, and his servants will worship him: they will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 22, 1-5)
The Source of this flow of love is the Father; but he does everything through Christ the Word and in the Holy Spirit. As St Cyril of Alexandria wrote:
Our renewal is the work of the whole Trinity. Even though it appears that we attribute sometimes to each one of the persons something that happens to us or something else done in relation to creatures, nevertheless, we believe is done by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
Yves Congar adds in commentary:
This coming of the divinity to mankind makes possible the return of mankind in the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. But, both in the coming and in the return, they work according to the order and character of each hypostesis. (El Espiritu Santo, por Yves Congar, Editorial Herder, Barcelona 1983. pg198)
The Divine Liturgy takes place within the context of this two-way flow of life from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. The Christian Mystery embraces the life and death of Jesus made effective in the present through the memory of the Church (anamnesis) by the power of the Holy Spirit. It also embraces our journey, and that of the whole universe, into the presence of the Father through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ which is the basic epiclesis that sends the Spirit on the Church. This makes the Church Pentecostal by nature. Both God’s revelation through the anamnesis of the Church, and our ascension into the presence of the Father, made possible by the epiclesis which sends us the Holy Spirit in Christ’s name, are the work of the same Holy Spirit.
This is clear in the 3rd Eucharistic Prayer. Firstly, there is the descending action of the Blessed Trinity, the river flowing from the throne of God the Father and of the Lamb, giving abundant life to the tree of life on either side of its banks: It begins with a general statement about the nature of the river:
All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit.
Then it goes from the general to the particular. The Father is gathering together a people in every generation to make a perfect offering to him to the glory of his name. For this reason, we ask:
And, so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Later, the priest asks that the communion should achieve its object in favour of those who participate. We must remember that Christ is in heaven, and that, in the Eucharist, heaven and earth become one:
Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.
The downward flow of the river from the throne of God and of the Lamb enables us to be filled with the divine life and rise up into the presence of the Father through the veil, which is the flesh of Christ that we receive in Holy Communion. The Letter to the Hebrews puts the upward movement into the Father’s presence in this way:
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he has opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10 vv 19-22)
Again we read:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festive gathering, and to the assembly of the first born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (…) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for indeed our God is a consuming fire
All this is implied in the doxology. The Holy Spirit takes us up “through him, with him and in him”, through, with and in Christ in his total self-giving, through death, resurrection and ascension we go into the presence of the Father with Jesus to whom we are bound by the Spirit. Having been washed clean by baptism and renewed in mind, we confidently present ourselves because of the blood of Christ; and we acknowledge that all glory and honour belong to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
In this we are exercising our role as a priestly people, because, through this offering, all glory and honour honestly rendered to God by human beings, either knowingly or unknowingly, however inadequate and incapable of honouring God it may be by itself, however wrong their religion may be; even something good done by someone who denies God’s existence, is accepted by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit; because all things are possible with God. The universal outreach of the Eucharist, capable of giving value to the religious aspirations of the whole human race, meets the ‘baptism of desire’ of each non-Christian, transforming everything that can be transformed into Christ, who includes it in his sacrifice. Through the outreach of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist, Catholicism simply becomes another word for the relationship of the whole human race with God. In that sense extra ecclesia nulus salus is more a statement of the universal extent of God’s mercy through the Church, than a phrase which narrowly restricts salvation to Roman Catholics.
If this is so, true orthodoxy, the expression of objectively true faith in true worship must be seen as a service that the Catholic Church as a Eucharistic communion renders for the benefit of the whole of humankind. In order to be universally relevant Christianity must be prepared to be different
Through communion with the risen and ascended Christ, heaven and the Church on earth become one single reality. As in Bethlehem, human beings on earth and angels unite in singing God’s praises. Our hearts are purified so that we can understand with greater clarity the mysteries of God. As we have seen, John Zizioulas puts it this way: “It comes as a pentecostal event which takes linear history up into a charismatic present-moment”..
Hence the Church, like Jesus during his life on earth, lives at two levels through the power of the Holy Spirit. It lives in ordinary “horizontal” history: since the time of Christ, Christian authority and truth have been handed down by delegation within the context of Tradition, the practice and the understanding which comes from living the Gospel, which is handed down from generation to generation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. However, as we have seen, It has an eternal relationship with the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, because we share in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension through the Spirit. We live in historic time like everyone else, and we also share in a time which has become eternal. If this is true, then like Jesus when he was on earth, the Church is also in contact with heaven and with all times and places. Alexey S. Khomiakov, in his small classic on the Church, wrote:
The Church is one, notwithstanding her division, as it appears to a man who is still alive on earth. It is only in relation to man that it is possible to recognize a division of the Church into visible and invisible; her unity, in reality, is true and absolute. Those who are alive on earth, those who have finished their earthly course, … those who, like the angels, were not created for a life on earth, those in future generations who have not yet begun their earthly course, are all united together in one Church, in one and the same grace of God, for the creation of God which has not yet been manifested is manifested to Him; and God hears the prayers and knows the faith of those whom he has not yet called out of non-existence into existence. (The Church is One by Alexey Stepanovich (c. 1850) Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius, 1968.)
