This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 8 - "Heaven on Earth"

The year was around  AD 987, and in the city of Constantinople, seat of the Christian Byzantine/Roman Empire,  a rather disheveled-looking group of visitors arrived at the Emperor's court.   These befurred and somewhat rough-looking visitors were from the court of Prince Vladimir, Grand Duke of Novgorod in the far-off land of Rus, and they were on a special mission from their ruler, a mission of religious inquiry.   The emissaries had already visited the lands of the Germans (the Holy Roman Empire), the Khazars (a Turkish tribe north and west of the Caspian Sea who had earlier adopted Judaism as their religion), and the Volga Bulgars (another Islamic Turkish tribe east of the land of Rus itself).  The emissaries and their prince were not impressed with the religious practices and ceremonies of these other nations, so here they were in Constantinople.  The Emperor, far from being appalled at the appearance of these exotic visitors from the North, enthusiastically informed the Orthodox Patriarch to prepare for a Pontifical Liturgy, as he wanted to show these visitors the glory of the God they served.  Upon the conclusion of the visit, both the Patriarch and Emperor saw the emissaries off with gifts and honor, and they returned to their leader in Novgorod.  When they arrived back home and were asked to give an account of this visit, the emissaries said of "the Greeks" the following: "Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.  For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss as to how to describe it.  We only know that God dwells ther among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.  For we cannot forget that beauty.  Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here." (from Cross and Sherbowizt-Wetzor, trans. The Russian Primary Chronicle - Laurentian Text.  Canbridge, MA: the Medieaval Academy of America, 1953. p. 11).  Some years earlier, Prince Vladimir's mother, St. Olga, had become a baptized Christian, and Vladimir therefore had some idea of this faith, as did his boyars (nobles), and upon asking their counsel, the boyars said this: "If the Greek faith were evil, it would not have been adopted by your grandmother Olga who was wiser than all other men," at which point Vladimir asked if it would be imperative to be baptized then - the boyars said the decision was ultimately his, and thankfully he decided to do just that a year later after during a battle in which, like St. Constantine some centuries before, Vladimir promised to be baptized if he prevailed against his enemies in battle, and of course he did.  At the time of his baptism as well, Vladimir was suffering from a serious eye ailment, and when the Orthodox bishop of Kherson baptized him, Vladimir was immediately and miraculously healed, and his comment that day was "I have now perceived the one true God."  And that is the story of how Russia became Christian, based on just a visit to a full Liturgy of the Church.

In Isaiah 6:5, we note that the Prophet received a similar revelation to what Vladimir's emissaries received when we read that when Isaiah had a vision of heaven, in which God was sitting on His throne, with the full pageantry of the courts of the Almighty displayed, he was humbled and could only say "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips.  For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5, NKJV).  However, in response to Isaiah's humility, God sends on of the seraphs from around His throne with a live coal from the altar and touches Isaiah's mouth, saying, "Behold, this has touched your lips.  Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged" (Isaiah 6:7, NKJV).  This account mirrors that of the Apostle St. John in Revelation 1:12-20, in which when the Apostle beheld the glory of God in His sanctuary, he fainted, but like Isaiah with the coal, Jesus Himself laid his right hand on the Apostle, and said, "Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last" (Revelation 1:17, NKJV), and then He begins to give John what amounts to an episcopal letter to seven churches in the diocese St. John was the bishop of, and He did so in a liturgical context.  In both cases, Isaiah and John were encountering the same Lord and God in their respective visions, and in a different way so were the Russian emissaries who participated in the Liturgy in the Church in Constantinople many centuries later.  There is a sacramental dimension to this witnessed presence of Christ in all these examples, and it is here our lesson focuses.

Oftentimes, a Greek word parousia is used to refer to the Second Coming, and indeed this word (in Latin alphabet we know it as Parousia) can be used in that context.  However, the word parousia means so much more than that, as its literal translation is "presence," and the presence it references is a very specific type of presence - it is a real, personal, living, lasting, and active presence.  It hearkens back also to the promise Jesus made in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20 when He declared "Lo, I am with you always," and it symbolizes something more than just a "blessed hope" of His return.  The parousia is also imminent in that it takes place right now, and in particular when Christians celebrate the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  In quoting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, it is essentially being that "liturgy is anticipated Parousia, the 'already' entering our 'not yet."  Looking at this from a Catholic Christian dimension, it means that God dwells among mankind now because the Mass is "heaven on earth" in a very real sense. 

This idea of the Mass as "heaven on earth" is an explicit teaching of the Church and integral to the Fidei Depositum.  If we look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, it is noted that worship in the Mass is worship that participates in the liturgy of heaven (CCC, 1089).  Also, from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, Fr. Peter Gillquist notes in his book Becoming Orthodox (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1989) on pages 79-80 that the Divine Liturgy (or Mass in the West) is the grandest multi-media event of all time (here he references Catholic convert Thomas Howard) but it is even more so because of our participation in it.  Dr. Hahn likewise notes on page 117 of  The Lamb's Supper (New York: Doubleday, 2002) that at Mass we are in a sense already in heaven, and he notes the Catechism here which says essentially that the earthly liturgy of the Church is a foretaste of the heavenly (CCC, 1090).  This leads to a bit of a problem then - if this is the case, why are so many people in our parishes so passive and indifferent when it comes to celebrating the Mass?  I mean, people go up, take communion, sit back down, and then look at their watches so they don't miss the Sunday pot roast cooking at home or the Packers game on Fox today.   If we truly understood what we are partaking in, it should fire us up more than a Pentecostal woman at a tent revival, shouldn't it?   Yet, tragically it does not.  This is a very important reason too why more effective catechesis must incorporate the Liturgy into it, and in doing so it would engender a greater love for what we are doing as a Church and we would also have a richer understanding as to why we do what we do, and this is the whole point of these studies as well.  Therefore, we need to first start with Scripture, and in particular with this study of Revelation, and identify where different elements of the Liturgy can be found.  It is also a good apologetic when we come up against the occasional Fundamentalist Protestant who for some reason believes the Liturgy of our Church to be some sort of "pagan ceremony" due to another type of poor discipleship such people receive too - thus, there is also an evangelical dimension to understanding the Liturgy as well.

