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Music & Liturgy Reflections

Liturgy Reflection | April 27th, 2023

By April 27, 2023No Comments

I have lingered over this description of the synagogue because it exhibits already the essential and constant features of Christian places of worship. Once again we see clearly the essential unity of the two Testaments. Not surprisingly, in Semitic, non-Greek Christianity, the original form of church buildings generally retains the close connection of church with synagogue, a pattern of religious continuity and innovation. (I am thinking here of the Monophysite and Nestorian Churches of the Near East, which broke away from the Church of the Byzantine Empire during the christological debates of the fifth century.) Christian faith produced three innovations in the form of the synagogue as we have just sketched it. These give Christian liturgy its new and proper profile. First of all, the worshipper no longer looks toward Jerusalem. The destroyed Temple is no longer regarded as the place of God’s earthly presence. The Temple built of stone has ceased to express the hope of Christians; its curtain is torn forever. Christians look toward the east, the rising sun. This is not a case of Christians worshipping the sun but of the cosmos speaking of Christ. The song of the sun in Psalm 19(18) is interpreted as a song about Christ when it says: “[The sun] comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber.… Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them” (vv. 5f.). This psalm proceeds directly from applauding creation to praising the law. Christians interpret it in terms of Christ, who is the living Word, the eternal Logos, and thus the true light of history, who came forth in Bethlehem from the bridal chamber of the Virgin Mother and now pours out his light on all the world. The east supersedes the Jerusalem Temple as a symbol. Christ, represented by the sun, is the place of the Shekinah, the true throne of the living God. In the Incarnation, human nature truly becomes the throne and seat of God, who is thus forever bound to the earth and accessible to our prayers. In the early Church, prayer toward the east was regarded as an apostolic tradition. We cannot date exactly when this turn to the east, the diverting of the gaze from the Temple, took place, but it is certain that it goes back to the earliest times and was always regarded as an essential characteristic of Christian liturgy (and indeed of private prayer). This “orientation”2 of Christian prayer has several different meanings. Orientation is, first and foremost, a simple expression of looking to Christ as the meeting place between God and man. It expresses the basic christological form of our prayer.

(Ratzinger, J. (2000). The Spirit of the Liturgy (J. Saward, Trans.; pp. 67–69). Ignatius Press.)
  • The question of orientation with regard to prayer, and especially liturgical prayer is a fascinating and fundamental one.  How are we supposed to direct our prayer?  We certainly see an emphasis on interiority in the Gospels, “the Father seeks those who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.” (Jn. 4:24)  “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk. 17:21) “the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk. 18:13) “But you when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father, the One in secret.” (Mt. 6:6)
  • Orienting oneself towards the invisible, immaterial, omnipresent God, is certainly a spiritual act, but what does it mean to have one’s mind and heart spiritually oriented?  We are quite aware of what it feels like to be distracted, but it is quite difficult to focus during prayer – the difficulty of orientation.
  • Liturgically, the expression of an orientation that is physical, not just interior, is there to assist the internal/spiritual orientation.  It is also an important counterbalance to the interior life of prayer – God is not just invisible and immanent. In Christ, His presence has a physical expression, but is truly transcendent.