Summary: In Advent, we celebrate Eucharist, which is the image that stands between the OT shadow and the heavenly reality.

Monday of First Week in Advent

29 November 2010

Spirit of the Liturgy

Gospel Reading: Matthew 8:5-11

1. 5 As he entered Caper'na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him 6 and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." 7 And he said to him, "I will come and heal him." 8 But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,' and he goes, and to another, `Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,' and he does it." 10 When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 4:2-6

2 In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. 3 And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, every one who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, 4 when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. 5 Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy and a pavilion. 6 It will be for a shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

“Can there really be special holy places and holy times in the world of Christian faith?” (53) To this question of the Holy Father the unequivocal answer must be “yes.” There are holy times and holy places. There are sacred languages and sacred music. There are holy icons and images. All these things and actions bring us into contact with the living, loving God, whose presence was seen in the OT as a cloud by day and pillar of fire at night. That same presence was seen in the person of the God-man, Jesus, whose presence once in time made the whole territory of Palestine a Holy Land for all times, and whose presence in our midst makes us holy, whole, and one in mind and heart.

What we celebrate here, and how we celebrate, is a middle stage in what “the Church Fathers described [as] the various stages of fulfillment.” There are three steps: shadow, image and reality. “In the Church of the New Testament the shadow–[the sacrifices and Temple of the OT]– has been scattered by the image.” (54) In the words of Pope Gregory the Great, we are in “the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith.” It is our expectation of the Rising Sun, the only Son of God, that we celebrate and anticipate in these first two weeks of Advent. In this time of waiting we are still in the world, but, as Paul says, we are not of this world.

Our liturgical action during this time of waiting, is our memoria, our anamnesis, of the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper. “These words and actions form the core of Christian liturgical celebration, which was further constructed out of the synthesis of the synagogue and Temple liturgies.” What the priests did in the Temple is superceded by the priest–one with the person of Christ our head–praying to the Father in the Eucharistic Prayer. The Todah sacrifice of the Temple, a sacrifice of bread and wine in thanksgiving for deliverance, is completed here when the consecrated elements are distributed to everyone who presents himself for them, and affirms his belief in the Real Presence and saving action of Christ.

But this action “has meaning only in relation to something that really happens, to a reality that is substantially present. Otherwise, [what we do here] would lack real content, like bank notes without funds to cover them.” (55) What we do here is a re-presentation of the giving of the Body and Blood of the Lord on Calvary. The priest can speak of the Blood of the New Covenant only because that Blood was poured out. “Sacrifice has become gift, for the Body given in love and the Blood given in love have entered, through the Resurrection, into the eternity of love, [a love] which is stronger than death. Without the Cross and Resurrection, Christian worship [would be] null and void, and a theology of liturgy that omitted any reference to them would really just be talking about an empty game.”

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