|A not widely appreciated fact about the new Catechism of the Catholic Church is that several sections on the Catechism reflect the input of Eastern Catholic theologians. One such contributor was Fr. Jean Corbon, a Melkite Catholic priest and author of the book "The Wellspring of Worship."||
The Holy Spirit and the Church in the Liturgy
By Cassian Folsom
The liturgy is essentially Trinitarian in nature, and must be viewed in the context of the entire economy of salvation
The liturgical section of the new Catechism (CCC 1066-1209) has a much different feel to it than the sacramental section (CCC 1210-1690). Why? Could it be because the two sections use different sources? The basic source for the sacramental section is the Roman Catechism of St. Pius V, (1) and therefore has an obviously western ethos. The basic source for the liturgical section, on the other hand, is Fr. Jean Corbon and his book, The Wellspring of Worship; (2) this section breathes a different air than many of us are accustomed to because much of its vocabulary comes from "the other lung" of the Catholic Church, that is, the eastern lung. This article will describe the influence of Fr. Corbon on the liturgical section of the new Catechism, especially as exemplified in paragraphs 1091-1109: the Holy Spirit and the Church in the liturgy.
The influence of Fr. Jean Corbon
Who is Fr. Corbon, and how did he come to be involved with the new Catechism? Born in Paris in 1924, Fr. Corbon is a priest of the Greek-Catholic eparchy of Beirut. He teaches Liturgy and Ecumenism at the University of the Holy Spirit in Kalik, and the University of St. Joseph in Beirut. In addition, he is the secretary of the commission for ecumenical relations of the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon. (3)
Cardinal Ratzinger tells the story of how Fr. Corbon came to be associated with the Catechism:
After having resolved to add a distinct fourth part on prayer to the first three, we looked for a representative of Eastern theology. Since it was not possible to secure a bishop as author, we settled upon Jean Corbon, who wrote the beautiful concluding text on prayer while in beleaguered Beirut, frequently in the midst of dramatic situations, taking shelter in his basement in order to continue working during the bombardments. (4)
Father Corbon, then, was responsible for the fourth part on prayer, not the second part on liturgy and sacraments. The editorial team for the liturgical-sacramental section was made up of Bishop Medina of Chile and Bishop Karlic of Argentina. (5) However, the sub-section entitled The Liturgy: Work of the Holy Trinity (CCC 1077-1112) bears the unmistakable mark of Fr. Corbon, and reflects the single most important insight of his book, The Wellspring of Worship: namely, that the liturgy is essentially Trinitarian in nature.
The action of the Father as the source and goal of the liturgy (CCC 1077-1083) is commonly understood, and the work of the Son in the liturgy (CCC 1084-1090) is even more familiar (which is not to say that we can ever plumb the depths of these mysteries, and Fr. Corbon can help us to do that!). The action of the Holy Spirit, however, is more hidden, more mysterious, and for that reason less known, and less frequently the object of theological reflection.
For that reason the section on the work of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy (CCC 1091-1109) is remarkable for bringing to light an aspect of the Churchís pneumatological tradition, formerly hidden from a large majority of Catholics. Even from the very practical point of view of length, this section is longer and more fully developed than the sections on the Father and the Son, precisely because this element of the liturgy has been largely overlooked by the Western Church in the past. Here the hand of Fr. Corbon is clearly in evidence.
The Holy Spirit and the Church in the liturgy (CCC 1091-1109)
Chapter Eight of Fr. Corbonís book, The Wellspring of Worship, is entitled "The Holy Spirit and the Church in the Liturgy": clearly the inspiration for both the title and the content of this section of the Catechism. In his book, Fr. Corbon explains that:
In the body of Christ and flowing forth from it, the Holy Spirit is as it were the impatient desire of the Fatherís glory that human beings should live. In this body which has overcome the limitations of death the Spirit acts henceforth with power. And when he elicits our response to his multiform energy, the Spirit and the Church become one in an astounding "synergy": the liturgy (Corbon, pp. 65-66).
