Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Eucharist is “surrounded by temporal ripples through which past and future things are refracted” PART 1

Robert Sokolowski is the Elizabeth Breckenridge Caldwell Professor of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He has been a visiting professor at many other schools, and has authored numerous books. I have recently gained a great deal from his 1994 book, Eucharistic Presence: A Study in the Theology of Disclosure, and was particularly moved by this passage (pages 104-108):


. . . we in the Eucharist anticipate our own death as to be joined to the death of Jesus. Our death becomes part of the divine mystery, part of the great saving action of God, because it can be identified with the sacrificial death of Christ. Even if our death is not to be especially heroic or memorable in the eyes of the world, it can become sanctified through the death of Jesus, through the action that be performed before the Father when he let himself be put to death. The celebrations of the Eucharist at which we assist are like so many rehearsals of the one transition, the one exodus that is reserved for each of us, the one offering in which we no longer sacramentally but bodily participate in the death of the Lord. As Jesus acted toward the Father in his death, so we are enabled to make our death an act before God, an act in which life is changed, not taken away. It is an act in which we respond to rather than initiate what is to happen, but through the death of Jesus we come to know that this apparent dissolution is really a word spoken to us by God, and spoken to each of us only once. Our death, which is the horizon marking off the edge of our life, becomes a particular image of the final restoration of all things in Christ, an image of the death of things that is now to be understood as a transition into the kingdom of God. The Eucharist thus presents a double future to each of us as we participate in it: it presents our own entrance into the death and Resurrection of Jesus, and it presents the more remote setting in which everything will be restored in the kingdom of God. 

These enchainments of past and future are all woven into the Eucharist we celebrate in the present. The celebration of the Eucharist is surrounded by temporal ripples through which past and future things are refracted. The Eucharist does not give us merely images or signs of what is past and future; it presents these things as past and as future to us now. 

The Eucharist involves memory and anticipation, but it does not involve them as mere psychological states; rather, it reenacts and preenacts things God has done and will do. In this respect, the Eucharist resembles our ordinary memories and anticipations. When we remember and anticipate natural things in our natural representations, we are not locked into our psychological states: if I anticipate meeting someone, I anticipate the meeting itself, not an idea of the meeting; if I remember parting from someone, I remember the separation itself, not an image of it. In the case of the Eucharist, the public action of the liturgy does not just put us in mind of past and future events - it reenacts an event - the sacrificial death and Resurrection of Christ - that truly happens again in a sacramental way, and it gives us a foretaste and promise of the Paschal feast of heaven. 

The implicatures of present, past, and future that occur in the Eucharist resemble the blends of time that occur in all our natural activity and being. We are and we act always "now," but our now is always the recapitulation of a past and the anticipation of a future. In our conscious life we are aware of this constant emergence of the present out of the past and its steady transformation into the future; we are aware of it because we constantly displace ourselves into the past and into the future through remembrance and anticipation. Although we are aware of this emergence and this transformation, the emergence and transformation go on quite independently of our awareness. The transitions of time go on whether we pay attention to them or not; everything in the world is subject to the succession of time. Even as we live a biological life and take part in the processes of matter, we recapitulate the past and are determined into the future. The time of the world, the temporal succession of the world, provides a kind of raw material for the Eucharist. The Eucharist draws on time and could not be without it. It draws on the world's temporal existence as it reenacts one of the events that once took place in the world, as it reenacts the death of Jesus on Calvary.

(The second part of this wonderful passage will be posted tomorrow)


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