Perverted Liturgy and the True Church

For those who were liturgically tormented in their youth by weapons of Mass destruction, it’s almost a sweet revenge to hear the words recently spoken by Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. (If, like me, you suffered such abuse, briefly recall all those groovy felt banners with hip slogans, “relevant liturgical presiders,” and ex-nuns who forced you to sing the execrable rot from Glory and Praise. Now, read on…) “Worship becomes perverted,” His Eminence said, “when we have a celebration in which the community celebrates itself. The principle should be that God occupies the central place.” Further, he complained that, too often, the Mass is “reduced to a mere banquet, a celebration of the community, a commemoration, but not the very sacrifice of Christ who gives himself up for us on the Cross.” 

Underscoring the Cardinal’s comments about reverence and God-centeredness in the Mass was an important doctrinal truth: The Church is essentially Eucharistic, and, as such, it is God’s chosen means of uniting men with Himself and with each other. Or, in his own words, “the Church is the living and efficacious sacrament [sign] of union with God and unity among the entire human race.” It is not our “sincerity” that unites us to God. It is not the United Nations that effects unity among men. According to Cardinal Canizares, the true unity of mankind with each other and with God, “is only possible through participation in the Body of Christ. This is what happens in the Eucharist.”

In other words, “outside the Church there is no salvation.”

The article from which I’ve garnered these quotes from Canizares Llovera concludes:

The Spanish prelate noted that in Communion, it is not we who assimilate Christ, “but rather He who assimilates us unto himself,” and consequently we are pulled out of our individuality. “Thus the Eucharist takes on a social nature.”

“To celebrate the Eucharist is to bring about the renewal of society,” he said. “For this reason, renewing the sense of the Eucharist is what guarantees a future for the Church. This is the true danger for a humanity that does not acknowledge God.”

This idea of the Eucharist assimilating us into Christ is not original to His Eminence. It is scriptural and patristic. It is also very “Feeneyite,” for this theme was one of Father Leonard’s favorites. In “The Great Gift of God,” he put it this way: “All other foods which we eat, we assimilate — we absorb into ourselves — because we are greater than they are. This Food, however, assimilates us, because we are less than It — infinitely less than It. The Food assimilates the eater, in this sublime performance, because the Food is greater than the eater.”

Speaking about divinization (or theosis, as our Greek brethren call it), I penned these words some years back. Note how the sacred action of the Mass, the sacramental effects of the Eucharist, our unity in the true Church, and our salvation are all of a piece:

Reviewing the teachings of the Fathers on this subject, notably Sts. Cyprian, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom and Augustine, I have found that they commonly quote St. Paul’s beautiful passage in 1 Corinthians (10:16-17):

“The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body: all that partake of one bread.” In a footnote to these verses, Father Challoner comments, “For it is by our communicating with Christ, and with [one] another, in this blessed sacrament, that we are formed one mystical body; and made, as it were, one bread, compounded of many grains of corn, closely united together.”

St. Augustine asks, “Why is this mystery accomplished with bread?” He answers himself. “Let us offer no reason of our own invention, but listen to the Apostle speak of this sacrament, ‘We are one bread, one body.’ Understand this and rejoice. Unity, truth, piety, charity. ‘One bread.’ What is this one bread? It is one body formed of many. Remember that bread is not made of one wheat; at baptism water was poured over you, as flour is mingled with water, and the Holy Spirit entered into you like the fire which bakes the bread. Be what you see, and receive what you are.

“… Thus did the Lord Christ manifest us in Himself. He willed that we should belong to Him, and he has consecrated on His altar the mystery of our peace and unity.”

Lex orandi lex credendi est. As we pray, so we believe. Liturgy and doctrine must both be restored if the restoration of either is to be authentic. For restoration to take place, continuity is essential. For continuity to be real, tradition is indispensable. And tradition, dear reader, is good for you.