Introduction to Winter 2012 issue on “Liturgy and Culture”

March 13, 2013

In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes that “cult,” from which our words worship and culture both spring, “goes beyond the action of the liturgy. Ultimately, it embraces the ordering of the whole of human life.”[1] Culture does not supersede liturgy, but rather points to the truth of the liturgy as inherently fruitful, spilling over naturally into the life of man, ordering culture precisely through its ordering of time and space. When understood to embrace all aspects of humanity, liturgy is properly seen also as pedagogy.

Liturgy is thus not meant to be a reflection of man back to himself, but rather an education in and through the mysteries and sacraments which take place. Ratzinger notes, “I discover that something is approaching me here that I did not produce myself, that I am entering into something greater than myself, which ultimately derives from divine revelation.”[2] The whole of man is at stake in the liturgy, and the entire world is implicated in its rites. “Worship,” writes the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, is “a reality with cosmic, historical and eschatological dimensions, the expression thus not merely of ‘piety,’ but of an all-embracing ‘world-view.’”[3]

In listening to and participating in the liturgy, one discovers depths of meaning of which one is not immediately aware. The articles in the present issue of Communio draw out this meaning by exploring different aspects of the culture’s rootedness in the liturgy and the liturgy’s implications for culture. The purpose is to show how our own conformation to and participation in the liturgy is the deepest and most proper path to forming and renewing culture.

In “The Liturgy: Presence of a New Body, Source of a Fulfilled Time,” José Granados argues that modernity has lost the symbolic value of the world: nature and history are no longer, as for the ancients, imbued with order and meaning. The liturgy, says Granados, offers a way to recover this lost symbolism through the encounter of human experience with Christ’s revelation. By examining the relationship between the sacraments of marriage and the Eucharist, Granados demonstrates how body and time become a fabric wherein the mystery of God and man reveals itself, and life appears as a path for the divine image to shine at the core of human experience.

David W. Fagerberg, in “The Sacraments as Actions of the Mystical Body,” explains that while the liturgy and the sacraments often occupy two different academic spheres, their relationship is in fact mutually enlightening and indeed necessary. Their interplay is such that liturgy allows us to understand the sacraments as more than discrete instances in a man’s life. Together, sacraments make clear the fundamental theology of the Church’s mission: deification. “We join a liturgy already in progress,” Fagerberg writes; we are “coming to be connected into God’s own perichoresis.”

In “Apostolicity and the Eucharist,” Oliver Treanor investigates the implications of John Paul II’s connection of the term “apostolic” to the Eucharist. By so doing, he says, the Pope opened a challenging and innovative way of approaching the sacrament that constitutes the Church as Christ’s Body. Treanor explores how this approach elucidates the Church’s relationship to the Eucharist in terms of the Paschal Mystery as a manifestation of the Trinity, and how it might, consequently, shed fresh light on the nature of that communion which is presupposed by eucharistic sharing, and which underlies the Church’s pastoral mission as the universal sacrament of salvation.

Nicholas J. Healy’s “The Eucharist as the Form of Christian Life” reflects on the relationship between the eucharistic mystery and the daily life of the faithful. The Church’s faith in Christ’s “real presence”—including his hidden life of work in Nazareth—is eucharistic. “When he hands over the substance of his life to the Church,” Healy writes, “Christ communicates a form or way of life that can include or embrace every aspect of human existence, and ultimately, the entire material order of creation.”

Also in this issue, we present the first of a two-part article by Giorgio Buccellati: “Trinity spermatiké: The Veiled Perception of a Pagan World (Part I).” Buccellati builds on the assumption that the sense of God is ultimately trinitarian, even within polytheism. It is especially the apprehension of dynamism within the absolute that leads to a sense for what, in Christianity, emerges finally as the trinitarian dimension of God. The fact that this sense is distorted in a number of different directions does not lessen the significance of the spiritual desire that is evinced in a number of traditions ranging from the ancients to the moderns.

Continuing our theme of “Liturgy and Culture,” Paolo Prosperi, in his article “The Birth of Sources Chrétiennes and the Return to the Fathers,” recounts the founding of what is often known as nouvelle théologie, a theological renewal begun by a group of Jesuits at Fourvière at Lyons in the 1940s, led by, among others, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Jean Daniélou. Prosperi highlights the group’s efforts to “return to the sources”—to recover the work of the Fathers of the Church. For the Jesuits at Fourvière, turning to the Fathers meant above all “asserting the unity between dogmatic theology and the living experience of the mystery of Christ and the Church; in brief, . . . the unity between life and thought.”

In “‘The Christian mystery is the mystery of creation’: An Introduction to Jean Daniélou,” Jonah Lynch exposits and reintroduces us to the work of Daniélou. In his capacity both as translator of the early Fathers and as theologian, Daniélou influenced the Second Vatican Council and its reception thereafter. Lynch pays special attention to Daniélou’s first book,The Presence of God, wherein “we see the style that will be the hallmark of all Daniélou’s literary production: it brings everything in—poetic passages and philological research, typology and the discoveries of archaeology—while leading to a precise and attractive description of the mystery of man and God.”

In Retrieving the Tradition, we present the first chapter of The Presence of God. Jean Daniélou explains that through the liturgy, “the universe has become once more a Temple, where we are at home with God in the cool of the evening, where man comes forward, silent and composed, absorbed in his task as in perpetual liturgy, attentive to that Presence which fills him with awe and tenderness.”

Also in Retrieving the Tradition, we offer Virgil Michel’s article, “Christian Culture.” A Benedictine monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, Michel profoundly influenced the movement for liturgical renewal in English-speaking countries, founding in 1929 the theological journal Orate Fratres to help provide the theological basis and inspiration for this movement. For Michel, the theological ground of the liturgical movement is always first the Body of Christ. He argues that the “Christian is not . . . to turn his back on the entire culture of today. . . . What is needed is to imbue our civilization and culture with a renewed Christian spirit, and thus to give to it the vitality it is seeking.” Michel has a keen sense of the liturgy as pedagogy, and sees that only when Christians are educated into and ordered by the spirit of the liturgy will they be able to educate and order the world, and thus become the salt of the earth.

Finally, in Notes & Comments, Adrian J. Walker reflects on the work of translation in “The Art of the Second Virtue: On the Unity of Freedom and Obedience in Translation.” Walker maintains that “translation is an act of double obedience,” both to the original piece and to the language into which one is translating. Analogous to how man transforms the earth in order to offer it back to God in the liturgy, a translator must both be interpreter and render the original gift anew. This interpretation-of-the-already-given, however, does not constitute a lack of freedom on either the part of the one who participates in liturgy or the translator, for, as Walker writes, “the in-between he inhabits is one that opens up within the generous fecundity of the original itself.” —The Editors