The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Translated 
by John Saward, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2000. Print.
 (Click here for free PDF copy of the study guide)

Ratzinger states that the intention of this book is “to encourage in a new way, something like a “liturgical movement”, a movement toward the liturgy and toward the right way of celebrating the liturgy, inwardly and outwardly” (8).

Part One: The Essence of the Liturgy

Chapter 1: Liturgy and Life: The Place of the Liturgy in Reality

“Play” – Play for Ratzinger is “a kind of other world, an oasis of freedom, where for a moment we can let life flow freely” (13). Children play in an anticipation of later life. The liturgy can be thought of as a type of play in anticipation of later life. It is in the liturgy that man “plays” in an anticipation of the life to come.

Exodus event – Ratzinger uses the Exodus event to describe the essential nature of the liturgy. Although the reaching of the Promised Land was an important element of the Exodus, the worship of God was what gave true meaning to the taking of the land. The issue was ultimately about the nature of the liturgy – a liturgy entirely dependent upon God’s revelation (see Ex 10:26).

True worship – “cult” – embraces the ordering of the whole of human life. Law and ethics must be anchored in the liturgical center and inspired by it.

“The “service of God”, the freedom to give right worship to God, appears, in the encounter with Pharaoh, to be the sole purpose of the Exodus, indeed, its very essence” (20).

The true worship of God revealed in the Exodus was immediately contrasted to the golden calf incident – a self-generated cult.

“The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship” (23).

Chapter 2: Liturgy – Cosmos – History

Liturgy has its place in both the cosmos and in history. 

In the Old Testament, creation was revealed to be the place where God wanted to make a covenant with man.

“Creation looks toward the covenant, but the covenant completes creation and does not simply exist along with it. Now if worship, rightly understood, is the soul of the covenant, then it not only saves mankind but is also meant to draw the whole of reality into communion with God” (27).

Within the essence of worship, true sacrifice “is not some type of destruction but rather “the civitas Dei, that is, love-transformed mankind, the divinization of creation and the surrender of all things to God: God all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).” Therefore, the goal of worship and the goal of creation as a whole are one and the same—divinization, a world of freedom and love (28).

A movement of exitus and reditus – departure and return – the Creator’s free action of creation and the creature’s free answer to God’s love.

In the school of Teilhard de Chardin, the transubstantiated Host is seen as the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the christological “fullness” (29). In his view, the Eucharist provides the movement of the cosmos with its direction; it anticipates its goal and at the same time urges it on.

“The historical liturgy of Christendom is and always will be cosmic, without separation and without confusion, and only as such does it stand erect in its full grandeur” (34).

Chapter 3: From Old Testament to New: The Fundamental Form of the Christian Liturgy—Its Determination by Biblical Faith

In the third chapter, Ratzinger explains how the liturgy takes place in the context of both the struggles of man and society to find atonement, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This is made easier when man comes to find that the only real gift he should give to God is himself.

Christian worship fulfills Israel’s worship in two ways:

First, it fulfills the Temple sacrificial system through Christ the Lamb given by God. Temple worship was always accompanied by a vivid sense of its insufficiency and intense awareness of the impermanence of the Temple sacrifices together with a desire for something greater, something indescribably new (see 1 Sam 15:22, Hosea 6:6, Mt 9:13, Ps 50:12-14) (44). With Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection, the real worship begins. “In Jesus’ self-surrender on the Cross, the Word is united with the entire reality of human life and suffering. There is no longer a replacement cult” (47).

Second, it fulfills the synagogue service of the word. “The liturgy of the Christian faith cannot be viewed simply as a Christianized form of the synagogue service, however much its actual development owes to the synagogue service” (48).

“To celebrate the Eucharist means to enter into the openness of a glorification of God that embraces both heaven and earth, an openness effected by the Cross and Resurrection… Everything, then, comes together: the horizontal and the vertical, the uniqueness of God and the unity of mankind, the communion of all who worship in spirit and in truth” (49).

Divine worship in accordance with logos is the most appropriate way of expressing the essential form of Christian liturgy and is sufficiently captured by the word “Eucharist”.

Christian liturgy is a liturgy of promise fulfilled… but it remains a liturgy of hope.