From this we may deduce that, while we celebrate the liturgy in a particular time and place, the local Church cannot be turned in on itself, because the minds of those taking part are directed beyond the local community to God in heaven and to the Church throughout the world and even throughout time.
All this leads us to conclude that the most charismatic texts possible in any liturgical celebration are not those that are most attractive to the participants as a a collection of individuals, but those which express God’s revelation addressed to the Church in Christ and the Church’s response, also in Christ, to that revelation. These texts are what they are because of the synergy between the Spirit and the Church. Although they are called the official texts, they are much more than that. They are Spirit-filled texts, and when we truly pray them we are praying in Spirit and in Truth.
Because of the synergy between the Church and the Spirit, the expressions of the Church’s understanding of its own faith in the texts of the liturgy are the highest expression of that faith as taught by the ordinary magisterium. They are so high that, traditionally, the extraordinary magisterium, whether pope or council, has felt no need to turn truths found in the liturgy into solemnly defined dogmas unless their interpretation had become a source of division in the Church; nor was it believed that to define them gives more honour to God than that which he receives by their celebration in the liturgy. This idea that a dogma is the highest expression of Catholic Truth arose only when the sacraments and the nature of the Church were explained in isolation from the liturgy and appreciation of liturgy had consequently weakened. The Church was seen as a perfect society, held together more by jurisdiction than by the Spirit working through its sacramental structure. The awareness of the effects of the sacraments was limited to its effects on the individual person; and the best thing they could say about the liturgy was that it is the “official” worship of the Church because, it was said, the society held together by papal jurisdiction is the body of Christ.. Obviously, if the value of the liturgy lies in its official status, then dogmas which have been solemnly proclaimed by a general council or a pope have a higher official status than liturgy which is only the product of the Church’s ordinary day-to-day life, even if it has been underwritten by papal or patriarchal authority. If, on the other hand, the ordinary sacramental life of the Church is nothing less than the river that flows from the throne of the Father and of the Lamb, and papal and conciliar definitions are a means of protecting that river from pollution, then the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church is more important than its official life, however important that official life may be.
It is the primary function of the extraordinary magisterium to nurture and protect the orthodoxy (which means “true glory” and “true doctrine” at once) of the Church, and thus nurture and protect an authentic liturgy; but it is the specific function of liturgy, not papal and conciliar decrees, to give “true glory” to God .Until the Council of Nicea in 325ad, the Church managed to be fully Catholic, and to glorify God just as successfully as we do now, without any solemnly defined dogmas at all; but it could never have been fully Catholic or given due glory to God without an authentic liturgy that reflected and celebrated its Catholic faith.
Central to the whole life of the Church and to every aspect of its life is the Eucharist. There is a very real sense in which the Church is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is the Church. I am not talking about the abstract doctrine of the Eucharist being the same as the doctrine about the Church. Neither reality can be reduced to abstract doctrines, because the doctrines are truths about the Church and the Eucharist, and must not be confused with the realities they describe and define. The Eucharist is the Church gathered in one place, a concrete community, together with its bishop or his representative, the priest, doing what Our Lord told the Church to do when he celebrated with the Apostles at the Last Supper. That the Church is the Eucharist and that the Eucharist is the Church being itself ia attested to By the Greek Orthodox theologian and Archbishop John. Zizioulas and by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). The former writes:
This Pauline ecclesiology which identifies Church and Eucharist so closely is developed further by St Ignatius of Antioch. What characterises Ignatius in particular is that the Eucharist does not simply make the local catholic community into the Church, but that it makes it the catholic Church (katholike ecclesia), that is, the full and integral body of Christ. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for Ignatius the catholicity of the Church derives from the celebration of the Eucharist. And this allows Ignatius to apply the term ‘catholic Church’ to the local community. Each local eucharistic community presided over by the bishop surrounded by the college of presbyters and assisted by the deacons, in the presence of the multitude (plethos), the people, constitutes the ‘catholic Church’ precisely because in it the total Christ is found in the form of the Eucharist.
