Sunday, August 24, 2008

Liturgy and Hope: Why liturgical form isn't simply a matter of taste

As Josef Pieper noticed, Hope is "the forgotten virtue" for moderns. It seems we know the importance of Faith: "without Faith it is impossible to please God." Charity, "the greatest of these" three theological virtues, indeed the only one that passes over into the life to come, remaining specifically what it is, provides the subject of many a sermon. But Hope is often lost sight of. Surely this must be one reason why Pope Benedict XVI decided to give the Church and the world an encyclical on Hope.

The liturgy of the Mass, too, is a source and school of Hope, in two senses. In itself, as Eucharistic sacrifice and banquet, it emanates from and makes present to us the hope of all the nations, Jesus Christ the Lord, Who never ceases to teach and sanctify us through His sacramental actions. But in its due mode as sacred and solemn, traditional liturgy is a special cause of Hope in the midst of a world of innovation, irreverence, and banality, all of which aggressively undermine the otherworldly, supernatural character of Christian Hope. This is why the battle over the liturgy is not, in the final analysis, about personal tastes or preferences; it is about the Theological virtues, the Four Last Things, and the attainment of Heaven. What is at stake is nothing less than "setting our minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth," because our life is "hid with Christ in God." The Apostle spoke to the Colossians of the mystery that defined his entire existence; the Church's Tradition has jealously preserved this mystery and transmitted it to every age; the Church's liturgy devoutly celebrates it and perpetuates it for all time. That is why the struggle for the traditional Mass has universal, cosmic, eschatological dimensions: it is not about us, it is about the everywhere and forever; it has only one purpose, to commingle our bodies and souls with the living, life-giving humanity and divinity of the Incarnate Word, Savior of mankind, Judge of the living and the dead. The stakes of the "inculturation wars" that characterize Roman Catholic liturgical history in the postconciliar period are higher than most people realize: the sanctification or desacralization, and so, the salvation or perdition, of souls. The City of God and the city of man. The resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment. Kyrie eleison.
[Excerpted from Peter A. Kwasniewski, "The Wedding of the Lamb" Latin Mass magazine (Summer 2008), p. 17.]

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