The liturgy of the Church is where we, as the baptized faithful, approach the throne of Heaven with humility to give praise and thanksgiving to God, for the work of the blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the source and summit of the whole Christian life (Lumen gentium, art. 11), it is worth pondering why we celebrate the liturgy at all. Is not the liturgy just an addition to the Church’s life, a kind of afterthought to the message of the Gospel? Yet this is hardly the case; in fact, not only is liturgy written into the very being of the people of Israel, it is also woven into the fabric of the created universe. Through the help of Joseph Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, we will see how the creation account gives us the narratio, or story, behind liturgical worship.
With the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we could say that the whole creation account is a “liturgical poem” (no. 1079). Nevertheless, there are a few key moments that help us to understand our liturgical prayer. The first is the fourth day of creation: “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth’” (Genesis 1:14-15, RSV). Having created the spaces for the lights of the heavens, God now places the light in the sky. In essence, God is here creating the cosmos; the Hebrew language to describe this event, however, is moed, which means festival or worship. Thus, in creating the firmament, the light and darkness of the cosmos, God is Impressing into the universe the order of worship. The order of the universe gives order to our worship, but not in a way that we worship the sun or moon; rather, that alongside the order of creation, we worship the one God who created the entire universe. Consider the sacrifices of the Old Testament or the prayers of the Divine Office of the Church: all of these are offered to God at specific times of the day for different reasons. Matins is offered in the morning, while Vespers is prayed in the evening, and the different prayers reflect the specific time: one office is in thanksgiving to God for the new day, the other is in thanksgiving for the day we were given but also preparation for our eventual death. In considering the question of what time really is, Ratzinger says that “time is a cosmic reality” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000], 93). He continues regarding the rhythm of the sun and moon: “The two rhythms have created two measures, which appear in the history of culture in various combinations. Both show how much man is woven into the fabric of the universe. Time is first of all a cosmic phenomenon. Man lives with the stars. The course of the sun and the moon leaves its mark on his life” (93). Of course, man does not live by the stars because he believes his life is determined by fate, but rather, because he knows that God has given a particular design to the universe, such that all things are moving toward union with God, “toward the New City whose light is God himself” (94).
Indeed, all creation is moving toward the seventh day, which is the day of rest. “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all this work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:2-3). God creates the seventh day as a sacred space for devotion to him alone. All of creation is moving and longing toward this day; each day is a preparation for the final day of creation, which becomes a day of worship. In the Old Testament, “the Sabbath brought the sign of the covenant into time, tied creation and covenant together” (95). Now, however, since the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, his day of Resurrection is the “new Sabbath” (95). As Ratzinger explains, “It is the day on which the Lord comes among his own and invites them into his ‘liturgy,’ into his glorification of God, and communicates himself to them” (95). Sunday, then, becomes a “festival of creation” and “thanksgiving for the gift of creation” (96). Not only does man thank God for the creation he has made and given to him, but also, he looks forward to the final consummation of union with God in Heaven. He realizes that the material creation is insufficient on its own, but through liturgy, he is able to taste Heaven through the communication of the Father—indeed, man enters into the very liturgy of God’s creation on Sunday, which becomes the Day of Resurrection.
Returning to the creation narrative, we know that Adam and Eve, the pinnacle of God’s creation, do not remain in the Garden of Eden because they turn away from God. They, in a sense, reject the liturgy of God for the sake of their pride. “The Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden, he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:23-24). What may seem like a complete rejection of God is actually a sign of hope. Adam and Eve leave the Garden and are sent to the east, which will in turn become a liturgical direction for the praying Church. In other words, Adam and Eve are headed on a liturgical procession, headed in the direction of the Second Coming of Christ (albeit unknown to them at that time). Now, in our present time, the whole Church remains on a liturgical procession as we anticipate Christ’s Second Coming and the eternal banquet in Heaven. This is why the proper form of liturgical worship should be ad orientem, toward the east, so that all people are oriented toward the Lord (80). Worshipping eastward is participation in the cosmos, according to Ratzinger (82). What is more, as Ratzinger continues, “The Lord is the point of reference. He is the rising sun of history” (84). Thus, even though Adam and Eve are expelled from the liturgical Paradise, there remains hope, because Christ has entered human history—and in our liturgical worship, we look forward to his Second Coming. In Ratzinger’s view, this solidifies the liturgy as a “liturgy of hope,” which is “liturgy on the way, a liturgy of pilgrimage toward the transfiguration of the world, which will only take place when God is ‘all in all’” (50).
Thus, perhaps the cosmic worship described by St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians can begin to take on substance. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). All of creation is groaning to be united with the Savior (Romans 8:22), as is evident through studying the liturgical narratio of the creation story. The sacred liturgy of the Church manifests this longing, but also, draws us closer to the eternal Word and his eternal Sacrifice. In entering the liturgy of the Church, we are truly entering into the liturgy of hope, as we participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice and anticipate his coming in glory.