Christian liturgy is liturgy on the way, a liturgy of pilgrimage toward the transfiguration of the world, which will only take place when God is “all in all” (50).

Part Two: Time and Space in the Liturgy

Chapter 1: The Relationship of the Liturgy to Time and Space: Some Preliminary Questions

The liturgy as present in mans’ life partakes of time and space. The foundation of the liturgy is in the historical event of Christ’s death and resurrection on the Cross.

Christian worship is surely a cosmic liturgy, which embraces both heaven and earth” (53).

The time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet. This idea of the New Testament as the between-time, as image between shadow and reality, gives liturgical theology its specific form (54). That is why the Church Fathers described the various stages of fulfillment, not just as a contrast between Old and New Testaments, but as the three steps of shadow, image, and reality (54).

Christian worship operates on 3 levels:

  1. PAST — The strictly liturgical – middle level – revealed in the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper (past). Although Christ’s Passion was a historical event that happened “once for all”, His interior act of self-giving (the obedience of Jesus’ human will is inserted into the everlasting Yes of the Son of the Father) transforms this historical event into something that embraces all the dimensions of reality.
  2. PRESENT — The liturgical making present – the real liturgical level.  Since the Christian liturgy is about representation (not replacement) & vicarious sacrifice, Christ’s self-giving is meant to become mine as a living sacrifice with Him (cf Rom 12:1).
  3. FUTURE — The eschatological dynamism of the liturgy – the “today” of Christ lasts right to the end (cf Heb 4:7). The desire for the eternal takes hold of the worshipper’s life.

“Without the Cross and Resurrection, Christian worship is null and void, and a theology of liturgy that omitted any reference to them would really just be talking about an empty game” (55).

“In the Eucharist we are caught up and made contemporary with the Paschal Mystery of Christ, in his passing from the tabernacle of the transitory to the presence and sight of God” (57).

The foundation of the liturgy, its source and support, is the historical Pasch of Jesus—his Cross and Resurrection. This once-for-all event has become the ever-abiding form of the liturgy” (60).

The theology of the liturgy is in a special way “symbolic theology”, a theology of symbols, which connects us to what is present but hidden (60).

After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image”, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified. Christian liturgy is no longer replacement worship but the coming of the representative Redeemer to us, an entry into his representation that is an entry into reality itself. We do indeed participate in the heavenly liturgy, but this participation is mediated to us through earthly signs, which the Redeemer has shown to us as the place where his reality is to be found. In liturgical celebration, there is a kind of turning around of exitus to reditus, of departure to return, of God’s descent to our ascent. The liturgy is the means by which earthly time is inserted into the time of Jesus Christ and into its present (60-61).

Chapter 2: Sacred Places—The Significance of the Church Building

The synagogue finds its fulfillment in the Christian house of God.

  1. Worshiping together finds a Christian newness through communion with Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord (63-4).
  2. The synagogues orientation toward Jerusalem – toward the Holy of Holies in the Temple as the place of God’s presence for his people (66) – the synagogue’s liturgy of the Word oriented toward the sacrificial liturgy of the Temple – finds its fulfillment in looking toward the east, the rising sun, representing the cosmos speaking of Christ (prayer toward the east was regarded as an apostolic tradition and as an essential characteristic of Christian liturgy). Orientation is, first and foremost, a simple expression of looking to Christ as the meeting place between God and man. It expresses the basic christological form of our prayer (68-69).
  3. 2nd innovation = the altar on which the Eucharistic Sacrifice is celebrated becomes the “place where heaven is opened up” (71) and leads the Church into the eternal liturgy.
  4. 3rd innovation = the Torah is replaced by the Gospels, which alone can open up the meaning of the Torah. The “Ark of the Covenant” (the shrine of the Word) now becomes the throne of the Gospel.

The fact that we find Christ in the symbol of the rising sun is the indication of a Christology defined eschatologically. Praying toward the east means going to meet the coming Christ (69).

Cross dimension = It also merges with the symbolism of the Cross (Mt 24:30, Rev 1:7, Zech 12:10).

