The Liturgy of Life – the Summit and Source of the Church’s Liturgy
“The liturgy of life is the summit and source of the church’s liturgy and not the other way around.” – Peter Phan
Phan’s insight as cited In the introduction to the Liturgy of Life by Fr. Manalo builds on insights into Vatican II’s documents on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium and Gaudium et Spes, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Although, Phan’s insight seems logical, it is startling because it presents a paradigm shift in our notion of divine worship. We are inclined to think of it as something that we do in the realm of the sacred. It is something divorced from the everyday or the profane.
This sacred and profane paradigm derives from pre-Christian religions around the world. In our Judaeo-Christian tradition we tend to focus on the ritual of sacrifice which finds its clearest expression in the Letter to the Hebrews. We hold this in common with most peoples around the globe. we are acknowledging the power of the trans-natural – gods or the One God – in providing for us by responding in some effort of reciprocity or compensation to restore equilibrium in a relationship which we may have damaged.
Of course, there is another, perhaps even more important strain in our Judaeo-Christian heritage that focuses on the true acknowledgment and celebration of our relationship with God by righting the wrongs of our personal and social relationships in terms of justice for the dis-empowered and the dispossessed. In the Hebrew scriptures and the Gospels, ceremonial sacrifices are an affront to God unless we are reconciled to our neighbor.
Perhaps our Tridentine ritual focus on the Mass as the re-enactment of the “unbloody” sacrifice of Calvary tended to reinforce our pre-Christian Mediterranean heritage of the sacred and the profane. However, beginning with the modern liturgical movement in the late 19th century and culminating in the Post Vatican II period of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, we have returned to a more Pauline experience and understanding of Christ as the Lord of the Cosmos. (Col 1:9-20) This refrain is echoed in the patristic writings of the East in god’s self-disclosure in the the book of scripture and the book of nature. Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment Laudato Si is also based on this insight.
Chardin’s celebration of this spiritual, mystical experience in his Mass on the World in the early 20th century was seen as confusing and equating God with creation, a heresy called pantheism. As a Jesuit priest and a paleontologist (a scholar of primate and human origins), Chardin, in the fusion of his personal devotion and liturgical life saw all of creation and humanity spiraling upward in the Risen Christ. This was actually an extension of the Aristotelian and Thomistic notion of God as pure being that holds everything that is in existence.
This renewed paradigm situates our personal and and assembled (ecclesial) response to God in Christ as Lord of the cosmos in a creation that is healed and restored as she groans in childbirth. (Rom 8:19)
We are no longer in the realm of the sacred and the profane we are in the Mysterium Tremendum of the Risen Christ as all and in all. (Col 3:11) God’s grace suffuses all and irrupts in all that is truly human everywhere in the Liturgy of Life.