Editor’s note: This is a reprint of the first chapter of Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass, the 2011 book by Father Douglas Martis, Director of the Liturgical Institute at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, and Christopher Carstens, who is the new editor of the Adoremus Bulletin beginning with the next issue.
The only way we can be saved from succumbing to the inflation of words is if we have the courage to face silence and in it learn to listen afresh to the Word. Otherwise we shall be overwhelmed by “mere words” at the very point where we should be encountering the Word, the Logos, the Word of love, crucified and risen, who brings us life and joy. 1
Where does one begin to look at the liturgy? the code of canon law? the rubrics of the rite? the assembly and priest? the historical precedent? All are all possible starting points. But, like most answers to Catholic questions, we will start — and end — with Christ himself, who is the beginning and end, the Alpha and Omega.
Christ is the logos, the word of the Father. our look at the liturgy is therefore a Logical one, in the sense that it is centered on the logos. Since a principal aim of this book is to examine the texts of the mass, it will be beneficial to begin with the ultimate meaning of all liturgical words, the word of the Trinity.
Theology of the Trinity: “God Himself Is Speech” 2
The mystery of the most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the faith, the “source of all the other mysteries of faith, [and] the light that enlightens them” (ccc, 234). the same is true in our present consideration of the liturgy and its language, for the trinitarian mystery explains and contextualizes the liturgical mystery, shedding light upon the liturgy’s essential meaning.
What is the Trinity? God. Who is the Trinity? Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.” 3 this foundational mystery of the three Persons in one God is “dialogical.”4 According to its etymology, dialogue means “to speak” (logein) “across” (dia). God the Father “speaks of himself,” has a knowledge of himself, and this speaking and knowing is called his idea, thought, or word: Logos.
Unlike the idea that I have of myself, the logos of God is perfect, complete. when I think of myself — who I am and what I am like — I find that the image never quite matches the reality. In some instances, the idea of myself can be seriously flawed (if I thought I was george washington or Saint michael the Archangel, for example). But even if my mind and other faculties are functioning perfectly, my mind ’s image will never be identical to my actual existence. As walker Percy remarks, the stranger who passes me by in the street has a view of me that I am incapable of having (this is why, he suggests, the first person I look for in a group photo is myself). 5 the infinite God, however, is not limited as I am. the image that the Father generates of himself is perfect, lacking nothing of his own being. Since God has an idea of himself, “this idea must be totally adequate, in no way less than the Being of which it is the Idea, lacking nothing that the being has. the Idea must contain all the perfection of the Being of which it is the Idea. there can be nothing in the thinker that is not in his thought of himself, otherwise the thinker would be thinking of himself inadequately, which is impossible for the Infinite.”6 In short, the identity of the Son with the Father, the word with the Speaker, is so perfect that the only distinction between them is their “relations of origin” (ccc 254), the Son “born of the Father before all ages.”7
The third Person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”8 here again, the loving relationship between the Father and the Son is unique to the godhead. true love is something totally given over to the other, so that the one loving holds nothing back. when total love is mutual, it is perfect. yet in human loving there is often self-interest, where the love expressed does not contain the whole of the lover. even when human love is total and genuine — as between a loving married couple (e.g., Blessed Zélie and louis martin, parents of thérèse of lisieux) or the willing sacrificial death of one for another (e.g., Saint maximilian Kolbe for Auschwitz prisoner franciszek gajowniczek) — the relation between the two persons remains disparate, for it is impossible to give everything to the other. the husband and wife of the holiest marriage, giving themselves totally to one another, remain individuals who continue to possess themselves and not wholly the other; so, also, in the self-sacrifice of the martyr. while the bond of true love unites two persons, each continues to remain distinctive. with God, the love that exists between the Father and the Son is so real and perfect — the Father giving all to the Son and the Son returning all to the Father — that another Person, the Holy Spirit, is breathed or “spirated” from them both. In short: “the Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God”; while, at the same time, “he is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.”9An alternate formulation of trinitarian faith sees the Breath, which is the Spirit, and the word, which is the Son, uniting in an eternal hymn of praise to the Father.10
Before looking to the Trinity’s special significance for the liturgy and its language, two observations are in order. first, the Son’s very identity is word or logos. Partly because of the limitations of our minds in the face of such a mystery, and partly because of Christ’s own mission, we ascribe to the Son various names: Jesus, Christ, redeemer, temple, good Shepherd. yet each of these titles — true as they are — describe Christ, especially as he carries out God’s plan in time. But to call the Second Person of the Trinity the Word is to speak to his identity within the Trinity. Second, the word who is Christ differs significantly from the ordinary words that we speak. he is not literally a word like those we use to speak to one another. his identity as the logos is not therefore analogous to our words, except from our own perspective. the Son of God is word in the truest sense, fully identical to the meaning of all things, while our own words are approximations of the eternal word. this relationship is similar to that signified by his title as Son: I, too, am a son, but not a son like the Son. And to say that the Sonship of the Second Person of the Trinity is different from the sonship I have in relation to my natural Father is not to lessen his Sonship in the comparison, but, on the contrary, to see how my own is a likeness to his. In short, God is the standard, we are the analogy. Similarly, the logos is not a word similar to human words, but our words are like the primordial and fundamental word of God.
