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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 9 - Extraordinary Censers and Lifting Our Hearts and Spirits

This teaching is in two parts - one spills over from Part 8, and the other continues with a new subject area altogether.  We are continuing on Dr. Hahn's book, The Lamb's Supper, and as mentioned in previous studies this is not meant to be a word-for-word teaching of the book, but rather the book provides a sort of structure for the teachings presented.  The substance of this teaching, if you are following along with the book, picks up on page 121, and we are going to talk a little about incense and related issues as they relate to St. John's vision in Revelation.

In the book of Revelation, as we have seen, St. John depicts the celestial scenes in earthly terms, and why is that?  First, it is how God revealed it to him - God revealed heavenly worship in Revelation in earthly terms so it would teach mankind how to worship.  Remember, Revelation is an "unveiling" (Greek apokalupsw, "unveiling") and is a term that is connected with the marital covenant relationship.  Therefore, as a book Revelation is a visionary reflection then that reveals a norm.   It also emphasizes Christians embracing a new covenant that includes rather than excludes the old.  That fact leads to a few parallels to discuss.

The first parallel is a sealing of the Covenant.  In the Old Covenant, the sealing was via the painful act of male circumcision, but in the Church it is a sealing through a much different and less invasive symbol, that of the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  A second parallel is the day set aside for worship - for Israel, it was the seventh-day Sabbath, but for the Church it is the Lord's Day, which is the first day of the week (Sunday).  The commemorative parallel is embodied for Israel in the Passover, but for the Church it is not just commemorative but a present reality of Christ's presence in the Holy Eucharist;  the former was annual and infrequent, while the latter is very frequent. The point of these parallels is that Jesus didn't come to do away with everything in the Old Covenant, but rather to complete it, and He does so through the establishment of the Church.  The Church intensifies and internationalizes, as well as internalizing, the worship of Israel.  The Incarnation of Christ also invested many of the trappings of the Old Covenant with greater capacities.  For instance, this Covenant was no longer required to be carried out at a central place on earth, as Christ is now enthroned in heaven functioning as our High Priest in a heavenly Holy of Holies.  That being the case, it begs the question - does this mean the Church doesn't have externals, as some of our Fundamentalist Protestant brethren would say?  Not at all!  As a matter of fact, we can not only have the externals, but heaven also, which is one dimension to the petition in the Lord's Prayer we pray that says "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  To examine this further, it must be remembered that God created the visible universe, and all that is in it we read in Genesis 1 in several places He said "it is good," and therefore we cannot eschew the externals and only have a cerebral faith - that fallacy was the foundation of an ancient heresy called gnosticism, and unfortunately we see some remnants of that even among Protestant Evangelicals, who often think that for some reason external expressions of worship are "evil" or something.   Does not God's creation testify of His glory also?  If so, then it is only natural that we as Christians worship with all our being, including all senses, and there is absolutely no harm in doing so.  Therefore, it is important to remember that the next time some Evangelical brother derides "smells and bells" in our worship, remind them that God uses the things of nature at times to convey supernatural truth.  

As we focus next on the "Heavenly Zion," it is important to remember that although the Church now has the fullness of the New Covenant, it doesn't mean that we advocate the heresy of revocationism (saying the Church somehow "replaced" natural Israel and revoked its covenant, a view also called "Replacement Theology").   The Jewish people still have a special place in God's plan, and many Catholic Fathers, saints, and visionaries over the centuries have affirmed that just prior to the end of days, a conversion of the Jewish people will take place.  This is even noted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it notes that "the 'full inclusion' of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of 'the full number of Gentiles,' will enable the people of God to achieve 'the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,' in which 'God may be all in all.' " (CCC, 674).  We also note here CCC 839, which says "To the Jews belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of the race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29)."   This means that anti-Semitism has no place in Christian worship, theology, or spirituality, because God has not totally forsaken the Jews and will give them the final opportunity to accept Christ as a nation as their promised Messiah.  Therefore, the focus of the "Heavenly Zion" is not to be interpreted as "replacement" of the Jews, but is rather something else, and here it is.  In Hebrews 12:21-24, we have what is an abstract of the whole book of Revelation essentially - it talks about the "Heavenly Zion" as being sealed by a new covenant, a covenant it states specifically in verse 24 as being one of blood.   The "blood covenant" it speaks of here is the Eucharist, and it is Christ's own Blood which is the focal point of the covenant, and our "road to Zion," so to speak.  The physical Zion was also a major part of this covenant, because it was in the physical Zion that the Eucharist was fully initiated and executed.  And, the physical Mount Zion is in a real sense the place of the heavenly Jerusalem, and serves as a symbol of our earthly point of contact with heaven.  And, as Christians, we are there with Jesus whenever we participate in the Mass.  And, that is the significance of the "Heavenly Zion!"