Cosmic dimension = It also signifies that cosmos and saving history belong together. The cosmos is praying with us. It, too, is waiting for redemption.

Chapter 3: The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer

Praying toward the east is:

  • an ancient tradition
  • “a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history, of being rooted in the once-for-all events of salvation history while going out to meet the Lord who is to come again” (75).
  • allows both the priest and the people to process toward the Lord. Facing East during the Eucharistic prayer is essential. Ratzinger contrasts this with the shift toward the Eucharist as a meal and the priest as the real point of reference for the whole liturgy.

“The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle” (80).

“They did not close themselves into a circle; they did not gaze at one another; but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us “(80).

“Every age must discover and express the essence of the liturgy anew. The point is to discover this essence amid all the changing appearances” (81).

“Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord” (81).

“But in our case, as we have said, what is at issue is not a romantic escape into antiquity, but a rediscovery of something essential, in which Christian liturgy expresses its permanent orientation” (82).

Facing east, as we heard, was linked with the “sign of the Son of Man”, with the Cross, which announces the Lord’s Second Coming 83.

** Where a direct common turning toward the east is not possible, the cross can serve as the interior “east” of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community. In this way we obey the ancient call to prayer: “Conversi ad Dominum”, Turn toward the Lord! In this way we look together at the One whose death tore the veil of the Temple—the One who stands before the Father for us and encloses us in his arms in order to make us the new and living Temple. Moving the altar cross to the side to give an uninterrupted view of the priest is something I regard as one of the truly absurd phenomena of recent decades. Is the cross disruptive during Mass? Is the priest more important than the Lord? This mistake should be corrected as quickly as possible; it can be done without further rebuilding. The Lord is the point of reference. He is the rising sun of history. That is why there could be a cross of the Passion, which represents the suffering Lord who for us let his side be pierced, from which flowed blood and water (Eucharist and Baptism), as well as a cross of triumph, which expresses the idea of the Second Coming and guides our eyes toward it. For it is always the one Lord: Christ yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8) (83-84).

Chapter 4: The Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament

The tabernacle emerged in the second millennium as a result of a development in Eucharistic theology:

“This deepened awareness of faith is impelled by the knowledge that in the consecrated species he is there and remains there. When a man experiences this with every fiber of his heart and mind and senses, the consequence is inescapable: “We must make a proper place for this Presence.” And so little by little the tabernacle takes shape, and more and more, always in a spontaneous way, it takes the place previously occupied by the now disappeared “Ark of the Covenant”. In fact, the tabernacle is the complete fulfillment of what the Ark of the Covenant represented. It is the place of the “Holy of Holies”. It is the tent of God, his throne. Here he is among us. His presence (Shekinah) really does now dwell among us—in the humblest parish church no less than in the grandest cathedral” (89).

Adoration and communion find mutual support:

“Communion only reaches its true depths when it is supported and surrounded by adoration. The Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle does not set another view of the Eucharist alongside or against the Eucharistic celebration, but simply signifies its complete fulfillment” (90).

A church without the Eucharistic Presence is somehow dead (90).

We must give the tabernacle its proper place in the architecture of our church buildings (90).

Chapter 5: Sacred Time

“All time is God’s time” (92).

Christ is the bridge between time and eternity (92). By His incarnation, Christ drew time into the sphere of eternity and filled time with His powerful presence.

On the other hand, the time of the Church is a “between” time, between the shadow and the reality, and so its special structure demands a sign, a time specially chosen and designated to draw time as a whole into the hands of God (92).

What is time?  Time is a “cosmic reality” (93) insofar as the course of the sun and the moon leaves its mark on human life.

Liturgy — has its own particular way of relating to time.

Christianity has embraced the Jewish idea of the double division of time: weekly rhythm and feast days.

The Sabbath brought the sign of the covenant into time.

Sunday — the Day of Resurrection — becomes the new sign of the covenant and takes over the significance of the Sabbath.

3 symbols of Sunday:

  1. 3rd day — seen from the Cross — in the O.T., day of theophany (when God entered into the world).
  2. 1st day of the week — weekly schedule. “Day of the Sun” now truly proclaims Christ, the Son of God. Cosmos and history together speak of Him and the new creation (1st day) takes up the old creation.
  3. 8th day — seen in relation to whole proceeding week. Sunday as the 8th day signifies the new creation that has dawned with the Resurrection.

