Friday, July 11, 2014

A Sacrifice of Praise and Thanksgiving: The Anaphora

“Through Him let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Hebrews 13:15). The offerings of bread and wine are now “lifted up” from the earthly place to the divine and holy altar of God in heaven, thereby uniting the two. In this action of lifting up, the whole creation finds its way to God who pours out on it the same love He has for His Son. Salvation is thus made present and real. The Church also becomes real. She is seen to be what she really is, “the Bride of Christ,” pure and undefiled.
The anaphora or lifting-up remembers and expresses in its reality a double movement, one of descent and one of ascent. In the first movement, God descends upon man and creation to “lift them up” and make them sharers in His divine life. This movement is called “a mercy of peace”. The mercy of God is the gift of God, His self-revelation and self-giving. The second movement is a movement of ascent. Man is taken up to God to offer Him praise and thanks. This movement of ascent is called “sacrifice of praise.”
Thanks and praise: this is the answer of man to the gift of God, his awareness and recognition of God’s goodness. The tremendous mystery of the power, condescension and infinite love of God in “descending” and “lifting up” is enacted on the altar in these two successive and dynamic movements by which creation and man are deified. This mystery will culminate in the final and decisive union of the Creator with His creature in Holy Communion. Heaven and earth listen! God is pouring Himself down upon us! We adore in a great hush. We plunge into the abyss of concentration and the rapture of a mystic vision. We shut out all noises. We collect ourselves and all our faculties to breathe praise and adore. The voices are hushed, and chanting ceases. The shortness of answers gives time to listen only. All attention is centered on the marvelous happening. At this point the amazement of the priest seeks and strains to make others hear what he hears. He hears the remote and strange sound of angels singing: “Holy! Holy! Holy!” He sees the Holy Trinity at work, pouring down on him all the goodness and love that Infinity itself contains. He becomes a whirl of admiration and praise:

It is truly fitting and right and worthy of the immensity of Your holiness that we praise You, sing to You, bless You, adore You, give thanks to You, glorify You who alone are truly God; How could anyone tell Your might and sing the praises You deserve, or describe all Your marvels in all places and times? O Master of all, You are eternal invisible, beyond understanding: beyond description the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the great God and Savior, the Object of our hope…
[Jesus Christ] is the image of Your goodness, the Seal who bears Your perfect likeness, revealing You, His Father, through Himself He is the living Word, the true God, the Wisdom, the Life, the Sanctification, the true Light …By Him the Holy Spirit was made manifest, the Spirit of truth, the Gift of adoption, the foretaste of the future inheritance, the First-fruit of eternal good, the life-giving Power, the Fountain of sanctification. Empowered by Him, every rational and intelligent creature sings eternally to Your glory, for all are Your servants. It is You the angels archangels, thrones, dominions praise and glorify … they cry one to the other with tireless voices and perpetual praise. (Liturgy of St. Basil)

The breadth of perspective of the true meaning of God’s intention and of His relation to creation is present here. The Father planned from all eternity and made this world and man and placed them in space and time. The Son embodied them in His own divine person in the incarnation and saved them by His offering or sacrifice. The Holy Spirit renews this salvation and divinization by His descent at the epiclesis, just as He did by His descent at Pentecost. All these divine historical actions become actual and alive before our very eyes. The world of faith takes shape, and the eternal mystery of God becomes reality in time. Once again Christians share in the life of angels and declare that we are sharing in their function and playing their role. We recognize that we are not only associates of angels, but much more: we take their place on earth as ministers before the altar:

“We thank You for this liturgy which You are pleased to accept from our hands, even though there stand before You thousands of angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, six-winged and many-eyed singing, proclaiming, shouting the hymn of victory and saying: Holy! Holy! Holy Lord of hosts! Heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest!”

