Friday, November 1, 2013

Holy Days of Obligation and Liturgical Realism

O Lord grant me wisdom and Your holy guidance in the path I walk. Grant that I, Your unworthy servant, might speak well on Your behalf. In my speculation and contemplation grant that I might stand by Your side and not be confounded with error.

In this article I would like to speak on the topic of Holy Days of Obligation within the Catholic Church and in separate dioceses of the Catholic Church. What is the rationale behind Holy Days of Obligation besides those which reside on the Lord’s day? How do we move forward in our own lives as we strive to make our entire life a liturgy of praise and worship to God?

I draw from Fr. Cantalemesa’s Good Friday address in 2012 in which he makes the argument from the Fathers that the liturgy of the Body of Christ calls forth what it celebrates so as to make the event of faith occur ever more faithfully before the eyes of the Church. I am also drawing on the address of his Eminence Anastasios, Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania tothe World Council of Churches in December of 1998. The Crucifixion of Christ was met with scorn and the people looked upon Him with scorn, when in fact the truth of the entire event is joyous victory through tribulation, the turning of the keys to the doors of Heaven for mankind. It is only in the liturgy of the Church that we see the true fruit and reality of this liturgical event, that we are allowed to magnify the glory of God as is just and fitting to every act of His in history. This is the mystery of the amnesis, the recollection and re-enterring or re-presenting of God’s saving acts in history for the edification and salvation of souls in the current day.

It is this mystery of amnesis that defines the Body of Christ as it ventures out into the world through a journey within itself. The members of the Body of Christ must refer themselves constantly to Christ, the Head, to retain their identity. This is the singular identity of Christianity in that it lives in a way through the present by the re-calling of the past through the mystery of God’s grace. Christ’s Passion and Resurrection are actually made present through the Body of Christ’s joint liturgical action. This is the anchor of the spiritual life, the manner by which the Christian must call himself back unto the Timeless One, who present then, present now, and ever present guides a Christian to what he is to do in the now and to come. “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yea, I will remember Thy wonders of old" (Psalm 77:11)

But this amnesis is not a simple intellectual function as Anastasios writes, it is rather that calling back of our identity to its most concrete form of existence: the composition of our entire lives within the narrative and life of Christ. Our identity before God. This action is more than a mere reflection, but something which must subsume our entire identity, and this is done through the liturgy where the mind, the body, and the soul are made to participate in coming ever closer to God. Anastasios writes, “Thus, anamnesis becomes an incessant dynamic turning to the Triune God, the source of being; a grafting into Christ, a receiving of the Holy Spirit, an orientation that gives meaning to our life and to our march within space and time. Through the renewal of anamnesis the church maintains her vitality and truth."

Thus, is our vocation so stated is to become, perhaps we could say, existentially incarnate with Christ in the Church, to live and be as we ought to be. Thus quotes Fr. Cantalamesa regarding a 4th century bishop’s paschal address, “For every man, the beginning of life is when Christ was immolated for him. However, Christ is immolated for him at the moment he recognizes the grace and becomes conscious of the life procured for him by that immolation.” So too, then the life of the Church is renewed in every act by which she gathers together her members to call forth Christ’s grace through the celebration of His life and the life of all the Church.

This is the importance of All Saint’s Day, by which the Church gathers together to call to mind the work of God in humanity. To edify and call us back to the lives of all of the members of the Catholic Church, and the means by which we see their lives as echoes in history that our own voices might sing in harmony to their unending hymns of praise with God in Heaven. The Church through her liturgy calls to mind all those who follow Christ, bringing them forth in the fullness of charity that we might join them in life eternal. The Church makes this day a Holy Day of Obligation by virtue of its importance to our vocation as Christians. To call us back to our brothers and sisters long gone who persevered and lived the life of Christ. God’s grace shines through their lives, and the overabundance of His mercy pours forth from their hearts that we might receive a trickle of His love from those He has called forth to lead and guide His people.

And so, as our faith leads us onwards to new challenges in the world, both abroad, personally, and most importantly spiritually, let us remember that our lives are a form of amnesis. We are always doing this or that in memory of Him who has liberated us. The entire function of the Church’s liturgy is to integrate us into the timeless mystery of God’s acts in the salvation of His people. He calls it forward through the ministry of the priesthood (that we might participate in His priesthood) for the good and salvation of the entire Body of Christ. The Church literally brings forth the mysteries of the faith before our eyes in a manner by which we worship and praise in a manner which the angels saw forth these events in history. The angels saw what was coming in God’s plans and rejoiced, whilst mankind saw only through a lens darkly. Let us then as we move forward, worship and praise like the angels, that which is made present before us, God and all of the mysteries of His salvation. May Christ show us the way to Him by His own example, so that He who is that perfect sacrifice, made present and offered from the rising and setting of the sun from East to West, might redeem us in His love. May the holy saints pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death.

Addendum (November 2nd, 2013):
As to those who contest that, say, the true day of Christ's birth is unknown I say that the Body of Christ's celebration of this Holy Mystery of the faith makes it present by virtue of its divine mission from God. The true dates are almost irrelevant in that the Church memorializes the event and calls it to the present by the ministry of the priesthood (par excellence, i.e. the decision of the bishops and the pope). This is what I mean by a liturgical realism, the Church does not simply remember an event in salvation history, but calls it to the present so that the congregation can experience the sacred mystery in the present.

Addendum 2 (November 4th, 2013):
The Church is permitted in a sense to set Holy Days of Obligation according to a mandate of love. For example, a family often requires its members to eat together at a meal so that they might mutually care and know each other better, i.e. enjoy the benefit of each other's company. This is not to say that the family requires members to eat together all of the time, but according to an order of charity. All of the days of the liturgical calendar (which spans all days) are right and just to worship on, but there are particular days when the Body of Christ (the Church and family of God) has deemed it most beneficial for us to gather together upon. To ignore this call to love for God is ultimately seen as a mortal sin because it is the deliberate denial of gathering together to worship God together, just as it is a great insult to not eat dinner with one's family when the family urgently needs it or when the parents desire it very strongly. Each of these Holy Days of Obligation are days with which we come to re-call and re-live those events in salvation history which are most essential to our current salvation.

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