“Sunday is thus, for the Christian, time’s proper measure, the temporal measure of his life” (97).

The Passover is the “hour” of Jesus (98).

Jesus’ “hour” was woven into a very particular cosmic and historical hour.

Christian Easter date as the Sunday after the 1st full moon of spring linked the two great cosmic forces of ordering time (solar and lunar calendars) with the history of Israel (the Passover) and the life of Jesus (rose on Sunday).

March 25th = was the date given to Abraham’s sacrifice, the 1st day of creation, the day of Christ’s death, the day of Christ’s conception.

The moon = a symbol of transitoriness and the mystery of death and resurrection —

The moon and the feast of the saints — has no light of its own but shines with a brightness that comes from the sun. This is a sign to us that we men are in constant need of a “little” light, whose hidden light helps us to know and love the light of the Creator, God one and triune. That is why the feasts of the saints from earliest times have formed part of the Christian year (110).

“When the Sunday after the first full moon of spring comes to be the date of Easter, the symbolism of sun and moon are linked together. Transitoriness is taken up into what never passes away. Death becomes resurrection and passes into eternal life” (101).

But in the Southern Hemisphere, everything is reversed. This raises the question of “inculturation” with great urgency. But this would subordinate history to the cosmos and make Christianity a merely cosmic religion. The cosmic serves the historical and gives its true meaning. Christ’s Passion is also interpreted in light of the Day of Atonement (autumn feast).

The Christmas season – The theology of the Incarnation and the theology of Easter “are the two inseparable focal points of the one faith in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God and Redeemer” (106). Therefore, the Incarnation “had to be given some expression in liturgical celebration, some place in the rhythm of sacred time” (106). Christmas in the West – December 25th – had its definitive form in the 3rd century.

Definitive form 3rd century.

Birthday of Christ takes place when days begin to lengthen VS. John the Baptist when days begin to shorten (“He must increase, I must decrease”).

Part Three: Art and Liturgy

Chapter 1: The Question of Images

Christian icons, emerging from a “close and deep unity with the iconography of the synagogue” (118), are:

  1. Sacramental — make historical events present, as a remembrance in visible form. They transcend the didactic function. The danger of a false sacramentalizing of the image led in part to iconoclasm. The image of Christ and the images of the saints are not photographs. Their whole point is to lead us beyond what can be apprehended at the merely material level, to awaken new senses in us, and to teach us a new kind of seeing, which perceives the Invisible in the visible (133).
  2. Eschatological — they are images of hope, giving us the assurance of the world to come, of the final coming of Christ.
  3. Sacred — icons come from prayer and lead to prayer – this is what separates them from normal art (121). We need to “fast from the eyes” (121) and see with our inner eyes.
  4. Liturgical — The icon is intended to draw us onto an inner path, the eastward path, toward the Christ who is to return (122). The icons dynamism is identical with the dynamism of the liturgy as a whole. The image is at the service of the liturgy.
  5. Incarnational — Icons are a confession of faith in the Incarnation. The Incarnation leads the senses to their original purpose. The complete absence of images is incompatible with faith in the Incarnation of God (131).
  6. Christological — The icon of Christ is the centre of sacred iconography and the centre of the icon of Christ is the Paschal Mystery.
  7. Trinitarian — Holy Spirit gives us the gift to see Christ in and through the icon who leads us to the Father. 123

Where do we go from here?

Today we are experiencing, not just a crisis of sacred art, but a crisis of art in general of unprecedented proportions due to a blindness of spirit that makes sacred art impossible (130).

The Church in the West does not need to disown the specific path she has followed since about the thirteenth century. But she must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church (134).

But what does all this mean practically? Art cannot be “produced”, as one contracts out and produces technical equipment. It is always a gift. Inspiration is not something one can choose for oneself. It has to be received, otherwise it is not there. One cannot bring about a renewal of art in faith by money or through commissions. Before all things it requires the gift of a new kind of seeing. And so it would be worth our while to regain a faith that sees. Wherever that exists, art finds its proper expression (135).

