Consecrating the World: On Mundane Liturgical Theology, by David W. Fagerberg. Angelico Press (Kettering, OH, 2016). $17.95. 156 pp
A theology doctoral candidate was asked recently about the topic of his dissertation by an acquaintance. The candidate responded that he was writing on the relationship between the liturgy and eschatology, to which the other person remarked sarcastically: “That is very practical.” David Fagerberg in his latest work, Consecrating the World, demonstrates that there is nothing more “practical” than the connection between the liturgy and eschatology. The liturgy, understood as the prima theologia, offers a clear understanding of who every person is called to be in Christ. Further, our identity in Christ confirms and urges us to embrace our mission in the world. One of the key refrains quoted in all of the works of Fagerberg, which comes from his teacher Aidan Kavanaugh, “liturgy is doing the world as the world was meant to be done” (4).
Fagerberg describes his most recent book as a “companion volume” to his previous work, On Liturgical Asceticism (CUA Press, 2013). Specifically, he describes Consecrating the World and On Liturgical Asceticism as “two panels of a diptych” that are held together by a quotation from the English author Charles Williams: “Rejection is a silver key, which is ‘more dear’; affirmation is a golden key, more difficult to use. Yet both are necessary for any life” (2). The two keys are required for the Church to engage the world properly and they represent two states of life and form two sides of the same coin.
What unites both keys is the call to asceticism, which is lived out in two different yet complementary forms: “The desert ascetic, who has left the world, and the mundane ascetic, who is still in the world but not of it” (7). The former is the embodiment of the silver key, whereas the latter represents the golden key. Both are necessary to be able to open the lock, but the golden key is “more difficult to use” because the world needs the liturgy in order to understand its purpose. The thesis for the diptych of Fagerberg is “that liturgical asceticism is conditional for a liturgical cosmos. Liturgical asceticism capacitates the person for liturgy” (2). In this second part of his diptych Fagerberg focuses on the mission of consecrating the world, which was a major theme during the Second Vatican Council.
The work of Faberberg should be read by all Christians, particularly members of the laity, because it offers insight into understanding a phrase which has fallen into disuse: consecratio mundi (“consecrating the world”). This particular phrase summarizes the mission of the laity to sanctify the temporal and secular world. Fagerberg quotes Blessed Paul VI, whose definition of consecration offers us a clear understanding of the lay person’s role within the Church: “[B]y consecration we mean, not the separation of a thing from what is profane in order to reserve it exclusively, or particularly, for the Divinity, but, in a wider sense, the re-establishment of a thing’s relationship to God according to its own order, according to the exigency of the nature of the thing itself, in the plan willed by God” (3). The laity, living in the midst of the world, play a key role in reuniting the culture with Jesus Christ. The liturgy nourishes Christians to sanctify the world.
Fagerberg’s book is a refreshing examination of the liturgy and the role of what he describes as “mundane liturgical theology” by which he means that the liturgy does not exist for its own sake, but it is oriented towards the transformation of the world. All Christians have the vocation to take the cues for how they live their lives and they see the world based on the liturgy. In the book’s five chapters, Fagerberg develops the theme of consecrating the world using the image of a dove, which is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. With wit that could aptly be described as Chestertonian and wisdom from both Eastern and Western theology, Fagerberg offers an understanding of what the liturgy truly is by looking “through liturgy” (5).
The interminable debates regarding how the liturgy should be celebrated stem from the fact that many people look “at liturgy,” whereas Fagerberg invites his readers in Chapter 1 to look “through” it. Appreciating Fagerberg requires an understanding of what he means by the word liturgy, which he defines as the “perechoresis of the Trinity kenotically extended to invite our synergistic ascent into deification.” Fagerberg develops his definition: “Liturgy is participation in the perichoresis of the Trinity; asceticism is the capacitation for that participation; theology is union with God, making the Church’s liturgy an act of theologia; and liturgical asceticism is the life-long process of deification that results in the removal of the cataracts of sin from our eyes, giving us clear sight, at last” (6). Every Christian has an ascetic vocation, and asceticism enables a person to participate fully in the liturgy.
The silver key of self-denial enables a person to use the golden key to affirm the world as a sacrament. Fagerberg affirms this paradox of denial and affirmation: “we can be led by the world to God, but only if we disown the world” (23). Grace facilitates the optic that Christians need in order to see the world as sacramental, but it presupposes that we allow Christ to deliver us from the slavery of sin. Embracing the discipline of liturgical asceticism will bear the ultimate fruit whereby “cultic liturgy animates our lived liturgy” (27). This is the true meaning of what Fagerberg refers to as “mundane liturgical theology.” Conversion and the ongoing commitment to asceticism enable the dove to descend and operate in our lives so that we might be able to see the world as it has truly been created.