Compare the text of Fr. Corbon with paragraph 1091 of the Catechism:
The desire and work of the Spirit in the heart of the Church is that we may live from the life of the risen Christ. When the Spirit encounters in us the response of faith which he has aroused in us, he brings about genuine cooperation. Through it, the liturgy becomes the common work of the Holy Spirit and the Church. [emphasis mine]
The words in italics, "cooperation" and "common work" are English equivalents for the Greek word "synergeia," which Fr. Corbon, in a special glossary, defines as "combined energy" or "joint activity." It is a complex term with a rich history; here it refers to the union of the energy of the Holy Spirit with human energy, or in other words, the union of the divine Yes and the human Yes. The energy of the Holy Spirit together with the energy of the Church equals synergy.
The word synergy itself, however, is not used in the Catechism. Why not? Perhaps because the word has a controverted history, (6) perhaps because it was too technical or because it would be unfamiliar to the reader. In any case, when the Catechism uses such expressions as "cooperation" or "common work," the notion of synergy is clearly intended. Fr. Corbon makes quite clear what he intends by this word, and why he prefers the Greek word to an anglicized equivalent:
Readers will understand my preferring [synergy] to "cooperation" (an equivalent term derived from Latin), since the connotations of the latter are quite different in the modern languages. The "synergy" of the Holy Spirit and the Church is a key idea for an understanding of the mystery of the liturgy. It has its foundation in Christ himself. Being true God and true man, Jesus has two wills (contrary to the Monothelite heresy) and two operations or "energies" (contrary to the Monoenergist heresy), which de facto are in unison but freely so and without confusion. Thus Christian sanctity is wholly located in the divinization of our nature in Christ . . . through the union of our wills with that of the Father in Christ and through the "synergy" of the baptized and the Holy Spirit in every vital action. This union of wills is love in operation . . . (Corbon, p. l92, n. 1). (7)
It is important to note that Fr. Corbon, in his book, explains a triple energy of the Holy Spirit (Corbon, pp. 67-73): the first, to manifest Christ to us (cf. CCC 1099, the Holy Spirit recalls the mystery of Christ), i.e. anamnetic synergy; the second, to transform us into the glorious body of the Lord (cf. CCC 1104, the Holy Spirit makes present the mystery of Christ), i.e. epicletic synergy; the third, to insert us into the communion of Christ with the Father (cf. CCC 1108, the communion of the Holy Spirit), i.e. the synergy of communion. In comparing Fr. Corbon with the Catechism, the only difference is that the Catechism has a preparatory stage: the Holy Spirit prepares for the reception of Christ (cf. CCC 1093), i.e. preparatory synergy. Let us examine each of these four aspects in turn.
The Holy Spirit prepares for the reception of Christ. In particular, the Holy Spirit readies the heart of the believer to listen to the Word of God, to understand the Scriptures as a unified whole whose content is the person of Christ. This requires a spiritual or typological interpretation of the Scriptures, for hidden under the letter of the Old Testament are various figures or types which point to their fulfillment in the mystery of Christ (cf. CCC 1094; cf. also CCC 115-119 on the senses of Scripture).
It is the Holy Spirit who "fulfills what was prefigured in the Old Covenant" (CCC 1093). This is very important, since it reminds us once again of the unity of the Scriptures, and the harmony of the two Testaments. In fact, the New Testament interprets the Old in this way (cf. the examples given in CCC 1094), as do the Fathers of the Church. St. Augustineís adage is very timely in this regard: Novum in Vetere latet, et in Novo Vetus patet (8) (the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New; cf. CCC 129). St. Augustine says something similar in another place: ". . . all divine Scripture that was written before [Christ] was written to foretell the coming of the Lord, and [. . .] whatever has since been committed to writing and established by divine authority tells of Christ and counsels love . . . ." (9). This is a splendid recovery of the tradition, so that we might once again read the Bible with the mind of the Church and in the spirit of the liturgy.