If we want to truly see the Lord Jesus coming in glory, and if we want to experience the Liturgy the way that St. Vladimir's emissaries witnessed it in Constantinople over 1200 years ago, we must learn to read Revelation through the Church's eyes.   I want to first relate a personal story here of how I came to appreciate this better, as it was something that gives me a powerful testimony of my own Christian life.  Back in 2001, Barb and I were attending the Cathedral of Saint Jude, the great Roman Catholic diocesan see for the Diocese of St. Pete, FL.  I was sitting about midway back in the church that day during Mass, as Barb had attended an earlier Mass due to volunteering at the parish book store.  At about the time Fr. Kovanis, who was celebrating the Mass that day, was praying the Eucharistic Prayer over the Host, I saw as plain as day a pillar of fire descend over the altar of that church, and it was as if I knew then that this was truly Jesus I was receiving when I took the Eucharist, and not some mere "memorial" or "symbol."  Up to this point, I was struggling with my own doubts, as I was still in High-Church Protestant mindset then (although I was chrismated into the Church on Easter Vigil in the year 2000) and merely thought that although something powerful and sacramental happened at the Consecration, the Host and chalice only contained teh Body and Blood.  That day my perception changed, as I realized that what I was receiving was Jesus!  Jesus had given me a parousia of Himself that day in a very intimate way, and it has stuck with me even to this day.  This is when the guidelines that Dr. Hahn gives in his book The Lamb's Supper really took on a new meaning for me, and now I will share with you what those are.  First, Revelation must be read with the sacramental imagination - the prophetic and sacramental, the eschatological and the Eucharistic, all converge.  Secondly, to understand prophecy, prophecy needs to be understood sacramentally.   Revelation indeed does speak of end-times events, and no one believes that stronger than Yours Truly!  However, Revelation is also more than just a book of prophecy, but rather a book of revealing, and a book that makes the presence of Jesus a centerpiece of its whole theme.  This is true throughout Scripture, and it is consistent with what is called a Christocentric hermeneutic of Scripture too.   That being established, I have a little guide about the "glory hidden in the routine" that we see in Revelation, chapter-by-chapter:

Revelation 1-3:

1.  Sunday Worship (1:10)
2. A High Priest (1:13)
3. Lampstands (candles) (1:12)
4. Priesthood of the faithful (1:6)
5. Penitence and General Confession (Rev. 2-3)
6. Eucharistic Host (2:17)
7. Lampstands again (Rev. 2-5)

Revelation 4:

1. Priesthood (presbuteroi) and vestments (4:4)
2. The Sanctus (4:8)
3. Antiphonal Chant (4:8-11)

Revelation 5: 

1. The Scripture Lessons (whole chapter)
2. The Agnus Dei (5:6)
3. The Gospel lesson (5:1)
4. Incense, intercession of saints and angels (5:8)
5. Antiphonal Chant (5:9-14)

Revelation 6:

1. Vestments (6:11)
2. Intercession of angels and saints (6:9-10)

Revelation 7:

1. Vestments (7:9)
2. Sign of the Cross (7:3)
3. Chant (7:10-12)
4. Universality (catholicity) (7:9)

Revelation 8:

1. Contemplation (8:1)
2. Altar (8:3-4)
3. Incense (8:3-5)
4. Intercession of angels and saints (8:3-4)
5. Readings (lessons) from Scripture (8:2-11)

Revelation 9-12:

1. Altar (11:1)
2. Priests (presbuteroi) (11:15)
3. The Sursum Corda (11:12)
4. Prominence of the Blessed Virgin Mary (12:1-6)
5. St. Michael the Archangel (12:7)

Revelation 13-17:

1. Blessed Virgin Mary (all four chapters throughout)
2. Priests (14:3)
3. Vestments (14:18, 15:6) and altar
4. Voluntary gift of celibacy (14:4)
5. Chalices (15:7, ch. 16)
6. Sign of the Cross (14:1)
7. Gloria in Excelsis (15:3-4)

Revelation 18-22:

1. Chant (18:1-8)
2. Vestments (19:13-14)
3. Alleluia (19:1,3,4,6)
4. Amen (19:4)
5. Marriage Supper of the Lamb (typology of Eucharist here) (19:9,17)
6. Priesthood of the faithful (20:6)
7. Sign of the Cross (22:4)
8. Amen (22:21)

Taken together, the above references from Revelation comprise a great majority of the Mass as celebrated, although there are also other Scriptural references that could be cited in addition to these in Revelation if time allowed.  Although much is given to details in the Mass, and indeed these details have an inter-connectivity with the catechetical task as well, it is important to understand that the Mass must also be taken in the grand scheme of its totality, just like Scripture.  Ironically too, just like the Mass Revelation is also divided into two sections - the first 11 chapters are focused on the Word and its proclamation, both in the case of Jesus and in the literal written word of pastoral missives to the various parishes in Asia that St. John was bishop of.  The second (chapters 12-22) is focused on the Marriage Supper imagery, which is a typology of the part of the Mass called "the Communion of the Faithful."   Again, the prophetic is fully realized in the sacramental, and as we read Revelation again may we understand it that way.  

On that note, we will pick up in the next lesson with more of the celestial imagery and the typologies in Revelation that also reflect the Old Testament.