After Ignatius the preoccupation of the Church with the danger of Gnosticism and other heresies forced her to emphasise orthodoxy as the fundamental and decisive ingredient of ecclesiology. Thus, the relation between Church and Eucharist seems to be weakened to some extent in the writers of the second century, though it is not absent from their thought. The situation is exemplified by St Irenaeus who regards orthodoxy as fundamental to ecclesiology while making the Eucharist the criterion of catholicity: ‘Our faith (belief: gnome) is in accordance with the Eucharist and the Eucharist confirms our faith’ (Adv Haereses 4.8,5). It is mainly for this reason that in all ancient writers before St Augustine each local Church is called catholic, the full and integral body of Christ.
If there are ecclesiological presuppositions of the Eucharist – and there certainly are – these must not be understood to involve a priority of the Church over against the Eucharist. The position I will develop here is that the Church constitutes the Eucharist while being constituted by it. Church and Eucharist are interdependent, they coincide, and are even in some sense identical. .In order to find the deeper roots of this coincidence between Church and Eucharist we must again go back to the question of the relation between Christology and Pneumatology. All the biblical accounts of Christology seem to speak of Christ as being constituted by the Holy Spirit and in this sense as a corporate personality, the Servant of God or the Son of Man. The Person of Christ is automatically linked with the Holy Spirit, which means with a community. This community is the eschatological company of the Saints who surround Christ in this kingdom. This Church is part of the definition of Christ. The body of Christ is not first the body of the individual Christ and then a community of ‘many’, but simultaneously both together. Thus you cannot have the body of the individual Christ (the One) without having simultaneously the community of the Church (The Many). .The Eucharist is the only occasion in history when these two coincide. In the Eucharist the expression ‘body of Christ’ means simultaneously the body of Jesus and the body of the Church. Any separation between these two leads to the destruction of the Eucharist. Therefore, the ecclesiological presuppositions of the Eucharist cannot be found outside the Eucharist itself. It is by studying the nature of the Eucharist that we can understand the nature of the Church which conditions the Eucharist.
This identity of Church and Eucharist is also taught by Cardinal Ratzinger:
This formula means that the Eucharist binds all men together, and not just with one another, but with Christ; in this way it makes them "Church". At the same time the formula describes the fundamental constitution of the Church: the Church exists in Eucharistic communities. The Church's Mass is her constitution, because the Church is, in essence, a Mass (sent out: "missa"), a service of God, and therefore a service of man and a service for the transformation of the world. The Mass is the Church's form. That means that through it she develops an entirely original relationship that exists nowhere else, a relationship of multiplicity and of unity. In each celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord is really present. He is risen and dies no more. He can no longer be divided into different parts. He always gives Himself completely and entirely. This is why the Council states: "This Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local communities of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called Churches in the New Testament. For in their locality these are the new People called by God, in the Holy Spirit and with great trust (cf. 1 Thes. 1,5).... In these communities, though frequently small and poor, or living in the diaspora, Christ is present, and in virtue of His power there is brought together one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" (Lumen Gentium, n. 26). (Conference of Cardinal Ratzinger at the opening of the Pastoral Congress of the Diocese of Aversa (Italy), 15 September 2001.
The Spirit brings the Church into living contact with Christ’s life and death through its memory (anamnesis), and draws the Church up into the heavenly liturgy by sharing in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension as an answer to the Church’s invocation (epiclesis), and into intimate communion (koinonia) with Christ in the internal life of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit unites to this concrete community all Christians and local churches everywhere and from all times, from Apostolic times to the very last Christians at the end of the world. Thus the community gathered to celebrate Mass is the tip of the iceberg, the Church at its most visible and the body of the risen Lord. The Eucharist is also the Parousia because Christ is the “Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last” ().
Christ manifests himself in the Mass, he who is, not only the death and resurrection of us who celebrate, but the death and resurrection of the whole universe, and its salvation.. Hence, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book “Eschatology: ”The Parousia is the most intense fulfilment of the liturgy ….and the Eucharist is the strongest possible expression of the intense desire that he should reveal his hidden glory”; and, elsewhere, he says, “Liturgy is the Parousia anticipated.”