This spiritual (i.e., Christological) understanding of the Scriptures is possible because in the liturgy, Christ is living and active, present here and now, by the power of the Holy Spirit. As Fr. Corbon says, we become contemporary with the hour of Jesus (Corbon, p. 66), and enter into the eternal present of God, a present which includes the entire sweep of his saving deeds. This is what is meant by the "today" (hodie) of the liturgy (cf. CCC 1095). In fact, "every liturgical action, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, is an encounter between Christ and the Church" (CCC 1097).
But this encounter requires preparation; the field of the heart must be plowed with the cross of Christ and moistened with the dew of the Holy Spirit. This preparation of hearts "is the joint work (synergy) of the Holy Spirit and the assembly, especially of its ministers" (CCC 1098). The divine initiative can always be presumed, but the human response cannot. "The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Fatherís will" (CCC 1098). If the divine initiative is met with such faith, conversion and obedience, then the combined work of the Holy Spirit and the Church produces readiness: an alert and generous receptivity to the action of the Holy Trinity in the liturgy.
The Holy Spirit recalls the mystery of Christ; in fact, "[t]he Holy Spirit is the Churchís living memory" (CCC 1099). This we know very well, since, according to the word of the Lord:
. . . the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:26, cited in CCC 1099).
Once the ground of the heart has been prepared, the Christian is ready to remember: to remember not only with his mind, but with his heart. Fr. Corbon makes this quite clear: "The energy of the Holy Spirit does not operate by giving us ideas about Christ but by purifying our hearts for him" (Corbon, p. 66). Now when the anamnetic energy of the Holy Spirit encounters the ready heart of the faithful, prepared to remember the mirabilia Dei, then "the Spirit and the Church cooperate (synergy) to manifest Christ and his work of salvation in the liturgy" (CCC 1099).
The Holy Spirit recalls the meaning of the Scriptures (CCC 1100), gives life to the Word of God (CCC 1100), gives to the listeners a spiritual understanding of the reading (CCC 1101), elicits the response of faith (CCC 1102) and inspires thanksgiving and praise (CCC 1103). It is important to note that the Holy Spirit gives life to the Word of God not simply as a written Word, but as the living Word, who is the person of Christ: "the Spirit puts both the faithful and the ministers into a living relationship with Christ" (CCC 1101). The response of faith is expressed as "consent and commitment" (CCC 1102): an idea which has been described with all the power of Gospel simplicity by Adrienne von Speyr as "Marian consent,"(10) i.e. the complete and total "Yes" of Mary to the will of God as communicated by the angel.
The dynamic of "anamnetic synergy" can perhaps be grasped more readily by means of an example. As a young man, St. Anthony of the Desert once entered into a church by chance at the moment when the priest was reading the Gospel, proclaiming the words: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matt. 19:21). These words cut to the quick of Anthonyís heart, and there and then, he became a monk.(11)
The energies of the Holy Spirit and the Church join together to rouse the heart of the believer into a state of readiness. Then the same combined energies recall the memory of the living Word, which falls into the heart like seed into fertile ground, producing the response of Gospel consent.
The Holy Spirit makes present the mystery of Christ. That is, to quote Fr. Corbon, "by [this] operation of his energy the Holy Spirit accomplishes in us the passage of Christ from the present world to the life of the Father" (Corbon, p. 71). The Holy Spirit not only transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, (12) but also transforms those who receive the Eucharist into what they have received (13) (cf. CCC 1105).
The Catechism explains how the Holy Spirit makes this mystery of Christ present: not by repeating the events of Christ, since historical events cannot be repeated, but by celebrating them. "It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present" (CCC 1104). This outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Fr. Corbon describes as:
the agape of the Blessed Trinity, offered to human beings solely because of the love with which they are loved and not because of their works or merits. It is the purely merciful love that fills the abyss of our wretchedness. It is the Holy Spirit in a state of kenosis . . . (Corbon, p. 71).
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit requires a corresponding kenosis on the part of the faithful. Fr. Corbon describes this as well:
The Holy Spirit transforms everything he touches, but his energy will be all the more transformative as our faith is more naked and sacrificial. Here is where the decisive event of the liturgy takes place. In an effort to say the ineffable, the tradition of the apostolic Churches tells us of this event in a word that seeks to capture the utterly gratuitous thrust of faith: epiclesis (Corbon, pp. 70-71).
