The Grain of the Cross

Echosmith’s song, Bright, has a wonderful first line:

I think the universe is on my side
Heaven and Earth have finally aligned

Of course, her song is about falling in love, the power of human love to make sense of life, and the alignment of constellations. But when I first heard it, I immediately thought of the Liturgy. More specifically I thought of a line from the Easter Vigil’s Exultet, which testifies to the aligning power of the resurrection of Christ:

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

The Liturgy, which is really nothing other than Christ at work making all things new, is the fulcrum on which God realigns creation with the grain of divine love fully revealed on the wood of the Cross. Liturgy is Christ opening a portal between heaven and earth, a portal through which the Treasuries of Heaven come into the world and through which the Treasuries of this World are offered through, with and in Christ to the Heavenly Father. The celebration of Liturgy reveals and effects the inner unity of creation and redemption, earth and heaven, man and God. Every celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, the other six Sacraments or the Liturgy of the hours allows us to participate in the Spirit of Christ’s unifying, reconciling, sanctifying action. In Liturgy we are empowered to bring to the altar for consecration all our “prayers, works, joys and sufferings,” and receive the grace which enables us to return on mission into the world to gather up more materials for the regal Sacrifice of Christ.

Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann expressed this knitting effect of Liturgy profoundly in a personal testimonial from his journal:

During my school years in Paris on my way to class I would stop by the Church of St. Charles of Monceau for two or three minutes, and always in this huge dark Church at one of the altars a silent Mass was being said. Sometimes I think of the contrast: a noisy proletarian street and this never-changing Mass. One step, and one is in a totally different world. This contrast somehow determined in my religious experience an intuition that has never left me. The coexistence of two heterogeneous worlds, the presence in this world of something absolutely and totally Other. This Other illumines everything in one way or another, everything is related to it.

The Church is the Kingdom of God among us and inside us. For me the streets never became unnecessary or hostile or non-existent, and hence my aversion to pure spiritualism. On the contrary, the street as it was acquired a new charm that was un-understandable and obvious only to me who knew at that moment the presence, the feast revealed in the Mass nearby. Everything became alive, intriguing: every storefront window, the face of every person I met, the concrete tangible feeling of that moment, the relationship between the street, the weather, the houses, the people.

This experience remains with me forever, a very strong sense of life in its physical bodily reality. At the same time, this interest has always been rooted solely in the correlation of all this with what that silent Mass was a witness to and reminder of. What is that correlation? It seems to me that I’m quite unable to explain and determine it, though it is actually the only thing I talk and write about liturgical theology.

After reading Schmemann’s words, I jotted down in my journal last year this note during my time in Eucharistic Adoration:

Silent, serene, unassuming Host. Here the world makes sense again. Complexities become simple. The scattered grains of wheat are gathered and submitted to death to give life: crushed, kneaded, baked, eaten. Fear before life’s little chaoses become calm. The tangled web of lies is exposed. Sadness falls into prayer. Meaningless deadwood becomes a cross to be carried. The world makes sense again because of that Host. That frail, circular symbol that silently sings of a cosmos taken up into the dead-risen Body of Jesus. All things are made new. First in Him. Then in me. Then, only then, in All. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.

Thank you, O God, for the all-aligning Liturgy.

5 comments on “The Grain of the Cross

  1. Anthony says:

    On a related note, and in case anyone has not read it, I highly recommend Romano Guardini’s “The Spirit of the Liturgy”. (Text file on EWTN:

    • Yes, indeed, Anthony! And one of my favorite lines on “liturgy as play” is from that piece:

      It is the delight of the Eternal Father that Wisdom (the Son, the perfect Fullness of Truth) should
      pour out Its eternal essence before Him in all Its ineffable splendor, without any “purpose”–for what purpose should It have?–but full of decisive meaning, in pure and vocal happiness; the Son “plays” before the Father.

      Such is the life of the highest beings, the angels, who, without a purpose and as the Spirit stirs them, move before God, and are a mystic diversion and a living song before Him.

      In the earthly sphere there are two phenomena which tend in the same direction: the play of the child and the creation of the artist.

      The child, when it plays, does not aim at anything. It has no purpose. It does not want to do anything but to exercise its youthful powers, pour forth its life in an aimless series of movements, words and actions, and by this to develop and to realize itself more fully; all of which is purposeless, but full of meaning nevertheless, the significance lying in the unchecked revelation of this youthful life in thoughts and words and movements and actions, in the capture and expression of its nature, and in the fact of its existence. And because it does not aim at
      anything in particular, because it streams unbroken and spontaneously forth, its utterance will be harmonious, its form clear and fine; its expression will of itself become picture and dance, rhyme, melody and song. That is what play means; it is life, pouring itself forth without an aim, seizing upon riches from its own abundant store, significant through the fact of its existence. It will be beautiful, too, if it is left to itself, and if no futile advice and pedagogic attempts at enlightenment foist upon it a host of aims and purposes, thus denaturizing it.

      So thank you, for pointing all to this text! Peace and blessings to your bride and family.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Glory to Thee, O God, in every detail of Your masterpiece!

  3. Angela Gambin says:

    Fr A,
    I received this in my inbox, then followed by the mass abuse video you sent – quite the contrast:)


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