When to Celebrate?/1 The Liturgical Season (CCC 1163-1165)
Column on Liturgical Theology; Coordinator: Father Mauro Gagliardi
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By Nicola Bux*
ROME, MAY 2, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Every year the Church celebrates the Redemption wrought by Jesus Christ, beginning on Sunday, the day of the week that takes the name of the Risen Lord, until it culminates in the great solemnity in the annual Easter. However, it is all the mysteries of the life of Christ that must be reviewed and made present: in what sense? If Christ is contemporary of every man in every time, his actions, in as much as Son of God, are not events of the past but acts that are always present in every time, with all their merits, which, because of this, bring salvation to all those who recall them (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 1163). The actions of Jesus Christ as his words are eternal: they communicate and explain life; that is why they do not pass, beginning with the supreme act of his sacrifice on the cross; this is represented or renewed, as the Catechism says again, in as much as it is not past, but is always present. And we recall it, obeying His invitation: “Do this in memory of me.”
Perhaps it is crucial to understand the concept of memory to understand the liturgical season: it does not mean a recalling of the past but man’s capacity, given by God, to understand in unity today the past and the future. In fact, a man who loses his memory, not only forgets the past, but does not understand what he is in the present, and much less is he able to project himself in the future.
Then, in the flow of time there are the Christian feasts – festum which recall something to which one rushes, hurries, which many frequent – but also the ferial days in which there are not necessarily many, yet likewise Christ is recalled, who is today and always. To a great extent the feasts are the continuation and the fulfillment of the Jewish feasts, beginning with the Passover.
It is not enough to commemorate them, or rather they are commemorated by rendering thanks – that is why the feasts are celebrated essentially with the Eucharist –, but it is also necessary to hand them down to the new generations and to conform one’s life to them. Man’s morality depends on the memory of God, says Saint Augustine in the Confessions: the more the Lord is celebrated, we could say, the more one becomes moral. Thus the liturgical season reveals itself as season of the Church, placed between the historical Easter and the Lord’s coming at the end of time. The mystery of Christ, across time, makes all things new. That is why every time that we celebrate, we receive the grace that renews and transforms us (cf. CCC, 1164).
However, in the theological-liturgical lexicon, there is a temporal adverb that encloses well the liturgical season: “Today,” in Latin hodie, in Greek kairos. The liturgy, especially in the great feasts, affirms that Christ is born today, he is risen today, he ascended to Heaven today. It is not just a bright idea: Jesus himself said: “today salvation has come to this house,” “today you will be with me in Paradise.” With Jesus, Son of God, man’s time is “today,” is present. It is the Holy Spirit that does this, with his irruption in time and space. In the Holy Land, the liturgy also adds the adverb of place: “here,” hic. The Spirit of the Risen Jesus makes man enter the “now” of God which came in Christ and that goes across the cosmos and history. With the quotation of Pseudo Hippolytus, the Catechism reminds that, for those of us who believe in Christ, a day of light is ushered in, long, eternal, which will never be blotted out: the mystical Passover (CCC, 1165).
We began by affirming that Jesus is our contemporary: because he is the Son of God, the Living who entered history. Without Him the year and the liturgical feasts would be empty of meaning and deprived of efficacy for our life. “What does it mean to affirm that Jesus of Nazareth, who lived between Galilee and Judea two thousand years ago, is “contemporary” of each man and woman who lives today and in every time? It is explained by Romano Guardini, with words that remain as relevant as they were when they were written: “His earthly life entered into eternity and in this way is correlated to every now of the time redeemed by his sacrifice… An ineffable mystery is fulfilled in the believer: Christ who is ‘above,’ ‘seated at the right hand of the Father’ (Colossians 3:1), is also ‘in’ this man, with the fullness of his Redemption; because in every Christian the life of Christ is fulfilled again, his growth, his maturity, his Passion, Death and Resurrection, which constitutes the true life” (R. Guardini, Il testamento di Gesù, Milano, 1993, p. 141)” (Benedict XVI, Message to the Congress “Jesus Our Contemporary,” 09.02.2012).
The day of Christ, the day that is Christ, constitutes the liturgical season. Whoever follows Him, offers himself to Him, unites himself to His living sacrifice with his whole being, fulfills the work of God, that is,theliturgy.
The liturgical season recalls the cosmic dimension of creation and of the Redemption of the Lord who has recapitulated all things in Himself, all time and space. Because of this Christian prayer, the prayer of those who adore the true God, is turned to the East, cosmic point of the apparition of the Presence. And the liturgical season and space have fixed it especially in the Cross, to which one turns to look at the Lord. How will we revive the perception among us of the liturgical season? By looking at Christ, beginning and end, alpha and omega of Revelation, who continually makes all things new. In fact the symbolism of Easter, with the lighting of the candle, is there to remind us.
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*Father Nicola Bux is Professor of Eastern Liturgy at Bari and Consultor of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the Causes of Saints, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, as well as of the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.