Our understanding of the liturgy is still suffering the effects of an abstract theology of the sacraments which reduced them to matter and form, thus separating them from their liturgical context. Only sacraments were sacramental in any real sense, while the rest of the liturgy was merely “official”. The blessing of baptismal water at Easter and the blessing and consecration of oils at the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday lost their importance. Hence, although it was taught that the celebration of a sacrament is an act of the whole Church, this became a theory without much relevance in practice, because the moments when the whole Church is liturgically involved in these sacraments – in the blessing of the oil or water used in them and in the prayers of the Church for those who are to receive them - were theologically separated from their celebration, and theological attention was focused matter nor form. The offertory lost its significance for the same reason. It is the Church presenting its five loaves and two fishes, bread and wine, totally incapable of being an adequate sacrifice to the Father until the Spirit comes down to transform them. In fact, this is full of significance, because we too cannot enter the Holy of Holies as sons and daughters of God until the Spirit turns us into the body of Christ; but all that was lost to the neo-scholastic theologian. For him, the “words of institution” were the only really important part of the Eucharistic Prayer. The Protestants were only taking a trend to its logical conclusion when they separated the Eucharistic narrative from the Eucharistic Prayer (and, by so doing, separated their Eucharist from Christian Tradition). The priestly power to consecrate could even be exercised totally independently of the liturgy. A priest who had left the priesthood for evil living could consecrate a bread shop full of bread or a crate of champagne or celebrate a diabolical “black mass”. Neither God nor the Church had any say in the matter because his “power” was seen as belonging to him as an individual, and, once given by the bishop, was his to use as he wished; though, of course, he had an obligation to obey the law made by lawmakers instituted by Christ, especially by the pope. His blasphemous Eucharist was illicit but valid.
The liturgy was important as prayer, but with a special importance given to it only by custom and law. The law of the Church had theological importance because it had the authority of the Church which, in its turn, had the authority of God. “he who hears you hears me” was interpreted legally rather than sacramentally. It was the “official” prayer of the Church; and priests were bound to recite much of it under the threat of mortal sin, and were not allowed to omit important parts of the Mass under the same threat.. Thanks to the rules, the Roman liturgy was preserved in its integrity, in spite of the lack of theological appreciation for large parts of it. There was no conscious awareness of the liturgy as the product of a synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church. In place of seeing the Church as a Spirit-filled organism, united by the Spirit and praying in the Spirit, the Church became a perfect society, ruled over by a religious version of Augustus Caesar, who defines any truth he likes, giving it an importance that it did not have before, and can allow anything apart from sin simply by the stroke of his pen Cardinal Ratzinger has written:
The church ceased to be understood in its pneumatological and charismatic reality, it came to be considered exclusively under the aspect of the incarnation, in much too earthly a fashion, and ended by being explained entirely in the categories of power applying in secular thought. But this meant there was no longer room for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit; except where this continued to subsist humbly in pure devotion, it was absorbed into abstract trinitarian speculation and so practically, ceased to have any function in Christian conscience.(2)
Joseph Ratzinger, "Foi chretienne hier et aujourd'hui", Pads, 1969, pp.238-39
Then the exaggerated respect for law collapsed after Vatican II, and, in spite of the efforts of the Church authorities, everything was up for grabs. People formed in the old legalistic way, even when enthusiastic for everything that Vatican II stood for, or for what they thought it stood for, were unaware how much the legalistic kind of thinking had a hold on them Too often, wherever a law was abolished or lost its moral authority because of the new ideas that were coming in, this was interpreted as a sign that anything was permitted. I suspect that many of the sex scandals have something to do with this. How can you remain firm when the rules are no longer cut and dried? Sometimes, liturgical innovation reached laughable degrees of banality. I once read in a serious American book of experimental liturgies a Common of Our Lady which had as a text; “The great thing about Mary is that her Son turned out so well. Alleluia”. And they could say it without laughing!!! These reformers understood that the new vision of the Church as advocated by Vatican II did not rate conformity to laws so highly as before. They did not grasp that there is something deeper than law, something the law and those who have authority to make law, must respect, that, even when the law was abolished or ceased to be observed or became out of date, the sacramental dimension in the Church which lies at the heart of everything external in the Church, remains and should become more visible: it has to be respected and taken into account, law or no law. Instead of the legalist model, the Council was advocating a model of the Church as a sacramental organism, as the body of Christ.. Many advocates of Vatican II did not grasp how the liturgy is to be treated and celebrated when it is an organic part of an organism called the Church to which they are organically joined as members and on which they are dependent as cells in one body. They did not understand that this vision of the Church has even less in common with a Protestant, individualistic free-for-all than the legalist model it was replacing. At least you can be individualistic within the spaces permitted by Law in the legalistic model. Take away the rules, and the individualist Catholic becomes something very much like a Protestant; and this has been very evident in the way the Eucharist has sometimes been celebrated. There is no such room for individualism in the organic model.