The epiclesis is defined in paragraph 1105 as precisely this double action of transforming the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and transforming the faithful into the Body of Christ. Considered from the point of view of the divine initiative, the word epiclesis expresses the fullness of the Spirit; but from the point of view of the human response, epiclesis indicates "the emptiness that is set before God," as Fr. Corbon puts it. "It expresses the groan of appeal, not the silent love that answers it" (Corbon, p. 71).
But when the energy of the Spirit encounters the energy of manís urgent plea and his eagerness to receive--for we are all beggars before God (14)--the resulting synergy is transformation, divinization. As St. Cyril of Jerusalem says in regard to the effect of the Eucharistic epiclesis: "For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are diffused through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature." (15)
This glorious synergy of the Holy Spirit and the Church is not complete, however: indeed, it is only a beginning. While we do participate in the communion of the Holy Trinity in a real way in this life, the fullness of our inheritance is yet to come.
Sent by the Father who hears the epiclesis of the Church, the Spirit gives life to those who accept him and is, even now, the "guarantee" of their inheritance (CCC 1107).
What sort of "guarantee" is this? The Catechism cites two texts which provide the answer. The first is Eph. 1:14 which says:
In [Christ] . . . you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance, until we acquire possession of it . . .
The word for "guarantee" in Greek is arrabon, which means pledge, down payment, something partial given now as a promise for the fullness to be given later. In fact, in Greek liturgical texts, this word is used in the rite of engagement or betrothal before marriage. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us now in the form, as it were, of an engagement ring: it is real, but it is not yet the fullness of the reality promised. The second text, 2 Cor. 1:22, is just as clear:
[God] has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee (ton arrabona tou pneumatos).
The Greek expression is literally, "the pledge of the Spirit." The concept is common in St. Paul; in other places, he speaks of "the first fruits of the Spirit" which foretaste gives us hope for the fullness yet to be revealed (16).
Synergy of communion:
The Holy Spirit brings us into communion with Christ. Where in the Christian life does this happen in the most objective way? The Catechism answers: "The most intimate cooperation (synergy) of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy" (CCC 1108). How does this happen?
. . . in the liturgy the Church, which is already the communion of those who believe in the name of the beloved Son and have been changed into him, "becomes what it is"; that is, it becomes the body of Christ and a sacrament of the communion between God and human beings (Corbon, p. 72).
The Body of Christ, given in the Eucharist, effects what it signifies, brings about what it is; the Eucharist objectively accomplishes this communion both with the Holy Trinity and with one another. "Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy" (CCC 1108). And yet, we must say once again, this communion is as yet incomplete. The Church prays for its full realization. "The epiclesis is also a prayer for the full effect of the assemblyís communion with the mystery of Christ" (CCC 1109).
This desired communion pertains not only to the liturgy itself, but flows out into the lives of the faithful, so that liturgy and life become inseparably united and the entire person becomes transformed in Christ. The synergy that is our participation in the divine nature is not something that happens once and for all, but rather, implies real progress in the spiritual life.
This understanding of the synergy of communion, while using a perhaps unfamiliar kind of vocabulary, is none other than the traditional concept of the increase of grace, the increase of the Holy Spirit (a teaching frequently developed in the context of the sacrament of Confirmation). But here there is a potential problem of understanding. If grace is a certain participation in the divine life, as St. Thomas says, (17) and the divine life is infinite, how can there be an increase of grace? Or again, if the sacrament of Confirmation confers a greater share in the Holy Spirit than Baptism does, but the Holy Spirit, as uncreated Charity--that is, the love between Father and Son--is infinite, what does it mean to speak of an increase of the Holy Spirit? Let us listen to the answer of two masters of the spiritual life, St. Augustine and St. Thomas.
In his commentary on the First Letter of John, St. Augustine compares divine charity to a small sack or bag.
