Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Heroic Journey of the Mass Part II

This reflection continues last week’s blog entry.
Once we have separated temporarily from our normal routines of daily life and entered the sacred space of the Church to celebrate the Sunday Mass, we begin the next stage of the "heroic journey," which is the challenge to change. This challenge to change, or more accurately to be changed, is also called conversion and transformation.

As I mentioned last week, when we enter into the Eucharist, we are entering into a different realm, a realm we call "the Kingdom of God." This Kingdom is a kingdom where the Rule of God’s love is paramount. It is not that the Kingdom of God is absent from our world at times other than the Mass; rather it is at Mass, especially the Sunday Mass, that the Kingdom of God is most manifested in this world. Orthodox Priest and Liturgical scholar Alexander Schmemann wrote:
"The Liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom [of God]" (For the Life of the World, p.26)
Fr. Schmemann then describes the celebration of the Eucharist as entering into a dimension that transcends our three dimensional world:
"[O]ur entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world." (Ibid, p.27)
This reminds me of climbing to the top of a mountain. From the mountain top, one can see all the surrounding landscape. From the vantage point of the Liturgy (the public worship of Christ and his Church) we see things as God sees them, "from on high."
Certainly we should be challenged by the proclamation of God’s Word at Mass. On Sundaythe Priest also gives greater time to preach about this Word. It is God’s Word, in the sense of God’s meaning for the world and for our lives. It has one major purpose: " For what we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord." (1 Corinthians 4:5a)
The Son of God is the Word of God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (See John 1). What this means is that the Son of God became Jesus Christ and he reveals to us all that God desires us to know about living a fully human life according to the rule of God’s love, that is, the according to the Kingdom of God. We preach about God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and God’s love for us revealed in Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit. We are challenged to confront at Mass (if we are attentive) what it means to be the children of God.
It is not just the Word of God as spoken that challenges us to change, but also the visible actions of the Liturgy accompanied by prayer. This is what we call sacramental signs. St. Augustine described sacrament as the Word of God made visible. God addresses all our senses in the Liturgy–hearing, sight, smelling, tasting, touching–to communicate his saving message to us, a message that changes us.

A Christian author writes about a wonderful Rabbi, Abraham Heschel. Rabbi Heschel has influenced my spiritual life by his beautiful writings:
"A member of Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s congregation came to him with a complaint: ‘Some of the members of the synagogue told him that the liturgy did not express what they felt. Would he please change it? Heschel wisely told them that it was not for the liturgy to express what they felt, it was for them to learn what the liturgy expressed. As Jews they were to learn the drama and say it and ‘play it’ over and over again until it captured their imagination and they assimilated it into the deepest places of their hearts. Then, and only then, would it be possible for them to live their own individual dramas,’" (Ronald P. Byars)
We may apply the same truth to our Christian liurgy.
Next Week I shall say more about how the Mass challenges us to change by following Christ and being united to him.