With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Friday, September 01, 2006

More Considerations on Liturgy as Definition

By way of response to some of the comments posted in reply to my last post, all of which intend to deepen and flesh out our understanding of Liturgy, I offer the following thoughts.

Quasi-Liturgy (things such as rituals, experiences, and examples from groups more or less related to the Church) need not distract us. Whatever is genuine about man must find a source and summit in Liturgy. IN whatever way other societies have come into genuine human contact, they have seen the image of God, and their communal life has approached Liturgy.

In order to separate the Sacraments/Liturgy (in actu) from Sacramentality (in potentia), we can turn to God’s saving presence and the presence of Christ in his Body. That is, we might be tempted to think that all activities which tend toward uniting man as Body/Soul also tend towards Liturgy. Furthermore, that they tend toward Liturgy in a way that makes it difficult to accept this as the heart of the Church since these things happen outside the Church. We must not forget that the definition of a Sacrament always involves this sense of being fully human, but that humans have this innate purpose or goal which is to grow ever closer to the God in whom they exist in relation.

The Eucharist as one of seven sacraments is not coextensive with Liturgy, which surrounds all seven. The Eucharist as the form of Liturgy is coextensive, and it is this patter which is Liturgical; which is Catholic; which is love, fueled by Faith and led by Hope. The mystery of the Eucharist extends well beyond the necessary belief in Christ’s Real Presence because this awesome presence is a mystery. Most poignantly, Christ sets the pattern for theandric love, that is, love between God and Man. I attempted to call special attention to the fact that Creed and Moral exhortation and example resolve to Liturgy in a theological understanding. This is reason I offer Liturgy as a definition for Catholics. The other is because Liturgy is the fundamental pattern for Christian life-this pattern is one in which God gives-man receives-man gives-God receives. Consider the beginning of the Eucharistic Liturgy, which in the Latin Rite involves these words: “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, through your goodness, we have this bread to offer you, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the Bread of Life.”

A good friend pointed out in a more private context that the theme of communio is vitally important. He is right. Communio as a theme for Ecclesial definitions cannot be ignored, for it is the model of the Trinity which is the model of the Church and Salvation. But can it not also be said that “God is Love” (1 Jn 4:8), and, further, that this is the meaning of communio? It is certainly the meaning of the sense of communio which is captured by the Law-Torah-Covenant (Mt 22:34-40, in which Jesus offers the Greatest Commandment). It is certainly the meaning of communio explained by the Mystical Doctors of the Church. It is certainly the meaning of “This is my Body,” spoken by Christ on the Cross, the priest at Mass, and spouses to each other.

Again, I call attention to Liturgy as a definition for Catholics because it exists in the category of presence: Eternal Present; Real Presence, my unique and particular place in the world as it unfolds and includes my choice to stand here and be among the People of God. This is how we love: we are. Perhaps there is no greater mystery than that of existence, and the must be because of the relationship between love and being. Liturgy is the when and where of the playing out of this nexus day after day, year after year, life after life.

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  • At 9/02/2006 9:02 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    First I want to say I agree with the direction you are going about religious traditions which contain elements of liturgy. It goes with what the Fathers said about the truth (wherever truth is found, this is Christian, even if they didn't know it as Christian, hence Socrates is a pre-Christian Christian) but takes it a step further and suggests even their religious traditions and practices are tapping into the Christian faith. Not only does it find its fulfillment in Christian Liturgy, it can influence and shape Liturgy with the elements it has already recieved (perhaps more than we know, and perhaps something which we can use to enrich our experience of Liturgy). This goes to the heart of incluturation as well.

    In the East, Liturgy must take into consideration all seven senses. It must take us as a whole into its fullness. I think you would agree, but then the question that needs to be asked is, what are we to make of the modern practice in the Western tradition to ignore these dimensions in the liturgy (for example, the lack of incense means we don't engage the sense of smell the same as we used to). Is this a result of liturgy in transitition and should not be used to indicate any problems with the Western tradition (which I want to agree with and tell people if asked), or is it any indication that the Western tradition is slowly beginning to forget the full Liturgical tradition?

  • At 9/02/2006 10:30 AM, Blogger The Lesser Thomas said…

    Henry, there is always a danger that the Tradition will be forgotten, usually because it is misunderstood. I am usually not a 'prophet of doom' in this regard. There were Liturgical abuses from the Last Supper (one among you will betray me) all the way through the centuries to today. This, perhaps, is a problem more with the fickle men who participate in Liturgy than in the guiding principals of the Liturgy.

    What, by the way are the 7 senses? I can think of taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing.

  • At 9/02/2006 1:42 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    Of course it is five senses not seven. I am not exactly sure why I made this mistake (perhaps I was thinking of the seven sacraments). This is not to say I could not add other senses, but doing so would not be from the Christian tradition, and would not reflect how the East understood the holistic approach of the liturgy.

    When tradition is forgotten, do you think it can come back and be restored or do you think it will die out? Also, in connection to Liturgy, with the slow demise of incense in the West, what do you think will be the end result of this -- will it be restored (I know many who want it to be) or eventually abandoned? If the second, will something else take its place, or will there be some sort of deficit in the practice of Liturgy?

    I don't want to be a prophet of doom either. I certainly do not know the answer to this. Being Byzantine, I am curious as to where the West is going with its development. But one would think with the importance of Liturgy, and the importance of addressing all aspects of what it is for us to be human, something would come in to replace what has been lost if all use of incense finally dies out in the West.

  • At 9/05/2006 6:58 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    As a side note, when looking into the definitive function of Liturgy, you might also want to address how Liturgy, especially as it is connected to "sacred time," works in catechesis.

    There also is a hermeneutical circle which needs to be addressed: we pray in the way we believe, but the community of belief also creates the way we view we should pray. Liturgy is a way to address this circle, and perhaps the best way, when we look at Liturgy not as static but developmental.

  • At 9/05/2006 1:26 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    I appreciate and applaud the content of what is at issue here, and I think it has the potential for a more lively and colorful discussion.

    That said, however, my initial reaction to this was colored by the reactive tone of the post. I am of the opinion - and by no means is it any more than my opinion - that posts should be proactive as opposed to reactive (reactions, I think, are what the "comment" sub-blog is for).

    Perhaps there will be disagreement here, but my reasoning is that, as I think this case demonstrates, a reactive post tends toward esotericism, with the result that our blog intention appears more a place for we who know each other to quibble rather than a venue to illuminate ideas in hopes of inviting outsiders into the conversation.

    I am not saying that this post wasn't illuminating an idea - in fact it was continuing the idea originally construed in the first post. However, because the post took issue with particular comments, and even made mention of a "private" comment with a "good friend," it generated a rather didactic tone, which can give the outsider the impression that there is less an invitation to conversation and more a 'defensive' pedagogy taking place.

    Anyway, it's just my methodological opinion and nothing more.

    As to the content, I ask only one sincere question:
    why is it important to 'define Catholicism' in the first place?

  • At 9/06/2006 10:08 AM, Blogger The Lesser Thomas said…

    Good point.
    I didn't mean the post to be reactive in a negative or uninviting sense, but only to give credit to the source of certain trains of thought.

  • At 9/12/2006 6:05 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    no need at all to apologize.
    I was just giving my opinion a matter for which I could be completely off base.
    Of course, I knew your intentions were sincere as always.
    I was really just, perhaps, drawing attention to what could possibly happen if we allow for reactive posts (which are good, but seem better suited to the comments, no?).
    Again, in no way do I imply that this is the last word on the matter, nor that my way of seeing the issue is right. Just throwing the suggestion out there.


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