Letís suppose that you must fill a sack. Realizing that what will be given to you is very great, you stretch the opening of the sack or bag or whatever kind of container it is, as much as you can. You know how much you have to put in it, and you see that itís small. So, by stretching it, you make it capable of holding more. In the same way, God, by deferring our hope, stretches our desire; by the desiring, stretches the mind, by stretching, makes it more capable of receiving. Let us desire, therefore, my brethren, for we shall be filled. (18)
The gift of the Holy Spirit is infinite; at the same time our capacity can be expanded. What stretches our capacity to receive Godís infinite gift, according to St. Augustine, is desire. (19)
St. Thomas, writing in an entirely different style, using an entirely different vocabulary, comes up with exactly the same conclusion. The Angelic Doctor approaches this question by making a careful distinction between created and uncreated charity. He says:
Charity is not something created in the soul, but is the Holy Ghost Himself, dwelling in the mind (IIa-IIae, q. 23, a. 2, resp).
The Holy Spirit, therefore, is uncreated charity, infinite. This kind of charity, strictly speaking, can neither increase nor decrease. So how do we participate in it?
Charity can be in us neither naturally, nor through acquisition by the natural powers, but by the infusion of the Holy Ghost, Who is the love of the Father and the Son, and the participation of Whom in us is created charity (IIa-IIae, q. 24, a. 2, resp).
Created charity is our participation in the divine communio; our participation in the Holy Spirit. That charity can increase in terms of a greater capacity, a greater fervor, a more intense participation. (20) When charity increases in the human soul in this sense, what happens?
This is what God does when He increases charity, that is He makes it to have a greater hold on the soul, and the likeness of the Holy Ghost to be more perfectly participated by the soul (q. 24, a. 5, ad 3).
The increase of charity acts upon the soul, moves it, changes it:
The capacity of the rational creature is increased by charity, because the heart is enlarged thereby . . . (q. 24, a. 7, ad 2).
An expanded heart allows the Christian to run on the way of Godís commands with the unspeakable sweetness of love. (21)
Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas speak of the same reality, the very reality which the new Catechism describes as the highest point in the dynamic living out of the communion or synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church. In this joint activity between the divine initiative and the human response, the field of the heart must be tilled and made ready (CCC 1093-1098), the seed must be planted (CCC 1099-1103); the plant grows and is transformed (CCC 1104-1107), and bears much fruit (CCC 1108-1109).
The article which stands at the beginning of the liturgical-sacramental section of the Catechism, and which, therefore, sets the tone for all that follows, has as its title: "The Liturgy: Work of the Holy Trinity." In this article, an attentive reader can see the vital contribution of Fr. Jean Corbon, the author of The Wellspring of Worship, and the man responsible for Part Four of the Catechism, "Christian Prayer."
Frequent reference to Fr. Corbonís book sheds considerable light on this portion of the text of the Catechism, and in particular, on paragraphs 1091-1109: the Holy Spirit and the Church in the liturgy. The large brush strokes of the argument are very clear: the liturgy is essentially Trinitarian in nature, and must be viewed in the context of the entire economy of salvation.
Each person of the Most Holy Trinity pours himself out upon the Church in a kenosis of self-giving. The Church, in her celebration of the liturgy, responds in kind; by blessing the Father, by clinging to Christ as the Bride clings to her Bridegroom and as the Body is joined to its Head, and by cooperating with the Holy Spirit in a joint activity of preparation, remembrance, transfiguration and communion. Because we are flesh and blood, God in his mercy has so ordered the economy of our salvation that this divine communion with him should take place not in the realm of subjective fancy, but in the objective celebration of the divine mysteries. In the liturgy, the "Yes" of God to man encounters the "Yes" of man to God: the divine initiative meets Marian consent:
This kind of "Yes" on the part of the Virgin allowed the incarnation of the Word to take place; it was likewise from the consent of the humanity of Jesus that the divinizing light of the transfiguration sprang, and it is the same consent by the Church that allows the liturgy to be celebrated and lived (Corbon, p. 74).
'Anselmo in Rome. The present article is a result of an elective course on "The Liturgy and Sacraments in the New Catechism."
Originally published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, April 1996
design in left border is detail from a fresco of the Haghia Triada Greek Catholic Cathedral, Athens, Greece
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