Let us pray, peace be with us:

"The Cross that has been the cause of our good and by which our mortal humanity was set free,
O Lord, be for us a strong fortress. And by this Cross, we shall overcome the wicked one and All his devices."

(Syro-Malabar Qurbana)


Archives

THE NAZRANI
“The Truth will make you free”


Vol. 15, No. 3                               New Delhi                                      May, 2005

LITURGICAL THEOLOGY

Dr. Varghese Pathikulangara, cmi

The essence of liturgical theology "lies in the genuine discovery of worship as the life of the Church, the public act which eternally actualises the nature of the Church as the body of Christ, an act, moreover, that is not partial, having reference only to one function of the Church (her ‘corporate prayer’) or expressing only one of her aspects, but which embraces, expresses, inspires and defines the whole Church, her whole essential nature, her whole life"(A. Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, New York 1975, p. 12).

As L. Bouyer wrote in his Le Mystere Pascal, ‘the Christian religion is not merely a doctrine… it is a public action or deed’. It was indeed a break with mere pietistic and individualistic understanding of worship and a return to it as the eternal self revelation of the Church – an understanding of liturgy through the Church and the Church through the liturgy.

The task of liturgical theology, therefore, consists in giving a theological basis for the whole liturgical tradition of the Church, namely, in finding and defining concepts and categories capable of expressing fully the liturgical experience of the Church and in relating them to the system of faith and doctrine.

Just as biblical theology works between the Sacred Scripture as a text and its use in dogmatics, so also liturgical theology works between the liturgical experience in the Church as a fact and its use in dogmatics. The present day western theological discussions consider liturgics only partially, namely, they consider only the liturgical texts and the different rituals. But a true theologian in any of the Eastern Churches can never restrict liturgical celebration to texts and rituals alone. It is to be considered as a whole, entered intuitively, where the words of prayers, lections, chanting, incensing, processions, standing, sitting, kneeling, washing and other ritual ceremonies in their interrelation, sequence and general order, together with each one’s importance and relevance in itself and in the general order, are expressive and experiential. This totality must become the proper subject and object of study and theological evaluation. A true historical search into the totality of liturgical tradition of the Church and the authentic discovery of the original meaning of its details will definitely lead the faithful to the original experience of Christ-event.

Historical search will also bring one to discover the downfall of the "liturgical sense" during middle ages and the scholastic period. There emerged a distinction between the "general liturgical celebrations of the Church", such as the Eucharist, feast celebration, etc., and "requested liturgical services", as baptism, confession, requiem, and so on. In the course of time, even the Eucharist became one among the requested services. One can imagine the far-reaching consequences of such a change in the very spirituality of the Church.

As a result, a kind of bartering system of sacramental economy emerged: not merely through the system of giving offerings (paying) for the requested services, but more because of the reward (divine grace) expected out of each liturgical celebration. In fact, liturgy was degraded to an occasion of mere exchange – a real business! Even in very sincere and devout circles, liturgy turns out to be an occasion of reciting some prayers, performing certain rituals, making some readings or sermons, chanting some hymns, narrating selected incidents, sharing some experience (often personal and individualistic) or inducing others to do the same and expecting in return a proportionate reward in terms of divine grace. In short, the faithful are prompted to perform certain things before God in order to receive a fitting "return"! In such a situation, it is quite natural that the prudent ones begin to think about the maximum return from the minimum spending. Thus there developed the detrimental reductionist tendency in liturgical celebrations. People began to ask how far or how much is necessary? A bargain for salvation!

Liturgy
, on the other hand, is a celebration, a celebration of what we are, a celebration of our own Christian existence. Celebrations take place through the co-operation and involvement of many persons, many things, various attitudes, and so on. Any celebration is first of all a reminder, reminder of a historical fact. Let us consider, for example, a birthday celebration. In this case, a particular person is born at a particular time, on a particular day, in a particular place, from particular parents, in a particular situation, and so on. The reminder naturally evokes sentiments of praise and thanksgiving, first to God Almighty and then to all persons related. It leads also to a self-examination, discerning and detecting good and evil, which evokes sentiments of satisfaction as well as repentance. True repentance will definitely bring one to a determination to amend the ways for a better future. A celebration, thus, is a real personal transformation or transfiguration.

The liturgy of the Church is also such a celebration: a remembrance – a Dukrana – an Anamnesis – of what we are. There we are reminded of our own Christian identity. We are persons unconditionally committed to the Christ-event, namely, to the person of Jesus Christ and His mysteries. Liturgy, therefore, is the celebration of this commitment. As Jesus Christ continues today in and through the Church, liturgy is a celebration of the very reality of the Church. It is, in fact, a proclamation of our identity in the Church, which is both cosmic and eschatological.

Liturgy
is hence said to be the blueprint of the life of the Church. A blueprint gives in detail, but through signs and symbols, the construction, which is planned. The contractors and supervisors know very well the significance of all signs and symbols in it. But what about the ordinary workers? They may not know them properly. If the contractors and supervisors are not vigilant enough to proceed carefully with the construction, following exactly the signs and symbols in the blueprint, one can imagine the fate of the construction. The same is applicable to liturgy. The liturgy of an individual Church manifests even in minute details her life in Jesus Christ. Her bishops, priests and religious are bound to discern the signs and symbols of her liturgy. They must explain them regularly and without fail to the faithful. Every Church needs constant and continuous mystagogical catechesis. Then only will she be able to lead an authentic life of faith, building herself up on firm grounds. If the leaders of an individual Church are ignorant of the proper signs and symbols of her liturgy, the fate of that Church is indeed very gloomy.