Fagerberg’s description of the liturgy as a “participation in the perichoresis [that is, the special relationship shared among the persons] of the Trinity” becomes clearer in Chapter 2: “The liturgy is our inclusion, made possible by the Dove, in a relationship between the Son and the Father: (i) The Son worships the Father; (ii) the Church worships the Son, her founder; (iii) and through the Son, together with the Son, the Church worships the Father. All this occurs by the powers of the Holy Spirit who is ushering creation into its own home: a redeemed, eschatological, spiritual existence” (34). Consequently, Fagerberg maintains that every Christian has been created to be a liturgist because by nature every person is designed for worship. Fagerberg maintains the view that Christians live in an “eschatological estuary” (30). Baptism plunges all Christians into this environment, so they share the mission to transform this world to make evident its eschatological identity to all people. The daily life of the Christian must visibly be transformed by the liturgy: “We take on the imprint of the altar of the Mass in order to ourselves become the sacrificial city of God in our bodies, in the midst of the irreligious city of man” (36). Consecrated life and the marriage vocation, in a complementary manner, are signs of the eschaton in different ways. What unites both of them is that each of them involves the sacrifice of love, albeit in distinct manners, that direct people towards the communion with God that will be fully realized in the eschaton.
In Chapter 3, Fagerberg highlights the mystery of Christ, which has been imprinted upon us beginning with the sacraments of initiation as “we are raised to heaven on the wing of the dove” (51). The fundamental image in this chapter is the notion of inscription. As an outward sign or mark (eikon) of sacramental character bestowed upon the neophyte at Baptism, the minister marks his forehead with chrism oil. Fagerberg maintains: “Every succeeding liturgical celebration builds up the likeness of that initial imprint: the liturgy of the hours, the liturgical year, the sacraments, and the Divine Liturgy of the Mass all add layer upon layer to the refreshed imago Dei” (53). Christians are called to be living icons that make Christ present in our mundane world.
The most significant insight in Fagerberg’s work is his emphasis upon the relationship between Christ’s Incarnation and our call to deification. What Christ is by nature, we become via the grace received from the liturgy. There is a double kenosis whereby “Christ emptied himself in order to take up humanity, and we lay down sinful humanity in order to take up divine life” (66). Through the celebration of the liturgy we are raised up by the wing of the dove towards a true participation in the mystery of Christ’s life here on earth so that our self-emptying and repentance from sin can lead to ascension in the life of grace.
The liturgy renews the way in which we see the world. In Chapter 4, Fagerberg asserts, “There is nothing wrong with the world at which we look, but there is something wrong with how we look at that world” (79). We have been made to see the world with “the eye of the dove” and view the mundane world liturgically. Laypeople in particular have the vocation to restore the world’s proper order, which has become distorted by sin. Fagerberg describes the mission that every Christian receives from his participation in the liturgy based upon the symbolism of the Church’s physical structure: “First he crosses the narthex from the world in the nave, in order to absorb the energy of the altar in the sanctuary; then he crosses the narthex from the nave back into the world, in order to release that light into the world” (91). Each member of the laity potentially receives the repaired vision to see the world as it truly is—a sacrament made for communion with God.
Finally, Fagerberg concludes his book by reaffirming, in Chapter 5, the close connection between the sacramental liturgy and our personal liturgy (94). In this particular chapter, Fagerberg emphasizes the role of authentic sacrifice in the life of the Church. True sacrifice, Fagerberg notes, is defined by St. Augustine as “every action done so as to cling to God in communion of holiness, and thus achieve blessedness” (Cited in CCC 2099; 99). The notion of deification in the previous chapter is reinforced by the stress placed upon the mission of every member of the Church to grow in holiness and unity, which is an essential part of the Church’s sacrificial worship. The ultimate sacrifice involves the redemption of the entire world. Hence, “We are not content to merely offer bread and wine in our sacrifice; we are not content to merely offer ourselves individually; we will not be content unless the whole redeemed world is lifted up in oblation. Doing the world as it was meant to be done means doing the world as a temple in which God is glorified” (110). Laypeople have a critical mission to consecrate the world by sanctifying every aspect of their life from the source and summit of grace—the sacred liturgy.
Consecrating the World is an insightful work that should be read together with On Liturgical Asceticism by all the faithful. In particular it will be helpful for members of the laity truly to understand their vocation to sanctify the world and the authentic meaning and purpose of the sacred liturgy. The Appendix to Fagerberg’s book is particularly valuable for married lay people who want to appreciate and understand their vocation and how to progress in answering the call to holiness appropriate for their state of life. Drawing upon John Climacus’s The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Fagerberg is able to demonstrate that both marriage and monastic life are ascetical vocations that consecrate the world in distinct but complimentary ways.
Consecrating the World also deserves to be read as an introductory primer for the study of liturgy alongside the work of Romano Guardini, Louis Bouyer, Alexander Schmemann, and Joseph Ratzinger. This book should be required reading in every introductory liturgy course in seminaries and universities because it emphasizes the true spirit of the liturgy, which defines worship as logiké latreia (Rom 12:1). Fagerberg’s text is timely: we are in such need of reorienting our discussions about how to renew and celebrate the liturgy. As the desert monk Evagarius reminds us, “A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.” Similarly, Fagerberg exhorts all people to remember that a liturgist is one who worships, and one who worships is a liturgist. The vocation of every liturgist is to worship the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, so we may bring the entire cosmos back into communion with God.
Roland Millare serves as the chair of the Theology Department at St. John XXIII College Preparatory (Katy, TX), the Director of Middle School CCE at St. Theresa (Sugar Land, TX), and an adjunct professor of theology for deacon candidates at the University of St. Thomas School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary (Houston, TX). Roland is a candidate for a doctorate in sacred theology (STD) at the Liturgical Institute/University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein, IL).