Liturgy as rehearsal

Ok so I’m still working on my Paper on Messiaen (see this post).  As I was reading articles and books about Messiaen, his catholic faith and liturgical music, I was reminded of The Sprit of The Liturgy, By Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI), a book recommended to me that I have been reading this quarter.  Ratzinger’s book discusses liturgies’ foundations in Biblical history, its relationship to time and space, and, in his chapter on liturgical form, discussion of practical matters for the church such as placement of the altar, function of music, and physical participation (kneeling/standing/sitting).

Messiaen’s liturgical music often plays with our notions of time.  His most popularly studied work, Quatour pour le fin du temps, uses a complex and irregular rhythmic language to give the listener the sense of a suspension of time (note: bad idea to listen to when you’re working on a paper with a deadline in 24 hrs).

Ratzinger, in his opening chapter, discusses what we experience during the liturgy, and how, for a moment, time and our notions of purpose and achievement are suspended in place of a new kind of existence.  During the 1920s, a metaphor was made comparing liturgy to “play.”  Specifically, the play of a child.  Ratzinger begins his book with a mention of this concept.  When a child plays, “it has no meaning or purpose outside of the rules of the game.  For that reason, there is something healing, even liberating about it.  Play is a kind of other world, an oasis of freedom, where for a moment we can let life flow freely.”  He then illuminates a deeper facet of this analogy that ties it in with the essence of the liturgy, not to mention send shivers down my spine.

Children’s play seems in many ways a kind of anticipation of life, a rehearsal for later life, without its burdens and gravity.  On this anaolgy, the litrugy would be a reminder that we are all children, or should be children, in relation to that true life toward which we yearn to go.  Liturgy would be a kind of anticipation, a rehearsal, a prelude for the life to come, for eternal life, which St. Augustine describes, by contrast with life in this world, as a fabric woven, no longer of exigency and need, but of the freedom of generosity and gift.  Seen thus, liturgy would be the rediscovery within us of true childhood, of openness to a greatness still to come, which is still unfulfilled in adult life.  Here then, would be the concrete form of hope, which lives in advance the life to come, the only true life, which initiates us into authentic life – the life of freedom, of intimate union with God, of pure openness to our fellowman.  Thus would imprint on the seemingly real life of daily existence the mark of future freedom, break open the walls that confine us, and let the light of heaven shine down upon earth.

Author: adamkurihara

Minister of Worship Arts at NSCBC in Beverly, MA

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