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Summary: Our good works for our brothers and sisters are icons of Christ in our culture.

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Monday of First Week in Lent

14 March 2011

Spirit of the Liturgy

At various times in the history of the Church, Judaizing elements in and outside the Church have risen up and waved the second half of the first commandment at the Church, and accused us of worshiping images and idols. Unfortunately, our first knee-jerk reaction when thus harassed is to get defensive. We forget to witness to the reason why we carve statues and paint icons and murals and frescoes. The reality of Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified, and risen from the dead, and His sacramental presence, changed everything we knew about the first commandment. Moreover, it ties in intimately with the message of this eschatological discourse of Jesus, this reminder of what we will hear at the moment of death and at the general resurrection.

All history revolves around the reality of Jesus Christ. That’s why I insist on using the traditional dating conventions, BC and AD. The existence of Jesus Christ, God and man, is what gives meaning to our world, to time, and to space. Before him and without him, we live in a continuing tragedy. In the year of Our Lord, we have hope, joy and consolation because of His real presence in the Eucharistic sacrifice. His “liturgical presence contains eschatological hope within it.”

With respect to sacred images, “all sacred images are, without exception. . .images of the Resurrection, history read in the light of the Resurrection, and for that very reason they are images of hope, giving us the assurance of the world to come, of the final coming of Christ” which is made present to us by the Eucharistic species, bread become body and wine become blood. The images we use in worship, especially the processional cross bearing the image of the body of Christ, “have a thoroughly sacramental significance. They have the character of mysteries, going far beyond the didactic function of telling the stories of the Bible.” These images draw us deeper into the reality. They don’t just tell a tale of salvation. They beckon us to become part of that narrative by saying yes to God’s invitation, and by making real the saving presence of Christ through our daily work and prayer.

When iconoclasts, whether in the 8th century or the 16th or the 21st, tear down the sacred images of faith, particularly the images of Christ and the Blessed Virgin and the crucifix, what they are really doing–as the 2nd council of Nicea taught–is denying the Incarnation. God became flesh and blood in the womb of Mary. Tearing down our sacred images de-fleshes the God who became flesh. “The Incarnation means, in the first place, that the invisible God enters into the visible world.” Our God has solidarity with us in every way.

When we, then, comfort the afflicted and feed the hungry, visit the sick and the prisoner, encourage the doubtful and tend to the dying, we, too, are making Christ tangible. We are witnessing to the Incarnation. There is abundant testimony to this from the early days of the Church as a reality central to our identity. “These Christians–see how they love one another,” was what Tertullian said appealed to the pagans of his day. Moreover, when the so-called Reformation hit the West in the 16th century, one of the first things lost was the care of the poor, hungry, sick and indigent. The heretics destroyed the religious orders and institutions that cared for the destitute and sick, and nothing rose up to take its place. Even Luther lamented that change.


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