The logos-character of the Trinity is particularly meaningful for the liturgy, for just as the word is an essential part of the Trinity, so too is the word the essence of the liturgy and its prayer. “only because there is already speech, ‘logos,’ in God can there be speech, ‘logos,’ to God. Philosophically we could put it like this: the logos in God is the onto-logical foundation for prayer.”11 In other words, we can speak to God and listen to God because “God himself is speech, word. his nature is to speak, to hear, to reply….”12 consequently, when we participate in the liturgy, we not only share in Christ’s “dialogue with God,” but “we can share in the dialogue which God is.”13 the logical character of the Trinity is the character of the church’s liturgy. the “logical” is also, as we shall see next, the character of the entire economy of salvation, the church herself, and the christian life.
Creation and the Fall: God Speaks, but Man Does Not Listen
In The Acting Person: A Contribution to Phenomenological Anthropology,14 Karol Wojtyla ties human anthropology to human action: a man is how he acts and acts according to who he is. In a similar way, the actions of God in the world reveal something of his innermost being, while God’s trinitarian nature enlightens for us his actions in the world. Accordingly, the church’s tradition speaks of theology when referring to the life of the Trinity in itself, and economy when considering God’s creation from himself and his governance of the cosmos back to himself (see ccc 236). Logically speaking, this means that the dialogical character of the Trinity is expressed in God’s work of creating and redeeming.
Saint John the Evangelist begins his gospel account this way: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God…. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:1,3). the Father’s logos “is a voice which entered the scene at the very beginning of creation, when it tore through the silence of nothingness.”15 the word that is spoken eternally by the Father within the Trinity is now spoken by the Father at the beginning of time; the uncreated word of the Trinity is the creative word of the cosmos; and the dia-logical character of the communion of divine persons is the logical source of the unity of creation and creator. “In the beginning…, God said, ‘let there be light,’ and there was light” (gen 1:1,3, emphasis added). together with “the mighty wind [that] swept over the waters” (gen 1:2), the Son and the Holy Spirit are considered the Father’s “creating hands”16 and his divine “artisans.”17
In addition to how God created all things — that is, through his logos — the church’s catechesis on creation also teaches us why God created. “Scripture and tradition,” the catechism of the Catholic church says, “never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: ‘the world was made for the glory of God’” (ccc 293). closely related to this purpose of the creation — the glory of God — is another; namely, the sanctification of human beings and, with them, all of creation. what does it mean that God creates for his own glory? citing Saint Bonaventure, the catechism explains that “God created all things ‘not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it’” (ccc 293). In other words, God’s glory does not consist of his accruing praise, worship, and glory to himself — since he needs none of these — but, rather, in bestowing, sharing, and manifesting his goodness to us. God’s glory and our sanctification are so closely related that we might say they are two sides of the same coin, for if we wish to glorify God to the best of our ability, we need to become saints. At the same time, if we wish to become saints, we must glorify God in all that we do. Saint Augustine, speaking of the life of prayer, captures this reciprocal relationship when he says that “God thirsts for us so that we might thirst for him” (see ccc 2560). or again, following the beautiful phrase of Saint Irenaeus, “the glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God.”18 In short: God is glorified in his creation, and creation is divinized in its God.
Liturgy reflects these truths of creation. As the logos is at the center of natural creation, so too is he the source of the new creation found in the liturgy. worship, Saint Paul writes to the romans, is Logical: logiké latreia (12:1). the words of the liturgy are also logical, that is, they express theword. Also, just as the purpose of creation is the glory of God through the sanctification of his people, the purpose of the liturgy and its language strives ultimately to glorify and sanctify. In short, we speak according to the logos, and we do so to become saints unto the glory of God.
Because Adam spoke with God and listened to him, he was destined to be “fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory” (ccc 398). God told Adam, for example, how to live according to the divine economy: “you are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. from that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die” (gen 2:16-17). Economy means literally “the management of a household,” and when applied to the divine plan, it includes the creation of all things by God (what the tradition calls the exitus) and the return of all things back to God according to his design (called the reditus). God’s commands to Adam and eve are, in other words, his appeal to “listen to my plan for you and for all of creation.” when all was working “according to plan,” there existed order, peace, harmony, and beauty in the cosmos. Such harmony, order, and beauty existed even between and within man and woman. As long as Adam and eve listened to God with their intellects and wills, their bodies and all of their desires listened to them. the word used to describe such listening, whether of man to God or man’s body to his soul, is obedience, from the latin ob-audire, “to hear” or “listen to” (see ccc 144). As long as Adam was obedient to God’s voice, original Justice reigned.
