Summary: Jesus and the early disciples preached against the Jerusalem Temple because the new Temple is the Body of the Risen Christ, and true worship is centered there.

November 15, 2010

Albert the Great

The Spirit of the Liturgy

Today we commemorate St. Albert the Great, known for many years as “the Universal Doctor.” He is best known as the teacher and mentor of St. Thomas Aquinas, but his studies and teaching spanned all of what was known then as scientia. In chemistry, he isolated a chemical element for the first time since antiquity–ironically it was arsenic. In music, he wrote on proportions in music, and taught that Gregorian chant works on three levels to make the soul grow: “purging of the impure; illumination leading to contemplation; and nourishing perfection through contemplation.” I would find it hard to refute that claim from my own experience. And, by way of contrast, I suspect that nothing that has been written in the past forty years has anything like those effects.

To a corrupt generation whose love of the Jerusalem Temple had turned into a kind of idolatry, Jesus and the early Christians were like a blast furnace of truth. The Gospels spend many pages recounting Christ’s curing of the blind, as Luke does today, but John is more forthright in the message. Jesus cured the physically blind as a sign that the real blindness that needs a faith cure is the blindness of the heart. As Ronald Knox taught, the greatest human tragedy is not a broken heart, but a hard heart.

And the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’s day were certainly hard of heart. The Pharisees went about teaching exact observance of the Mosaic Law–and finessed that law to the extent that they excluded mercy and compassion. The Sadducees had an even better scam: the Temple leaders made money out of Temple worship, one of the first examples of a monopoly ripping off the poor. The Holy Father, in The Spirit of the Liturgy, pursues the latter in some detail.

Jesus and the early disciples were accused of preaching against the Jerusalem Temple. That much was surely true. Jesus’s cleansing of the Temple–reported in all four Gospels–helps us “reach the heart of the whole christological question, the question of who Jesus is.” At the same time, this incident enables us to “reach the heart of the question of what the true worship of God is.” (42) The cleansing of the Temple was not “just an angry outburst against the abuses that happen in all holy places. No. . .this had to be seen as an attack on the Temple cult, of which the sacrificial animals and the special Temple moneys collected there were a part.”

Remember that the Hebrew people, the people of Abraham, were to be a center of orthodoxy–true worship–worship that offered the whole person to God and worship that was a center of a whole system of family life, justice for the poor and oppressed, and moral living. This worship was to draw all humans to the Court of the Gentiles where they would accept the living and true God as their own. The Sadducees had turned that very Court into a shopping mall for the Temple.

To them, Jesus says that when they destroy “this Temple”–by which he meant the temple of his body–He would raise it up after three days. “With his resurrection the new Temple will begin: the living body of Jesus Christ, which will now stand in the sight of God and be the place of all worship.” (43) We will be, as we are now, members of that worshiping body of Christ. “The prophecy of the Resurrection is also a prophecy of the Eucharist. The body of Christ is sacrificed and precisely as sacrificed is living. This is the mystery made known in the Mass. Christ communicates himself to us and thus brings us into a real bond with the living God.”

At the moment of Jesus’s death, the veil of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. This can only mean that with the death of the Christ, “the function of the old Temple comes to an end. It is no longer the place of God’s presence, his “footstool,” into which he has caused his glory to descend. . . Worship through types and shadows, worship with replacements, ends at the very moment when the real worship takes place: the self-offering of the Son, who has become man and ‘Lamb’, the ‘Firstborn’ who gathers up and into himself all worship of God.”

This is why every attempt by the Jews–and one is going on right now–to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple has ended in failure. Worship in spirit and in truth, orthodox worship, must begin and end with the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who alone takes away the sins of the world. That is accomplished as this Mass, this re-presentation of the one sacrifice of Calvary, is accomplished, as prophesied by Malachi, from the rising of the sun to its setting.

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