“In his essence, God is radically transcendent, but in his existence, he can be, and wants to be, represented as the Living One” (124).

“Art is always characterized by the unity of creation, Christology, and eschatology” (125).

Chapter 2: Music and Liturgy

When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. The verb “to sing” highlights this fact, since it is one of the most commonly used words in the Bible (309x OT, 36x NT).

Song of Moses 1st time singing shown in Bible. Definitively fulfilled in Christ’s Resurrection — song of the Lamb (Rev 15:3). The definitively new song has been intoned, but still – in the “in-between time” – all the sufferings of history must be endured, all pain gathered in and brought into the sacrifice of praise, in order to be transformed there into a song of praise (138).

The Book of Psalms — as prayed poetry — give us an idea of the richness of both the instruments and the different kinds of singing used in Israel (139).

Quite spontaneously, the Psalter became the prayer book of the infant Church, which, with equal spontaneity, has become a Church that sings her prayers… with Christ (139). Church music comes into being as a “charism,” a gift of the Spirit where the “sober inebriation” of faith takes place (140).

The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love.

Cantare amantis est”, says St. Augustine, singing is a lover’s thing (142).

In so saying, we come again to the trinitarian interpretation of Church music. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is he who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father (142).

The problem of enculturation – Keep Christian identity + express universality in local forms.

Logos as the standard – Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship. It has its standards, and that standard is the Logos (151). The Holy Spirit leads us to the Logos, and he leads us to a music that serves the Logos as a sign of the sursum corda, the lifting up of the human heart (151). Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality? That is the criterion for a music in harmony with logos, a form of that logikē latreia (reason-able, logos-worthy worship) of which we spoke in the first part of this book (151).

In the celebration of Holy Mass, we insert ourselves into this liturgy that always goes before us. All our singing is a singing and praying with the great liturgy that spans the whole of creation (152).

The beauty of music depends on its conformity to the rhythmic and harmonic laws of the universe. The more that human music adapts itself to the musical laws of the universe, the more beautiful will it be (153).

The Logos himself is the great artist, in whom all works of art—the beauty of the universe—have their origin. To sing with the universe means, then, to follow the track of the Logos and to come close to him. All true human art is an assimilation to the artist, to Christ, to the mind of the Creator. The idea of the music of the cosmos, of singing with the angels, leads back again to the relation of art to logos, but now it is broadened and deepened in the context of the cosmos (154).

The cosmic character of liturgical music stands in opposition to the two tendencies of the modern age that we have described: music as pure subjectivity, music as the expression of mere will. We sing with the angels. But this cosmic character is grounded ultimately in the ordering of all Christian worship to logos (155).

As we have seen in both chapters of this part of the book, the problems of the present day pose without doubt a grave challenge to the Church and the culture of the liturgy. Nevertheless, there is no reason at all to be discouraged. The great cultural tradition of the faith is home to a presence of immense power. What in museums is only a monument from the past, an occasion for mere nostalgic admiration, is constantly made present in the liturgy in all its freshness. But the present day, too, is not condemned to silence where the faith is concerned. Anyone who looks carefully will see that, even in our own time, important works of art, inspired by faith, have been produced and are being produced—in visual art as well as in music (and indeed literature). Today, too, joy in the Lord and contact with his presence in the liturgy has an inexhaustible power of inspiration. The artists who take this task upon themselves need not regard themselves as the rearguard of culture. They are weary of the empty freedom from which they have emerged. Humble submission to what goes before us releases authentic freedom and leads us to the true summit of our vocation as human beings (156).

Part Four: Liturgical Form

Chapter 1: Rite

Rite = an “approved practice in the administration of sacrifice” (mos comprobatus in administrandis sacrificiis) ~ Roman jurist Pomponius Festus

Orthodoxy means, therefore, the right way to glorify God, the right form of adoration (159).

The greatest gift of Christian faith is that we know what right worship is (160).

“We know how we should truly glorify God—by praying and living in communion with the Paschal journey of Jesus Christ, by accomplishing with him his Eucharistia, in which Incarnation leads to Resurrection—along the way of the Cross” (160).

