Summary: Both spirit and body are trained in the liturgy for the Resurrection existence

St. Anthony of Padua

13 June 2011

Spirit of the Liturgy

The feast of San Antonio de Padua, patron of our city, leads us to focus on the deep humility of this amazing member of the then-young Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans. It was not well known at the time that he was probably the best-studied theologian in Europe. A mixup in liturgical planning left the Franciscans without a preacher on an important ordination day. One by one the older friars passed on the chance to preach without preparation. Anthony agreed to do so, and his passion for the Scriptures and his love of God shone through that sermon so well that he soon became the most sought-after of preachers.

He obviously knew that the real action of the Liturgy is God-action. He and we are privileged to have parts, small or large, in what is essentially the work of God. And we can participate, do our part, precisely because of the Incarnation. “God himself has become man, become body, and here, again and again, he comes through his body to us who live in the body. The whole event of the Incarnation, Cross, Resurrection and Second Coming is present as the way by which God draws man into cooperation with himself.” (173) God has done away with the difference between the action of Christ and our own action by making us one with Christ, and one in Christ. The one who makes that happen, of course, is the Holy Spirit, whose power incarnates God in man.

Now the very wordiness of the Mass–its Word-centeredness–makes us ask if the body has any part in the mystery of the Mass. We must not think the body is irrelevant or even secondary. That is pre-Christian and anti-Christian. St John says that it is the anti-Christ who denies that Jesus came in the flesh. The Word offers himself to us “in his Body and Blood, and thus in a corporeal way.”

Our bodies are, then, being transformed into images of Christ just as much as our spirits are. “A demand is made on the body in all its involvement in the circumstances of everyday life. The body is required to become ‘capable of resurrection’, to orient itself toward the resurrection, toward the Kingdom of God, in a word: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’”

Our bodies, if they are to become like Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit, must be yearning for resurrection, and must be trained to live in the Kingdom of God. How is that done? Remember that the Letter to the Hebrews teaches that Christ became perfect through suffering. Suffering in His body. “Incarnation must always lead through Cross (the transforming of our wills in a communion of will with God) to Resurrection–to that rule of love which is the Kingdom of God. The body must be trained, so to speak, for the resurrection.” We are in training here in church just as much, more even, than we are in the gym. Our spiritual and physical Christ-training “has to find its inner support in the liturgy, in the liturgy’s ‘orientation’ toward the risen Christ. . .it is a way of learning to accept the other in his otherness, a training for love, a training to help us accept the wholly Other, God, to be shaped and used by him.”

So every gesture that we make in our worship is a way of physically saying, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s why, for example, it’s so senseless for so-called liturgists to say that kneeling is meaningless because in a democracy, we don’t kneel. Quite obviously, when we walk into a Catholic church we leave the world of democracy, the world of Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians and Presidents and governors and mayors and runoffs, and enter into the kingdom of God, where God rules. We kneel because Christians have knelt in prayer from the beginning, because the Church tells us to kneel in worship. Our bodily motions say to God, “my body is yours.” Our liturgical body-prayer will later show up as a practical act of love when we pick up the hammer at a Habitat project, or when we subject our use of the marital act to the law of life and ultimate love, or when we reach into our pocket to give money to the poor or for the support of the Church.

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