ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
8. In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle ; we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory .
The tenor of Paragraph 8 underscores a basic truth about all Catholic worship and prayer: namely, that we live not for this moment but for a future day of glory when the Lord Jesus will appear and bring all of creation to its glorious fulfillment. Sacraments as we currently understand them—as effective signs of Jesus’ presence worked by others—will no longer be necessary because the presence of Jesus will be perfect and complete for all eternity.
The “we” in the first sentence no doubt refers to Catholics who pray and undertake participation in the Church’s worship life. As we saw in para. 7 a few weeks ago, our “separated brethren” in other Churches who baptize into life with Christ, proclaim the Word of Scripture, and pray in Jesus’ name must also be considered a sacramental people in journey with us to the heavenly Jerusalem. Implied here is the continuing imperative of John’s Gospel that “they all may be one,” for the text speaks of the “earthly liturgy” of our current time as a foretaste of the eternal heavenly worship.
The present observable worship around the globe is not unified, certainly nowhere near this unity of pilgrims arriving at the new and eternal Jerusalem footnoted here from the Book of Revelation and several Epistles. I believe it was Dr. Martin Luther King who first coined the phrase that “Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” The disunion of races and Christian creeds alike is evidence enough that “Christian Union” is still a long way down the road. One of aging’s disappointments for me has been the “evolution of disunion.” When I was born the ecclesiology of Pope Pius XII held sway that Catholics were separate from all other faiths. At this point in my life Catholics are discovering more ways to disunite from themselves, a trend (among others) described in Kenneth Woodward’s Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama (2016).
Para. 8 speaks of earthly liturgy as a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, which speaks volumes about the attitudes we bring to worship and the fashion in which we celebrate it. Sacraments—in any circumstance—need to bear resemblance internally and externally to the final and lasting glorious liturgy of Jerusalem. It may come as something of a surprise that when speaking of the end times in a Roman Catholic document, the center of unmediated experience of Jesus is defined as Jerusalem. This is not a Vatican II innovation; Catholic eschatology has always spoken of Jerusalem in the future tense, as has Old Testament prophesy and expectation. The Catholic rubric for funeral Masses includes the ancient hymn In Paradisum, that the angels may bear the deceased to the new and eternal Jerusalem. Historically the importance of Jerusalem in the Christian narrative is one factor in the enthusiasm of the Crusades.
Para. 8 goes on to describe Christ as presently exercising his priestly ministry while seated at the right hand of God while we his people labor to arrive there with him. He is “a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle.” We in our present journey sing a hymn to his glory “with all the warriors of the heavenly army.” The imagery here is the union of the Church’s earthly sacramental action with the body of the blessed beyond, notably those who have fought the good fight ahead of us, the martyrs. Eucharistic Prayer I in today’s Missal as well as the Canon of the Tridentine Missal contain litanies of the early Church’s martyrs before and after the consecration.
The text continues that even now “we hope for some part and fellowship with them….” The Liturgy is certainly an existential moment for us, an encounter with Christ in the present, but it can never be celebrated without a profound sense of its past and future. In pastoral terms, the conditions surrounding one particular sacramental celebration—a Mass disrupted by an antagonistic sermon, for example—ought not cause an individual to lose historical place or personal hope in the abiding power of the sacrament.
The final sentence speaks of the eagerness with which we wait for the coming of Christ in the perfect Eucharistic moment, for at the time of his appearance “we too shall appear with him in glory.” The unspoken truth here is the link between participation in the Eucharist and eternal destiny. One of the earliest teachings on the Eucharist comes from St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, which states para. 8’s conclusion in the reverse: to eat and drink unworthily is to bring a condemnation upon one’s self. Paul was particularly incensed that the Corinthian community was somehow segregated, rich from poor. The primary sin seems to be disunity in the Body of Christ.
Perhaps the final post of 2016 is as good a time as any to emphasize again that in God’s plan we are to draw closer in love and faith, in worship and in deed. Much has been said and written about the stress of 2016 in the United States, where fears and passions of many kinds have exhausted us. At the very least, we may be more acutely aware of our divisions, in society and in the Church, a fact that is always hard to admit. As I prepare for Vigil Mass tonight, my prayers are with all of you that whenever we gather to celebrate the sacraments and prayers of the coming year, we may be mindful of Christ’s Last Supper prayer of the first Eucharist, “that they all may be one.”