Now, we turn again to the marriage allegory in Revelation.  As mentioned, the Greek word for "revelation," apokalupsw, literally means an "unveiling," and it was a marital term related to the lifting of the veil of a virgin bride just before the consummation of the marriage in the conjugal act.  The "unveiling" imagery in Revelation means just that in a spiritual sense too - it is a union of heaven and earth as cosummated in the Holy Eucharist.   If fully realized and appreciated, the closeness of the union of heaven is such that it is akin to the fruitful and ecstatic union of the love of a husband and wife.  This imagery is also used in Ephesians 5 to describe the Church as the Bride of Christ, and Revelation is her "unveiling" in a real sense.  The climax of the apokalupsw therefore is the communion of the Church with Christ, the "Marriage Supper" of Revelation 19:9.   It is from that point that man rises from earth to worship in heaven, and therefore both heaven and earth participate together in a single act of loving worship as embodied in the Holy Eucharist.  

We now turn our attention to Revelation 11:12, and the phrase "come up hither."  For many Evangelical Protestants who espouse what is called a pretribulational eschatology, this verse is often given an association with I Thessalonians 4:16 as a justification for belief in an event known as the Rapture.  The word Rapture is from the Latin word rapeo, and it entails a "catching up" (this is also the root of the word rhapsody as well), and in essence every Christian does believe in a Rapture, but it is the timing that is the focus of theological debate.  However, that would be the focus of a whole other teaching, for although Revelation 11:12 is used to substantiate the Rapture teaching, there is another focus that Dr. Hahn wants to emphasize in his book, and it relates directly to the Mass itself.  In both our Anglican Liturgy as well as the Roman Catholic Mass, there is a prayer that is said normally at the beginning of the Communion of the Faithful called the Sursum Corda, and essentially it is this - the priest says "Lift up your hearts," to which the response is "We lift them up unto the Lord." 
The reason this is said is to remind us that something very special is about to happen, and we are admonished to open our hearts to it as St. John did in Revelation.  Therefore, "lifting up our hearts" is a worship in the spirit.  However, in order to do that, we must first seek recollection, which is one reason why in the Eastern liturgies the command "Wisdom, let us attend" (in Greek, sofia) is proclaimed before important aspects of the Liturgy, such as the Gospel Lesson and the Eucharistic prayer.  In other words, we cannot be occupied with the temporal when we should be focused on something greater - we are about to receive Jesus, and that alone is worthy of our attention.  This is why too in the Christian East one of the prayers said is called the Cherubimic Hymn, and it is as follows:

We who mystically represent the Cherubim, and sing to the life-giving Trinity the thrice-holy hymn, let us lay aside all earthly care; that we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly upborne by the Angelic Hosts.  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! (A Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians. Englewood, NJ:  Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, 1956. p. 77)

The Orthodox Cherubimic Hymn conveys the idea well that this discussion was emphasizing, and again it requires the giving our whole being, as a virgin bride submits herself to her husband on her wedding night, in order to fully participate in the mystical union of "heaven and earth" that is realized in the reception of the Holy Eucharist.  As the next study picks up, the discussion will turn to the relation of the Mass as a weapon of spiritual warfare against the enemies of our souls.