Friday, January 22, 2010

Stratford Caldecott on the boundaries of the Eucharist

Stratford Caldecott is the G.K. Chesterton Research Fellow at Benet's Hall, Oxford, and editor of Second Spring and Sophia Institute Press. In 1996 he co-ordinated an international conference of the Centre for Faith and Culture held at Westminster College, Oxford, on the subject of renewing the Church's liturgical prayer. The papers were subsequently published. The paragraphs below are part of Stratford Caldecott's summing up.

" . . . when the purpose of the sacraments comes to be seen in 'moralistic' terms - as a way of inculcating good behaviour and loyalty to the Church of Rules - people vote with their feet, and flock to the New Age movement, where they will gladly fast, or spend days on their knees reciting mantras, or even learn Sanskrit, for a chance of experiencing a numinous reality beyond the ordinary. In such circumstances, the use of Latin or the reintroduction of traditional devotions to the Blessed Sacrament can help to revive the feeling that what is going on in the Mass is not a banal celebration of the community's solidarity with itself, but the sacred enactment of a ritual with truly cosmic significance - even if the inner meaning of the words and actions does not reveal itself without the accompaniment of silent prayer:

'What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. . . . But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a "first-born son" and a citizen of heaven'. (Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-23)

"The auguries are therefore good for a widespread revival of Catholic spirituality in the next century [i.e. this century] - perhaps reinvigorated by the expansion of the Church in the Third World, and the development of innumerable new movements and communities from Taizé to Focolare, from Neocatechumenate to the charismatics. Religious consciousness in general is mystical poetic, sensitive to the many-layered meanings of symbolism, aware of the correspondences and analogies which bind the universe together. Catholicism and Orthodoxy provide a home for such a consciousness by being essentially sacramental. Even their ecclesial structures exist for the sake of the sacraments and the spiritual life these are designed to nourish. For this reason, any recovery of religious sensibility must in the long run work in favour of traditional sacramental and liturgical forms, even as it enriches and transforms them.

"For a 'sacramental Christian', the life of Christ is distributed through the Church and throughout the liturgical year. We relive the entire cycle of his self-giving life, death, resurrection and sending of the Spirit. Time and space, drained of meaning by sin and secularism, can he resanctified by Christ's presence, flowing through the sacramental organism of his 'Mystical Body'. By participating in the Mass and the Church's daily prayer, baptised believers are caught up in Christ's sacrifice, so that all we are and do in our daily lives is given to the Father for him to raise from the dead. That fact is what energises, heals and transforms us in the common life of the Christian community."

Stratford Caldecott, ed. Beyond the Prosaic: Renewing the Liturgical Movement (1998), T&T Clark Ltd, Edinburgh, pages 153-154


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