And yet we know that Adam’s freedom and willingness to follow God were tested; the original harmony fell into discord. rather than choosing God’s plan, Adam designed his own. “[h]e wanted to ‘be like God,’ but ‘without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.’”19 Adam did indeed want what was best: “to be like God.” what greater thing, in his condition of original holiness, would he have fallen for? the problem was that he wanted to follow his own economy to achieve it. he stopped obeying God’s voice and started listening to his own. he rejected the lord’s will to embrace his self-styled will. he quit thirsting for God and drowned his thirst in his own way of doing things. Adam rejects the reditus.
But everything is bound up with freedom, and the creature has the freedom to turn the positive exitus of its creation around, as it were, to rupture it in the fall: this is the refusal to be dependent, saying No to the reditus. love is seen as dependence and is rejected. In its place come autonomy and autarchy: existing from oneself and in oneself, being a God of one’s own making.20 this original sin is the reason why Christ came as our redeemer.21 wounded by sin, man is no longer able to accomplish the reditus, to choose or to return to the creator with his whole being. No longer following the path of God, man now follows his own way, a way which terminates in dead-ends. what must happen in order for Adam and his race to reunite with God? Someone must come who has the power to say “yes” to the reditus, to thirst again entirely for the divine, to seek God’s glory by following the godhead’s own economy. this person is the word of God himself. the dynamic of language — in its speaking and its hearing — is at the core of Adam’s (and thus our) creation and fall.
Man is created by the Logos, in his image and likeness. God tells him how to follow the divine economy and live. As long as Adam listens to God, harmony — “the concord of sounds” — reigns in all his relations. when he stops listening to God, when he says “no” to the divine plan, man disrupts the original dia-logue. this dialogue with God then devolves into monologue, a redundant monotony of man talking to himself. this same dynamic of language will be key to the plan of Christ’s saving and restoring humanity to God.
The Old Covenant: Learning to Listen the account of the fall in genesis includes a first indication that God will send a redeemer: “he will strike at your head” (3:15). And as the fall consisted in Adam’s disobedience to God’s revealed plan, so redemption will be won by a second Adam’s perfect obedience — that is, his listening — to God’s will. the time of the old covenant thus becomes a time of learning to listen; a time of preparation for the coming of a man who will listen and respond with a “yes” to the reditus; a time of breaking the monologue and reestablishing a dialogue.
But why, it has been asked, did the Father wait so long to send the word as our redeemer? while he did promise a redeemer who would crush the head of the serpent, could he have not done so immediately? the answer may be that in the course of salvation history until the time of Christ’s coming we were simply not ready yet to receive him. If the redeemer was to be that same word which the Father spoke at the creation, then his reception would require “listening,” “hearing,” and “being obedient to.” the age of the promises, of covenants, then, was a time to prepare humanity to receive the word of God, to listen clearly this time and, unlike Adam, to respond with fidelity. when God speaks again, he wants us to hear properly. to do this, the Father shapes and “shakes our hearts”22 both by and for the word.
Part of the chosen People’s preparation for the redeeming word comes through the mouths of the prophets. the voice of God is a key component to the covenantal relationship between God and his people. the prophets call out to God’s household when it strays from his divine economy. In doing so they herald the fullness of the divine plan in the messiah. Authorized by God to speak on his behalf, the prophets are essential to the biblical and redemptive dialogue, which is then completed in man’s affirmative response.
Another essential aspect of human training to receive God’s only Son, one closely related to the work of the prophets, is found in the sacrificial system of the old covenant. we find cain and Abel giving sacrifice, as well as Noah, melchizedek, and Abraham. As a part of the covenant made through moses at mt. Sinai, God prescribes in great detail the ways sacrifices are to be offered, especially the Paschal Sacrifice marking the liberation from slavery in egypt. like prophetic voices calling man back to union with God, the sacrifices of the covenant seek the same goal. this union with the divine, while at the core of sacrifice, often is either misunderstood or forgotten altogether.
