Friday, April 22, 2011

The Passion of the Church

As we suffer with Christ, we also suffer with His Church. Father Angelo offers a magnificent commentary on why liturgy is not magic and how we must die with Christ in order to live.
The sacred liturgy offers us an opportunity, in this most holy of weeks, to enter into the history of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection.  Our presence at the Sacred Triduum is a proclamation of our faith in that the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith are one and the same.  Some scripture scholars have the tendency to demythologize the gospel accounts, and, inversely, some commentators on the liturgy have the tendency to mythologize the Easter liturgy.  In fact, the gospels are historical and the liturgy brings us into contact with that sacred and sacramental history.

Christopher West, as I have mentioned many times before, has tended to sexualize the liturgy.  Most recently, he reposted his Easter commentary on St. Augustine’s reference to the Cross as a marriage bed.  Of course, the patristic analogy is fine.  It is the agenda with which I have a problem.   Inevitably liturgical eroticism connects Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with Hieros Gamos, which is Jungian and best and Wiccan at worst.  It is where myth meets alchemy and shamanism.

Gnostics, liturgical wreckers and liturgical reformers alike have treated the liturgy like magic: “Just do it like this and everything will get better.”  “Change it” or “Don’t you dare change it,” has only served to confirm, however wrongly, what our enemies have said all along, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is hocus pocus.
Our liturgy is not a gnostic play, an allegorical wedding that symbolizes human life on a psychological, or on some universally valid “spiritual” or “mystical” level.  Our mysticism, our mystagogy is based on real history, otherwise we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor 15:19).

The Sacraments are neither magic nor mythology.  Alchemy is a lousy metaphor for Christian transformation, but it is a good metaphor the reduction of spirituality to human manipulation. A “chymical wedding” is paradise calculated, prognosticated and resolved upon, and left unrealized.

Some of the liturgical magicians look to the Easter liturgy for an occult answer to even the misery of impurity. Liturgical eroticism is not the answer because sensuality and the imagination gives too free access to demonic.  The Angelic Doctor made distinctions.  The Demonic Doctor makes an infinite amount of distinctions.  His eros is never the impure kind:  “The lumen Christi takes care of that.  Just think sublimely, mystically.  Spiritual marriage is never impure.”  In fact, the Sacraments lead to bliss only by a harder road: the one Jesus took.

But Catholics should not be Roman Missal thumpers either, who think humanity’s problems will be solved simply by the black and red of missal older than 1962.  The Sacred Liturgy is not a wand to be waved over the post-conciliar Church, but a mystery to be assimilated.  The Tree of Life has not been transplanted from paradise.  The old tree points to the new, and the new is a bridal bed of pain.  Why should the liturgy not be painful?  We can be like teenagers who don’t like going to Mass because we don’t get anything out of it.
The Sacred Liturgy is not an academic exercise any more than it is mythological drama.  The unity of the Church depends in a very great part upon the liturgy, and the average Catholic has a real life to live.  He is not a monk.  He is not a scholar, liturgist or controversialist.  He just wants to go to Mass.  He has no agenda, and He probably is not visionary in his outlook.  He is just trying to make it through the week.  He needs to identify with Christ, not with the brocade on a dalmatic.

True mysticism passes by way of real, practical and concrete ascetism that bears down upon the will.   The saint is not an austere superman, but one who has broken his stubborn and recalcitrant will.  There is a big difference.  Liturgical precision and reverence should be a given.  Respect for tradition and an understanding that neither antiquarianism nor novelty are valid principles in liturgical reform must be presumed.  But the fastidious and academic preoccupation, the pained observations of everything than does not conform with the ideal resolved upon, is a sign of a will that is very much like that of the liturgical innovator.  Lest this assessment itself becomes excessively academic, I should just summarize by saying our hope should be that the liturgy break the selfish will.

Holy Week is the Way of the Cross and it is a hard road.  It resists euphemisms and cannot tolerate self-serving stupidity and effeminate mystagogery.  Our passion play is reality.  “Hosanna in the highest!” and “Crucify him!” come out of the same mouths.  It is supreme irony that we solemnize our fickleness, the fact that our piety so often misses the point.  It is a harsh reality we need to face:
I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me. The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded (Isaias 50:6-7).
 Our Lord was like a Lamb, silent before His sheerer (53:7).  Our face is set like flint when our mouths are closed and our hearts are open.  Christ is our High Priest and Victim, not a magician.  The grace is there for us even in the demystified, lowly Novus Ordo.  We should stop deflecting our attention from the real problem by indulging a magical way of thinking and set our face like flint against our selfish will.

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