Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Trying to put it into words . . .

Our deep need for the kind of liturgical worship most generations of Christians would have regarded as "mainstream" is beautifully expressed by Alexander Schmeman in this passage, in which he quotes Western scholar, Louis Bouyer:

. . . what does the word holy - which in the words of the prophet Isaiah comprises the eternal content of the angelic glorification, in which we in "this hour" are preparing ourselves to take part - mean and express as a word for God? No discursive thought, no logic is capable of explaining this, yet meanwhile it is precisely this sensation of the holiness of God, this feeling for the holy that is the foundation and source of religion. And here, arriving at this moment, we perhaps more powerfully than ever comprehend that the services, while not explaining to us what the holiness of God is, reveal it to us, and that in this manifestation is the age-old essence of cult - those rites that are as fundamental and ancient as man himself and whose meaning is almost indistinguishable from the gestures, the blessings, lifting up of the hands, prostrations, to which it gave rise. For the cult also was born from necessity, from the thirst of man for partaking of the holy, which he sensed before he could "think" about it.

"It is as though the liturgy alone," writes Louis Bouyer, "knows the full meaning of this notion impenetrable to reason. In any event, the liturgy alone is able to transmit it and teach it ... That religious trembling, that interior vertigo before the Pure, the Inaccessible, the wholly Other, and at the same time that sense of an invisible presence, the attraction of a love so infinite and yet so personal that, having tasted it, we know only that it surpasses all that we still call love: only the liturgy can communicate the unique and incommunicable experience of all this ... In it, this experience somehow flows from every element - the words, the gestures, the lights, the perfume that fills the temple, as in the vision of Isaiah - coming from what is behind all this and yet not simply all this, but which communicates this, in the same way that the striking expression of a face permits us in an instant to discover a soul, without our knowing how."

Thus we have entered and stand now before the holy. We are sanctified by his presence, we are illumined by his light. And the trembling and the sweet feeling of the presence of God, the joy and peace, which has no equal on earth, is all expressed in the threefold, slow singing of the Trisagion: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal" - the heavenly hymn, which is sung on earth but testifies to the accomplished reconciliation of earth and heaven, to the fact that God revealed himself to men and that it is given to us to "share in his holiness" (Heb 12:10).

- from pp 62-63 of The Eucharist - Sacrament of the Kingdom (St Vladimir's Seminary Press, N.Y., 1988)


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