What is sacrifice? many think of sacrifice as something essentially painful and therefore to be avoided. In this vein we ask one another prior to the season of lent, “what are you giving up this year?” and it is often the smaller sacrifices that we choose. while it is not entirely untrue to think of sacrifice in this light, to consider only these negative aspects keeps us from understanding the essence of sacrifice rightly. true and authentic sacrifice looks very different:
It consists — according to the fathers, in fidelity to biblical thought — in the union of man and creation with God. Belonging to God has nothing to do with destruction or non-being; rather, it is a way of being. It means emerging from the state of separation, of apparent autonomy, of existing only for oneself and in oneself. It means losing oneself as the only possible way of finding oneself (cf. mk 8:35; mt 10:39). that is why Saint Augustine could say that the true “sacrifice” is the civitas Dei, that is, love-transformed mankind, the divinization of creation and the surrender of all things to God: God all in all (cf. I cor 15:28). that is the purpose of the world. that is the essence of sacrifice and worship. 23
True sacrifice is “union with God,” “love-transformed mankind,” and “divinization.” It is, if you will, the flip-side of all the apparent negative aspects of sacrifice. It is not that pain and suffering having nothing to do with sacrifice; it’s that they are not the heart of sacrifice. Such an understanding is necessary to appreciate the sacrificial practices of the covenant and, ultimately, Christ’s own sacrifice.
It also helps clarify the pointed words of the prophets surrounding many of the sacrifices of the time. “obedience is better than sacrifice,” says Samuel (I Sam 15:22). “for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice,” hosea proclaims (6:6). “do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” queries the psalmist. “offer praise as your sacrifice to God” (Ps 50:13-14). does the God who first prescribed sacrifice as a part of the covenant relationship at the same time not wish them? what lies behind the “prophetic disquiet and questioning”24 is the misunderstanding of sacrifice, the gift that is sacrificed, and the requirements made on the person who offers it.
The history of man and his religion is the story of his efforts to reunite himself with the divine. to bring about the reunion, man offers a gift to the gods, but in the end realizes that nothing less than the gift of himself will suffice. And insofar as man is not usually willing to offer his complete self to the deity, he searches to find a gift, an offering, a sacrifice that “represents” himself. A true representative gift is one in which the giver is in some way present in his gift; in this way the gift truly represents man in his attempt to give himself to God. Not all gifts, however, can be classified in this way, for in some gifts man is not present in the offering. these gifts are called by Cardinal Ratzinger “replacement gifts,” where the offerer is not present in his gift, even though on the surface he believes himself to be.25 the distinction, then, is this: the “representative sacrifice” truly symbolizes man’s genuine and heartfelt desire to give himself over, to unite himself to God, to divinize himself: in a word, to “sacrifice.” the “replacement sacrifice,” on the contrary, is a mere empty sign or gesture of man’s supposed desire for reunion; the replacement sacrifice is a replacement of man, and “worship with replacements turns out to be a replacement for worship. Somehow the real thing is missing.”26 It is these latter sacrifices that the prophets seek to correct..
God’s intervention in salvation history is a movement following his own economy toward true and authentic sacrificial representation. what had made sacrifices in Israel unique is not only that they were offered to the one, true God, but also that the offerings approached true representation.
What, after all, could be a more genuine representation and symbol of the giver than his very own son? with Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, and later of Israel’s sacrifice of its firstborn sons — both of which are represented, at God’s own command, by a lamb — God sets Israel on a trajectory toward truly representational sacrifice and, consequently, true and authentic worship, which is the right way to relate to God.27
Like the Trinity, the creation, and the fall, the period of the old testament is Logical. the prophets speak in accord with the logos of God and call the household of Israel back to himself. the sacrifices offered represent the core of man’s own being, symbolized in the lamb who takes the place of the firstborn son. the covenant’s prophetic voice and priestly sacrifice look forward to the Sacrifice of the Word in the person of Jesus. But until his coming, the prophets and the ritual sacrifices prepare God’s household to receive his logos and finally, this time, to “listen to him” (mk 9:7; lk 9:35).
