Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Executory Word - Behold I make all things New!

The Word of God permeates the whole of the Mass and can be found in nearly all the solemn moments of the liturgy; of particular note is the moment of Consecration.  Here the words spoken take on a special trait: they are spoke directly to God. Guardini notes, "the word becomes the living present. What was once spoken by Christ is spoken anew, not as a new word issuing from the hour and consequently passing away with it, but as the old, Christ-spoken word renewed and become part of this hour. The “memorial” does not consist in the congregation’s remembering what the Lord once spoke to His apostles, but in making His words alive and concretely effective."  What Christ accomplishes through these words, that differs from all the other prayers of the liturgy, is the laying of the foundation for a new creation!  "These words are the equals of those that once brought about the existence of the universe."  The priest utters the words but it is Christ who speaks. It is to this great Mystery that we must bring all the faith our hearts can muster.
THE WORD of God permeates the whole Mass, as it also fills the entire liturgy. Some of its parts, like the Epistle and Gospel or the Our Father, spoken at the most solemn moments, are larger unbroken passages taken bodily from Scripture. Introit, Offertory and Collects consist of sentences selected from various biblical books to highlight the significance of the day in question. The same is true of the Gradual and Tract, texts which link the Epistle and the Gospel. Finally, in the actual prayers, words from, or references to, the preceding scriptural quotations return again and again to fortify the whole with their sacred power.
At the heart of the Mass, the Consecration, the word of the Lord assumes a special character.
Following the Offertory, in which bread and wine are prepared for the sacred feast, is the most important prayer of all, the Canon of the Mass. After the Quam oblationem, the Church’s final prayer over the gift-offerings, we have the words: “Who the day before He suffered took bread into His holy and venerable hands, and with His eyes lifted up to heaven, unto Thee, God, His almighty Father, giving thanks to Thee, He blessed, broke and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take and eat ye all of this, for this is My Body. In like manner, after He had supped, taking also this excellent chalice into His holy and venerable hands, and giving thanks to Thee, He blessed and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take and drink ye all of this, for this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal testament: the mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as you shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of Me.”
The words are taken from the Gospel reports and from the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Like the original Epistle and Gospel texts, they seem to repeat, only more impressively, what took place at that time. But when we look closely, we notice slight shifts in the wording. Not only does the priest, by reading the biblical account, relate what took place, he also does it himself. His words are no longer merely the biblical “and giving thanks”; they have become: “and with His eyes lifted up to heaven, unto Thee, God, His almighty Father, giving thanks to Thee . . .” God is actually being addressed. And while the priest says “took bread,” he actually picks up the host lying there, bowing his head at the word “thanks.” Thus the decisive sentences, “for this is my body” and “for this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal testament: the mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins,” acquire a new character. The whole passage moves from the past into the present, from the report to the act. It is no longer a pious memorial; it has become a living reality. At the consecration of the chalice we were being prepared for something extraordinary: mysterium fidei. In the early Church, while the priest softly spoke the words which established the Eucharist, the deacon raised his voice, and reverently called out: “Take heed! The mystery of faith!” It is in this sense that we must receive the Lord’s words. But the full significance of their springing into life is clearest in the final sentence: “As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of Me.”
Here again something happens to the scriptural word which does not happen to the Epistle or Gospel, to the Pater noster or the praises of the Gloria. There God’s biblical words are read, proclaimed and heard; priest and people make them their own and pass them back as prayer to God. Here the word becomes the living present. What was once spoken by Christ is spoken anew, not as a new word issuing from the hour and consequently passing away with it, but as the old, Christ-spoken word renewed and become part of this hour. The “memorial” does not consist in the congregation’s remembering what the Lord once spoke to His apostles, but in making His words alive and concretely effective.
We are about to anticipate, but the point to be discussed in detail later is so all-important that it can bear repetition. What Jesus accomplished by these words differed from all the other proofs of His divine omnipotence. Not only was He summoning the powers of creation to the service of the kingdom of God; here, as in the Incarnation and the Resurrection, He was laying the foundations of a new creation. These words are the equals of those which once brought the universe into existence. But it was the Lord’s pleasure to permit them their creative task not only once, the evening He spoke them, but from henceforth forever or as St. Paul says, “until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). They are meant to ring out ever and again in the course of history, accomplishing each time what they first effected. To this end Christ gave them to His followers with the command: “As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of Me.”
Therefore when the priest utters the words, they are not merely reported, they rise and create. Obviously, at this point, we do not simply hear a man talking. The priest pronounces the words, certainly; but they are not his. He is only their bearer; and he does not bear them by reason of his personal faith or piety or moral strength, but by means of his office, through which he executes the Lord’s directions. The true speaker remains Christ. He alone can speak thus. The priest merely lends the Lord his voice, mind, will, freedom, playing a role similar to that of the baptismal water, for the new birth is not brought about by its natural cleansing qualities, but by the power of Christ. It is Christ Who baptizes, just as here it is Christ Who speaks.
Our own attitude should be in keeping with this. It is not merely a question of pious listening and acceptance, nor is it one of consummation in the literal sense of the word. The first would be too little; the second definitely too much. The deacon’s interjection in the midst of the holy sentences gives us the right cue: Mysterium fidei! The call proclaims the unfolding of the inmost earnestness, the supreme love of God, summoning us to muster all the readiness and power of our faith in order to participate in them.

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