Book Review: Liturgical Theology (4/8)

Liturgical Theology by Simon Chan

Part One: Foundations – Chapter 3: the Shape of the Liturgy


The Church throughout history has followed one basic shape (or ordo): Word and Sacrament.

 #1 – the Relationship between Word and Sacrament in the Incarnation

Word & Sacrament are the visible ‘marks’ of the Church.

  • Examples from Acts 2:42, Justin’s 1st Apology 1.67

Word & Sacrament are meant to be inseparable

  • Together they uphold the eschatological tension between the “already” and “not yet”
    • The Word reminds us that there’ still work to be done in the world
    • The Eucharist reminds us that the kingdom is at hand
  • Why has Communion become so infrequent?
    • “Frequency would make it lose its meaning.”
      • “No one has yet complained that having three meals a day had eroded the significance of eating” (p65).
      • Communion is spiritual nourishment; skipping it is denying God’s grace & hospitality, and makes us anorexics.

      “Word & Sacrament are two ways of communicating the same gospel.”

      • This incorrectly portrays the nature of the sacrament.
      • “We come to know what the proclaimed Word is by actually entering into communion with the Real Presence effected by the Spirit in the Lord’s Supper. Word without sacrament remains incomplete, and sacrament without Word becomes an empty sign” (p66).

Word & Sacrament as participation and reflection

  • We are formed by participation in the community (through the sacraments) as well as by critical reflection (through the word).
  • This is like the dialogue between primary and secondary theology.
  • Paradox: “the moment we start to think about what we are doing, we find ourselves unable to perform the action effectively.  Good drivers do not think about driving when driving.  But they may need to think about driving when they want to acquire new skills.  Then they need to practice the new moves consciously until they become habitual.  The same can be said of good worshipers.  They are truly worshiping when ‘lost in wonder, love and praise,’ not when thinking about the most profound definition of praise” (p67).
  • Trying to build a spiritual life based on indoctrination and teaching misses the reality that habits constitute Christian living.

Word & Sacrament as revelation and response

  • The primary nature of revelation is God’s speaking his Word, which culminates in the Word becoming flesh (ministry of the Word –> ministry of the Eucharist)
  • The Word is always prior: without God’s speaking first, there would be no genuine response – hence Word first, Sacrament second.

Word & sacrament as preparation and fulfillment

  • Logical priority: the Word prepares the way for the Sacrament.
    • Analogy: the OT prophets prepared the way for the incarnation of the Word.
    • “Just as the Word’s becoming flesh constitutes the decisive moment of God’s revelation, the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ is the decisive moment of the liturgy of the Eucharist” (p69).
  • The Eucharist, in turn, points to the Kingdom yet to come.
  • Preaching, nevertheless, is sacramental – it’s God’s words in human words!
    • “If preaching does not have this Eucharistic orientation and focus, it no longer qualifies as the proclamation of the gospel.  This is what happens when worship is not shaped by the Eucharist” (p69).
    • “Just as, in Jesus Christ, God remains fully Himself in a man, without that man being in consequence dehumanized; and just as this duality of nature does not infringe the unity of the person: so, in preaching, the Word of God resounds in, under and with the words of its messenger, without those words ceasing in consequence to be completely human” (p70).


#2 – the Eucharistic Orientation of the Liturgy

Sacraments are “symbols” that “put together” (symballein) the human and divine, just like in the Incarnation.  The Eucharist is the chief sacrament because it concerns the person of Christ, while the others concern Christ’s works.

  • Baptism and the rest deal with individual members of the Church.
  • Eucharist deals with the Church as a whole.
  • “The Eucharist is tied to Christ himself in a way that no other action or event is.  Just as Jesus tied himself to certain actions of his people, so that when we feed the hungry, for example, we are said to be doing it to him, similarly in the Eucharist Jesus has covenanted to tie himself to certain actions involving bread and wine” (p71)!
  • All worship is essentially Eucharistic – actual communion with the Church and God.
    • Thus, catechumens (the non-baptized) have worship “done on them” but are not yet “sponsors” of worship.
    • Thus, Church discipline involves excommunication.

Communion is at the heart of the Eucharist.

  • This has often been displaced by speculation on the mystery of the Real Presence, resulting in individualistic piety rather than ecclesial communion.
  • Eucharistic communion is about our identity in Christ, life from and by the church.
  • The work of the Holy Spirit is what makes this possible.
    • “The epiclesis does not necessitate any particular theory of how ordinary bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.  The prayer’s assertion in its plea for the coming of the Spirit in the Eucharistic meal is that by means of ordinary bread and wine God has given us real spiritual bread through the action of the Spirit” (p73).
    • “The epiclesis is not so much a prayer for a miracle as an acknowledgment of a mystery…” (p73).

The Eucharist is a sacrifice (not to be confused with Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross).