For Christians, then, “rite” means the practical arrangements made by the community, in time and space, for the basic type of worship received from God in faith (160).

Major Rites:

Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch became the three primatial sees in the 1st Council of Nicaea. After the 4th century, Byzantium also became an important see.

First, it is important that the individual rites have a relation to the places where Christianity originated and the apostles preached: they are anchored in the time and place of the event of divine revelation (163).

Rites are not just products of inculturations… they are forms of the apostolic Tradition and of its unfolding in the great places of the Tradition (164).

Rites are not rigidly fenced off from each other. There is exchange and cross-fertilization between them 164.

What is important is that the great forms of rite embrace many cultures

Western view = “the liturgy that has come to be” ~ Jungmann –> organic growth of the liturgy

Pope’s role in the liturgy = still bound to the Tradition of faith.

The greatness of the liturgy depends—we shall have to repeat this frequently—on its unspontaneity (Unbeliebigkeit) (166).

In the context of Christian liturgy, rite “is the expression, that has become form, of ecclesiality and of the Church’s identity as a historically transcendent communion of liturgical prayer and action” (166).

“Only respect for the liturgy’s fundamental unspontaneity and pre-existing identity can give us what we hope for: the feast in which the great reality comes to us that we ourselves do not manufacture but receive as a gift” 168

This means that “creativity” cannot be an authentic category for matters liturgical.

Yes, the liturgy becomes personal, true, and new, not through tomfoolery and banal experiments with the words, but through a courageous entry into the great reality that through the rite is always ahead of us and can never quite be overtaken (169).

Chapter 2: The Body and the Liturgy

Man participates in the liturgical form through his body.

1. “Active Participation”

“Participation” refers to a principal action in which everyone has a “part” (171). This principal action is the Eucharistic Prayer – the oratio – the essence of the Christian liturgy. In the Eucharistic Prayer, the human actio steps back and makes way for the actio divina, the action of God – the real “action”.

The real “action” in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential” (173).

We must all pray for the Sacrifice of the Logos to become our sacrifice. This is part of the oratio – the petition for acceptance.

The uniqueness of the Eucharistic liturgy lies precisely in the fact that God himself is acting and that we are drawn into that action of God. 174

External actions are secondary.

Doing really must stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio (174).

The oratio “is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God” (174).

Anyone who grasps this will easily see that it is not now a matter of looking at or toward the priest, but of looking together toward the Lord and going out to meet him.

Surrendering ourselves to the action of God, so that we in our turn may cooperate with him—that is what begins in the liturgy and is meant to unfold further beyond it (176).

2. The Sign of the Cross

The sign of the Cross is the most basic Christian gesture in prayer. It is a way of confessing Christ crucified with one’s very body (cf 1 Cor 1:23, 2:2). To give a visible and public Yes to Him who suffered for us… as a confession of faith and of hope.

The Cross shows us the road of life—the imitation of Christ (178).

The Cross is a remembrance of Baptism, a sign of the Passion and a sign of the Resurrection.

Whenever we make the sign of the Cross, we accept our Baptism anew; Christ from the Cross draws us, so to speak, to himself (cf. Jn 12:32) and thus into communion with the living God. For Baptism and the sign of the Cross, which is a kind of summing up and re-acceptance of Baptism, are above all a divine event: the Holy Spirit leads us to Christ, and Christ opens the door to the Father. God is no longer the “unknown god”; he has a name. We are allowed to call upon him, and he calls us (178).

Thus we can say that in the sign of the Cross, together with the invocation of the Trinity, the whole essence of Christianity is summed up; it displays what is distinctively Christian (178).

The Tav – Jewish sign.

“Prophecy of the Cross” in Plato = Cross inscribed upon the cosmos – Greek idea connected with traditions of ancient East.

The Cross of Golgotha is foreshadowed in the structure of the universe itself. The instrument of torment on which the Lord died is written into the structure of the universe. The cosmos speaks to us of the Cross, and the Cross solves for us the enigma of the cosmos. It is the real key to all reality. History and cosmos belong together. When we open our eyes, we can read the message of Christ in the language of the universe, and conversely, Christ grants us understanding of the message of creation (181).