The Incarnation and Paschal Sacrifice 28
We have seen that the dialogue of love that is the Trinity desired to express and share its own being and goodness. It accomplished this through the logos in the creation of the universe. despite human sin, the dialogue between God and man continued in partial ways (heb 1:1). In “the fullness of time” (gal 4:3), when men and women were open and prepared to hear the divine message, God spoke again: “And the logos became flesh” (Jn 1:14). with the Incarnation, the same eternal logos (of the Trinity, of creation, and of salvation history) speaks again, now in the flesh, with the sound of a human voice. At the Incarnation, creation echoed the words of long-suffering Job: “I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you.” (Job 42:5).29 christianity is, then, not simply a spiritual and word-based religion, but also and essentially a bodily and incarnate one, both dimensions united completely and perfectly together after the model of Christ himself.30
Jesus Christ, the Logos incarnatus,31 is a word unlike any other. In human speech, words are formed of the air, in the mouth; they flee as soon as they pass the lips. Shakespeare’s falstaff asks of the word honor: “what is honor? A word. what is in that word honor? what is that honor? Air. A trim reckoning!” (falstaff, in Henry IV, Part I, Act 5, Scene 1). Christ the word, on the contrary, is not a “mere scutcheon” or mere symbol, but is a word that does not pass away. the logos of the dia-logue between God and men is a Person, substantial and abiding. he is nothing less than the “dialogue of grace.”32
Saint Augustine pointed this out in comparing the voice of John the Baptist to Christ:
The Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the word who lives for ever. take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. the voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.33
The dialogue of grace, now restored in Christ, “incarnate of the Virgin mary,”34 restores and perfects the initial dialogue interrupted by human refusal to listen. In taking on our nature, Christ elevates it and allows us to rejoin the dialogue with the Trinity: “God became man so that man might become God.”35 Another way to speak of the Incarnation, this time in an explicitly Logical way, can be found in The Feast of Faith: “he who is speech, word, logos, in God and to God, participates in human speech. this has a reciprocal effect, involving man in God’s own internal speech. or we could say that man is able to participate in the dialogue within God himself because God has first shared in human speech and has thus brought the two into communication with one another.” 36
We might say, therefore, that Christ is not only the Logos incarnatus, but the Dialogos incarnatus, for in addition to being the eternal voice of the Father to men, he is also the voice of men to the Father. Because Jesus shares completely in both na- tures, only he can represent perfectly and authentically both sides of the dialogue, the “speaking across” the abyss that divides them. As God, his clear voice loses nothing in its delivery to us; as man, he listens obediently and unreservedly to the Father. the responding voice from men to the Father completes and restores the dialogue:
As man, Christ speaks and sings the hymn of perfect praise to the Father; as God, his voice is heard in the dialogue of the Trinity. man is thus freed from his self-centered monologue and is opened up in a new way to the Father. representing man, Jesus says “yes to the reditus,” yes to union with God, and yes to divinization.
Jesus “says” all of these things throughout his life, for he is the dialogue of God and men in the flesh. Nevertheless, it is in the obedience of the Paschal Sacrifice that his “yes” resounds most clearly and articulately. when the first Adam sins by “not listening” to the Father’s voice, the Second Adam redeems by listening perfectly to the Father’s voice: “by whose obedience we have been restored to those gifts of yours that by sinning we had lost in disobedience.”
37 The Paschal mystery of Christ — his suffering, death, resurrection, and Ascension — is the longed-for response of love from man to God because it is the total return of self to the creator. what pleased the Father about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? what was it about the Paschal mystery that satisfied God and won our salvation? “According to the fathers, in fidelity to biblical thought,”38 and contrary to the common view, what pleased God most in the sacrifice of Christ was not primarily his suffering, his precious Blood, his physical, mental, and spiritual agonies, but the love he had for the Father, the thirst for him, and the union of wills of which all of his Son’s passion is the perfect expression.
It is not that Christ’s agonies are by any means inconsequential; rather, what is more important is the interior union of wills with the Father.39 If the first Adam said that he would not listen, would be disobedient, the second Adam is obedient and does listen to the Father’s will. we chose our own economy, our own plan, instead of the Father’s. Christ, by contrast, chose not his own will but his Father’s. Although “he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Phil 2:6-7). when we stopped thirsting for God, Christ came to be thirsty on our behalf. the act of contrition recognizes these two dimensions of sacrifice: we are sorry for our sins not simply because of the demands of justice (“the loss of heaven and the pains of hell”), but principally because they symbolize deficiencies in our love for love itself (“but most of all because they offend you who are all good and worthy of all my love”). In the Incarnation our Logical look at the liturgy finds its core. the salvific work of Christ, like all else before and after it, is word-based.
The shepherd who rescues [man] and takes him home is the logos himself, the eternal word, the eternal meaning of the universe dwelling in the Son. he it is who makes his way to us and takes the sheep onto his shoulders, that is, he assumes human nature, and as the God-man he carries man the creature home to God. And so the reditus is possible. man is given a homecoming. 40
The Church and the Liturgy
Becoming One with the Logos Jesus Christ, the Logos incarnatus, reunites us with the Father in the Paschal Sacrifice of the cross. Sacrifice is not the destruction of being but is “a way of being…: love-transformed mankind, the divinization of creation and the surrender of all things to God.”41 the essence of the “logical Sacrifice” is Christ’s obedient “yes” to the will of the Father, which reverses the non serviam (I will not serve) of the disobedient. while his victory is won, what remains to be realized is man’s own identification with the logos in his perfect response to the Father, which today takes place in the church. the restoration of the dialogical relationship of God and man, at one time actualized in the Incarnate logos, lives now in his mystical Body.
This structure of word and response, which is essential to the liturgy, is modeled on the basic structure of the process of divine revelation, in which the word and response, the speech of God and the receptive hearing of the Bride, the church, go together … God, the revealer, did not want to stay as solus Deus, solus Christus (God alone, Christ alone). No, he wanted to create a Body for himself, to find a Bride — he sought a response. It was really for her that the word went forth.42
Now, as he is seated in glory at the Father’s right hand, Christ continues his saving work in and with his Bride and mystical Body, the church (see ccc 1076).
