Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Saints and the Liturgy

The honour and veneration of the Saints as our elder brothers and sisters in the communion which is the Family of God and the Temple of the Holy Ghost are a key and indispensable element in proper orthodox Christian worship. By honouring the Saints in liturgical prayer and devotional life, we emulate their examples, embody and recapitulate their virtues, and attempt to reproduce their lives of holiness in our own experience. No Christian communion which ignores or purposely evades the veneration due to the Saints can hope to inculcate the spirit of Christian virtue and the intensification of grace which Our Lord expects of His chosen race, His holy priesthood and royal nation. The liturgy is in fact a participation in the Communion of Saints, as the Book of Common Prayer so explicitly declares: 'therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name...' The Church is totus Christus, the whole Christ, both Head and Body, and in her the Saints participate with us in the one perfect and eternal Liturgy of the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. All the saints and angels gather round the heavenly Throne and the heavenly Altar and worship God and the Lamb - the mystery of the worship of heaven, the action of the eternal heavenly liturgy, is made present and activated on earth in the Eucharist. We do on earth in the Mass what the saints and angels do forever in heaven.

Thus the Fathers of the Church describe the Mass as 'heaven on earth' and the Church as an 'earthly heaven.' The veil between heaven and earth is pulled back in the celebration of the Eucharist and we are caused by grace, united in the Risen and Ascended Lord, to be joined at the Altar with our own great-great grandfathers and great-great grandchildren in the mystical communion of Christ's Body, the Church triumphant, expectant and militant. All Christians living and dead are presented to the Father anew through Christ the High Priest in every Mass. Our Lord's eternal priesthood prevails once more under sensible signs on earth for all who have ever lived, past, present and future. All generations of God's people from the beginning of the human race to its consummation at the end of time are mystically and supernaturally present at the Altar, united to Christ, who pleads and exhibits the One Sacrifice for our sake.

Our veneration of the Communion of Saints, our hymns, prayers and devotions in honour of God's Friends above, reminds us of our own eschatological destiny in Christ and the victory we already share with the Saints in the crucified and risen Jesus, the Lord of all creation. 'Until His coming again:' the Mass is essentially an eschatological event in which we pass through death and judgement and enter once again, in time and space but beyond them, into the glory of the Risen Christ to live and reign with Him and to worship the Holy Trinity in Him, through Him and by Him. We don't need to believe in the 'Rapture,' because every Eucharist is a literal coming again, a true Advent of the Saviour to us here and now. The Second Coming occurs over and over again in the Mystery of the Altar. In the Eucharist we ascend with Christ, that where He is we might also ascend and reign with Him in glory. In the Mass 'our life is hid with Christ in God' and we are made continually to dwell in the heavens with Him. We never pray alone; we are not saved alone, but only as members of Christ. The liturgy of the Eucharist should express most profoundly our communion with the Church in heaven, in paradise, and on earth, with all who share the mystery of salvation with us. We are only brought to redemption and eternal life through the Church, whose most worthy members are those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and who now rest in the sleep of peace. In essence, the Eucharist is the Life of the Holy Trinity, as we go to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost, united to all those in this life and the life of the world to come who are, like us, made partakers of the divine nature. The Saints pray with us and for us in the liturgy of the Church. These ideas should certainly reinforce for us the need to recognise that the Communion of Saints links us not only in a vertical direction to the Church of eternity, but also horizontally to the other great Apostolic Catholic Churches of East and West.

75% of the world Christians directly invoke the prayers of the Saints in public worship. If we really are Catholics and we really believe in the catholicity of the Church and the Communion of Saints, then Anglicans will seek to convey in a liturgical manner our belief in the intercessory prayer and honour of those who have been glorified with Christ in His divinised life, as a foretaste of our own future glory. One essential characteristic and proof of Anglicanism's Catholicism should be its explicit reference to the Saints in the liturgy. A Church that does not reverence the Saints as exemplars of the Christian life and heavenly intercessors and relatives cannot be said to be Catholic. Anglicanism has historically held the Saints in the highest esteem, and has offered her liturgy in honour of their holy memory - and that hallmark of our patristic Catholicism, a biblical, sombre, restrained and dignified treatment of the Saints, has been an irreplaceable treasure shared in common with both Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy. We just need to bring that aspect of our history into more prominence over time... and the way forward is teaching, gradual implementation and then... full expression of the communion sanctorum.

2 comments:

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

We do not acheive communion with Christ through the saints, rather we have communion with the saints in Christ.

(I don't think you said anything differently than that, but I thought I'd share that given the topic)

Anonymous said...

Fr. Chandler,

That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for this!

Fr. Dcn. Gregory Wassen

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