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Music & Liturgy Reflections

Liturgy Reflection | May 5th, 2023

By May 5, 2023No Comments

The fact that we find Christ in the symbol of the rising sun is the indication of a Christology defined eschatologically. Praying toward the east means going to meet the coming Christ. The liturgy, turned toward the east, effects entry, so to speak, into the procession of history toward the future, the New Heaven and the New Earth, which we encounter in Christ. It is a prayer of hope, the prayer of the pilgrim as he walks in the direction shown us by the life, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ. Thus very early on, in parts of Christendom, the eastward direction for prayer was given added emphasis by a reference to the Cross. This may have come from linking Revelation 1:7 with Matthew 24:30. In the first of these, the Revelation of St. John, it says: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” Here the seer of the Apocalypse depends on John 19:37, where, at the end of the account of the Crucifixion, the mysterious text of the prophet Zechariah (12:10) is quoted, a text that suddenly acquires a wholly new meaning: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” Finally, in Matthew 24:30 we are given these words of the Lord: “[T]hen [on the Last Day] will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn [cf. Zech 12:10], and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven [cf. Dan 7:13] with power and great glory.” The sign of the Son of Man, of the Pierced One, is the Cross, which has now become the sign of victory of the Risen One. Thus the symbolism of the Cross merges with that of the east. Both are an expression of one and the same faith, in which the remembrance of the Pasch of Jesus makes it present and gives dynamism to the hope that goes out to meet the One who is to come. But, finally, this turning toward the east also signifies that cosmos and saving history belong together. The cosmos is praying with us. It, too, is waiting for redemption. It is precisely this cosmic dimension that is essential to Christian liturgy. It is never performed solely in the self-made world of man. It is always a cosmic liturgy. The theme of creation is embedded in Christian prayer. It loses its grandeur when it forgets this connection. That is why, wherever possible, we should definitely take up again the apostolic tradition of facing the east, both in the building of churches and in the celebration of the liturgy. We shall come back to this later, when we say something about the ordering of liturgical prayer.

(Ratzinger, J. (2000). The Spirit of the Liturgy (J. Saward, Trans.; pp. 69–70). Ignatius Press.)
  • “The cosmos is praying with us too…” – The grounding of our liturgical prayer is the context of creation itself.  The world, created and recreated through the Word of God will help us orient our prayer as we welcome it into our expression.  Rather than conceiving of church buildings as spaces that are artificially separate from the created world, they should be designed to support our connection with nature – perfected and beautiful with the harmony of cosmos.
  • The earth itself groans in expectation for the coming Christ – by turning ourselves toward the East, by turning ourselves with creation towards the rising sun, our liturgy receives this added support, and hope, in terms of that longing for the eschaton by which the whole physical universe is deeply moved.
  • The movement towards the end, towards the goal of our existence, is expressed in terms of time through history, as well as through the physical motion of the celestial spheres.  That movement, as it signifies the coming of Christ and the coming of the end, can assist the movement of our hearts when it is intentionally incorporated in the liturgy by the orientation of our buildings and of our prayer itself.