To the question “who celebrates the liturgy?” the catechism identifies three categories of persons: the Trinity, the heavenly participants, and earthly participants of the sacramental liturgy (nos. 1137- 1144). According to the visions of Isaiah, ezekiel, and John, heaven is centered around a throne, upon which sits the lord God (ezek 1:26-28; Is 6:1; rev 4:2). A slain lamb also occupies the throne (rev 5:4), and flowing from both, the throne and the lamb, is a “river of life-giving water” (rev 22:1). the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the liturgy’s principal actors. we enter into their work when we, God’s people, participate in the liturgy. Around the Persons of the Trinity, the book of revelation identities the liturgy’s heavenly participants, those standing before the throne and worshipping God face to face: heavenly powers, four living beings, twenty-four elders, a woman, and a countless multitude.
It is in this heavenly and eternal liturgy that the church’s earthly members join through the mediation of the sacraments. Christ is called the liturgist (leitourgos) and his work, liturgical (see heb 8:2,6) because he performs a work — his sacrificial “yes” to the Father — in the name of and on behalf of his people (propapula). his church is likewise leitourgos (ccc 1144), for through Christ she continues the restored dialogue of grace with the Father on behalf of her members and the entire world. the liturgy’s heavenly participants are described as “recapitulated in Christ” (ccc 1138), more literally, “re-headed” in Christ. they have, by cooperating with his grace, earned a permanent place under his headship. Christ is, for them as well as for us, the head. gathered under him, the church exists as his own mystical Body: he the head, we the members.
The image of the church as the mystical Body of Christ comes to us from Saint Paul’s first letter to the corinthians: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ…. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (I cor 12:12-14,27). the Body, like any body, takes its direction from the head. And as Christ worked as prophet, priest, and king (what the tradition calls the munera Christi, the offices of Christ) for the glory of God and the sanctification of creation, so also does the mystical Body carry on with him his prophetic, priestly, and kingly ergon (work) for the salvation of the laos (people) unto God’s greater glory. She, the church, imitates her head in her activities — proclaiming the good News of salvation, continually offering Christ’s Paschal Sacrifice in the liturgy, and leading by serving the needs of all — yet, after the example of her head, she speaks most clearly and effectively in her priestly work, where Christ’s Paschal Sacrifice of praise is made present and active.
In her sacramental liturgy, particularly the eucharist, Christ’s sacrificial “yes” to the reditus and to God’s will is made present: “Christ transformed his death into a verbal form.”43 In other words, the “eucharistic canon is a sacrifice in the form of the word.”44 And because the eucharistic prayer is the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, it is the occasion for the church to make it her own, her opportunity to join in the dialogue, to say “yes” along with him to the Father: “the eucharistic prayer is an entering-into the prayer of Jesus Christ himself; hence it is the church’s enteringin to the logos, the Father’s word, into the logos’ self-surrender to the Father, which, in the cross, has also become the surrender of mankind to him.”45
The “logical Sacrifice” of Christ now becomes the “logical worship” of the mystical Body. As head of his mystical Body, the logos is the mystical Voice, speaking on behalf of God to man and on behalf of man to God in the restored dialogue of “love-transformed mankind.” All that the mystical Body says and does is “in accord with the logos,” be it in the exercise of her prophetic office, her priestly office, or her kingly office. the mystical Body’s priestly activity in worship is particularly logical. her calendar, sacred music, and churches are all established “in accord with the logos.”46 In a sacramental approach to the texts of the mass, we notice that the church speaks in accord with the logos, and we, members of the mystical Body, speak with her and, in so doing, are divinized after the image of the logos. Liturgical Participation: “Logifying Our Existence”47
The mystical Body’s liturgy sacramentalizes — which is to say makes present and active — the Paschal Sacrifice of the logos. In the liturgy, the mystical Body joins with Christ and speaks the mystical Voice of praise and adoration to the Father. the church’s “worship in accord with the logos” is the opportunity for members of the Body to unite themselves to the logos, to, in the expression of Cardinal Ratzinger, “logify our existence”48: “we must still pray for [the Sacrifice of the logos] to become our sacrifice, that we ourselves, as we said, may be transformed into the logos, conformed to the logos, and so be made the true Body of Christ.”49
To “logify” is to become fully united to the Son in his union with the Father. the idea is expressed in the letter of Saint Paul to the romans: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship [logikē latreia]. do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (rom 12:1-2). Logikē latreia here expresses the new reality of christian worship established at the Incarnation of the logos: after Christ, who is both word and flesh, we are to worship according to the word and the flesh (“spirit, soul, and body” [I thess 5:23]), identifying with Christ in mind and body. following Christ (the fundamental Logos incarnatus) as members of his mystical Body, we are to become logoi incarnati.
