Thursday, June 23, 2011

On the Sanctification of Time

I am extraordinarily fascinated with the principle "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi" (The law of prayer is the law of belief), that what we pray and how we pray is directly relational to what we believe.

Most often, we think of the law of prayer being the Mass when we talk about this principle. And for good reason. The primacy of the Mass in the lives of the Faithful as the expression of both lex orandi and lex credendi is the foundation for the objection to the over-use of the Second Eucharistic Prayer in lieu of the Roman Canon: it doesn't express as well the depth of what we believe. And, more imminently, we have the new, corrected translation of the Mass coming out this autumn-- the words we pray are important.

However, I have been thinking of another aspect of liturgy as it pertains to "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi," as of late. When we speak of liturgy, we are not only talking about the Mass, but the other rites, as well-- the Rite of Ordination, for example-- and not simply the public prayers directly pertaining to the Sacraments, but also the Divine Office as liturgy, and, directly correlating with that, the liturgical calendar, which is what I want to mention today.

There are some glaring discrepancies in the liturgical calendar as celebrated in most parishes: for example, the recently celebrated feast of Ascension Thursday, which is almost universally commuted to Sunday. This not only doesn't work well, catechetically (try explaining how 40=43 to a bunch of elementary school kids), but it disrupts the oldest novena in the Church, the nine days of preparation for the Holy Spirit, promised by Christ to be sent before his ascension. Do we really believe that Christ ascended in to heaven 40 days after his Resurrection? Or perhaps this was simply an event of faith, not one of historical importance to Christendom, and if so, what of the sending of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps it is less important that the Apostles received the Holy Spirit as promised, but more important that it simply "happened". The effects of the historical-critical method of Scripture scholarship are even more pronounced when viewed through the lens of the faith lives of the average parishioner in today's Church.

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi. However, in most parishes in the world who celebrate the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the feast day will be commuted to Sunday, so as to "enable the Faithful to (more fully, actively, and consciously) participate" in the feast. Inevitably, the scene that will take place in not a few parishes will be a long walk around the block spent catching up on the latest gossip from a friend in the parish (or maybe I'm presuming too much in expecting that there will even be a procession).

This de-sacrilization of time is almost more dangerous to the Faith than many of the causes championed by so-called "progressives" in the Church. To the Church Fathers, to peasants and nobles alike in the middle ages, and even to farmers in the early 20th century, the sanctification of the day, and ordering the temporal to that of the sacred, was a routine of life.

Time means something. When specific feasts are celebrated mean something-- think of Christmas, Christ our Light coming in to the world just at the time when the world is the darkest. Think of your parish's celebrations of Lent and Easter. For forty days we mourn and beat our breasts, but do we celebrate the divine balance, or after Easter Sunday is finished, do we get on with life? The Church, in her Wisdom, gives us 40 days of fasting, but 50 days of feasting. That says to me, yes, we should mourn and repent, and pray, and fast, but that should also inspire in us a desire to celebrate all the more!

For me, prior to looking up the origins of the feast of Corpus Christi (see this incredible article at NLM for more), the sensus fidelium had already turned me to the relationship... Here's a glimpse into my mind as I was thinking about it earlier in the week, and why this feast (now almost universally commuted) would have been on a specific Thursday, anyway: "The feast is celebrated on a Thursday... the feast is the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ... On what day was the Eucharist instituted?Aha!" This is what the liturgical calendar is meant to do in our lives-- we shouldn't all need to be liturgical scholars to "get it"!

In most places, it is almost impossible to find a recently-ordained priest who isn't in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, the importance of liturgical life, rooted in the family and local community, is an area in which we should seriously consider investing more pastoral effort. The Second Vatican Council, as well as the GIRM of the New Missal, calls for an establishment of "new" rogation days (and, presumably to retain ember days) of prayer for the community at various times of the year (planting, harvesting, etc)-- where are they?!

If the cycles of prayer in the community begin to be lived again (the lex orandi), then surely the belief will follow in response (the lex credendi).

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