Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mystagogy Beta

Mystagogy, properly speaking, refers to the mysteries that Catholics celebrate in the 'Liturgy of the Eucharist' (this same holds, but with different terminology, for Orthodox Christians). During Lent, when there are catechumens present at the Divine Liturgy, they are allowed to participate only as far as the end of the Liturgy of the Word. At this point, they are dismissed and cannot yet participate in the 'mysteries' because they are not yet baptized or otherwise fully initiated. So in this series of reflections, I will meditate with you on the principal mysteries of the liturgy that are connected to the Eucharist, including the Sursum Corda (Lift up your hearts!), the Eucharistic Prayer and consecration of the sacred elements, the Lord's Prayer, the Kiss of Peace, and Communion, which of its nature implies what I will ultimately be driving at: The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ and Bride of Christ, of which we baptized are members and without which we have no access to these mysteries.

However, as I indicated yesterday, to appreciate fully the notion of mystery and the incredible dignity that flows from our access to the sacraments, we need to do some spade work to break up the dry and unimaginative worldview that we inherit from our present situation. We are not inclined to allow for things 'mysterious', or, when we do have such an inclination, it is often a highly personal affair and not infrequently confused (in my opinion as an artist) with singular states of mind or feeling. In other words, the tumult of our own passions tricks us into thinking that we are in the presence of the mysterious when in fact we are simply prey to unreason. The life-giving mysteries of God fulfill and perfect reason while utterly transcending it. It does not follow that anything not open to our reason, especially before reason has been purified and elevated, is divine. This is why catechumens first undergo instruction and testing in virtue before being allowed to gaze upon the mysteries.

However, let me return to the first problem, which I think is possibly more pernicious because more habitual: the disinclination toward the mysterious, the numinous, the Other. A veritable pot pourri of modern ideologies, Darwinsim, Freudianism, Marxism and positivism, produces in us a habit of trying to explain away things of the spirit as mere byproducts of material forces (Freud's role in this is a bit more complicated, but I will cover that elsewhere, if I have the time). Falling in love is explained by pheremones and biological drives to reproduce. Enjoyment in music is summed up by fanciful evolutionary postulates. These reductionist enterprises lead us to mistrust our experience, especially when it suggests something mysterious. The 'hermeneutics of suspicion' block our ability to read our own lives with the spiritual level in view.

If you will permit me a light-hearted reference to that Canadian poet-duo, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee, are we merely "A planet of playthings?" Do "we dance on the strings/of powers we cannot perceive?" If so, do we ultimately discover anything of significance through more and more science? That is, if we succeed in perceiving the powers that account for our behavior, does that leave us with anything worth living for: any freedom, any spirit? I suspect that there is a lingering uneasiness in many of us today that materialism might finally explain everything, and we reinforce this malaise by being quick to return our spiritual freedom in order to get a pass on the possibility that our freedom causes us to choose evil. Again, to quote Peart/Lee, "Blame is better to give than receive." (In the context of their song "Freewill" this quote is ironic...)

This dilemma is in many ways a recent one, and yet like most human phenomena it connects us to the dilemmas of past ages. Like the world of St.Paul, we live in a time of great upheavel and global connectness that tends to seek out a universalist 'Grand Unified Theory'. We also live in a time of unprecedented prosperity that makes seeking comfort into an easy way out of dealing with these questions. So in his letters (or his disciples' letters) to the Colossians and Ephesians, St. Paul is concerned to demonstrate precisely that our freedom in Christ dispels these powers by investing us with the spiritual power of the gospel.

Before ending today, let me emphasize that this is not a disgression. If we feel uneasy with talk of our lives being manipulated by hidden forces, that uneasiness is a good sign. It suggests that we have a more deeply rooted sense of the goodness of things and of our own freedom. We have maintained a sense of the wrongness that happens when we sense our freedom threatened by malice hidden within what otherwise strikes us as a good and benign creation. These intuitions are not provable by scientific hypothesis and experiment, but are rather reflections on precisely the experience that scientism would tend to exclude. Thus it is an elevation to the spiritual level, the level without which there can be no discussion of mysteries, of God or of eternal salvation.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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