Laity on Fire, Part II

A epiclesis

…a total aside on that Eucharist thought. Think about the bread and wine in the Eucharist that serve as sacramental symbols of what we offer for Consecration. Remember, the laity are out in the world consecrating it to God by their holy lives, but their consecration isn’t perfect until it comes to the Eucharist and suffers the consecratory epiclesis [calling down of the Spirit]. Given over to the Spirit, it’s joined to Christ’s bodily Sacrifice and presented in thanksgiving to the Father. In a sense, those 2 symbols of bread-wine contain all that we’ve come to offer in the Mass — our highly compressed prayers, works, joys, sufferings, possessions, losses, health, illness, etc. that we give over to God. Bread and wine aren’t themselves really “natural” elements, right? They’re human-fashioned cultural artifacts, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands,” so aren’t they totally perfect symbols of what we’ve made of creation with God? Super cool. The Offertory at Mass thus becomes the crucial “lay moment” in the Liturgy’s mystical transaction — and the Epiclesis-Consecration seals this transaction by re-making the perishable material of this world we present to “pass over” into the “celestial realm,” the imperishable Kingdom. Wow! Lay life becomes a constant liturgical Pass-over if we do it right, the God-way. Nothing good in this life, that is given over and offered up, is ever lost. And nothing bad that happens, that’s given over and offered up, is ever left unhealed. That’s my favorite insight of all. Hopeful!

…also, imagine that transubstantiation does not mean that the bread/wine’s substance is somehow invisibly hollowed out and replaced with Christ (so maybe you could see him with a microscope!). What an insult to this creation that would be if Christ simply replaced this world’s substance and set it aside! Rather, trans- means that the very substance/being (ontos) of the bread/wine, as existing realities of this world, has “passed over,” been “taken up into” a utterly new order of being: the New Creation built on Christ’s dead-buried-risen and not-left-behind-or-set-aside Body. The consecrated bread and wine no longer belong to this order of existence, but to the Age to Come, even though their material characteristics as bread and wine remain within this old creation (kinda like Christ after the Resurrection appearing and passing through doors). So when you consume these transformed materials at Communion, guess what you are participating in, being transformed into and metabolized by? The new order of being, the New Creation, built on Christ…and that change shows itself in you by your living as a new man through the charity in your life…because this New Creation is “made of love,” is structured by the order of divine-human charity…or, as the Preface for Christ the King says:

 Father…with the oil of gladness hast anointed Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as eternal high priest and universal King; that offering Himself on the altar of the Cross as an immaculate victim and peace offering, He might complete the mysteries of human redemption; and all creation being made subject to His dominion, He might deliver us into the hands of Thine infinite Majesty, a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing: Holy, holy, holy…

So do you see why getting eschatology right is so incredibly important, as it makes clear precisely why this life in the world is so crucial, why everything we do without exception for good or ill matters (think here: Hell is the loss of the New Creation’s fulfillment born of our catastrophic failure to cultivate this world aright), and why Jesus is not God’s Plan B, but rather is the crown of God’s plan from the beginning to make us His co-workers/co-creators/co-redeemers (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9; Gal. 2:20). What extraordinary dignity it is to know that God established humanity in this vast creation so that we could participate in its laboring and gestating in saecula saeculorum, “unto the ages of ages.” I think here of the Our Father, where Jesus asks us to unite earth and heaven by our lives of obedience to His coming Kingdom of holiness. You might say that inasmuch as we bring “heaven to earth” by our Christlike lives, we claim earth for heaven. Earth was made for heaven, and heaven is made of earth lifted by the totus Christus to the Father in the Spirit of love. Isn’t that was Belinda Carlisle was getting at?

Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
Ooh heaven is a place on earth

Maybe not.

Okay, I have to stop here. I am so sorry this is so long. But to me, catching this vision would make for a laity on fire with a secular mysticism uniquely theirs. Let me leave you with St. Isaac the Syrian’s beautiful comments on the dignity of this creation, and how every aspect of creation, when met with the righteous love of saints who already belong to the New Creation (cf 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), is consecrated by saints who notice — like God — even when a tiny sparrow falls to earth.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

God bless you for your patience with my disquisition! Let me know if you have other questions. Say hey to Fr. John and Bill for me.

