Summary: The new churches of the apostolic age did not make up their worship, but developed that of the synagogue into the Divine Liturgy, with due respect to the foundation by Jesus and the characteristics of the particular churches within which these liturgies d
Monday of 6th Week in Easter
Spirit of the Liturgy
Imagine the founding of a new church, down on the riverbank in Philippi, under the leadership of the great apostle Paul and his companions. She was not a Jew, but did worship the one God. Did the Holy Spirit inspire this little band of Christians to develop a worship service relevant to themselves? Did they engage in creative liturgical planning? No, they went to synagogue for the reading of the Old Testament, and to engage Jews in an evangelical effort in the name of Jesus, and then they gathered in their own home churches to celebrate the breaking of the bread–the liturgy of the Eucharist–as Jesus had taught them. They realized, in the words of the Holy Father before his election, that “the life of the liturgy does not come from what dawns upon the minds of individuals and planning groups. On the contrary, it is God’s descent upon our world, the source of real liberation. He alone can open the door to freedom. The more priests and faithful humbly surrender themselves to this descent of God, the more ‘new’ the liturgy will constantly be, and the more true and personal it becomes. . .the liturgy becomes personal, true and new, not through tomfoolery and banal experiments with the words, but through a courageous entry into the great reality that–through the rite–is always ahead of us.” We can never in this race get ahead of or even overtake the action of God that is liturgy.
Does that mean the liturgy is a rigid thing? By way of contrast, Bishop Ratzinger offers the worship of Islam. Muslims look on the Q’ran as a book that was dictated by God, without human thought or mediation. Their worship, in terms of the number of prayers, the times, the day set aside for divine service, and the rest, is rigidly laid down and enforced. Christians know “that God has spoken through man and that the human and historical factor is. . .part of the way God acts.” (169)
“The Word of the Bible becomes complete only in that responsive word of the Church which we call Tradition. That is why the accounts of the Last Supper in the Bible become a concrete reality only when they are appropriated by the Church in her celebration.” Thus the Liturgy has developed over the centuries, but that development is an organic one, and a slow one. It is growth from within, not artificial change thrown on from outside like a new and replaceable cloak. Each of the liturgies of the East and West grew out of a particular time and place. Each of our four Eucharistic prayers can be found, seminally, in the ancient Eucharistic prayers of Rome, Hippolytus, John Chrysostom and the rest. So there will be no “new rites” in the Church. The Association of Hebrew Catholics has asked for a kind of “Jewish rite” for Jewish converts. It won’t happen because we already have Jewish rites. They are the rites of the early Church all grown up. One of them is our Roman rite.
There is cross-fertilization of rites as part of that development. For example, in Zaire, the bishops have received permission to move the exchange of peace to the time right before the offering. There is talk of doing that in the United States, since it puts a kind of commotion right before we come to communion.
In the next few weeks we will look into some of the ways in which our worship involves us actively, particularly the way we use our bodies in worship. All this will help us prepare for the slight changes in language and reverence which we will be seeing this coming Advent.