Mystery of the liturgy

The Study of Liturgy (editors: Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold SJ and Paul Bradshaw)

OK, over the introductions, Image

I think one of the biggest beefs with “contemporary” Christianity (CC) and frankly I really don’t take it seriously as “Christianity”, but OK, let’s not fuss at this point. But CC has this obsession with making Jesus out to be our buddy, our friend, “Jesus my co-pilot”). Come on, it’s cheesey, it’s phoney, and it’s just not true.

Jesus loves us, He did an incredibly manly thing through His life, suffering and sacrifice, but He is God! Therein is one of the mysteries of Christianity. How can God be man and God? We want it to be familiar and buddy/buddy, but it simply isn’t, it just isn’t. The church is the Bride of Christ. I would compare being that bride with our worldly marriage. Done right, marriage is a mystery, we come together, pretty much strangers, God brings us together to make us one-flesh. How? We don’t know, but, again when done right, we are brought together with a mysterious person, and as we grow together that other person usually remains a mystery. In God’s leading, the marriage relationship will probably be the closest relationship we will ever have. There is no biological relationship, but in Christ we are brought together in a mystery, a relationship so close, but we can’t really say why it is that close.

Other mysteries are of course the Trinity, baptism, communion (Lutherans teach that we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in communion), the redemption of mankind. We can go on and on, but true Christianity is very much wrapped in mystery: “…the NT term ‘mystery’ is not a cultic term and most modern exegetes do not see it as borrowing from the mystery religions. None the less, it has a long history in liturgy, especially in the Roman liturgy,..Keeping to purely NT (New Testament) sources we can see that the mystery exists on three levels:

1. There is the mystery that is God ‘dwelling in light inaccessible’ (1Tim 6:16) and in a plenitude of love that is always giving itself, always being communicated from Father to Son and Holy Spirit and back again. This love God freely communicated outside himself first in creation and then in the redemption so that all could share in it.

2. The mystery, as we have seen, exists in the historical order as we read in 1 Tim 3:16, Christ is the mystery of God: …

3. The third level at which the mystery exists is the liturgy . It is concerned with past events, the saving work of Christ, but it is not concerned with them as past. It seeks to bring about an encounter between the worshippers and the saving mystery. If an event is to be experienced, it has to be experienced as present. As Dom Odo Casel liked to say (and apparently Kierkegaard before him), Christ has to become each one’s contemporary. This is perhaps best expressed by Leo the Great, who in a  sermon the Ascension said: Quod … redemptoris nostri conspicuum fuit, in sacramenta transivit  (what our Redeemer did visibly has passed over into the sacraments). He is considering how, after the forty days of Christ’s resurrection-life, he was lifted up to remain at the right hand of his Father until he should come again Now all that he did in his earthly life is to be found in the sacraments, the liturgy that he and his hearers were celebrating.

Let us take two other examples from the Roman liturgy if only because the word ‘mystery’ is used. an ancient prayer for Holy Week asks that what we are doing in mysterio we may lay hold of in reality. The second is a collect for Good Friday, when the major part of the service consists of words (OT, a Pauline epistle and the singing of the passion according to St John). There is no Eucharist, simply the giving of Holy Communion from the reserved sacrament, and after it we pray: ‘Almighty and merciful God, you have renewed us by the blessed passion and death of your Christ preserve in us the work of your redemption (operis misericordias) that by our partaking of this mystery we may always live devoted to your service’. These texts and a hundred others that could be cited show the Church’s conviction that when Christians celebrate the liturgy they encounter Christ in his passion, death and resurrection and are renewed by it.

What, then, is the particular significance of the use of ‘mystery’ in this third sense? First, it is a link between the past and the present or, rather, it looks to the past to recover the power of the primordial event and makes its power present in the here and now so that the worshipper can encounter the redeeming Christ. What gives it a particular quality is that it does this through symbols which manifest the presence and activity of Christ and, because they are the sacraments to which he committed himself, he through them can convey the saving power of his passion and resurrection. The liturgical mystery can be seen as l’entre deux mondes, and that is part of the difficulty in understanding it. It is not simply an historical event (through its celebration takes place in time), and it certainly does not seek to reproduce historical events. It will have nothing to do with the allegorizing of the writers of the ninth and subsequent centuries,… nor is it sufficient to say that he mystery is a way of remembering the past, … By the liturgical mystery we are actualizing the past event, making it present so that the saving power of Christ can be made available to the worshipper in the here and now…(pp 13-15)

Christianity is in fact wrapped in mystery, it’s not an effort to be familiar with the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe, it’s to glorify Him, to worship Him, be in fear and awe, not to be His buddy. This is the whole point of liturgical worship. Dr Martin Luther talks about the deus Absconditus “the hidden God”. We have revelation, what God intends us to know, and is there any doubt that what He revealed to us, is a tiny scintilla of what there is to know about Him. We worship in mystery, we worship according to the guiding of the Holy Spirit in a time honored way of ordered worship, intended to strengthen and fortify us for another week, to confront the world in Christ, an alien, secular, sinful, sick, depraved world. We do that in the mystery of faith, we do it in the mystery of being saved in Christ, His baptism, His Body and Blood. We don’t do it being happy and clappy “Jesus is just alright by me, Jesus is just alright”, as seen by those learned theologians the “Doobie Brothers”. But through another mystery of Christianity, through the liturgy, our omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God brings us into real time with the incarnation, the trials of Christ, the crucifixion and of course the resurrection. This is not a reenactment, the Roman practice of the sacrifice at every mass is incorrect. What Jesus did once in Jerusalem has power for all eternity, the sacrifice/redemption of Christ has power for all times, it is through that mystery of the liturgy that we are brought into the very act, once and for eternity.

This is through the liturgy, this is through the faithful serving of the sacraments, through confession and absolution. People gathered together being entertained, conducting discussions about “how to be better”, or some kind of intellectual dissection, or jumping around, can be inspiring, get you all pumped up for Jesus. But it is through the liturgy, time tested through the centuries that bring us into the presence of all the mysteries of being a Christian, a disciple, an adopted child of God the Father. Jesus isn’t my “buddy”, He is the all powerful Savior, Redeemer, Lord of my life, through Him all creation came into existence. I don’t need Him to be my “buddy”, as with any strong leader, father-figure there is an element of mystery, a degree of separation. With Jesus it is almost entirely wrapped in mystery, the mystery of Jesus is that we take His Body and Blood, but He is also so far above, and exponentially so much greater and powerful that me. That is a great thing, my Savior, my Lord is so much more powerful then anything in creation and yet He died for me, He knows everything about me, but only through the liturgy are we put back into that presence of time, place and familiarity.

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