In fulfilling Abraham’s blessings, making the sign of the Cross becomes a way to enter into the blessings of Christ.

Making the sign of the Cross perfectly expresses the common priesthood of the baptized (183-4).

3. Posture

Kneeling – prostratio. 

Kneeling does not come from any culture—it comes from the Bible (59x in NT, 24x in Apocalypse – the book of the heavenly liturgy) and its knowledge of God (185).

Jesus knelt down to pray (Luke 22:41) in the Garden of Gethsemane as an example for us. Jesus assumes the fall of man and “prays to the Father out of the lowest depths of human dereliction and anguish” (187).

In the Church’s liturgy today, prostration appears on two occasions: on Good Friday and at ordinations.

The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is precisely that of worship. Without the worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act must of its very nature, because of the psychosomatic unity of man, express itself in the bodily gesture. The two aspects are united in the one word, because in a very profound way they belong together. When kneeling becomes merely external, a merely physical act, it becomes meaningless. On the other hand, when someone tries to take worship back into the purely spiritual realm and refuses to give it embodied form, the act of worship evaporates, for what is purely spiritual is inappropriate to the nature of man. Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole man. That is why bending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon (190).

Kneeling is a Christological gesture.

Philippians 2:6-11 is the most important passage for the theology of kneeling.

Standing and Sitting—Liturgy and Culture

In the Old Testament and in Jesus’ time, standing was the classic posture for prayer.

Among Christians, standing was primarily the Easter form of prayer (see 20th canon of Nicaea).

Standing is the posture of the victor (cf. Acts 7:55). Jesus stands in God’s presence — he stands, because he has trodden death and the power of the Evil One underfoot.

Standing is also an expression of readiness: Christ is standing up at the right hand of God, in order to meet us. He has not withdrawn from us.

When we stand, we know that we are united to the victory of Christ, and when we stand to listen to the Gospel, it is an expression of reverence. When this Word is heard, we cannot remain sitting; it pulls us up. It demands both reverence and courage, when he calls us to set off in some new direction, to do his will and to carry it into our lives and into the world (195).

The figure of the orans in the catacombs – the female figure standing & praying with outstretched hands – represents the soul that has entered into heavenly glory & stands in adoration before the face of God. Shows our bridal element and how standing prayer orients us towards future glory.

Insofar as liturgical prayer is an anticipation of what has been promised, standing is its proper posture. However, insofar as liturgical prayer belongs to that “between” time in which we live, then kneeling remains indispensable to it as an expression of the “now” of our life (196).

We must, therefore, conclude that kneeling and standing are, in a unique and irreplaceable way, the Christian posture of prayer—the Christian’s orientation of himself toward the face of God, toward the face of Jesus Christ, in seeing whom we are able to see the Father (198).

Sitting – Sitting should be at the service of recollection. Our bodies should be relaxed, so that our hearing and understanding are unimpeded (196).

Dancing is not a form of expression for the Christian liturgy (198).

Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment (198).

Inculturation – The first and most fundamental way in which inculturation takes place is the unfolding of a Christian culture in all its different dimensions: a culture of cooperation, of social concern, of respect for the poor, of the overcoming of class differences, of care for the suffering and dying; a culture that educates mind and heart in proper cooperation; a political culture and a culture of law; a culture of dialogue, of reverence for life, and so on. This kind of authentic inculturation of Christianity then creates culture in the stricter sense of the word, that is, it leads to artistic work that interprets the world anew in the light of God (201).

Popular piety is the soil without which the liturgy cannot thrive (202)… one must love it, purifying and guiding it where necessary, but always accepting it with great reverence, even when it seems alien or alienating, as the dedicated sanctuary of faith in the hearts of the people.

The unity of the rite gives us a real experience of communio. When the rite is respected and animated from within, unity and diversity are not in opposition. 202

4. Gestures

The oldest gesture of prayer in Christendom is prayer with arms extended, the orans posture (203). This is a gesture of peace, of seeking and hoping.

Extended arms also have a Christological meaning – they remind us of the extended arms of Christ on the Cross (204) – symbolizing worship of God and love of neighbour.