  1. The Eucharist with a sacrifice of thanksgiving, through our offerings.
    1. We offer thanks for the blessings we receive, and tithes & firstfruits from them.
    2. We offer thanks for what Christ has done for us.
    3. The Eucharist is a sacrifice from what we have to care for the poor.
      1. Hebrews 13:15-16 refers to doing good & sharing with others as a sacrifice!
      2. The disciples’ interpretation of Jesus’ words to Judas in John 13:27-29 also suggests that they expected this sort of sacrifice to be made.
      3. In the Eucharist, the Church offers up itself as a holy and living sacrifice.
        1. This is the same language as Paul’s in Romans 15:16.
        2. The challenge here is carrying this out in way that avoids twin pitfalls.
          i.      Clericalism: putting too much emphasis on the priestly office.
          ii.      Division: failure to exercise spiritual gifts in a Eucharistic context.


#3 – the Eschatological Orientation of the Liturgy

The Word tells us what’s still necessary to do; the Eucharist shows us what’s already possible.

  • Early Word & Sacrament celebrations were based upon Jewish synagogue worship (synaxis) and the chaburah meal, illustrating the fulfillment of the promises to Israel.
  • Similarly, the Eucharist highlights the eternal dimension of the liturgy – eucharistic worship is an anaphora, the ascension of the Church into heaven.
  • The Eucharist is also celebrated in time, connecting worship to natural cycles in this world.
    • “The special character of this age is that while the new is already here, the old has not been completely done away with.  In other words, the church age, as we normally call it, is characterized by eternity-in-time, or, in more familiar language, the eschatological tension between the ‘already and not yet’” (p79).
    • On the Daily Office: “We discover juxtapositions or sets of dialectic in the very structure of the liturgy.  There is, first, the dialectic between the introduction and the conclusion: the introduction moves us from life lived in the world to liturgical time that is separated from the world, while the conclusion drives us back into the world.  In psalmody and intercessions we encounter another dialectic, that of future fulfillment and present need.  The psalms, ‘an idealized and comprehensive recitation of the relationship between God and God’s people… [capture] an eschatological moment in which we liturgically experience the fullness of God’s love and fidelity.’  But the intercessions ‘bring us back to a soteriological ‘need’ in which we liturgically embrace the brokenness and interdependence of humankind” (p80).
    • This also gives a real seriousness to our earthly lives, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.
    • On the Sunday Liturgy: “By calling it the eighth day, the Christians understood the resurrection event as breaking through the earthly limitation of the weekly cycle” (p81).
    • On Annual Feasts: “A feast was not a simple ‘break’ in the otherwise meaningless and hard life of work, but a justification of that work…  And… whether we like it or not, Christianity accepted and made its own the whole man and all his needs.  But… Christians accepted the feast not only by giving it a new meaning, by transforming its ‘content,’ but by taking it… through dead and resurrection” (p81).
  • The eschatological orientation of Eucharistic worship is better celebrated with everyone facing the same way, rather than face-to-face in a closed circle, because in the former we’re watching together for the coming Christ, whereas in the latter our attention is turned inward.
  • Our existence between Pentecost and Parousia is perhaps impossible to realize by any other means except by doing the liturgy.
  • The world is conscious of time (chronos) but through the liturgy we focus on God’s time (kairos).


#4 – the Missiological Orientation of the Liturgy

The liturgy concretely expresses the relationship between the Church, the world, and the coming Kingdom.

  • The Church gathers together on a specific day (according to the world) to break bread (a sign of the Kingdom).
  • Thus, eschatology sustains the mission of the Church…
    • … lest we end up totally immersed in this world.
    • … lest we utterly divorce ourselves from the world.
  • In the liturgy, the Church straddles the Kingdom and the present world.
    • It’s like a heart’s diastole beat (toward the world) and systole beat (toward God).
    • Like two of its popular names: ‘Eucharist’ connotes an inward gathering and ‘Mass’ refers to the sending out into the world.
    • The Lord’s Supper is the center from which we go out, and to which we return.
    • The Mount of Transfiguration is a biblical paradigm for this – movement of separation from the world and a return to it.
    • “It is from there that the mission of the church begins” (p83).
  • The Eucharist, specifically, is not missionary, but its exclusive nature (only served for members of the Church) is for the life of the world.  “The Church in its separation from ‘this world’ on its journey to heaven remembers the world, remembers all men, remembers the whole of creation, [and] takes it in love to God.  The Eucharist is the sacrament of cosmic remembrance: it is indeed a restoration of love as the very life of the world” (p84).
    • The Church gives hope to the world precisely by being separated from it.
    • The Church is the real presence of Christ and his Kingdom in and on behalf of the world, and also the real presence of the world before and on behalf of God!
    • The world, then, “subsists” in the Church – the goal of creation is to become Church.  “The church does most for the world when it is least like the world, whereas the church that tries very hard to be relevant to the world spells doom for itself and for the world” (p84).

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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1 Response to Book Review: Liturgical Theology (4/8)

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