…and let me leave you with a fun vid that playfully sums up my point:

15 comments on “Laity on Fire, Part II

  1. AMDG says:

    This couplet of yours may just be the best yet of your reflections and I hope the whole Church is set ablaze with your same understanding and passion. If only we lived our baptismal priesthood more fully, more intentionally, being conformed and finally transformed into Christ by being eucharist (Christ truly present) in the world through the dual movement of gathering up all of creation and offering it with our very selves, at the hands of the priest, “through Him, with Him, and in Him” and by receiving into our very selves the resurrected Christ! Theosis is our destiny (so rarely do we encounter that truth in the western tradition) and we are tasked with participating in bringing all of creation to this perfect fullness in Christ.
    You have said this all more eloquently, but I share your passion and I believe this insight is at the heart of understanding the work of the new evangelization. Keep teaching it!
    May God be praised and glorified.

    • AMDG: I am grateful for your words. You capture here precisely what I find most important about this theological insight the Council, in particular, has given to the Church: the new evangelization, the liturgical renewal, and the call for a laity fully engaged in the secular world as saints transforming it into a culture of life and civilization of love requires a mystical-theologcal vision at least as robust as the vast literary tradition that has inspired 1800 years of clerical and religious life. We need a new spiritual literature that is uniquely suited to the vocation-mission of those who live fully immersed in the cares of the world, one that emerges from their experience and speaks to it. Jordan Aumann, O.P. says in his book on the lay vocation that this “new literature” is a great and still-awaited need. There are inklings and strong starts here and there, but nothing clear and comprehensive. It needs to be orthodox, theologically and spiritually rich and oriented toward concrete praxis adapted to the various contours lay life can take. The Second Vatican Council has put in place the language and structures, the reforms and marching orders for the laity to become the secular saints it seeks — but we need a “Way of Perfection” and “Ascent of Mount Carmel” written that reveals to the harried parents and tired machine shop workers, politicians and soldiers that their way of “temporal concerns” is no mere distraction from the elite path traversed by those who can flee worldly cares to inhabit sheltered shrines of eternal contemplation. After drinking of the deep and rich wells of spiritual literature produced by/for religious and clergy, it can be hard to imagine how lives defined by mundane activties can be a “royal way.” The laity need to be able to see, rather, that their way is in fact the one all other “set apart” ways exist to serve, empower and inspire. St. Basil the Great said that monastic life would vanish if the lay faithful lived their calling to the full, since monastic life exists to remind the faithful of the wildly robust theological-mystical vision I speak of in this post. It does not exist to convince the laity that their vocation to be “tightly bound” to secular/temporal concerns is a compromised and lesser manifestation of Christian holiness. The laity are, as Pope Pius XII said, the Church of the Front Lines. “The hour of the laity,” St John Paul II said in 1999, “has struck.” The hour is here when, as you say so well, the laity have been charged by the Church of Jesus to embody Theosis in their worldly lives in ways that will fruit in a new millenium of culture-creating canonized secular saints who did not abandon the world to serve God, but remained in the world to leaven it from within. Like St. Isidore the Farmer or St Gianna Molla, they were mystics in the mud. 🙂 May my tiny contribution and funny enthusiasm hasten the day when that literature can be written. Thanks for your comment. It made my day. (now you can see why my email to my friend that I posted here was so long—I am no Nealus brevis. Pax.

      • AMDG says:

        I am still feasting on all of this (in a world of 140-character snacks, your Nealus lungus is a welcome relief).
        Would you share with us the “inklings and string starts” in the spiritual literature for the laity that you mentioned and perhaps any other sources/resources of which you are aware, particularly anything that considers the theology of the Council’s teaching. I am very hungry.

      • AMDG says:

        I am still feasting on all of this (in a world of 140-character snacks, your Nealus lungus is a welcome relief).
        Would you share with us the “inklings and strong starts” in the spiritual literature for the laity that you mentioned and perhaps any other sources/resources of which you are aware, particularly anything that considers the theology of the Council’s teaching. I am very hungry.