As we surge on the wings of our dignity, we join in the vision of Isaiah to sing the hymn of heaven, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” The world to come is already here present in the “Fullness of Your glory.” Christians reach the apex of their glory when they go beyond the horizon of the prophets and visionaries to look at the Trinity and melt into the divine Persons with an ineffable movement of joy.
We address ourselves first to the Father: “Holy are You and all-holy You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. Holy are You and all-holy and magnificent is Your glory!  You so loved Your world as to give it Your Son, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
Then we recall the memory of the Son: “When He had come and fulfilled all that was appointed Him to do for our sake, on the night He was delivered up or rather, delivered Himself up for the life of the world He took bread, and gave it to His holy disciples and apostles and said, Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you for the remission of sins.’” He took the cup of wine and said,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.”
After having heard the voice of the Lord declaring the bread to be His body and the wine to be His blood, the Christian never asks “how.” It is simply the body and blood, the real and total Christ, just as when He walked around the lake and as He is now in His resurrection. The Christian has the mystical knowledge and a paradoxical grasp of the inconceivable. In an intuitive, primordial and simple approach, he knows beyond the process of the intellect. The Fathers say that the Christian “hopes for what exists already” and remembers what is to come in the immediate, because he drinks at the Source of the living water.
“Remembering, therefore, this precept of salvation [ Do this in anamnesis remembrance of me."]
and everything that was done for our sake: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day,
the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand [of the Father], the second and glorious coming again, ”
This is the anamnesis, the memorial, which makes present and manifest here and now the divine events of the life of Christ. The Christian remembrance or memorial is not simply a recalling to mind of an event which existed once upon a time. Recalling the mysteries or events of the life of Christ who is risen, alive, always present, always active, makes them present with the same effectiveness and strength as when they were enacted by Christ. The ministers around the altar and the assembly of the baptized are now all wrapped in adoration. The deacon crosses his hands, the right stretching over the left to take up the diskos, which lays on the left, the left hand stretching under the right to take up the chalice which is at the right. He elevates both in gesture towards the east, then towards the west, the north and the south, thus planting Christ in the four corners of the universe, or rather gathering the universe in these four movements to offer it in Christ and with Christ to the Father, as the priest says: “We offer You Your own from what is Your own, in all and for the sake of all.”
What a simplicity in the grandeur and nobility of this gesture! The whole history of salvation, the whole revelation of God’s love, the whole meaning of Christianity is here made manifest. The whole value and the very meaning of life is given to the Father. The Father recognizes the whole creation in His Son and pours upon the whole universe the same love He has for His Son. “In this offering,” says Cyril of Jerusalem, “we bring to the presence of God the Father heaven, earth, oceans, sun, moon and the entire creation ” and we break out in praise and thanks: “We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, O our God.”
Until now, we have marveled at the works of God and praised Him for His deeds of salvation. The Father “out of nothing brought us into being, and when we had fallen He raised us up again” (anaphora). The Son declared matter to be His body and blood, and suffered and died and rose to make us one with Him. Now we fall on our knees, begging for the descent of the Holy Spirit: “We ask and pray and entreat: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered.” It is another awesome and most astounding action of God for us. The Holy Spirit comes to fill us and to fill the oblations of bread and wine with His own eternal being and presence by acting personally and creatively. Bread and wine and the baptized all receive Him and are possessed by Him. The wonderful event of Pentecost is now renewed and is indeed most real! “Our God, who loves mankind, having received these gifts on His holy altar, sends down upon us His divine grace and the Holy Spirit “ Now, anyone partaking of this Bread and Wine will receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit who is “cleansing of the soul, remission of sins.” The body and blood of Christ will also confer the “communion,” the fellowship of oneness with the Holy Spirit Himself, who becomes also “Fullness of the kingdom of heaven, intimate confidence of the Father,” who sees only His Son present and who will not judge juridically or condemn, but save. The Spirit of God “becomes closer to me than my own breath” (Gregory of Nazianzus) and “more intimate than my own intimacy” (Augustine). By this descent of the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine, anyone eating the body or drinking the blood of Christ receives the divine uncreated energies in all their majesty and holiness. Sins are forgiven and life is given. The Trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit takes hold of us, divinizing us. Theosis is realized! Ministers at the altar and all the assembly of worshippers fall down on their faces, saying: “Amen! Amen! Amen!”

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