the primary and indispensable source of “logification” is our full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy, especially the eucharist.” here we “ask that the logos, Christ, who is the true sacrifice, may himself draw us into his act of sacrifice, may ‘logify’ us, make us ‘more consistent with the word,’ ‘more truly rational,’ so that his sacrifice may become ours and may be accepted by God as ours….”51 In the church, especially at her liturgy, heaven joins earth, the invisible becomes visible, and the symbolic is the real (sign and reality). the ultimate purpose of this meeting of above and below, however, is the divinization of the created, the perfection of the fallen, and the consummation of restored communion. Pope Benedict XVI invokes Saint Augustine on this point, recounting his transformative dialogue with the eucharistic Christ: “I am the food of grown men; grow, and you shall feed upon me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh, into yourself, but you shall be changed into me” (Scar 70). the liturgy makes us more fully human, precisely because it restores our likeness to God lost at the fall, and transforms us according to the logos, our ultimate goal.
Following our liturgical and sacramental identification with the logos, we are impelled to “be transformed” in every aspect of our existence: “the Apostle’s insistence on the offering of our bodies emphasizes the concrete human reality of a worship which is anything but disincarnate” (Scar 70). the liturgical life, one lived according to the logos, spends most of its time outside the walls of the church building and on “the front lines” of society and culture, as Pius XII says (see ccc 899). here we see also the liturgy’s place in the “New evangelization.” As evidenced in the scriptures, evangelization always begins with an encounter with the living Christ, is followed by a metanoia or turning toward him and away from sin, and then the seemingly irrepressible desire to announce to the world the good News. the New evangelization promoted so energetically by Pope John Paul II is likewise founded upon a new encounter with Christ (most especially in the eucharistic liturgy), a subsequent return to him, and the urgent desire to evangelize in the world.
The place of the logos in our liturgical participation is paramount. to identify with the Paschal Sacrifice of the logos made present in the sacraments is to hear the Father’s clear voice, to listen perfectly to it, and to return a “yes” in concert with the mystical Voice of Christ and his church. liturgical participation is therefore a listening and a speaking. Particular words sacramentalize the word, so that our literal speaking is also a real participation in the Voice of Christ and his church. there is a natural and supernatural affinity between the sacramental word on the one hand, and the mystical word on the other. consequently, just as Christ is a particular word who says a definite “yes” in a truly remarkable way, so too are liturgical words to say definite things in precise ways. the Son of God is not “just any old word,” but the logos of the Father; so too the sacramental words seeking to convey the word must have a particular tenor, voice, and precision. while a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet, the logos of God, in many other words, would not sound as clear.
Because liturgical participation requires a hearing and a speaking, liturgical formation — like that of the chosen People — is learning to hear the word and learning to speak with the word. In the process of this type of liturgical formation,
… the language of our mother becomes ours; we learn to speak it along with her, so that, gradually, her words on our lips become our words. we are given an anticipatory share in the church’s perennial dialogue of love with him who desired to be one flesh with her, and this gift is transformed into the gift of speech. And it is in the gift of speech, and not until then, that I am really restored to my true self; only thus am I given back to God, handed over by him to all my fellow men; only thus am I free.52
In short, the language that we use during the liturgy is the mystical Voice of the mystical Body, a “hymn of praise that is sung through all the ages in the heavenly places … brought by the high Priest, Christ Jesus, into the land of exile…” (Paul VI, Laudis canticum). this Voice is for us the means to divinization and union with God, and the instrument by which we hope to enter that divine dialogue of love, the Trinity.
There are, we said at the start, a number of ways to approach the liturgy in order to deepen our understanding of it. Based in large part on the writing of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, we have looked at the liturgy from a particular angle, Christ as the word of the Father. here summarizes our “logical look at the liturgy” — or, more accurately, our logical listen to the liturgy:
God himself is speech, a dialogue.
• God creates by his word, and man sins by not listening to God’s word.
• the time of the old covenant prepares men and women, through the covenants with Israel, to listen once again to the word of God.
• At the Incarnation, God speaks his logos into the world. the redemption is Christ’s perfect “yes” back to the Father from the cross.
• Christ associates his mystical Body, the church, in his dialogue with the Father.
• christians logify their existence by uniting themselves with the logos in the mystical Body. together, Christ, the church, and christians speak the mystical Voice of praise to the Father.
This logos approach is singularly meaningful for our current task of understanding the words of the roman missal since the words of our sacramental celebrations approximate the very word which is Christ himself. ritual and sacramental language, to put it another way, should be consonant, harmonious, and corresponding with the logos, for such language is, in truth, the mystical Voice of the mystical Body, of which Christ is the head and spokesman.
1. Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. graham harrison (San francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 73.
2. Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 25.
3. catechism of the Catholic church 254, see fourth lateran council (1215), dS 804.
4. Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 25.
5. walker Percy, Signposts in a Strange Land (New york: Noonday, 1992), 127, 136.
6. frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (San francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 61.
7. Niceno-constantinopolitan creed, Missale Romanum, third typical edition.
8. See ccc 246 for a fuller discussion on the filioque.
9. ccc 253-254; see council of toledo XI (675), dS 530:26.
10. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 140.
11. Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 25.
13. Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 26.
14. Karol Wojtyla, The Acting Person: A Contribution to Phenomenological Anthropology (Analecta husserliana) (Boston: d. reidel Publishing company, 1979).
15. XII ordinary general Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “message to the People of God,” october 24, 2008, 1.
16. ccc 292, 703; see Saint Irenaeus, Adv. hæres. 2, 30, 9; 4, 20, I: Pg 7/1, 822, 1032.
17. ccc 1091; see Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 153-154.
18. See ccc 294; Saint Irenaeus, Adv. hæres. 4, 20, 7: Pg 7/1, 1037; Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 18.
19. ccc 398; Saint maximus the confessor, Ambigua: Pg 91, 1156c.
20. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 33.
21. did the Son of God become man only on account of sin? See richard h. Bulzacchelli, “the eσχατος Aδ́αμ and the meaning of Sacrifice in the theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI,” Antiphon 13.1 (2009): 56-57.
22. Ratzinger, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, trans. Boniface ramsey (grand rapids, mI: eerdmans Publishing co., 1995), 16.
23. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 28.
24. Ibid., 39.
25. Ibid., 36, especially note 1.
26. Ibid., 36.
27. Ibid., 35-38.
28. Ibid., 28. Cardinal Ratzinger gets to the heart of the notion of sacrifice on p. 28 of this work. the recovery of sacrifice is one of the great contributions of his The Spirit of the Liturgy.
29. cited in Synod XII, “message to the People of God,” 4.
30. the errors here are a monophysitism (and perhaps gnosticism) that exaggerates the spiritual and divine element of Christ to the detriment of the human; and, on the other extreme, a Nestorianism that so emphasizes Christ’s humanity that his nature as logos is obscured. the errors surrounding the Incarnation also devolve upon the nature of the church and of her liturgy.
31. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 47.
32. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J.r. foster (San francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 275; see also Joseph Ratzinger, Credo for Today: What Christians Believe (San francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 102.
33. Saint Augustine, Sermo 293, 3; Pl 1328- 1329.
34. Niceno-constantinopolitan creed, Missale Romanum, third typical edition.
35. ccc 460; Saint Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: Pg 25, 192B.
36. Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 25.
37. Preface 35, VII of the Sundays in ordinary time.
38. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 28.
39. Saint Anselm: “for the Father did not compel him to suffer death, or even allow him to be slain, against his will, but of his own accord he endured death for the salvation of men… It seems to me that you do not rightly understand the difference between what he did and suffered at the demand of obedience, and what he suffered, not demanded by obedience, but inflicted on him, because he kept his obedience perfect … God did not, therefore, compel Christ to die; but he suffered death of his own will, not yielding up his life as an act of obedience in maintaining holiness; for he held out so firmly in this obedience that he met death on account of it.” (Cur Deus Homo, in Opera Omnia, ed. g.S. Schmitt, vol. 3, pp. 60-62, trans. S.N. deane in Basic Writings [la Salle, Il: open court Publishing co., 1965], pp. 191-194) in louis dupré, Symbols of the Sacred (grand rapids, mI: eerdmans Publishing co.), pp. 36-37, footnote 73.
40. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 34.
41. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 28.
42. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 208.
43. Ratzinger, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, ed. Stephan otto horn and Vinzenz Pfnür, trans. henry taylor (San francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 49.
44. Ratzinger, “Is the eucharist a Sacrifice?” Concilium 24 (1967) 77, cited in richard malone, “eucharist: Sacrifice According to the logos,” in Antiphon, 13.I (2009), 80.
45. Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 37.
46. Ratzinger, A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today, trans. martha m. matesich (New york: the crossroad Publishing company, 1996), 57-176.
47. Ibid., The Spirit of the Liturgy, 58.
48. Ibid., The Spirit of the Liturgy, 58.
49. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 173.
50. See Pius X and Sc 14.
51. Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, as found in “‘worship in accord with the logos’ — Incarnation, liturgy, and Inculturation,” by rev. robert A. Pesarchick, in Antiphon 13.I (2009): 39.
52. Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 29-30.
Christopher Carstens is director of the Office for Sacred Worship in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin; a visiting faculty member at the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois; editor of the Adoremus Bulletin; and one of the voices on The Liturgy Guys podcast. He is author of A Devotional Journey into the Mass and A Devotional Journey into the Easter Mystery (Sophia), as well as Principles of Sacred Liturgy: Forming a Sacramental Vision (Hillenbrand Books). He lives in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, with his wife and eight children.