Praying with hands joined – a later development of the gesture. Came from the world of feudalism. The gesture has been retained in priestly ordination. A gesture of trust, fidelity, to show the newly ordained is not the source of his priesthood.

A later development was the gesture of praying with hands joined. This comes from the world of feudalism. The recipient of a feudal estate, on taking tenure, placed his joined hands in those of his lord—a wonderful symbolic act. I lay my hands in yours, allow yours to enclose mine. This is an expression of trust as well as of fidelity. The gesture has been retained in priestly ordination. The newly ordained man receives his priestly task as a kind of feudal estate held on tenure. He is not the source of his priesthood. He is a priest, not through his own skills and abilities, but by the gift of the Lord, a gift that always remains a gift and never becomes simply his possession, a power of his own. The new priest receives the gift and task of priesthood as a gift from another, from Christ, and recognizes that all he is ever able and allowed to be is a “steward of the mysteries of God” (cf. 1 Cor 4:1), “a good steward of God’s varied grace” (cf. 1 Pet 4:10). If this is what he is to become, he must commit his whole existence to the task. And that can only take place in the “house of God” (Heb 3:2–6), the Church, in which the bishop, in the place of Christ, accepts the individual into the priesthood, into a relationship of fidelity to Christ. When the ordinand lays his joined hands in the hands of the bishop and promises him reverence and obedience, he is dedicating his service to the Church as the living Body of Christ, laying his hands in the hands of Christ, entrusting himself to him and giving him his hands, so that they may be his. What within feudalism may be questionable—for all human lordship is questionable and can only be justified if it represents and is faithful to the real Lord—finds its true meaning in the relationship of the believer to Christ the Lord. This, then, is what is meant when we join our hands to pray: we are placing our hands in his, and with our hands we place in his hands our personal destiny. Trusting in his fidelity, we pledge our fidelity to him. (204-205)

Bowing – we bow as a sign of humility calling upon God. We bend in imitation of God. The supplices shows forth this gesture with great profundity. It is a physical reminder of the spiritual attitude essential to faith (206).

Humility is the ontologically appropriate attitude, the state that corresponds to the truth about man, and as such it becomes a fundamental attitude of Christian existence (205).

Striking the breast – This is exactly what we need, time and again, to do: to see and acknowledge our guilt and so also to beg for forgiveness (207).

5. The Human Voice

In the liturgy of the Logos, of the Eternal Word, the word and thus the human voice have an essential role to play (207).

Silence – is also part of the liturgy – a positive stillness before the mystery. Silence must be an integral part of the liturgical event. Silence after the homily could only work if the homily concludes with an encouragement to prayer. More helpful and spiritually appropriate is silence after Communion. Preparation of the Gifts could also be a place for silence if we see the Preparation as an essentially interior process. Silent prayers of the priest.

The priest presides over an encounter with the living God and as a person who is on his way to God. The silent prayers of the priest invite him to make his task truly personal, so that he may give his whole self to the Lord (212).

6. Vestments

The liturgical attire worn by the priest during the celebration of Holy Mass should, first and foremost, make clear that he is not there as a private person, as this or that man, but stands in place of Another—Christ (216).

Liturgical vestments are a direct reminder of those texts in which St. Paul speaks of being clothed with Christ: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).

Vestments are a reminder of all this, of this transformation in Christ, and of the new community that is supposed to arise from it. Vestments are a challenge to the priest to surrender himself to the dynamism of breaking out of the capsule of self and being fashioned anew by Christ and for Christ. They remind those who participate in the Mass of the new way that began with Baptism and continues with the Eucharist, the way that leads to the future world already delineated in our daily lives by the sacraments.

Eschatological orientation of the image of clothing.

It is a “further clothing”, not an “unclothing”, and the liturgy guides us on the way to this “further clothing”, on the way to the body’s salvation in the risen body of Jesus Christ, which is the new “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1).

Prodigal son – “the first robe” – the robe in which Adam was created and which he lost after he had grasped at likeness to God – connected to white garment at baptism.

7. Matter

The Catholic liturgy is the liturgy of the Word made flesh—made flesh for the sake of the resurrection (220).

Matter comes through sacred signs (liturgical objects, etc) and through the sacraments.


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