    • You have been bit by the same bug as I, I see. Well, let me offer you a few starters. Know they are a bit disparate, but will feed your passion for this I am certain:
      1. A lecture given by Fr Peter Ryan, S.J. at the seminary last year at my request–on the interrelationship of lay and clerical vocations: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/99239075/Tekippe%202014%20Lecture.mp3 He and I have had many talks on this over the years I have known him.
      2. Russell Shaw gets this through and through. Here are two examples. One: http://www.amazon.com/Catholic-Laity-Mission-Church-Vocation/dp/1494996286/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1439299820&sr=8-2&keywords=russell+shaw Two: http://www.amazon.com/Hunt-Shoot-Entertain-Clericalism-Catholic/dp/1610972031/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1439299865&sr=8-2&keywords=russell+shaw+clericalism
      3. Cardinal Arinze offered a great summary of basics two year ago: http://www.amazon.com/Laypersons-Distinctive-Cardinal-Francis-Arinze/dp/158617780X/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1439299916&sr=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=francis+arinze+lay
      4. Eric Sammons offers a window into Opus Dei’s insights ino this: http://www.amazon.com/Holiness-Everyone-Practical-Spirituality-Josemaria/dp/1592769446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439299941&sr=8-1&keywords=holiness+is+for+everyone
      5. Of course, St JP2’s Christifidelis laici is the magna carta for this amoung Magisterial documents: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici.html
      6. Deacon James Keating has a two great articles on priest-laity issues: One: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7989 Two: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2012/priests-resolve-to-love-the-laity
      7. Anything by Heather King, who thinks out of the lay vocation. See her: http://shirtofflame.blogspot.com/

      Let me know if you want more!

      God bless you, AMDG. Dr. Tom

    • P.S. The Nealus lungus comment made me laugh so loudly that my neighboring coworkers worried about my mental health, I think…

  2. Ona says:

    Your on-fire-ness makes me giggle. But there’s a lovely theme there that strikes a chord in a very practical way (I tend to love the practical). One of the delightful surprises at the recent seminar I participated in was the unfiltered presence of six young children, which was like salt and pepper on the coming together of the 12 or 15 of us ‘official’ participants. There was something truly ‘spiritual’ in joining together a deep study of St. Paul (going on and on about the mystical body) with ‘find the lost toddler’ and ‘pass the bored baby’ and ‘play princess with the fussy girl during Mass.’ The children were holy in a way that the adults also were, but can be easier to overlook in adult colleagues because adults have long conversations and opinions and fit into categories that sometimes obscure our ability to see them in their holy rawness, where as very small children just Are. I tried telling this to one of the parents, but I think in his utter exhaustion he didn’t quite appreciate it. It’s probably easier to appreciate the holy unformed rawness of other people’s children.

  3. Ona says:

    That was really meant to be relevant. But on second reading it seems really random. Sorry about that.

  4. nos. says:

    Ona nothing one says who like you is so in love with GOD is ever random your compassion and love is much needed by all . P B.W.Y

  5. Sherri Paris says:

    Oh my goodness..how I enjoy your writing! You are such a perfect blend of brilliance and good old fashioned emotion! Thanks for this. I think it would be such a blast to be in some kind of study where you are the instructor and can answer questions after class….I hope I am articulating my thoughts in a way that comes through….(by the way, I tell our adult sons that it really DOES matter what we do in this life. We cannot always control what life dishes out but, we CAN determine just how we choose to respond!). Ahh, I digress… At any rate, thanks! Blessings…

    Great video! I love Steven Curtis Chapman. 😊

    Sherri

    • Thank you, Sherri! You are eloquent, articulating well and clearly. Yes, I love Chapman, too, except for his song Cinderella which is nothing short of cruelty to dads who want to remain calm, cool and collected at father-daughter dances. Peace and blessings!

      • Sherri Paris says:

        Yes!! Our oldest son has 3 daughters and cannot handle hearing that song (although he LOVES it 😉 ! I have no doubt that our other son feels the same way. Chapman’s songs/ballads are wonderful and we had one played at my mother’s funeral– “We Have Hope” . I cannot remember the actual name now, unfortunately … It is beautiful. If you get a chance find it on YouTube and listen to it. Blessings

  6. Joann says:

    I totally agree with your thoughts. Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t always understand this is because we don’t always consume THESE transformed materials….but those that were transformed at a different Mass. Any time we do not receive what has been consecrated at THIS table from THIS offering…we miss the point completely.

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