Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stark Mad and Senseless: Fire and the Holy Spirit

Picking up from my post from last week, On Sacrifice and Holy Fire, I want to point out that the parallel between that blessed Fire of God that descended upon and consumed Elijah's sacrifice and the Holy Spirit that descends upon the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar at Mass was quite apparent to others.  St. John Chrysostom (4th century) writes in Book III of On The Priesthood:
Picture Elijah and the vast multitude standing around him (Kings 18:36-39), and the sacrifice laid upon the altar of stones, and all the rest of the people hushed into a deep silence while the prophet alone offers up prayer: then the sudden rush of fire from Heaven upon the sacrifice:— these are marvelous things, charged with terror. Now then pass from this scene to the rites which are celebrated in the present day; they are not only marvellous to behold, but transcendent in terror. There stands the priest, not bringing down fire from Heaven, but the Holy Spirit: and he makes prolonged supplication, not that some flame sent down from on high may consume the offerings, but that grace descending on the sacrifice may thereby enlighten the souls of all, and render them more refulgent than silver purified by fire. Who can despise this most awful mystery, unless he is stark mad and senseless? Or do you not know that no human soul could have endured that fire in the sacrifice, but all would have been utterly consumed, had not the assistance of God's grace been great.
Chrysostom is here writing about the awesome calling of priesthood, but what he writes here is striking.  By grace, we are purified as by fire and made partakers in God's own divine life.  He writes it better than I can: Who can despise this most awesome mystery, unless he is stark mad and senseless?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Sacrifice and Holy Fire

I have always been impressed by the image of sacrifice shown to us in the book of Kings (18:36-39):
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O LORD, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back." Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God."
I can picture this scene in my mind very vividly.  After witnessing this scene in which Elijah calls God down upon the sacrificial offering, perhaps we might expect that God would greet us in a similar fashion every time we experience the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the event in which we encounter, face to face, the One Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. After all, God indeed descends upon our gifts in the divine fire of the Holy Spirit. And yet, what we see is not a display of magnificence, but rather a display of ultimate humility as God gives of Himself for us and shares with us the eternal Gift of Himself, inviting and making us by grace to be partakers of His own divine nature and life. And in the face of THAT, what else can we do but fall on our faces also, exclaiming, "The Lord, he is God!"

The Epiclesis and the West

Eastern Orthodox priest Fr. J. Guy Winfrey notes that there is something that just isn't right about the ancient Roman Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great as celebrated by the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Church:
One of the strangest things that exists in the WRV Liturgy of St. Gregory is an epiclesis following the words of Institution. It simply does not belong. When the WR was first authorized by the Holy Synod of Moscow, they required the addition of the epiclesis in the Mass of St. Peter (the old Latin Canon of the Roman Rite) so as not to scandalize Orthodox who were ignorant of the WR and its authenticity. They made clear that it was not done for any theological cause at all and that the old Roman Canon stood as completely valid as it was.
I am very happy that that Fr. Winfrey posted this because the question of why the Orthodox would have tinkered with something they acknowledged as ancient and venerable disturbed me.


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