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Music & Liturgy Reflections

Liturgy Reflection | May 11th, 2023

By May 11, 2023No Comments

The second innovation in regard to the synagogue is as follows. A new element has appeared that could not exist in the synagogue. At the east wall, or in the apse, there now stands an altar on which the Eucharistic Sacrifice is celebrated. As we saw, the Eucharist is an entry into the liturgy of heaven; by it we become contemporaries with Jesus Christ’s own act of worship, into which, through his Body, he takes up worldly time and straightway leads it beyond itself, snatching it out of its own sphere and enfolding it into the communion of eternal love. Thus the altar signifies the entry of him who is the Orient into the assembled community and the going out of the community from the prison of this world through the curtain now torn open, a participation in the Pasch, the “passing over” from the world to God, which Christ has opened up. It is clear that the altar in the apse both looks toward the Oriens and forms part of it. In the synagogue the worshippers looked beyond the “Ark of the Covenant”, the shrine of the Word, toward Jerusalem. Now, with the Christian altar, comes a new focal point. Let us say it again: on the altar, what the Temple had in the past foreshadowed is now present in a new way. Yes, it enables us to become the contemporaries of the Sacrifice of the Logos. Thus it brings heaven into the community assembled on earth, or rather it takes that community beyond itself into the communion of saints of all times and places. We might put it this way: the altar is the place where heaven is opened up. It does not close off the church, but opens it up—and leads it into the eternal liturgy. We shall have more to say about the practical consequences of the significance of the Christian altar, because the question of the correct position for the altar is at the center of the postconciliar debate.

(Ratzinger, J. (2000). The Spirit of the Liturgy (J. Saward, Trans.; pp. 70–71). Ignatius Press.)
  • This is an interesting meditation on the Altar as the “portal” between heaven and earth.  Elsewhere in the Scriptures, when Jesus calls himself the “door,” for example, we understand that this is one of the principal functions of the incarnation: there is no longer a separation between God and man.  The only thing that separates us in our life from God is sin.  To the extent we are united with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, receiving His forgiveness, we are in communion with God and live that new life.
  • So, the Altar is a symbol of the Incarnation, focusing on how the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice opens heaven to believers.  This is the great mediation between God and Man: passing through the Altar – the Cross – grants access to heaven.  The fruit of this sacrifice is redemption, and that redemption is given to us as food and drink, so that our whole lives are pulled, drawn into heaven.
  • The high altar, touching the east wall of the Church, indicates symbolically that this is as close to heaven as we can come on earth – and on the altar, where the sacrifice of Christ is made present, the door to eternity is opened, and the food of eternal life is distributed.  We are like those hungry crowds who have followed Jesus to the wilderness where there is nothing to eat.  Jesus commands his Apostles, “Give them something yourselves,” after he gives thanks and blesses the meager supply of rations.  At Mass, as the priest offers the sacrifice, finally the only bread that can truly satisfy the human heart is given by God Himself.  The miracle of multiplication gives way to the mystery of transubstantiation.  The satisfaction of bodily hunger to the satisfaction of spiritual hunger.